More than two months after a proposed expansion of a gravel pit in the Town of Rutland was supposed to go to a public hearing, the town is talking about it again.
And now, how officials are discussing it is becoming a point of contention.
Though the Plan Commission took no action regarding the pit at its June 1 meeting, Sup. Deana Zentner contends the discussion, without a proper notice, was inappropriate.
The original plan to discuss the proposal by Kevin Hahn to expand the mineral extraction site near 430 Center Road discussion was postponed from March 2 to March 24 before the COVID-19 shutdown caused the town to put nonessential meetings on hold. The Town Board met April 9 through Zoom to declare a state of emergency and postpone its annual meeting but its agenda did not include any discussion of a new date for the gravel pit public hearing.
On May 20, Town Chair Peter Loughrin added a discussion of how public hearings might be held given social distancing needs to the original agenda. The item did not specifically reference the quarry application, but the commission discussed rules of operation for the gravel pit along with the more germane discussion of larger sites that could host a public hearing.
That’s a violation of the state’s open meetings law, according to Attorney General Josh Kaul’s Open Meetings Compliance Guide, published in May 2019.
“A governmental body … may not address any topics that are not reasonably related to the information in the notice,” it states.
Loughrin disagreed, saying people looking at that item on the agenda should expect discussion to go to the quarry.
“You talk CUP in the Town of Rutland right now and quarry won’t come up,” Loughrin said. “Seriously, of course it will come up.”
Loughrin told the commission Hahn was in no hurry to have the CUP approved, and after finding its options limited, the commission declined to set a date for the hearing.
Zentner, who attended and participated June 1, said many town residents were not being sufficiently informed to weigh in on plans for a public hearing.
The next morning, Zentner fired off an email to Loughrin complaining about it.
“I was shocked and appalled at the detailed and lengthy conversation that took place at the June 1, 2020 PC Meeting regarding Kevin Hahn and his potential gravel quarry expansion on Center Road,” she wrote in her email to the chair. “When Peter introduced Agenda Item #6, he stated that he added this item as it pertained to Kevin Hahn.”
Loughrin said he thought it was a proactive process and positive feedback to have in advance of a public hearing.
“It was just brainstorming, fact-finding and idea sharing,” he said. “I said we couldn’t go there in one of the conversations as it was moving and we came back to specifics. Specifics are helpful in creating the agenda for that hearing, the questioning and answers we are seeking.”
Hahn proposed last year to allow expansion of the quarry, which re-opened in 2017 after being out of operation for several years, from 10 acres to 40.
Two specific concerns that came up were how close the gravel pit expansion can be to a cemetery and the regulations required for fencing.
The quarry has also drawn some concerns among residents about the increased volume of truck traffic. Loughrin said Dane County will not rule on the permit until the town has adopted its own action report.
“We are going to take this slow and make sure people can give feedback to the board and the planning commission to get our ducks in order to have a proper hearing at the proper time where everyone gets a fair shake at it,” Loughrin said.
Zentner and Loughrin squared off late last year over open meeting rules, when Loughrin initially planned to remove public comment from the agenda. He instead planned to allow people to speak freely within the meeting, and by the end of the year, both were happening – public comment getting a specific item, along with people speaking freely during the meeting.
The day after the commission’s discussion on the gravel pit, Zentner announced during the June 2 Town Board meeting she was planning on forwarding her complaint to the state Department of Justice.
“Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy, and I think the board needs to take a close look again at the open meetings law,” Zentner said. “We need to apply the open meetings law equally and fairly, and that was not done last night.”