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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has once again approved a resolution supporting public ownership of a portion of the Tyrone nuclear power plant property along the Lower Chippewa River in the Town of Peru.
The situation is a “political knot,” said Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and chair of the Planning, Resources & Development committee, at the Dunn County Board’s January 16 meeting.
The county board first submitted a resolution supporting public ownership of the Tyrone property several years ago, Quinn said.
The Dunn County Board approved a resolution on September 21, 2016, supporting the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources purchase of 990 acres of the Tyrone property.
Since the early 1970s, Northern States Power (NSP and now known as Xcel Energy), has owned more than 4,000 acres along the Lower Chippewa River in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area in the Town of Peru known as the Tyrone property.
According to the resolution, the Natural Resources Board has already approved a Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grant requested by Landmark Conservancy to purchase 562 acres of the Tyrone property and has forwarded it to the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance.
The Joint Committee on Finance must approve moving forward with the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grant funding, and therein lies the problem, said Lindsey Ketchel, executive director of Landmark Conservancy, during the public comments portion of the Dunn County Board meeting.
Last June, the issue of the Knowles-Nelson funding came before the Joint Committee on Finance, and there was one objection to moving forward, she said.
Another problem is that objections can be made anonymously, and it is difficult to resolve issues when you do not know who made the objection and what the objection is, Ketchel said.
The Knowles-Nelson funding was supposed to come before the Joint Committee on Finance 30 days later for a vote, but the vote never happened, she said.
Now the purchase of the Tyrone property by Landmark Conservancy is “in a holding pattern,” Ketchel said.
The Dunn County Sportsmen’s Alliance also has sent a letter of support for public ownership of a portion of the Tyrone property, Supervisor Quinn said.
“It is important to take a stand … we would like this to move forward,” he said.
Larry Bjork, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he was concerned about the history of the Tyrone property.
The acreage originally was individual farms and residences, and NSP threatened to seize the property by eminent domain, so people were forced to sell their farms and homes, Bjork said, noting that many of the properties had been in families for generations.
Eminent domain is the right of government or an agent for the government to appropriate private property for public use.
In this case, NSP was intending to develop a nuclear power plant to generate electricity, which would have been considered a public use.
“It seems unfortunate” that people have not had a chance to buy back their family property, Larry Bjork said.
Quinn replied that he could very much appreciate Bjork’s concerns and noted that at the time NSP had been purchasing the property, he had worked with the landowners.
“It was a hard thing for people, and I wish we could go back and re-do it,” he said.
Unfortunately, if the Tyrone property is not acquired for public use, Xcel Energy would probably try to sell the property in such a way as to maximize profit on the sale, Quinn said.
Becoming a public property is the best way to provide access to a unique and important property, he said.
The Dunn County Board approved the resolution expressing support for Landmark Conservancy’s current effort to purchase 562 acres of the Tyrone property with only one “no” vote from Supervisor Larry Bjork.
Landmark Conservancy is a non-profit organization that serves 20 counties in western and northwestern Wisconsin and is a merger of West Wisconsin Land Trust and Bayfield Regional Conservancy.
According to an article published on the Dunn County News website written in July of 2018 by Bruce Gardow, a volunteer at the Dunn County Historical Museum, the property purchased by NSP became known as Tyrone because of a village that had been incorporated in 1861 and was located on property owned by two brothers, Joe and Stanley Cider, who claimed to be the only residents of the village.