Proposed gravel pit mines could bring changes for small Lincoln County communitySubmitted: 04/28/2015

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TOWN OF SKANAWAN - A pair of proposed gravel pit mines could significantly change one area in Lincoln County. The mine sites would cover approximately 125 acres in the Town of Skanawan, southeast of Tomahawk. Experts believe the area has an extremely rich deposit, but some people worry the project will hurt the environment and grow larger than what the county could approve.

Wally Horabik and his wife live on 20-plus acres along County Highway S in the Town of Skanawan. Horabik says he was raised in southern Wisconsin but wanted to live in the rural north someday.

"We always wanted to get out in the country," Horabik said. "That's where I was. We built the barn and we were going to get animals, and we did."

Horabik has lived at the home for 30 years, but he says he'll move if Lincoln County approves the mining projects.

County Materials Corporation and American Asphalt want to dig two gravel pit mines next to Horabik's property. CMC is working with Daigles Oak Hills LLC to dig a 45-acre non-metallic mine and a wash plant, according to Lincoln County records. American Asphalt is proposing an additional 77-acre non-metallic mine off of County Road S.

Both organizations are applying for a conditional use permit to operate in the county for a prolonged period of time.

Meanwhile, Horabik says he lived in his current home when workers used nearby gravel for a Highway 51 expansion. He says a dump truck would drive by his home every 35 seconds during the busiest stretch of work on that project.

"[The trucks are] just rumbling because they're full heading this direction, so they're trying to get up this hill, and they're speeding up coming the other direction because they're trying to get filled back up," Horabik said.

CMC says any new gravel mine project wouldn't require that much truck traffic; a CMC geologist told the Lincoln County Land Services Committee in April that the number of daily truck loads would not exceed 25 a day. But that number would only cover one of the two possible mines, and Hoarbik can't forget his experiences from years ago.

"You couldn't walk out around the street, you couldn't ride your bike, and you couldn't walk," he said.

County meeting records show the two mine sites would sit just east of Lake Skanawan. If the use permit is granted, CMC would then agree to a deal that would grant them the mineral rights for seven 40-acre plots connected east of the lake, while Daigles Oak Hills LLC would retain the surface rights on the properties. That arrangement would fall through if the permit isn't approved but, in an effort to win the permit, Daigles LLC told board members it would reclaim the property after the mining project is complete and use it as hunting land.

Opponents of the planned mines don't think the land could ever look as pristine as it does now, even after any reclamation project. They also believe the mine sites would grow and consume the entirety of the seven 40-acre plots.

"To me it would be just a shame," said local property owner Michael Heise when asked about the possible project.

Heise has owned land nearby since the 1960s. He believes the gravel pits will destroy the area's beauty. The local landowners say they're committed to reclaiming the land after it's mined, but Heise doesn't believe that will happen.

"[It would] just [be] a travesty, to be able to see this beautiful area of nature right in the center Town of Skanawan just being destroyed like that," he said.

A legal representative for Heise argues that the proposal only benefits the Daigles LLC and the two gravel pit companies. In a statement to the board, opponents argued that the gravel pit mines can't be allowed under current ordinances.

The area where the two sites are proposed is zoned as a rural 4 district.

According to Lincoln County ordinances, the district is intended to preserve rural character and promote continued low-intensity and open space uses in areas of the County not envisioned for intensive agricultural or commercial forestry use. Appropriate uses include continued low-impact farming and forestry where viable, single family residences up to a density not exceeding 4 dwelling units per 40 acres owned, and associated home occupations and other limited compatible business opportunities.

Opponents say that's why it shouldn't get approved. They also argue it will lower their property values.

According to county records, the Town of Skanawan approved, on a 3-0 vote, its recommendation for approval of the request. The committee members didn't take any action on the matter at the April meeting. However, county board members could discuss that decision at a meeting in May.

Related Weblinks:
April Meeting Minutes

Story By: Adam Fox

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