Court orders frac sand meeting in town of Bridgeport
By Ted Pennekamp
Alleged conflict of interest was the topic at a joint meeting of the Bridgeport Town Board and the Bridgeport Planning Commission at the Bridgeport-Rural Prairie du Chien Fire Department Building Thursday evening.
The meeting was ordered by Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Craig Day, who will preside over a lawsuit about alleged conflict of interest regarding the town board’s decision to allow frac sand mining in the town of Bridgeport. Judge Day will hear the case in Grant County due to a change of venue. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for June 20.
Thirty-two people attended the meeting Thursday night, which was in effect presided over by town of Bridgeport Attorney Eileen Brownlee. Brownlee asked questions of the members of the town board and the planning commission regarding how they voted in March of 2013 on whether or not to grant a conditional use permit to the Pattison Sand Company of Clayton, Iowa, to have a mine between Highway 60 and the Wisconsin River.
Rod Marfilius, who was a member of the town board at the time, and who is one of three landowners involved with the proposed mine, said that he abstained from every discussion and every vote about the mine. To have participated would have been a conflict of interest, he said.
In response to a question by Brownlee, Linda Smrcina, who was a member of the planning commission at the time, said her son-in-law works for Pattison Sand. She said her son-in-law does not live with her and she does not financially support him. Her son-in-law also does not support her, she said.
Troy Smrcina, a member of the planning commission at the time, responded by saying that his brother-in-law works for Pattison Sand. Troy Smrcina told Brownlee that he doesn’t financially support his brother-in-law and his brother-in-law doesn’t support him.
Alan Flansburgh, a member of the planning commission, and one of the original landowners with potential to be involved with the proposed mine, said he recalled a discussion about planting trees around the proposed mine, which was tabled. Flansburgh said he has no agreement with the Pattison Sand Company other than a confidentiality agreement. Flansburgh did not join the planning commission until April of 2013 when the mine was already approved by the commission. According to the lawsuit, Pattison Sand Company had been in negotiations with Flansburgh to lease his land for construction and operation of the mine. Since being appointed to the planning commission, Flansburgh’s name has been removed from the conditional use permit application and the reclamation application, both of which have been approved.
Another issue Brownlee asked about involved the allegation that there was not enough room in the Bridgeport Town Hall to allow everyone to get in and to speak about the proposed mine during various meetings in 2013.
Town board member Mike Steiner said there were a lot of people at the various meetings, but that there were empty spaces near the table at which more people could have sat down. “We had room by the table, we had spaces,” Steiner said. Steiner said nobody ever said anything to him about not being able to speak at a meeting.
Rod Fishler, a member of the town board, said the meetings were crowded. He also said that he felt sometimes people couldn’t speak.
Planning Commission President Ryan Stram said nobody ever contacted him about not being able to speak at a meeting.
Glen Reynolds, a lawyer representing the Crawford Stewardship Project and several residents of the town of Bridgeport who are opposed to the mine, said he had a number of written comments by citizens opposed to the mine which he would like to share with town board and planning commission members. Reynolds also said that he had a list of questions that he would like the town board and planning commission members to read. Reynolds asked that the meeting be adjourned to a later date so that the members had time to read and consider the written comments and questions.
Brownlee said it is fair for the town board and planning commission members to read the written comments and questions. Written comments were submitted by Larry Folyer, Mark Fishler, Arnie and Irene Steele, Loren Fishler, Kathy Byrne, and Edie Ehlert. Questions and a letter were also submitted by Attorney Reynolds and a letter was submitted by the Pattison Sand Company.
Brownlee said the town board members and the planning commission members should read the written comments, letters and questions and ask themselves if these comments, letters or questions would have impacted their decisions differently at the time.
The joint meeting was then adjourned and a new joint meeting will be scheduled in the near future.