Compromise benefits Amnicon, SuperiorA permit for a non-metallic mine pitted one town’s economic future against that of Douglas County’s largest city.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
A permit for a non-metallic mine pitted one town’s economic future against that of Douglas County’s largest city.
After months of discussion, the town of Amnicon and city of Superior reached an agreement that gives both what they need.
The city of Superior will be able to extract needed clay for its landfill cell construction project, and Amnicon will retain a prime location for future development.
After the two governments reached an agreement last month, the Douglas County Planning and Zoning Committee approved the non-metallic mining permit that will allow the city to remove clay from a parcel of property it owns in Amnicon.
A memorandum of understanding approved by the Amnicon Town Board and Superior City Council in March outlines the town and city’s responsibilities in relation to the project.
It’s a good example of the city working with the town, said Mark Liebaert, who serves on the Douglas County and Amnicon town boards. He said the town originally objected to the city’s plan because the original reclamation plan included turning the parcel into a wetland mitigation site.
“It pays to negotiate instead of bulldoze,” said Roger LeTourneau, vice president of the Douglas County Towns Association.
The city’s plan was in direct competition with the town’s comprehensive plan, which calls for future development of the agricultural site.
After all, before the city bought the property, the town saw it as an opportunity for growth.
“Originally … the town got involved because the town approved a plat for that site,” Liebaert said. “There were eight homes to be built on that site.”
Liebaert said covenants placed on the housing development contributed to the failure to develop eight five-acre parcels approved by the town board.
Subsequently, the city purchased the land. Still, when the town went through its comprehensive planning process, Liebaert said, the town identified the site as a prime location for housing or commercial development.
“I don’t know if you know the property itself, there’s a view,” Liebaert said. “You can actually see the hillside in Duluth and the lake (Superior), and you can see some ships from it. When the guy platted it, he actually did it so everyone had a view of the lake from that spot. Then we found out the city of Superior bought and was going to make a wetland mitigation site out of it and we were going to lose development of that site for the town of Amnicon.”
While there was nothing town officials could have done about the wetland, the town did have a say in the future of the site once the city needed to extract clay from the parcel, which required a non-metallic mining permit from Douglas County.
The city needs the clay for construction of a landfill cell to meet regulations set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Clay available at the landfill and another city-owned stockpile was too wet to meet regulation.
“We recognized last summer that we could not dry the material available onsite sufficiently to create the liner that DNR requires us to have in Cell 5 and sought to bring in outside material to keep the project on track,” Superior Public Works Director Jeff Goetzman said. He said the city simultaneously tested its North 58th Street stockpile and that of property in Amnicon, the latter of which proved suitable. The city then applied for the necessary permit from Douglas County, which was denied in August after the town rejected the city’s proposal.
What the town rejected, Liebaert said, was the city’s plan to turn the 40-acre parcel into a wetland mitigation site.
“We identified in our comprehensive plan this was to remain in agriculture until it was developed,” Liebaert said. “… The city of Superior disregarded our plans for that property.”
Without the necessary permit, the city went back to the town of Amnicon in an effort to work out a deal that would be suitable for the town and city alike.
A land swap was considered, but that proved unworkable. The town and city began negotiating an agreement for the city-owned site that would achieve the goals of both municipalities.
Now, Superior will be able to extract the clay it needs for landfill construction if the county board approves the permit later this month. And when the city is finished with its work — expected to start in May and be complete next year — the city will restore the site to a pasture that can still be used for future development. When the site is restored, the city plans to sell the land, and the town would have a say in who the potential buyer is.
To give town officials a level of comfort, the city is willing to bring the issue to the town when a potential buyer is identified for discussion to make sure the sale fits the town’s land use plan, Goetzman said.
In addition, the city will pay the town 15 cents for each cubic yard of material removed from the site — a host fee designed to help the town cover costs of addressing issues that may arise from the project. The city also takes responsibility for costs of repairing any damage to the town road that could result from heavy, clay-laden trucks moving in and out of the site.
“I’m glad they came to some kind of conclusion,” said County Board Supervisor Nick Baker, who made the motion to approve the permit this week. “I think the town of Amnicon got a better deal than I thought they could get.”
In August, Baker also made the motion to deny the city’s permit application with wetland mitigation part of the reclamation plan.
“Obviously, the city would have benefitted from an immediate ‘yes’ on our permit application and in keeping our wetland mitigation site as proposed,” said Goetzman. “But in the end, this has turned into compromise that provides benefit to both parties and a framework that will aid us in discussing and approving future projects.”