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Communities shrug off state sediment standards

Sean Ryan
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The threat of thousands of dollars in penalties does not scare two village officials who refuse to meet state requirements to remove dirt from rain runoff.

The state can penalize the village of Kimberly until the fee exceeds the property value in the community, said Village Administrator Rick Hermus. Then, he said, he’ll hand over the village’s keys to the state.

“It’s somewhat sarcastic,” Hermus said, “but it does drive the point home. Go ahead and fine us. We don’t have the money to put the ponds in.”

But Kimberly and the village of Combined Locks, which could face similar penalties for the same refusal, might not have to worry about mortgaging the village to pay for fines. The villages tried to meet the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ administrative rule requiring a 40 percent reduction in the amount of dirt in storm-water runoff by 2013. That might be enough to avoid the $10,000-per-day penalty for noncompliance.

“The best defense, as we’ve told all of these communities, is to be able to demonstrate a good-faith effort,” said Bruce Baker, deputy administrator of the DNR’s water division.

DNR officials, recognizing that many Wisconsin municipalities cannot satisfy the rule, are proposing to loosen the regulations and not penalize local governments, Baker said. It is common, he said, that the state’s clean water act requires the department set standards that exceed practical technological or financial limitations.

“The act recognizes that,” he said, “and allows you to compensate for the reality of what you can possibly do.”

The act’s general goal, Baker said, is for the DNR to identify pollutants and set rules limiting the pollutant density in waterways to the point where the pollution would not hurt people or wildlife.

Kimberly and neighboring Combined Locks are planning to partner on construction of a detention pond to catch rain and sediment. An advertisement for project bids will be released Monday for the $400,000 to $500,000 retention pond project. The DNR will pay for half of the project with a Clean Water Fund loan.

But the pond only will bring each community halfway to meeting the state’s 40 percent goal for reducing sediment.

The two communities had planned to build an in-line pond in the middle of a creek in Combined Locks. That pond would have met the goal, but the villages could not get a DNR permit for the project because it does not satisfy the state’s environmental permitting rules.

Combined Locks does not have room to build a storm-water pond, said Village Administrator Mark Van Thiel. The only way to meet the 40 percent standard is to rip up the village’s curbs and gutters and install gardens to filter the water, he said.

The village refuses to pay the $5.2 million price tag for that option, he said.

“These communities can’t do anything more than has been done,” Van Thiel said.

Baker said the DNR in November will propose to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board a revision to the state sediment rules. The revision would let communities extend their deadline by up to 10 years beyond the 2013 deadline if the municipalities are trying to satisfy the 40 percent rule, he said.

The reduction standard is there so all communities are regulated in the same way, Baker said. The flexibility is there to recognize that not all communities have the same resources, he said.

“You are just not going to be able to compare communities like apples to apples,” Baker said. “But they all are required to make an effort to make that 40 percent.”


  1. Might I suggest, you look into Pervious concrete pavement. It reduces or eliminates the need for retention ponds, as water drains through the pourous concrete, therefore…no run off. Check it out at:

  2. “It is common, he said, that the state’s clean water act requires the department set standards that exceed practical technological or financial limitations.”

    I’m glad this is playing out on the front page. The DNR has been doing this to industry for decades. Environmental standards set so rediculously low (or high, as the case may be) that the technology to achieve that standard doesn’t exist, or achieving the standard is so rediculously expensive to the company that they are left to pay the fine until they can move to a more hospitable state or country.

    Don’t be angry when our paper mills close and those jobs move away. We chose that outcome when we voted. Isn’t this what you wanted? If not, then perhaps we need to think more carefully about who we vote for and why.

  3. The key here is a “good faith effort.” When companies and local officials thumb their noses at the regulations, that’s another matter. See example…

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