Town Renegotiates Unimin Deal
The town will now get 15 cents a ton for the first million tons of sand mined each year and 10 cents a ton for the second million tons mined each year. Previously it had been 15 cents and five cents. In the first version of the agreement it sounded as though that the town would receive what is being called a user fee only as long as no other government entities--county, state or federal government--levied a tax on the sand mine. In the first agreement, it looked as though another government levied a tax, the town would lose that user fee. But the new version clarifies that. Should the county, state or federal government levy a tax and return some portion of that to the town of Greenfield, Unimin will take that portion off its user fee--but the town essentially will get the same amount. However, there may be some delay in the receipt of that money because if Unimin pays it to the county, state or federal government, the town has to wait to get reimbursed. However, if other government entities tax Unimin and do not pass any of those taxes on to the town, Unimin continues to pay the township that same amount. This means that the town will collect $250,000 annually from Unimin if it produces two million tons of sand of year. Unimin estimates that the mine will produce between one and two million tons of sand a year.
The town was able to wring this deal from Unimin because it had two small aces in the hole in its favor. One was that Unimin wanted two pieces of land that the town owns: its landfill and a town road. The township will sell that landfill to Unimin for slightly more than stipulated in the first agreement. Surveys showed that the tract of land being sold was slightly larger than originally thought, the town will sell the site to Unimin for $265,250. Unimin will then give the town another site for its recycling center and and will reimburse the town for the cost of building a new center that is consistent with what it now has.
The town will also vacate Flamingo Road and part of Flag Avenue--a process that requires public hearings, but the town will sign that agreement before a hearing about the road. Radcliffe (pictured at left) said that there are only two property owners along that stretch of road and one is Unimin. The other is a private landowner who will be able to use the road under the agreement so he can get to his own land. That section of the agreement was also modified to accommodate the landowner. Unimin also promised to build a berm or some fencing to separate the road from mining. Radcliffe said that means there's little likelihood of objections to transfer the road easements to Unimin.
The new agreement also includes promises that Unimin will fix any damage caused by blasting, that they will move quickly to deal with any water problems or contamination the mine might cause.
Referring to issues such as a good neighbor policy compensating property owners near the mine for property devaluation--some studies find that properties are devalued as much as 30 percent --and establishing air monitors, Unimin stood firm and did not budge. Radcliffe said that the town did take those concerns to the mining company but it would not compromises.
On the good neighbor policy, Steve Groening, who will manage the plant in Tunnel City, said that Unimin has not seen the property devaluations near its mines.
Groening said that has not been Unimin's experience. He said that the mine will generate jobs, that the company will bring 50 to 70 new families to the area whose family members will work at the mine and that it will generate support jobs. He said some properties in the area continue to sell at full price. However, at previous meetings, other landowners had said that they had sales fall through or had realtors tell them their property had lost half their value.
The town also agreed that it would not apply any other regulations to the Unimin mine after the agreement was signed, a provision that clearly wrankled some of in the crowd. However, many appeared satisfied with the agreement, applauding a woman who praised town chair Steve Witt for his handling of the situation. But many remained concerned about air, water, noise and property devaluation. Radcliffe said that although the town would be signing off on its ability to regulate Uinimin in the future, it could turn to the county, state and federal government for protection. He said that in certain ways, these governments are better equipped to deal with such matters. However, in saying this, he was ignoring the job-oriented focus of the Wisconsin legislature and governor. In several meetings of concerned Greenfield citizens, other political observers and elected officials have said that a township’s best protection in the current political climate is at the town level.
The sale of public lands requires a vote by the entire town. The town also has to vote to approve the building of new town buildings for the recycling center and to authorize the town board to collect the user fee from Unimin. Unimin will reimburse the town for the new recycling center.
Radcliffe said that the fact that the town had some leverage with its land and the road, which meant it could negotiate an agreement that he praised. When David Faulkner, a town resident, said the community was a greenhorn compared to Unimin when it comes to bargaining, Radcliffe smiled and said that even though he might be characterized as a greenhorn, the Greenfield agreement is more beneficial than other conditional use rules in other parts of the state. He added that none of the mines in neighboring Jackson County have any comprehensive agreements.
Groening said that it is important to Unimin to have community support and that the town drove a "hard bargain" with Unimin, pushing it farther than it has gone in other communities. Both he and Radcliffe pointed out that Unimin has almost all of the permits it needs to start mining and that the window of opportunity for such an agreement is limited.
The meeting will be Monday, September 12. Voting will start at 5 p.m.; the monthly meeting will start at 7 p.m. Voters must vote at the town hall, they cannot cast absentee ballots.
Meanwhile, a special subcommittee continues work on exploring the possibility of a licensing ordinance, moratorium or zoning to govern future sand mines moving into the town.