The town of Millston and Meteor Timber signed an agreement Tuesday for safety updates to the Hwy. O intersections at Interstate 94 and Hwy. 12 in exchange for Millston repealing its noise, vehicle idling and emissions ordinances passed in August.
Meteor Timber, one of the largest private landowners in Wisconsin, has proposed building a processing and loading facility along Interstate 94 near the town of Grant in Monroe County to dry and ship frac sand the company will mine from a nearby site in the Jackson County town of Millston.
Meteor Timber will truck the sand south on Fish Creek Road and then west on Hwy. O. Trucks would then turn left on Hwy. 12 to get to their processing and loading facility. Meteor Timber has already signed a road use maintenance agreement with the Jackson County Highway Department that would make a section of Hwy. O an all-seasons road and allow Meteor Timber to truck sand the entire year without weight restrictions.
To stop Meteor Timber from using the Hwy. O route, the town of Millston approached the Jackson County Highway Department while it was negotiating its road use maintenance agreement. In May, town of Millston chairman Dan Smrekar expressed concerns about the number of homes and commercial businesses on the highway, along with a narrow underpass at Interstate 94 and ATV traffic that peaks at 280 vehicles per day.
When the Highway Committee moved forward with the agreement, Millston passed ordinances regulating emissions from certain diesel vehicles, prohibiting idling of regulated vehicles for more than three minutes and established noise standards within a portion of the town, making operating diesel vehicles more restrictive through the town.
The agreement signed this week between the town of Millston and Meteor Timber improves upon the original road use maintenance agreement in exchange for Millston rescinding the ordinances, said Chris Mathis, project manager with Meteor Timber.
“The town had expressed safety concerns around ATV traffic and then also cars being jammed up when trains were coming through the town of Millston,” Mathis said. “Safety is important to us as it relates to this project, so we sat down to see if we could put our mutual interests together and come up with an agreement that made sense to both parties.”
Smrekar declined to comment because the agreement was still being finalized. It has been signed by both parties, according to Mathis.
Agreement takes shape
A major stipulation in the agreement extends the ATV lane beyond I-94 to where it turns off Hwy. O north of I-94.
“The town from the beginning had expressed concern about ATV traffic, and so this is an extension of that ATV lane to try and make it as safe as we can make it,” Mathis said.
The agreement also stipulates that Meteor Timber would pay to widen the bridge over Robinson Creek to accommodate the ATVs and alter the intersection where ATV riders turn from Hwy. O onto the trail. That turn has a blind spot for ATV drivers.
Meteor Timber also agreed to pay for a stop light on Hwy. O that would stop traffic traveling southwest before reaching the I-94 ramp when a train is coming through the town.
“It was important for the town that when trains were coming through Millston that trucks wouldn’t back up in town,” Mathis said.
The proposed light would be a yellow flashing light while a train is not going through town. It would then turn red when a train passes through to stop traffic.
“I don’t know who thought about that, but to me it makes really great sense. Now you have everything on Hwy. O − you don’t have everything backed up by the post office,” said now-retired Jackson County Highway Commissioner Randy Anderson.
Anderson was concerned about the regulatory hurdles. He said it could require conversations with the railroad to put in a signal to trip the red light.
Meteor Timber also agreed to reduce its truck traffic if Hwy. 12 became the alternate route during a shutdown of I-94 and pay $50,000 to Millston to help with the upkeep of the town roads.
Ordinances reach an end
With the agreement, Millston agreed to rescind the ordinances it passed in August, which many viewed as a way for the town to restrict Meteor Timber trucks from traveling on Hwy. O.
“The village of Millston has been very busy trying to draw up ordinances and everything else to try and stave off what is going to happen once Meteor Timber starts their sand mining and the trucks run through the town,” Anderson said, adding that the ordinances are getting attention from local legislators and the governor.
“I think they (legislators) are getting quite annoyed at the town because they are trying to produce all of these ordinances that make it impossible for Meteor Timber to do business,” Anderson said.
Not only did ordinances restrict Meteor Timber’s vehicles, they also restricted vehicles operated by the general public.
“If you were enforcing them now, you’d have to arrest everybody in Millston for operating their car,” Jackson County Board of Supervisors chairman Ray Ransom said. “They wanted only one thing enforced and that was Meteor Timber’s things. The sound decibel levels that they were using—you could go out any time of day with the Interstate there and they would be exceeded.”
In addition, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, which is tasked with enforcing laws in Millston, would need to get additional equipment to test emissions and noise levels and spend more hours in the town.
“The sheriff’s office is not suited to enforce such rules and regulations, and it would actually increase the need for personnel in that area,” Jackson County Sheriff Duane Waldera said. “What they are asking us to do is well outside of our skills, not that we couldn’t purchase and do all of this stuff, but it just seems that this might be better suited for the township because they are the ones that have an expectation on this issue.”
This is why the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office decided it could not enforce the ordinances itself and instead left it up to the town to enforce the ordinances.
“There is some kind of clause in the building of these ordinances that allows somebody to enforce it so it doesn’t always have to be a cop,” Waldera said.
He said everyone would be subject to the ordinance’s enforcement, not just Meteor Timber.
“We would have to be fair to the situation and enforce it fairly across the board, so we would not be discriminating against anybody. We would definitely be enforcing it as the letter of the law, and that is just the way it has to be. I don’t think you can isolate or become more strict on one versus the other. I don’t think it is fair to the community, even though in this situation it might look that way,” Waldera said. “It needs to be fair otherwise the laws don’t make any sense to have.”
Meteor Timber is finalizing the permits for the mine. The upgrades to Hwy. O would be completed at the same time the plant is built.