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‘The fight’s going to be with the county’

January 17, 2020 by Brian Jopek

The Cassian Town Board on Monday approved a re-zone petition from Medford-based James Peterson and Sons that now goes to the Oneida County Zoning and Planning Committee. 

The company already has a gravel pit operation operational as part of 80 acres of land on the east side of U.S. Highway 51 south of the highway’s intersection with Rocky Run Road. 

That gravel pit has been in operation since the late 1940s and according to Randy Palmer, who manages the Cassian pit, there has been some land reclamation done over the past several years. 

What the company wants to do is expand its operation by having 80 more acres it owns adjacent to the current 80 acres from forestry to residential and farming. 

At last month’s town board meeting, there was a formal presentation of the plans and opportunity for people to speak. 

No decision was made at the time and Monday, town chairman Tim Augustine, in remarks at the start of the re-zone discussion, said the reason the town board didn’t make a decision at the December 2019, meeting was because the town hadn’t received paperwork from Oneida County “in time for us to approve it.”

“We have now received a substantial amount of paperwork for that re-zone,” he said. “We listened to concerns from constituents going forward. So, this is approve or deny. I am going to make a motion to approve the re-zone.”

Town supervisor Dick Herman seconded Augustine’s motion. 

“Do we have anyone opposed?” Augustine asked, not checking with Herman or town supervisor Mike Maass, as is normally customary, for any further discussion. 

“Pretty much everybody here,” town resident Marcus Motkowski said from the audience of nearly 20 people. 

“I don’t know if I have permission to talk or not,” resident Al Frost said. 

“Right now, we’ll take it at the end of the ... we’ll have constituents comments at the end,” Augustine said.

“I’d like to make some comments before the vote,” Maass said.

“On what vote?” Augustine asked him.

“I’d like to make some comments before voting,” Maass said again. 

“We’re voting right now,” Augustine said. 

“Can I update the presentation?” Maass asked.

“This is ... we already listened to the discussion,” Augustine said. “We didn’t have the information (from Oneida County), now we have the information. Now, we’re just voting on it (the re-zone). That’s all we need to do now.”

He told Maass, opposed to the re-zoning request, he’d already made a presentation.

“Can I ask you your reason for voting for it?” Motkowski said to Augustine who started to respond but Herman spoke up.

Four calls

“We get four different kinds of phone calls every year,” Herman said. “‘When are you gonna blacktop my road? When are you gonna gravel my road? When are you gonna plow my road? These are our main calls. And when are you gonna sand my road?”

Material for three of the four of those calls, Herman said, come from a pit. 

“Where are we — town supervisors and chairman — where are we supposed to get our materials from?” he asked. 

“I understand your concern, Dick,” Motkowski said. 

Herman, elected to the town board in April 2017, continued. 

“I’m supposed to represent the people, right?” he said. “I was voted in to do this job to do the best job we could at the lowest cost, correct? That’s why I’m voting the way I am.”

“It’s not doing my property value any favors,” Motkowski said. 

“I’m sure it’s not,” Herman said. 

Motkowski, with property and a home he’d had built next to the 80 acres the company wanted to have re-zoned, said the site for his house, it was a choice he made.

“”I looked at what was behind me,” he said. “I mean, this is not really good for me at all.”

“This gravel pit ... we know it’s been there since 1948,” Herman said. 

Maass said that wasn’t the gravel pit that was being talked about.

“We’re talking about re-zoning property,” he said.

“You know what’s gonna happen once you get that 80 acres approved, it’s gonna keep going for another and another,” Motkowski said. “It’s moved too far south, in my opinion.”

Herman said gravel can be found only in certain areas. 

“You cannot just go out in the woods and find it,” he said. 

Motkowski acknowledged “the fight’s going to be with the county.”

“I was just hoping for the town’s support as well,” he said. “We’re gonna go to the county meeting with a petition and fight them. I was just hoping for your guys’ support.”

At that point, Maass indicated support for Motkowski and other concerned property owners.

Comprehensive plan

“I extracted some things from ... we have a comprehensive plan for Cassian,” Maass said. “It was passed by our elected board, it was basically legislated and sent on to the state in 2009. It’s a good plan, they did a good job on it. I would just like to inform the other board members, in case you haven’t read it, of some things from that plan.”

Among the items from the comprehensive plan Maass highlighted in his comments was the vision statement. 

“The town of Cassian offers a quiet, rural get away only minutes from Minocqua, Tomahawk, or Rhinelander, providing ample opportunities for boating, fishing, hunting, swimming, snowmobiling and other lake or woods experiences,” he read. “Expecting some residential and business growth, the town strives to maintain the natural beauty while planning for coordinated growth.”

Maass reiterated the comprehensive plan didn’t address the current gravel pit, but what was being talked about was re-zoning the town’s forest land “into gravel pits.”

“This (comprehensive plan) is not anything having to do with the current pit,” he said. “It’s re-zoning property that’s been zoned, probably back to 1933, forestry zoned.”

Maass also called attention to other provisions of the town’s 2009 comprehensive plan which include preserving the land now in agricultural and recreational use; preventing new development in the town from negatively impacting natural resources; minimizing impacts to the town’s natural resources from metallic or non-metallic mining and promoting development that minimizes groundwater impacts from on-site septic systems and other sources. 

“This comprehensive plan, this defines our town,” he said. “This is why a lot of our people settled in this town. You’re looking at changing the very nature of this town.”

Herman pointed out one of the people on the town’s plan commission at the time the comprehensive plan was adopted, former town chairman Larry Hendrickson, also signed off on conditional use permits (CUP) for gravel pits operated in the area by not only James Peterson and Sons, but also Pitlik and Wick and American Asphalt. 

Maass argued those CUPs had been approved for zoning that was appropriate “for that activity.”

“They’re adjoining this,” Herman said. 

“We’re talking here about pulling forest out of forestry ... and converting it to gravel pits,” Maass said.

He repeated the comprehensive plan had been approved after public hearings and sent to the state. 

“This is what people wanted in this town,” Maass said. 

He said he had signed petitions that could have been “puffed up” had the been circulated throughout Oneida County, but the focus instead was on property and homeowners in the area in question.

Maass then read a portion of the comprehensive plan intended to protect people with home based businesses. 

“That’s me,” he said. “I was a manufacturing rep for 30 years, I could have lived anywhere,” Maass said, adding he and his wife chose to settle and retire in Cassian.

“Why?” he asked. “Because this is where we honeymooned, we did it because of that zoned forest area ... like I say, I have an online business now. I could live anywhere. My customers don’t care where I live. But we choose to live in beautiful Cassian.”

Maass a few minutes later noted Herman’s mother, Dorothy, was on the town plan committee at the time of the town’s 2009 comprehensive plan’s approval. 

“She wrote this,” he said to Herman. 

“She said your objective when you got on the town board was to defeat this gravel pit,” Herman told Maass. 

“My objective was to be on the town board and do my part for the town,” Maass said. “Turns my stomach to be in government, but I think everybody should do their turn.”

Augustine then, unnecessarily as the motion he made earlier to approve the re-zoning request was still on the table with the second from Herman, made the motion again and Herman provided the second. 

This time, when he called the vote, it was 2 to 1 with Maass, as expected, voting against. 

There was more public comment on the issue later in the meeting during that portion of the agenda — among those to speak was Harshaw resident Mike Ryden, who said the town board was doing their jobs as elected officials, but also asked if the entire 80 acres needed to be turned into a gravel pit right away — but those opposed to the re-zoning will have their next opportunity to present objections during a public hearing at a Oneida County Zoning and Planning Committee meeting in the next few weeks. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected].

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