Regulators keep pressure on Greenville to restore stream
State and county regulators have ordered Greenville to restore a navigable, disappearing stream and karst feature that was illegally dredged on farmland west of State 76. Duke Behnke/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREENVILLE - The town has made progress in developing a plan to restore an illegally dredged navigable stream and karst feature on farmland west of State 76, but it hasn't met the deadlines set by regulators.
"We don’t have a full restoration plan that addresses all of the requirements that were spelled out early on," Tim Roach, Outagamie County zoning administrator, told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "That's what we’re still trying to get."
The town hired McMahon Group of Fox Crossing to prepare the restoration plan, which was due May 1. A draft was submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in June, but additional requirements, including a floodplain study, haven't been delivered.
Roach said he expected a more prompt response from the town and Supervisor Mike Woods, who rents the farmland where the dredging occurred and who, other town officials said, directed the project without the required permits.
"We thought it was going to be a more aggressive restoration than what it has turned out to be," Roach said. "They’re still a ways away. We need that flood study."
Town Administrator Joel Gregozeski said because the flood study hasn't been completed, it's unlikely any restoration work would be done in 2017.
"Even if we could get a shovel in the ground tomorrow, I don't know that we have enough growing season to get vegetation established," Gregozeski said. "We don't want to create a bigger concern by not having proper erosion controls in place going into next spring. Right now, the site has been stabilized."
In July, the DNR named the town, Woods and the contractor that did the dredging, Robert J. Immel Excavating Inc., as defendants in an enforcement action alleging violations of the state's water laws.
The case was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
"We're proceeding with enforcement," said Scott Koehnke, a DNR water management specialist. "Part of that enforcement action obviously is getting the site restored."
No fine has been levied by the state or county, but that remains a possibility.
Really a karst?
The town hired Sand Creek Consultants of Amherst to conduct a geological study of the area that was dredged.
Sand Creek dug six test pits along the stream on Aug. 8 and found no evidence of a karst feature, which is an opening in the ground caused by the dissolution of bedrock.
The whirlpools and disappearing stream observed by residents and regulators "mark locations where surface water infiltrates rapidly downward to reach buried lenses of higher permeability," Sand Creek said in its report.
The consultant determined it's unlikely that the water quality in the stream affects the groundwater drawn by private wells.
"Rather, the relationship between land-use activities and the underlying groundwater quality is no different here than in other parts of Greenville," the report said.
The conclusion is contrary to Greenville's own land-use plan, which identifies the property as having "unique geologic features."
It's also contrary to a 2014 peer review of available information by John Luczaj, a geology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and to Roach's observations.
"I witnessed the water disappearing into the ground, and to me, that is a karst feature," Roach said. "They probably didn't see that because that area was pretty much destroyed and overexcavated" by the dredging.
Sand Creek will present its findings during the Town Board's regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
Koehnke didn't have a chance to read the Sand Creek report, but he said whether a karst feature is present has little bearing on the DNR's enforcement actions.
"We're involved because of the dredging and the realignment of the stream that were done without a permit," he said.
Who is responsible?
The town, through its sanitary district, has been paying for all of the costs associated with the illegal dredging, stabilization and restoration. To date, without any restoration work being done, the costs total at least $76,935 ($13,985 for the dredging by Immel, $32,950 for temporary erosion controls by Highway Landscapers Inc., and $30,000 for engineering by McMahon).
The floodplain study will cost another $8,800, and Gregozeski said the Sand Creek study was estimated to cost $15,000 to $16,000.
Once the restoration has been done to the satisfaction of regulators, Gregozeski said the responsible parties would meet to negotiate reimbursements to the town.
Woods declined to talk, for now, about the ordeal and who's responsible for the costs. Someone released town funds to pay for the dredging.
"When this thing gets all said and done in the next six to eight months — I don't know how long it's going to take yet — I will sit down and talk with you," Woods told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
Town Chairman Jack Anderson said the Town Board hasn't taken action against Woods for his role in the dredging.
"There's no state statutes that allow us to do much," he said.
Anderson said the town has completed its investigation of the matter. On the advice of the town's attorneys, he declined to disclose whether any town staff was disciplined.
"I can tell you that we've been looking at our processes and procedures and have been making some valuable changes," Anderson said.
The discipline of town staff hasn't been a major emphasis from town residents, Anderson said. "Most people — I would say almost 99 percent of them — are concerned more about Supervisor Woods than they are about any town staff," he said.
Emails provide insight
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin filed a public records request to obtain all town emails sent or received by Woods between Dec. 1, 2016, and April 20 in an effort to understand how the illegal dredging occurred and why the town paid for it.
The town charged $212.50 to fulfill the records request. It yielded 409 emails, though some were duplicates.
The batch of emails shows Dan Klansky, the town's sanitary district superintendent, was involved in the planning of the project.
"I am working on coordinating the cleaning of the ditch right next to the sewer interceptor on the Lin property because it is flooding over the top of our easement and needs to be cleaned out," Klansky said in a Dec. 12 report to the Town Board. "I am concerned I will not be able to access this area in the spring due to flooding if I do not address this issue immediately."
The Lin property is the farmland rented by Woods.
The records also show Woods realized the seriousness of what was done long before it became public in an April 7 investigative report by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
In a Jan. 28 email to Anderson, Woods said he would meet with Immel, Klansky and Chris Pagels, the town's stormwater utility superintendent, "to discuss the ditch that was cleaned out."
The email said, "I got 1 permit but was suppose to get 2 more from the Cty, and DNR, I believe that John Julius complained to the county, and they are pissed about the cleanout. l should have talked to you sooner on this, THE Town paid for the cleanout and I paid for some field tile. If you have a minute on Monday to stop in otherwise I will have to sit down with you and talk, there could be some big fines coming from DNR. Supv. Woods."
Julius is a nearby resident.
Koehnke wrote in a Feb. 2 certified letter that a review of DNR records indicated Woods was made aware of the permit requirements "prior to conducting the project."
One day later, on Feb. 3, Woods sent an email to Anderson that said, "Jack, I need a closed door mtg, to talk about ditch that was dug, maybe you can add it to another agenda. Thanks Supv. Woods."
Duke Behnke: 920-993-7176, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @DukeBehnke