Friday, December 14, 2012
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Last stop: Board to decide Tuesday on rezoning land for limestone mining

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[December 14, 2012]  The primary discussion at Thursday's Logan County Board meeting was the possible rezoning of land in the county. There is a 280-acre parcel of land owned by Douglas Muck that he is applying to have zoned for mining. The mining company that would possibly operate this limestone mine is Hanson Materials.

Muck's application has been challenged by several neighbors to the property: Blane Olson and his family, Steve Schreiner and his family, and Don Ludwig and his family.

The previous mine in Logan County, also operated by Hanson, has run out of limestone. As a result, the plant is being shut down and 18 workers are out of a job.

The families living closest to the proposed site have said at multiple meetings of the zoning board of appeals that they are not against a quarry in Logan County. They want to see that proper procedure is followed in deciding if the land should be rezoned, and they would like their safety and water concerns addressed.

Following the meeting Monday, the appeals board forwarded a large volume of information concerning the data that has been gathered by both sides of the issue. The board also provided information on the process of attempting to create a contract between all of the parties involved, which has not been successful.

In lieu of a contract, Muck has repeatedly provided verbal and written assurance that all of their concerns will be taken care of, or the land will not be mined until an agreement is reached.

Todd Turner, attorney for Blane Olson, noted that there is no requirement in the county's zoning code for a contract of such kind to be on file prior to a zoning decision. Turner also said that information should be provided by the mining company to potential neighbors as to how the operation will be run.

The petitioners against the rezoning claim that they have had little contact with Hanson, and what they have been told is that without a contract, their questions cannot be answered.

The zoning appeals board was not able to come to a recommendation as to whether or not the land should be rezoned. The decision now comes to the Logan County Board without a zoning board recommendation.

Zoning officer Will D'Andrea said that for rezoning, there is no requirement to have an operator, in this case a mining operator, but that having one would have made the decision process easier.

He listed "some of the issues that were brought out and things that were testified to, referred to, in this balancing act that you all have to make:"

"In terms to public benefit: It would retain jobs; provide limestone, which is necessary in the ag industry; provide rock; decrease transport costs for hauling in road materials for county, city and township projects, with a potential impact to taxes in the county.

"On the other side, there are potential impacts to wells and the water supply, truck traffic and the road system, dust, noise, vibration issues, general aesthetics and property values."

D'Andrea said that the owner submitted a letter to the zoning board that seeks to provide assurance that any potential impacts to adjoining wells would be mitigated. The board was split on whether it was provided an adequate assurance to mitigate any of those potential impacts.

A protest petition that was filed by Blane Olson represents at least 20 percent of the adjacent property owners and meets the requirement to trigger a three-quarters vote by the board to approve the rezoning.

D'Andrea summarized: "So, the issue before the board is whether the rezone guidelines, which calls for a balancing act between public benefits and potential impacts, have been addressed in a way that the board would vote to grant this application."

On the advice of State's Attorney Jonathan Wright, both sides were given time to reiterate what has been said at previous meetings of the appeals board and the regional planning commission, to bring the county board members up to speed on the situation. Members of the public were then given a brief period to make statements.

Stan Komperda, project director for the Sugar Creek Wind Farm, said the need for limestone is great for their project. Up to 400,000 tons of rock will be needed by Sugar Creek in building each of two wind farms planned for southwestern Logan County. Komperda also pointed out that just because a permit to rezone is approved, it does not mean an applicant's work is done in filing paperwork.

Bob Pharis said the county board is now learning of the difficulty that the zoning board faced when making their decision. Pharis also said that the Farm Bureau supports the creation of a new quarry.

On another note, Pharis said this issue should make the board realize that better zoning regulations need to be in place. "We need zoning that will allow you as a board to have power to put specifications (on an application)," he said.

Laurie Muck, wife to Doug, told the board in her comments: "The issue here before all of you is, ‘Is it suitable for zoning? Is this the right thing to do for the community?'"

After these comments and a few others from the public were made, the discussion turned inward to the board members.

