Taking the floor at a public hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Peter Schraufnagel of Super Excavators said he thought he had a "win-win" deal with the city of Brookfield before his plans to bring fill from the Zoo Interchange project to the Sileno property fell through.
The project was to have ended with construction of multifamily homes and a city park.
Schraufnagel said his company put nine months of work and more than $125,000 in consulting fees into its proposal for the property, which has gone undeveloped since operation of a sand and gravel pit ceased in 1978. He urged lawmakers to vote against a proposal that would make it easier for municipalities to stop companies like Super Excavators from dumping fill on property where the owner has agreed to it.
"My company had been working cooperatively with the city of Brookfield to fill a portion of the Sileno property and convert that abandoned quarry into a park," Schraufnagel said. "This was a perfect opportunity."
B.R.A.D. petition foiled plan
The opportunity slipped away Nov. 5 when the Common Council passed an ordinance that slashed its own power to acquire the property for use as a park without a citywide referendum — an ordinance presented by Brookfield Residents Against the Dump with more than 3,000 signatures attached. The B.R.A.D. group opposed the amount of trucking that would come with dumping fill.
Schraufnagel said that with the city unable to commit to buying the land, his plan was too risky.
"We had to pull away from the project because we were stuck with a $1.2 million piece of property under contract, and I can't take the risk to just haul in there if I know I don't have some kind of five-year deal with the local municipality to find a secure place for our dirt from the interchange project," Schraufnagel said. "I could have owned it for the next 30 years and stared at a private piece of land that we could do nothing with."
Although he said before the ordinance passed that city officials were "really interested" in working with Super Excavators on the project, Mayor Steve Ponto also has said he wished he had more control to regulate or prevent the dumping of fill on the property. He said he proposed buying the land for a park in order to gain negotiating power over the amount and timing of the dumping.
Restoring local control
Ponto and Alderman Bill Carnell, who represents neighbors of the Sileno property, spoke in favor of the bill before the Assembly Committee on Urban and Local Affairs on Tuesday. That bill would allow exceptions to a statute passed in the budget bill that had limited local control over dumping from transportation projects like the Zoo Interchange.
"I've lost the ability to fully represent my people and protect them in this area," Carnell said.
The bill on the table, proposed by Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, would give municipalities power to stop fill operations if there are more than 500 residents living within a one-mile radius of the disposal site.
Schraufnagel said he never threatened to come in against the city's wishes as the current statute allowed him, but he said the statute did offer him some security.
"That statute was always out there as a bugaboo so that if we didn't get this operating agreement done with the city of Brookfield, they would have the fear of trying to work with someone from out of state or somebody else," Schraufnagel said.
Ponto said that fear is still real.
Super Excavators' plans for the site are officially off, and local businessman Mark Regal has proposed a plan that would not include any dumping, but Ponto said he is concerned about what could happen if Regal's plans do not move forward. The city could be faced with another developer who wants to fill the site.
"Our concern is with the proximity of the Zoo Interchange project. If the Regal contract doesn't go forward, for any reason, there would be a great deal of interest in other people depositing fill on that site," Ponto said.
B.R.A.D. members take mic
Several Brookfield residents, at least some of whom were members of B.R.A.D., also spoke in favor of the bill.
Paul Votto, who lives across the street from the Sileno property, said he came to support the bill for the sake of other communities that could face similar proposals.
"Fortunately, through the concerted effort of thousands of citizens, and frankly the financial support of a few individuals and businesses, it appears we have stopped this madness from occurring in our neighborhood," he said. "We won, in a way. But other communities may not be as fortunate."
■ Footage of the public hearing is available on WisEye.org.
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