Payne & Dolan's Caledonia quarry

Payne & Dolan's Caledonia quarry provides gravel for many construction projects in southeastern Wisconsin. Under a biennial budget proposal, some regulatory power over quarries could transfer from local officials to the state.

MADISON — Under the transportation plan that was approved by the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday, the state could take more control over regulating quarries, thus reducing local municipalities’ powers.

If the plan is approved by the full Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers, local governmental entities would not be able to enforce their own stricter regulations regarding water quality and air quality surrounding quarries within their borders. They also would not be able to limit blasting without state approval.

Local governments would retain control of zoning for new or expanded quarries.

A similar provision was included in the 2017-19 budget, but then-Gov. Scott Walker vetoed it.

The 2017 provision was opposed by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which was concerned that removing local control would further divide neighborhoods and the businesses that operate nearby mines.

What could change?

The motion is looking to “limit the authority” of local municipalities “to place limits or conditions on the operations of a quarry.”

Instead, restrictions on quarries would originate at the state level, although municipalities are allowed to file petitions through the Department of Safety and Professional Services to make changes.

Municipalities could still suspend a quarry’s operating permit, but only if state laws had been violated or if the Department of Natural Resources found that its rules have been broken.

Among the provisions are:

  • Municipalities would not be allowed to limit blasting in a quarry, although restrictions could be imposed if the Department of Safety and Professional Services approves a municipality’s petition.
  • In relation to quarries, standards for groundwater quality and for air quality cannot be any more protective than the minimums set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
  • Municipalities won’t be able to require quarries to conduct their own water quality testing more than once per year.
  • Local governments are still allowed to require quarries to notify nearby residents of when they plan to blast. They can also require pre-blast building surveys and pre-blast water testing to be conducted by a third party, rather than the quarry’s operators themselves.

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Connecting quarries and transportation

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, spent several minutes lambasting the motion during a committee meeting Thursday, accusing its Republican authors of shoehorning the quarry provision into a proposal that was supposed to be about transportation.

“Boy, you guys (referring to Republicans) have got some dirty duck in here tonight. Now you’re getting your dirty water,” Taylor said. “This is another attempt, right here, to subvert local control and not let localities deal with water-quality issues. It shouldn’t be in this motion. I don’t know why you think you have got to sneak it through … you pre-empt them from enforcing their own air quality standards.”

State Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, responded by saying that, since waterflow and airflow often affect more than one municipality, it shouldn’t be up to a single municipality to define what the standards are.

The Payne & Dolan quarry in Caledonia is adjacent to the City of Racine border, just north of Three Mile Road. Concerns regarding noise, vibrations related to blasting and dust have been raised by residents of both Racine and Caledonia.

That quarry has been a point of contention for more than a year between some residents and the village leaders who approved a 31-acre expansion last September. Several residents have called for increased studies regarding potential damage to foundations of homes because of blasting, and also concerns over effects to air quality.

If the state changes are approved, it would be tougher — or at least more expensive — for municipalities to conduct these kinds of studies.

Born and his fellow Republicans did not respond to Taylor’s concerns on Thursday regarding how water and air regulation were connected to the $484 million transportation plan that was primarily concerned with fixing Wisconsin’s roads. But Born pointed out during an April committee meeting that the Department of Transportation could save money by sourcing gravel and other mined materials locally, and thus the state could benefit by aiding those Wisconsin quarries.

Regardless, Taylor said she would have liked to have had the quarry changes proposed in a separate bill.

Walker agreed when he rejected the mirroring proposal in 2017.

The transportation plan, which included the quarry regulatory changes, passed committee by a vote of 11-5 on Thursday. It was a party-line vote except for state Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, who voted nay with the Democrats.

No Racine representatives sit on the committee. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was unavailable for comment Friday.

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