Panel says roads, quarries and shoreland zoning important to maintain as ‘local control’

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  When it comes to roads, quarries and gravel pits, and shoreland zoning to help lakes polluted with blue-green algae, who is going to know more about the local situation: Dunn County or Madison?

A panel of speakers invited to the Dunn County Judicial Center by the Chippewa Valley League of Women Voters the evening of February 8 believe the answer to the question about local situations is — Dunn County.

[emember_protected] One primary area where maintaining local control is essential involves roads and general transportation aid from the state, said Dan Fedderly, chair of the Town of Sherman, chair of the Dunn County Towns Association and former St. Croix County highway commissioner.

About 50 people attended the forum.

When it comes to roads, town boards and county boards are going to know more about what is needed to keep the roads in good repair, Fedderly said.

“This is one we protect for local control,” he said.

In addition to Fedderly, the panel included Steve Rasmussen of Boyceville, chair of the Dunn County Board, and Scott Cox, St. Croix County corporation counsel and former Dunn County corporation counsel.

The Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP), which provides additional transportation aids for road work, also must remain under local control, Fedderly said.

Fedderly worked with legislators to write the legislation for LRIP in the early 1990s.

When LRIP was first implemented, municipalities filled out a simple one-page application to ask for additional transportation aids to complete road projects, he said.

Guess how many pages of instructions now accompany the LRIP application? Fedderly asked.

The LRIP application now has over 100 pages of instructions.

By making the applications so complicated, “that’s not local control,” Fedderly said.

The LRIP statute and administrative code have not changed since the legislation was first written, he said.

“But with more than 100 pages of instructions, it’s not local control,” Fedderly reiterated.

Bridges

The Local Bridge Improvement Program also is an area that would benefit from more local control, he said.

Federal money is included in bridge aids, and many of the local bridges need work, Fedderly said.

Because of all of the paperwork and other administrative requirements, it is now between five years and seven years before a bridge project is even built, he said.

In addition, 35 to 45 percent of the cost of a bridge project goes for administrative costs, or what is known as the “deliverable cost,” Fedderly said.

The 35 to 45 percent of cost, “that’s just to ‘deliver.’ We have not built any bridges yet,” he said.

If local bridge projects were completely built locally, the deliverable cost about be five to 10 percent of the project cost, he said.

If the project was under local control more money would actually go into building bridges, Fedderly said.

The Federal Swap Proposal also would save money and put more control locally, Fedderly said.

A certain percentage of gas tax is federal gas tax, and that money goes back into local projects. But because some of the money is federal, it requires more oversight for the projects, he said.

Big road projects, like improvements to the interstate system, have big impacts over a wide area, so then, yes, more oversight makes sense, Fedderly said.

But for smaller local projects, it would make more sense for the state to replace the federal money and then let the road project be completely locally controlled, he said.

“We will get more bang for your buck that way,” Fedderly said.

Gravel pits and quarries

Proposed legislation on the state level would have removed local control of gravel pits and quarries, Fedderly said.

“You should never allow someone from that far away (in Madison) to control your local resources,” he said.

Gravel pits and quarries are used to generate material for local road projects and for other local construction projects.

For now, gravel pits and quarries remain under local control.

Assault

Assaults on local control are not only happening in Wisconsin but also are happening all over the country, Rasmussen said.

The money for the assaults on local control is coming from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),  and is backed Americans For Prosperity, he said.

ALEC writes “model” legislation and suggests that Republican-controlled legislatures then implement the legislation.

Many Republican legislators are members of ALEC and go to ALEC conventions.

Because of the ALEC influence on legislation, that’s why so many states have the same statutes being  signed into law, Rasmussen said.

Milwaukee passed a referendum with 68 percent approval to require employers to give employees paid sick leave. The state legislature then passed a law negating the referendum held in Milwaukee so employers would not be required to provide paid sick leave, Rasmussen said.

Using ALEC-suggested legislation and over-riding a referendum are not examples of maintaining local control, he said.

Shoreland zoning

Scott Cox was the Dunn County corporation counsel when the county was working on the shoreland zoning ordinance.

Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin have been declared “impaired waters” because of the thick algae blooms that occur in the lakes every summer.

The two lakes are at the bottom of the 1,900-square-mile Red Cedar River Watershed. The algae blooms are fed by phosphorus run-off from the watershed.

Dunn County’s shoreland and wetland zoning ordinance was specifically designed to help control run-off into the lakes to reduce the amount of phosphorus available to feed the algae.

The shoreland and wetland zoning ordinance was a “major tool” for Dunn County to reduce pollution in the two lakes, Cox said.

The 2015-2017 state budget bill included an “assault” on shoreland zoning introduced by Adam Jarchow, he said.

Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) is the representative for the state’s 28th Assembly District.

Jarchow’s provision made Wisconsin’s NR 115, the state’s version of shoreland zoning, the maximum amount of shoreland protections that could be used on a local level, Cox said.

Jarchow also suggested shoreland protections should be optional for any county and that counties should have the local control to not have any shoreland zoning, he said.

Rasmussen noted allowing counties to not have any shoreland zoning could be especially disastrous for Dunn County if, for example, Barron County decided not to have any shoreland zoning, since Barron County is north of Dunn County, and Dunn County is at the bottom of the watershed.

Jarchow eventually pulled the opt-out provision out of the budget bill, but NR 115 became the maximum standard for counties for shoreland and wetland zoning, Cox said.

The state did not hold any committee hearings on the change to shoreland zoning, and there was no public input of on the provision, Cox said.

Dunn County’s shoreland ordinance had many “innovative provisions,” he said.

The county spent years working on the shoreland and wetland zoning ordinance to help reduce the algae blooms on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin, and “then it went away by surprise without public hearing,” Cox said.

Since then, Dunn County has made a number of changes to the shoreland zoning ordinance to bring into compliance with state-imposed standards.

St. Croix River

Cox also spoke about a complicated case in St. Croix County involving the Murr family and several lots and a cabin they own on the St. Croix River.

The Murr family wanted to sell one of the lots to pay for improvements to the cabin. The St. Croix River is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is a national park. The St. Croix is one of more than 200 rivers protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The dispute started in 2004 when St. Croix County blocked the sale of the lot based on 1976 regulations that prohibit new construction intended to prevent over-crowding and control pollution along the river.

The Murrs argued not allowing the sale of the lot amounted to “a taking” of their land and that their river front property was over-regulated, Cox said.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which in a 5-3 decision, rejected the family’s argument that conservation rules had made value of the land worthless because they had been denied compensation for part of the property.

St. Croix County had argued that granting an exception to the Murr family would make it more difficult for the county to regulate development anywhere along the St. Croix River.

That’s when Jarchow introduced legislation to protect property owners from local laws prohibiting development in what has become known as the “homeowner’s bill of rights” to allow property owners to use and sell substandard lots.

Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law last November.

The situation is “an example of pre-emption of local control,” Cox said.

St. Croix County devoted 11 years of time and resources to protecting local control and protecting the St. Croix River, which resulted in, “from a practical standpoint — nothing,” he said.

Questions

Several people attending the forum wondered what citizens could do to protect local control.

“At the ballot box,” Rasmussen said.

Local control can be protected by “consistency among legislators,” Fedderly said.

“See how your representatives vote, and then vote accordingly,” Cox said. [/emember_protected]