Town approves disputed gravel pit permit

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The Plymouth Town Board worked out the details to enable Lonny Schirmer and PRL Excavating to keep the gravel pit on Highview Road operating – with input from some begrudging neighbors.

The board granted PRL a conditional use permit for two years for the mining operations at N72229 Highview Rd.

Several conditions were added to the permit, which Schirmer was first issued in 2010. They included:

. Motorized equipment can not be running before 7 a.m. and can only operate within the five-acre gravel pit.

. A berm must be erected on the south side of the property adjacent to the Rhine- Plymouth Field and Stream property.

. An existing driveway must be moved further to the south. for. The north driveway will be an entrance empty trucks and the south driveway will be the exit for loaded trucks.

“We don’t want to put Lonny out of business,” Supervisor Roger Rortvedt commented after several neighbors of the gravel operation raised objections.

Many of the concerns raised during a preliminary discussion of the permit application at last month’s board meeting – proximity, noise, setback violations and more – were reiterated during the public debate preceding the board’s final action Tuesday.

One neighbor claimed that PRL’s excavations were impacting his water well.

“The lowest we are is nine feet above the water table,” Schirmer countered, adding that he is not allowed to dig down to or below the water table.

“You can’t control how deep he digs as long as he puts it back to grade,” Town Chairman Warren Luedke told the neighbors.

Schirmer presented maps and drawings detailing his operations and plans for reclamation once mining is completed – plans he said were developed and approved by the county’s Resources and Planning Department.

“They are regulated by the county planner’s office,” Luedke said of the reclamation plans. That includes restoring elevations and ground levels to pre-excavation conditions.

Schirmer said it will take three to 10 years to finish reclamation of the gravel pit, depending on when mining operations cease.

Gravel from the pit was used last summer by Vinton Construction in its work on State 57. While Schirmer is mining for a state road project, the town is limited in regulating the pit, town officials conceded last month, but otherwise conditions set by the town must be followed.

Dan Shiley of Vinton voiced his support for continuing Schirmer’s permit.

Shiley conceded that a berm installed to screen the pit last year was improperly located by his crews too close to a neighboring property.

“To be honest, our guys forgot to dress up that berm,” Shiley stated. “I have acknowledged our mistake and have agreed we will address that berm in the spring.”

Neighbor Sharon Huber called for more berms to screen the pit from view by neighbors and to reduce noise, which the board made part of its conditions for the permit.

Responding to questions, Schirmer clarified between mining gravel and grinding asphalt and concrete for recycling, noting that both operations are done on his property.

Luedke, answering a question from Bill Murphy of the Rhine-Plymouth Field and Stream Club, said the conditional use permit only covers the gravel mining operations. The town cannot regulate the recycling operations, he added.

Schirmer asked the board for clarification of what would be covered by the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday hours of operation allowed in the permit.

“That’s the question. We have to define what is operations,” Supervisor Gene Blindauer agreed.

The board agreed that the hours would apply to operation of machinery and large trucks entering and leaving the property only.

In other business, Luedke informed the board that the town will have to paint spaces in the Town Hall parking lot, including marking spaces for handicapped parking, in order to comply with state rules on voting accessibility.

“I will talk to the county (Highway Department) to see when they can do it,” Luedke said.

Town Attorney Jim Hughes had answers to several questions raised by board members last month.

He said the town is not required to have a constable (it currently has two elected constables), “But the only body that can decide that (to eliminate the position) is the electorate. You can put it on the agenda for the annual meeting and let them decide.”

The board had also asked about ways to fund the cost of purchasing a new fire truck should that become necessary.

The town could not add a special assessment to property tax bills to raise the funds, Hughes explained. Those are only allowed for infrastructure costs, such as roads, sidewalks, water or sewer lines and the like.

The town can also seek approval by voter referendum to exceed the state-imposed tax levy limits in order to raise money through the property tax for a major purchase.

“What a lot of towns do is go out and borrow money. You can raise the levy for debt (repayment). That only requires a vote of the Town Board and not a referendum,” Hughes told the board.

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