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Sawmills -- This months controversy

Sun, Jun 25th, 2000
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Fillmore County Planning Commission June meeting
The Fillmore County Planning Commission met last Thursday evening before another packed room at the new county office building. And just like it has for the past few planning commission meetings and the recent flood emergency meetings, the room proved to be of inadequate size in accommodating the standing-room only crowd.

There were ten items on the planners agenda and the majority of the assembled were there for the Dan Miller sawmill conditional use permit (CUP) hearing. Due to a recent amendment to the zoning ordinance, new or expanding sawmills in the ag district now are required to have a CUP in order to operate as a business.

Millers sawmill, which is located on property owned by his neighbor, Dan Gingrich, in Section 9 of Amherst Township is the first sawmill to go through the new permitting process. If Thursdays emotional public hearing on Millers sawmill is any indication it appears that sawmills can be added to the list of controversial topics that the planning commission deals with.

Dave Lawstuen, who lives just east of the site, expressed concerns regarding safety. He said there was limited visibility due to slab piles near the road and that on three occasions, while driving, he had had close calls with trucks. He also said that their heavy use of the township road was taking a heavy toll on the road itself.

Lawstuen said that Miller was a friend and a good neighbor of his, but that the site was just the wrong place for a sawmill. He pointed out that there was already one Amish sawmill at the site. "Its a dangerous situation with one sawmill," he said. "By adding another it will become a treacherous situation."

Bob Olson, who lives next to the site, spoke up next. "I understand that he put this in without a permit. I want to know what action has been taken?"

"We havent taken any action," Zoning administrator Norm Craig replied.

"If I had a sawmill Id have to operate under OSHA laws. Youve got young kids working there with open blades and theres sawdust exposure. I think somebody should look into it," Olson said. "The truck traffic and the dust is unbelievable. Weve got a four-ton road and youve got twenty ton loads going on it."

Dick Bahl, owner of Root River Hardwoods, who has contracted Miller to cut logs for him, spoke up next. He said that at the most there were two or three trucks using the road per day. Bahl said that they were not piling up slabs any more and that they were not using the township road to the east.

For the next hour the commission heard further testimony from the public and then discussed various stipulations to put on the CUP. Planning commission member Mike Tuohy made the observation that in 1946, there were 425 sawmills in Fillmore County. By 1990, the number had shrunk to seven or eight, he said.

"And now the number is coming back up and were trying to address the potential problems," Tuohy said.

The planners eventually recommended sending the permit on to the county board with the following stipulations:
1) A set back of 50 feet from the township road for slabs, lumber, logs, sawdust and equipment.
2) No trucks allowed to be parked on the township road.
3) Limit the size of the sawmill area to 2.5 acres.
4) Both driveways at location to remain open.
Later while discussing zoning issues, the planning commission moved to hold a public hearing at their next meeting in August, to change the zoning ordinance again, this time to require that all sawmills (not just new or expanding ones) conducting business go through the CUP process every five years.

"We need to go on a road tour and find out how many sawmills are out there," Norm Craig said.

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