Town of Merrill residents still oppose rail spur development

Despite objections, there isn’t much residents can do to stop the spur


The Lincoln County Land Services Committee (LSC) met July 13, 2023, and the controversial item on the Agenda was the request to allow heavy industrial use in a general industrial zoning district, in conjunction with the proposed development of a rail spur just north of Mill St. in Merrill, on property owned by Prairie River Junction LLC (Representative: Jeff Heller), G&M Peterson LLC, and James Peterson Sons Inc. The development is set to take place on about 47 acres of land bordered on two sides by Duginski Rd.
Jeff Heller attended the meeting in person, representing the property owners, for the public hearing on the request, during which many area residents came forward to share their opposition to the development of the rail spur in the location.
However, the actual issue on the table wasn’t and isn’t the development of the rail spur, but rather the heavy industrial use. The rail spur can, and will likely move forward, as it is permissible under the current general industrial zoning, members of the LSC said. The only issue they can address is the heavy industrial use portion and, members of the LSC said, under the current law, they don’t see that they would have grounds to deny the request.
According to 2017 Wisconsin Act 67, relating to local government’s authority with respect to zoning of property, the Act requires a municipality to grant a conditional use permit if an applicant meets, or agrees to meet, all of the requirements and conditions specified in or imposed by the relevant ordinance. Further, any such conditions must be related to the purpose of the ordinance and based on “substantial evidence,” meaning verifiable facts and information, and not just personal preference, speculation, or concerns raised by the public, according to the Act.
Land Services staff presented a narrated video showing the property, and Heller explained the proposed property use during the hearing. No other advocates for the request spoke up. However, when LSC Chair Marty Lemke asked for testimony from opponents of the request, Tera Neiter, Ken Sutton, Kerrie Kanda, James Alber, Ed Tomaschefsky, Scott Streich, Nicole Schuett, Karen Grund, Josh Fenske, Dave Springborn, Roy Hoffman, Eddie Woody, Lisa Weix, Kerri Schroder, Samantha Teresinski, Ian Cohrs, Mary Moschosch, Coreen Wendorf, Hannah Fenske, and Jason Schill (spellings/names taken from LSC meeting minutes) each expressed various concerns regarding noise, safety, future land uses, traffic, road quality, and property values. Many more local residents were present at the hearing, as well, and residents say they had petitions with more than 200 signatures in opposition to the development and proposed use of the property.
Land Services Administrator Mike Huth presented his staff report and said the Town of Merrill requested a 30-day extension in order to file their recommendation. County staff recommends the Committee approve the Conditional Use Permit with seven recommended conditions, as written in the staff report, after receiving the Town’s recommendation. A motion to approve the 30-day extension as requested by the Town of Merrill was carried.
Local residents haven’t given up on their fight to keep the rail spur from being developed in their neighborhood, though that is not the specific issue before the LSC. In speaking with local residents, they cited increased heavy truck traffic, safety issues for children at play, damage to area roads, decreased property values, and more than one said they would consider selling their home and moving out of the area if the rail spur project is implemented. They further questioned the development of a rail spur when developers don’t yet have a specified plan of use.
“The specific use is yet to be determined,” Heller said. “As soon as the rail siding and the switch into the site is completed, we can then seek potential users. The new user will need to comply with the zoning requirements as set forth by County zoning ordinance.”
The Town of Merrill will hold a special meeting at the Town of Merrill Community Center, W4594 Progress Ave., Merrill on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, at 5 p.m. The third item on the Agenda is to “Discuss/Approve Duginski Rd. Parcels,” and area residents plan to attend the meeting to voice their opposition once again at the township level.
Based on 2017 Wisconsin Act 67, however, it is unclear what residents can actually accomplish at this meeting, despite their concerns.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top