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Home / Environment / Quarry reform bill sparks debate over local government control, environmental impact

Quarry reform bill sparks debate over local government control, environmental impact

A bulldozer adds to a pile of aggregate recently at the former Rocky Mountain Enterprises Inc. in the town of Halsey. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A provision attached to the statewide shared revenue deal will limit local governments’ regulation of quarry operations, including when a city or town wants to limit when quarries extract or process materials for nighttime transportation construction. Supporters of the bill said the provision will allow quarries to operate at night and will cut costs of trucking gravel and material for roads. An environmental group said local governments should be left to control mining nuisances such as noise and blasting.

Lawmakers on Tuesday discussed the immense bill to increase state aid to local governments across Wisconsin and heard from Milwaukee leadership about the city’s financial situation, The Associated Press reported. Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly disagreed on who decides whether Milwaukee County and the city can raise sales tax to pay for police and fire services and pension costs, the AP added.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ in February included a provision in his 2023-25 biennial budget to restrict local governments from limiting the times quarries can extract or process materials. Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) in May introduced the shared revenue bill with similar provisions for quarry nighttime operations, but the new bill adds more measures for permits, local ordinances and limits for blasting.

The quarry reform provisions will reduce cost and minimize taxpayer dollars when the state funds construction projects that use aggregate, officials from the Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin (APW) said. More aggregate sites available will reduce trucking costs and the provision will make sure more existing quarries are available to bid on state projects, APW officials added.

“Most major highway work is done at night to make sure we don’t impede traffic show. What that means, if you’re working on Interstate 94 for example, you have to truck that material at night to get to them. There are fewer and fewer quarries allowed to have nighttime hauling,” George Ermert, a lobbyist for the Schreiber GR Group, told The Daily Reporter.

According to APW, trucking aggregate increases a construction project cost by around 7% for every 10 miles for an urban road project and by around 17% for every 10 miles for a rural road project.

Construction costs for roads are high and having more quarries available for bit will help the cost, but quarries are often noisy and night operations causes concern for neighbors, Jerry Derr, a town chairman for the town of Bristol in Dane County and District 1 president for Wisconsin Towns Association told The Daily Reporter.

“From a local official’s perspective, we buy aggregate too. I’ve got 80 miles of road in my town that I have to maintain. I need to buy gravel, blacktop and sand for road maintenance in the wintertime. We feel the effect of (the cost) too. As our population moves out from central cities and into suburbs and real areas, the potential for more conflict with these kinds of operations increases,” Derr added.

According to the Wisconsin Administrative Code, the state only allows surface blasting between sunrise and sunset, except for more restrictive time periods set by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) or if the department approves based on the operator showing the public won’t be affected by noise and other impacts.

The Sierra Club-Wisconsin Chapter, an environmental organization, opposed the revenue bill for its limits on funding of conservation projects using the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund, Mining Committee Chair Dave Blouin told The Daily Reporter. The provision for local regulation on mining was “also concerning” and both proposals should be removed from the bill and handled as separate legislation, he said.

“We oppose further limits on local regulation of nonmetallic mining in AB 245. Local governments are best suited to control the nuisance aspects of nonmetallic mining such as noise, blasting, dust, light, traffic and operation hours. The new state limits threaten local governments with a “one size fits all” approach in the industry’s favor that fails to recognize concerns,” Blouin added.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

About Ethan Duran

Ethan Duran is the construction and development reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 551-7505 or [email protected]

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