EDGERTON — Despite serious safety concerns raised by one of its officials, the state Department of Transportation will allow a new quarry to open on Highway 73 in the town of Albion if the operation wins a bid to supply materials for the Interstate 39-90 construction project.
Yahara Materials, of Waunakee, hopes to begin operation of the quarry for the duration of the construction project on portions of a 100-acre cornfield owned by a large farm operation about 1.5 miles from the Highway 73 interchange with Interstate 39-90 in southeast Dane County.
At issue is a DOT report from last June that said up to 60 trucks per hour would use the quarry driveway to leave or enter Highway 73 during busy periods. That number has been disputed by Yahara Materials president Tim Geoghegan even though the report from statewide access engineer Mike Roach said the estimate was made by a company official.
If that estimate is accurate, that extra truck traffic could create problems especially since Highway 73 is expected to get busier as an alternate route for interstate traffic during the construction period, DOT access manager Scott Hinkle said.
As a condition for gaining access to the highway, a DOT state access committee ordered Yahara Materials to pay for an extra lane on the far side of the quarry entrance so traffic can drive by trucks turning left into the quarry, Hinkle said. But he added that it also should have ordered the company to add a full lane on the quarry side to allow trucks a safer right turn out of the driveway and onto the highway.
“That’s the one that is bothering me,” Hinkle said.
“Without that acceleration lane, those trucks are going to be pulling right out in front of cars going 55 mph or so,” he said. “I kept arguing and saying, ‘Why does this (extra lane) not have to happen?’ ”
Hinkle said he turned down Yahara Materials’ request to access the highway from the quarry but was later overruled by the state access committee. “Somebody said it didn’t have to be, and I don’t get that,” Hinkle said. “That’s the one that could come back and haunt somebody, in my opinion, because it should have to be there.”
Yahara Materials’ Geoghegan disagreed. He said the highway will be widened at the quarry entrance to allow trucks to make less of a harsh right turn onto the highway but it will be less than a full lane. Also, he estimated that no more than about 20 trucks an hour would leave or enter the quarry at busy periods.
He added the DOT’s plans for the quarry entrance are the same for all similar entrances on Highway 73. “If ours is unsafe, then all the others that were built are unsafe,” Geoghegan said.
A DOT official said Geoghegan’s estimate of 20 trucks per hour coming in and out of the quarry is the most accurate. “I’ve never seen (60 trucks per hour) come out of a quarry,” said DOT planning supervisor Dale Oestreich. He added that DOT also will order Yahara Materials to stop hauling on the highway if all interstate traffic is diverted to Highway 73 for any reason.
The Albion Town Board and the Dane County Board’s Zoning & Land Regulatory Committee granted Yahara Materials a conditional use permit last year.
That drew the ire of owners of property adjoining the proposed quarry. Court documents show that Dean and Signe Johnson are suing the Albion board, the County Board and its Zoning & Land Regulatory Committee, Yahara Materials and others for allegedly breaking open meeting laws and violating rules of procedure to get the quarry plan approved.
“They are ignoring laws that protect the environment and people’s lives,” Signe Johnson said. “Yahara Materials was supposed to prove that the quarry would be a benefit to the public but they’ve proven nothing. Yet they let them get what they want.”
Johnson also said that some DOT officials might have been swayed toward granting Yahara Materials access to the highway after the company wrote a $5,000 check to Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign last July. According to website documents, it’s the largest check Yahara Materials has written for the Walker campaign. The previous largest was $1,000.
“Well, that is a bunch of bull,” Geoghegan said.
According to meeting documents from the Albion board and the county Zoning & Land Regulatory Committee, Yahara Materials will lease the land for no more than 10 years from Crazy Acres LLC, which had been previously using it to grow crops. The plan is for Yahara Materials to remove about the top 25 feet of stone and then fill the quarry with topsoil before returning it to Crazy Acres as an improved field for crops.
Dane County Zoning Administrator Roger Lane said the stone that will be mined is exceptional for highway construction. He added that the quarry most likely will be open for less than 10 years because the interstate and other nearby highway projects will quickly use up all of the quarry’s stone. “The interstate project will need 10 quarries like the one in the town of Albion,” Lane said.
However, it will never open if Yahara Materials doesn’t win any of the construction bids, Lane said. That would also cancel out any of the highway improvements at the quarry entrance ordered by the DOT.
The most serious accusation in the Johnsons’ lawsuit is that Lane did not correct Geoghegan when he told the Zoning & Land Regulatory Committee in May that the DOT had already given its approval to the plan. At that point, the DOT had not given its approval. In fact, Hinkle said he had told Lane in an email one day earlier that the conditional use permit should be based on gaining access to the highway and that he wasn’t going to grant that access.
Signe Johnson said the committee might have voted against approving the quarry plan if they had known Hinkle was against it for safety reasons. But committee member Al Matano said the point was moot because the plan was approved with a stipulation that it needed the DOT’s blessing before operation could begin.
“We didn’t think we had to do the DOT’s job for them,” Matano said.
The Johnsons appealed the decision to the County Board in September but they fell short of getting the two-thirds majority votes required to overturn it. Matano said the committee spent extra time listening to the Johnsons because members agreed the Albion board did not do its job well by failing to properly post meeting times. It also became a name-calling event at times, too, he said.
“That’s why as a member of the zoning committee I didn’t mind them screaming at us because they came to us in an angry posture,” Matano said.