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West Allis prefers silent night in concrete plant proposal

Decision could alter controversial plan for Hwy. 100 facility

Dec. 17, 2013

West Allis — A city decision on noise restrictions could hamper, or kill, a controversial temporary concrete batch plant proposed for just off Highway 100 in the city.

Following a committee vote last week, the West Allis Common Council was expected to vote Tuesday, after the NOW press deadline, to adhere to the city's noise ordinance and not allow concrete mixing and trucking at night.

However, the plant's potential operator was expected to address the council with an alternative plan using an existing concrete plant that is allowed to do night work.

Brownsville-based Michels Corp. wants to establish a batch plant on unused land at Quad/Graphics, 555 S. 108th St., for paving work on the Zoo Interchange. The plant would mix concrete and pour it onto dump trucks bound for job sites at the interchange, which could involve late-night construction work.

Previously, Ryan Murphy, senior manager of Michels Corp., has said not allowing work at night would be a deal-breaker.

"Effectively, this is a denial of our application," he said last week after the Safety and Development Committee recommended the city stick to the noise ordinance and banning nighttime operations.

But, on Tuesday, a Michels official suggested the company could subcontract nighttime work out to Zignego Ready Mix, a concrete plant which isn't subject to the nighttime noise limits due to a grandfather clause in the noise ordinance.

Michels' plan had run into strong neighborhood opposition, both on environmental (noise and dust) and safety concerns.

24/7 not an option

City officials were adamant at the committee review that the residential neighborhood near the proposed plant not be subjected to the noise of trucking and plant operations from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"Twenty-four-seven, that's off the table," said Gary Barczak, one of two aldermen representing the area.

Michels doesn't want to work at night, Murphy said, but if the Wisconsin Department of Transportation calls for night operations, Michels would need to meet that demand.

It is conceivable that night operations could be called for all summer long, Murphy said.

Regardless, the company maintains that the plant's operations would not violate the city's noise ordinance.

Murphy said that the plant would be far enough away from homes and that beeping-backup alarms could be muffled to a buzz. He noted that the truck route along the Hank Aaron State Trail, a portion of which will be closed for the project for use by construction vehicles, would also be a suitable distance from residential properties.

Precedent concern

Even if the impact of the temporary plant might be reasonably acceptable, the Safety and Development Committee worried that allowing Michels temporary permission for nighttime operations could open the door for others where noise would be a problem.

Two other concrete operations that now cannot operate at night could well ask to be able to do that, also, Barczak said.

City Attorney Scott Post, in offering his legal opinion on a precedent-setting concern, said the city's control over nighttime operations could be severely weakened if Michels is allowed to go 24-7.

"We would be hard-pressed to say why we would not allow it" if another concrete company wants to operate all night, Post said.

Noisier alternatives

One possible way around the restriction would be for Michels to work with a concrete plant whose operations pre-date the current noise ordinance. Zignego Ready Mix is one candidate.

If that were the cause, one alderman suggested that the existing Michels plan would be far better than the Zignego alternative, based upon the route that Zignego trucks would use.

"They'd be going down Theo Trecker," past homes, which would be worse than having cement trucks on the Hank Aaron Trail, said Alderman Tom Lajsic, who serves as chairman of the Safety and Development Committee.

Lajsic also alluded to another possibility, that by the city stalling Michels' plan, the concrete contracts could end up in the hands of Zignego, which would not be subject to any noise limitations due to its grandfathered status.

And Murphy also warned that any other contractor could end up setting up a batch plant on the Interstate 94 or I-894 right of way, also bringing noise closer to local homes.

As a compromise, Lajsic suggested restricting night operations to a set number of days, but Murphy said that might not give enough flexibility to meet potential DOT needs for night work.

That work could be extensive, based on a community update that the DOT gave several weeks ago. At that time, DOT officials said a lot of paving would be at night, Barczak reported.

"It's unfortunate this is the direction the city decided to take," Murphy said after the Safety and Development Committee recommendation.

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