Terry Carlton said: "I believe the part of this board, our duty, is not to determine who might be leasing the land or the renter or who might be downstream. Our responsibility solely tonight or anytime when it comes to this level of zoning, is purely to look at, "Is this property correct for what it is being requested for?' To go beyond that, oversteps our boundaries of authority.""

Carlton went on to say that whether or not a contract is present or a mine has been signed is irrelevant; the business of the board is to determine if the rezone request is valid.

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After Carlton's comments, Muck said he wanted to address the fact that he had spoken with other companies before his application to rezone, and he selected Hanson due to good relations with them. Muck also said he chose them because of their history of trying to be good neighbors. "I am not insensitive to those issues," said Muck.

Olson took the moment to say that just one week ago, he filed the petition of opposition so that it would require a three-quarters vote of the board to pass. As part of that process he sent a certified return receipt letter to Muck. Olson was about to say how Muck signed for the letter, but Muck answered for him, "It says, "Up Yours."

Olson continued saying "To me that doesn't sound like someone that is concerned about myself, my family or my neighbors.

Olson's statement provoked one of the laid off miners present, who said, "What about me?"

Olson reiterated that he has always been concerned about the laid-off workers during this long process.

As the speakers calmed down, the board members resumed their internal discussion.

Kevin Bateman made a motion to table the discussion for a month.

The state's attorney advised against tabling the issue. While the board has the authority to table the discussion, Wright explained that the board should not do so if the desire is to see a contract reached. Wright reiterated that the board's job was to come to a decision as to whether or not the land in question was appropriate for rezoning for extraction.

Bateman assured the board that that was not his reasoning to table for a month. Bateman explained that he would like to see the board members have the opportunity to think further on all of the information brought to them for such a large decision. There was also an absent board member, Andy Meister, and another board member, Jan Schumacher, who said she would not be present on Tuesday when the actual vote was taken.

The motion to table was defeated by the board.

Schumacher explained to the public present that "tonight's votes are straw votes, they are not binding. The official vote is next Tuesday night at the adjourned board meeting."

Chuck Ruben compared this debate with the similar situation before the wind farms were approved. "We dealt then with conditional use permits, which are a lot different than what we are dealing with here," he said. "In this one, I think what he have to do is follow the advice of our state's attorney."

Ruben stated what that advice was: "‘The county board and its members should not be involved in any type of leveraging or negotiating between the petitioners and the protesters.' Delaying this for another month is exactly that; it is what we would be doing."

Wright added to this, saying, "The criteria (a specific list of requirements for rezoning), that is what needs to be focused on. It's been mentioned here in testimony that there is no requirement that the person applying for rezoning have to have a contract in place before applying for rezoning. … That's really the bottom line, and I just want to emphasize this because we can have lawyers talk about this from now until the break of dawn tomorrow. And, they'll all still be talking, strong."

David Hepler who was chairing the meeting, also commented on this: "It's a matter of whether this land is well-suited for this purpose. I think the petitioner has almost given us overkill, over several months, of information to that effect. My other concern is that we have a chance to save a business."

Hepler also said: "Not wanting to sound insensitive, but government is not supposed to be everything to everybody. We're supposed to look out for the greater good. We're not here to provide guarantees. I feel that this is a simple issue, the land is well-suited, and I intend to vote for it."

Bill Martin, who has served many years on the regional planning commission and is well-acquainted with zoning issues in the county, said he felt that there are not a lot of companies that would be willing to enter contracts and negotiations before they have a certain set of assurances, including zoning.

"I wish our zoning was set up that we had enough that we could impose some stipulations, but we don't," he said.

He added that he thought trying to go around legal boundaries would create problems.

A verbal straw vote was taken, and the board members present unanimously agreed that the land would be rezoned. The final vote will be taken Tuesday evening.

Board members present for the meeting were David Hepler, vice chairman; Robert Farmer, chairman; Andy Anderson; Rick Aylesworth; Kevin Bateman; Bill Martin; Pat O'Neill; Gene Rohlfs; Terry Carlton, Chuck Ruben; and Jan Schumacher.


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