Cement plant has roadblocks to clear

West Allis requires paved lot, no late night operations

Oct. 29, 2013

West Allis — A controversial proposal to establish a cement plant to mix batches of cement for the Zoo Interchange project is slated to go to a public hearing Tuesday before the West Allis Common Council, but it will go with two big handicaps.

One is a restriction that it cannot operate from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. for the peace of the neighborhood. The other is that the city wants to make the company pave not only the area it will use for the plant, but the large parking lot at Quad/Graphics on whose property the plant would operate. West Allis doesn't allow gravel parking lots and for one reason or another, Quad was allowed to have one as it rejuvenated a blighted industrial site. It is normal practice to review an entire site when an application is made for a special use permit, planner Shaun Mueller said.

Both the paving and restrictions on night operations were among staff recommendations that the Plan Commission last week approved and sent on to the council which could make a final decision as early as Tuesday.

The proposed cement batch plant has become controversial because it would be close to a residential neighborhood. As many as 30 trucks an hour would go back and forth from the site, Michels Corp. officials have estimated. Residents are concerned about noise, especially at night, and dust and dirt.

Many residents already experience the dust of a cement plant because one is located in the neighborhood. Many don't want another one.

The Brownsville, Wis.-based Michels Corp. has asked for a special use permit allowing it to lease property behind the Quad plant at 555 S. 108th St. to set up a plant that would mix cement and pour it into dump trucks that would take it to the Zoo Interchange nearby. Michels officials said the batch plant would be used only the five years of the interchange project and then would be gone.

Michels senior manager Ryan Murphy said after the Plan Commission meeting that he was happy that the Plan Commission recommended approval and hopes that the two conditions can be worked out with the Common Council. He plans to have experts and additional data to help find a solution.

Otherwise, he said, "They made a recommendation that basically made the permit useless."

Michels had agreed to try to keep to more normal hours of operation, but it doesn't want restrictions in case late-night operations are needed.

But they are quite likely to be needed and possibly needed a lot, said Gary Barczak, an alderman for the area. He said a lot of paving will be done at night, based on a state Department of Transportation update he attended recently.

To try to ease noise concerns, Michels was to do a noise experiment with aldermen, the mayor and residents Wednesday night. The plan was to blow an air horn at the proposed batch plant site and let the West Allis folks hear how it sounds.

Michels chose an air horn because it's much louder than any equipment the batch plant would run, Murphy said. An air horn is 120 to 130 decibels compared with a semi that is 100 decibels 50 feet away, he said. And because the dump trucks would be 1,100 feet away from homes, "They should be almost inaudible," Murphy said.

The trucks won't use Theodore Trecker Way, which would take them past homes, he said.

There is a risk involved if the Quad site is not available, Murphy told the commission. Cement companies working on the interchange could use sites along the Interstate 894 right of way and a couple along Interstate 94, all in West Allis, where there would be no 50-foot tall Quad plant to deflect sound from homes and the staging areas would be much closer to homes than the 1,100 feet that the proposed batch plant is from the residential neighborhood, Murphy said.

While noise is a critical issue for neighbors, Plan Commission debate focused instead on the paving issue that addressed the potential dust problem.

Paving the work area that would be torn up after five years would probably cost half a million dollars, Murphy estimated. Instead, the company offered a far less expensive alternative that he said would work just as well as pavement or better to keep dust down.

It's using crushed asphalt millings, he said.

"We know we can control this dust to your standards without spending this money," Michels vice president Mike Debelak said.

Plan Commission member Ron Rieboldt tended to agree that the millings would work well and be more sensible than paving.

"For a temporary use, it's probably ideal," Rieboldt said.

But city planner Mueller said the code calls for pavement.

"We've never allowed this material on any site in the past," he said.

It would be setting a precedent, Planning and Zoning manager Steve Schaer said.

Noting that the city has to be careful about setting a precedent that might open the door to things the city might not want, commission member Wayne Clark said he doesn't have the expertise to know if the asphalt millings are acceptable. So, he recommended upholding the staff recommendations, including the paving. The commission approved, with Rieboldt voting no.


WHAT: public hearing and possible West Allis Common Council decision on whether to allow a cement batch plant on Quad/Graphics property

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: West Allis City Hall, 7525 W. Greenfield Ave.

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