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Neighbors talk trash at public forum
In Boscobel
Boscobel City Hall

BOSCOBEL - Noise, traffic, dust, litter—and especially the reek. These were the common complaints raised by neighbors of Town and Country Sanitation’s Boscobel facility. They aired their grievances at a neighborhood forum hosted by the City of Boscobel at city hall this week. 

“The smell is getting so atrocious I cannot open my windows in my house at all,” Brad Fedie told the gathering, echoing numerous other participants. “I can’t sit outside anymore at night because of the stink.”

About 20 people, including Town and Country’s owner Doug Enke and Boscobel Mayor Brenda Kalish, who lives next door to the facility, attended the forum. Police Chief Jaden McCullick and City Administrator Misty Molzof presided over the meeting, which was called to address the steady stream of nuisance complaints flowing from the neighborhood.

“We in this office are very, very, very familiar with both sides,” said McCullick. “I’ve talked and listened and emailed and took voicemails with both sides—from neighbors, concerned citizens, business owners.” The chief urged participants to use “level, calm, cool collected heads to speak your mind and say what you need.” 

McCullick and Molzof both stressed that the intent of the meeting was not to make decisions or take action, but rather to air concerns and try to work on collaborative compromises that work for everyone in the neighborhood. 

Recycling to garbage

The Town and Country facility dates to 2017, when Enke requested a zoning amendment to allow construction of a 100 by 100-foot warehouse “for storing recycling materials and loading for transfer to other locations,” according to the minutes of the plan commission.

Much of the surrounding land is zoned M-1 Light Industrial, but this lot had been switched to mixed use by a prior owner. 

Many of the same people who attended this week’s meeting voiced opposition at the commission hearing back in 2017, worried about the same issues on the table today. The group issued a unanimous recommendation to the council to approve the zoning change. Mayor Kalish, then a council member, abstained.

Since then, the facility has transitioned from recycling to garbage, and that’s when the problems began, according to speakers at the forum. 

“There was no problem with him having that recycling center there,” said Kalish. “Once in a while you’d get a whiff of, maybe, sour milk. It wasn’t very often. It was something we could deal with. Now, even when the trucks are not coming in and out of there it’s like a dust tornado over there,” she said. “The smell is horrible even on days when they are not open. It literally smells like rotting animals.”

Fixes proposed

The meeting was billed as a chance to come up with solutions that work for everyone, and some speakers offered ideas. Among them were:

• A slower speed limit for trucks

• A flashing speed limit sign

• Paving the gravel lot

• Paying employees to pick up trash around the facility

• Putting up a better fence or enclosure

• Modifying the trucks so they don’t drop as much garbage

• Using stronger cleaning solution to clean the building

• An air exchanger to contain the smell

Chief McCullick stressed that the best resolution of the conflict would come from the community working together on solutions. 

“I have done some investigating talking to some neighboring municipalities, some that aren’t so neighboring, that have dealt with similar situations in the past. Some fairly recently,” he said. “Hands down, far the best option out of all of them is to find a middle ground that all the residents are happy with, and that Town and Country is happy with.” 

Enforcement options

McCullick also told the gathering that the municipalities he’d contacted said similar issues had been resolved through a civil suit brought by neighbors against the business, as well as abatement orders to enforce nuisance laws.

“I don’t think these are great options, but they are the options that were expressed to me by these other municipalities,” he said.

Boscobel’s city ordinances prohibit uses in M-1 zoning that “create nuisances in the form of odors, dust, [or] noise,” but McCullick said enforcing that rule is tricky, because the standard is determined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

“That’s where the clarification needs to come,” McCullick said. “Is that something that comes from the City of Boscobel, or is it something that comes from the DNR? I’m working towards getting an answer.”

Enke responds

Near the end of the meeting, Enke responded to the various complaints and comments. He told the forum that his employees spray the shop twice a week, and they’re experimenting with different products to reduce the smell. He would not be opposed to paving the gravel lot, but that it was cost prohibitive. He said that traffic volume had actually gone down due to efficiencies at the location.

“I’ve got a new license from the DNR that I just got approved. They come up did an inspection. They had no issues.”

He explained that a variety of problems with obsolete machinery resulted in the need to handle garbage at the Boscobel facility. And like other businesses, he faces increasing pressure from inflation, high diesel costs, and the worker shortage.

“We’re trying to run an efficient business so we can help keep the cost down,” he said. “This is one way of keeping the cost down—being more efficient on what we do with less equipment. We try to do everything we can do to make everybody happy, but we’re not going to make everybody happy. Garbage stinks, just plain and simple. I’m just being realistic.”

Mayor questioned

Mayor Kalish prefaced her comments by saying that she was not speaking as the mayor, but City Administrator Molzof questioned her decision to speak at the meeting.

Kalish said she thought Enke should have come back to the planning commission before he transitioned to garbage, but Molzof cut her off. 

“I think you are wearing the wrong hat,” she said. “If she’s the mayor, it’s a conflict of interest for this conversation to take place right now. There is a conflict of interest because she owns property in that part of town, which is the financial interest in this decision.”

According to Grant County’s land information maps, the estimated fair market value of Kalish’s house has depreciated in value since 2015 by $5,500, a 3.6 percent drop. 

Dan Carlton, Administrator of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, said in a phone call that he could not comment on a potential ethic violation that had occurred in the past, because they could become a complaint before the commission. But he did say that the statutes on conflict of interest are narrowly construed. 

“An official never loses their right as a private citizen to advocate to the government and speak on matters that concern them,” he said. “The key test is if there is a ‘use of position.’ Is there a vote or another action? It’s about using that position to benefit themselves or their families.”

The July 11 meeting included no votes, decisions, or official city business. Reached by phone, City Attorney Ben Wood gave the mayor his blessing: “She can come and speak, but she can’t vote on these issues.”