During the Jackson County Highway Department meeting Tuesday, committee members approved the department to begin discussing a Road-Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA) with Meteor Timber for the proposed truck route from their mine to their rail loadout facility.
Meteor Timber proposes trucking sand south on Fish Creek Road and then west on Hwy. 0. They would then turn left on Hwy. 12 to get to their rail loadout facility. The RUMA proposed by Meteor Timber would make Hwy. O an all-seasons road and would allow them to truck sand the entire year without the possibility of the road having weight restrictions.
The $65 million dollar project proposed by Meteor Timber has been under heavy scrutiny for filling in wetlands on top of mining for sand. The mine is expected to have 90 full-time employees and have a life of more than 25 years.
Meteor Timber presented a pavement analysis completed by American Engineering Testing (AET), a third-party consultant, which concluded there are two-and-a-half miles of Hwy. O that are in poor shape and need to be completely reconstructed. The remaining six miles would need an overlay to stand up to the all-seasons traffic.
AET expects the improvements to Hwy. O to cost $500,000 to $600,000, which Meteor Timber would pay for if they are granted the RUMA.
The residents of the town of Millston also have safety concerns, which Meteor Timber addressed during the meeting.
“There would be up to 210 loaded trucks a day heading to the dry plant and then the 210 empty trucks returning. Taking into consideration along with the existing traffic and looking at the ATV use along the route, the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 12 and County Trunk O will operate at a level of service A,” said Phil Newman, an engineer with SEH, explaining that they would expect someone to wait less than 10 seconds on average before they can turn at the intersection of Hwy. 12 and O.
Even with these findings, town of Millston chair Dan Smrekar felt like the findings were under-estimated, “I don’t think for one minute that 400 trucks are going to be the maximum number of trucks that are going to go through Millston.”
SEH used data provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Jackson County Forestry Department to come up with their traffic estimates for the area, using high volume periods for both ATV and vehicle traffic.
Newman also said Meteor Timber would be willing to fund paving, striping and signs for new five-foot shoulders for ATV riders on each side of Hwy. O between Interstate 94 and the railroad near Millston to make the area safer. Meteor Timber also confirmed that they would be willing to work with the county to slow down traffic in the area.
Geometric upgrades were also recommended to help facilitate the truck traffic at the intersections of Fish Creek Rd. and Hwy. O; Hwy. O and McKenna Rd.; and Hwy. 12 and the Meteor Timber rail loadout facility.
Alternative routes a non-starter
Meteor Timber also addressed other routes proposed by the town of Millston. They cited several reasons those proposed routes would not be viable options including that other routes would disrupt wetlands, would be less safe for ATV and snowmobile users and are prohibited for Meteor Timber trucks by neighboring towns.
Representatives for Meteor Timber also said that the conditional use permit voted on by the Zoning Committee already states Hwy. O is the preferred route and also required the mine to halt truck traffic during Labor Day and Memorial Day festivities in Millston.
“I understand that is was contemplated by all of them (Zoning Committee), but I doubt that at the conversation with zoning that they talked about an all-seasons road versus a non-all-seasons road,” highway commissioner Randy Anderson said.
Anderson said that this agreement is like no other Jackson County sand mine RUMA before it because this RUMA would not be temporary. All other RUMAs the committee has signed before for a sand mine were temporary and didn’t necessarily require the road to be improved to an all-seasons standard.
The Highway Committee offered other routes for the mine to bypass Millston including using I-94 as suggested by Danny Iverson, a member of the committee.
“You are looking at the people sitting here are from the town of Millston and they don’t want your trucks in the town of Millston. Me, I am ok with it, but these people are not. That route using the interstate system would bypass even going into Millston,” Iverson said.
Meteor Timber didn’t feel that option was financially viable and it would require them to get a RUMA from Monroe County.
Hwy. O RUMA make or break for Meteor Timber
Ultimately, Meteor Timber admitted that if they were unable to get a RUMA agreement with Jackson County for Hwy. O, the rail loadout facility may not be a possibility.
“It goes to whether or not we would agree to build the plant. Ultimately for us to make an investment that is going to provide jobs for a long period of time, we have to have a project that works. That is part of the factor that determines whether this works,” Meteor Timber representative Chris Mathis said. “There are some people here today that don’t care for our project for whatever reason, but there are also a lot of people that are excited about our project and want us to build it.”
Meteor Timber touted letters of support from Millis Transfer Inc., Cenex, Homestead Inn, Woodland Riders Snowmobile Club, Millston-Knapp Sportsmen’s Club and the 400 Club. Even with these letters of support, some community businesses such as Deli, Inc. in Millston do not support this plan.
On top of making the initial improvements to Hwy. O, Meteor Timber also offered a maintenance fund for future improvements made to Hwy. O for the county to use.
“Today the county is responsible for taking care of the road. Under our proposal those funds would be able to go somewhere else to improve county roads,” Mathis said.
Mathis expected that it would take a year to build the plant and are hoping to begin construction on Hwy. O in late 2017 or early 2018.
After the unanimous decision by the committee, Charles Jensen of Hixton and member of the committee tried to console the residents of Millston in attendance.
“You are not alone in this. Years ago the villages of Hixton, Alma Center and Merrillan were concerned too and we have had two mines going through those towns and as far as I know there hasn’t been any foreseeable concerns other than I might have to wait an extra half a minute to get across the road,” Jensen said.
The committee intends to make a decision about the RUMA at the next Jackson County Highway Department meeting in July.