Mining still divides; county combines two departments
Oneida County’s board of supervisors may have voted mining down in the Town of Lynne at their August meeting, but the issue continues to cause a division that was evident at their December meeting held last Tuesday.
The conflict with mining was presented in a resolution brought to the board by supervisor Paul Dean. The resolution he drafted would eliminate any mining language from the county code. “The reason why I brought this forward is because we don’t have mining anymore,” said Dean. “We might have mining someday, but those who propose it would have to start with a new ordinance. But right now, we don’t need to have any mining language in our code.”
Supervisor Jack Martinson agreed. “If mining does come up in this county, people would have to go back to square one. This has been spoken on and spoken on, and you people think this is nothing. If someone wants to mine, so be it, but they should have to start from scratch.”
Supervisor Bob Mott was also for taking the language out of the code. “I think the mining issue will come up again in Oneida County and at that time I would like to see the tribes and county come together. Mr. Dean’s resolution will clear the air and give us a fresh start.”
However, supervisor Tom Rudolph was adamant about not eliminating the language from the county’s code. “I want to make clear that supporting this resolution has nothing to do with whether we’ll have mining here or not. We’ve heard less than one percent of the population (of the county) on this issue. The language in this resolution doesn’t automatically mean we will have mining, it just means we can explore the possibility of it.
“I’m upset at being called a bully about this whole process. The only calls I’ve had have asked me to keep the resolution on the books. It’s been used for many, many years and causes no harm to anybody. And this resolution comes from Mr. Dean who I have not seen at any of the committee meetings and has not heard all the debates on the issue. I urge to keep it on the books.”
Jerry Shidell said that taking the resolution off the books was sending a bad message to other industries that may think about coming into the county. “We’re sending a very strong message here,” he said. “The message we’re sending is just stay away and if that message becomes pervasive, who will want to come here? It [the resolution] is simply a hurdle and we shouldn’t be putting up more hurdles by taking the resolution off the books.”
Three members of the board were absent for the final vote on whether to eliminate or keep the resolution on the books and included Greg Berard, Gary Baier and Bob Martini. The board took a vote and the result was a nine to nine tie, which means the resolution did not pass and the language will remain in the county code. Those voting to keep the resolution on the books included Rudolph, Mike Timmons, Jack Sorensen, Scott Holewinski, Denny Thompson, Sonny Paszak, Dave Hintz, Shidell and Ted Cushing. Those voting to eliminate the language included Dean, Candy Sorensen, Jack Martinson, Bob Metropulos, Jim Intrepidi, Romelle Vandervest, Mott, Billy Fried and Carol Pedersen.
In other business, the board also voted to merge the solid waste and highway departments into one. That leaves Charlie Evenhouse, director of the Oneida County Landfill, without a job. It will also save the county $77,000. Brian Dutcher will become the patrol superintendent for the solid waste division and Ben Rich will become the patrol superintendent for the highway division. Freeman Bennett, who currently serves as the highway commissioner, will now oversee both departments.
The board went into closed session for about an hour to discuss the merger and reconvened to vote on the decision. Those voting to keep the departments separate included Vandervest, Dean, Mott, Candy Sorenson, Metropulos and Martinson. Supervisors voting to merge the departments included Cushing, Timmons, Thompson, Jack Sorenson, Paszak, Intrepidi, Holewinski, Fried, Pederson, Rudolph, Shidell and Hintz.
Bennett has extensive experience with solid waste in addition to his experience as a highway commissioner. The merger became effective Dec. 21 and Evenhouse will receive a severance package. He spoke after the vote. “I’m proud of the accomplishments I’ve achieved over the past four years, which include not only investing in the Solid Waste Department’s infrastructure, but moving the operations from being in the red to ending 2012 with a cash reserve. That was all done through cooperation with the committee and the county employees. I’ve enjoyed my time with the county. It has been a privilege to work with the people I’ve gotten to work with. I?wish them all the best in the future.”
Timber sales within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) were also a topic of discussion for county board members. A resolution was brought to the board by the Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee stating that federal agencies are not managing the 1.6 million acres that comprise this federal land, mainly by not harvesting timber from it. One part of the resolution read that the [forest] was an “exceptional natural resource capable of producing a sustainable supply of timber products on an annual basis to provide economic, social and biological benefits to Oneida County.”
“Recent discussion has been that if the federal government can’t manage these lands properly, then they should go back to the original owners which would be the counties they are in,” said John Bilogan, Oneida County’s forester. “The federal government has lots of obstacles when it comes to harvesting timber from these lands. There are lots of lawsuits over it. Now they say they are under budget and under staffed to do timber sales.”
“To have the national forest not managed properly is criminal,” said Shidell.
The board voted to pass the resolution and it will be sent to a host of governmental entities including President Barack Obama, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Chief of Forest Service Thomas Tidwell, U.S. Regional Forester Charles Myers, CNNF Forest Supervisor Paul Strong and a host of state and local politicians.
Brian Desmond, corporate counsel, told the board there would be no legal ramifications whether the board passed the resolution or not, but the possibility of it receiving much consideration is marginal. “They’ll take it for what is it worth for the paper and ink it’s printed on,” he said.