The Great River Road overlay — Frequently Asked Questions

UPDATE:  The Buffalo County Board passed this ordinance with a 9 to 5 majority on Monday March 23, 2015

What’s the vision?

This proposal comes out of a broad discussion involving many people in the County over the last several years.  It boils down to two conflicting visions of the future of the Great River Road corridor in Buffalo County.  Proponents of this amendment to the county Zoning ordinance seek to preserve and enhance the unique natural and economic resource that exists along the Mississippi River; opponents would like to see that region become an industrial and transportation zone.

What is the proposal?

This ordinance would amend the Buffalo County Zoning ordinance to add another overlay district.  This overlay addresses land use within unincorporated parts of the county that surround The Great River Road.  Note: this overlay would not apply to incorporated towns in the district.

What will change?

It limits the number of truck trips in or out of newly permitted operations located in a corridor on either side of the Great River Road. New zoning permits will continue to be issued for all uses permitted by the Zoning Ordinance, “provided that no such uses generate more than fifty truck trips in any given day.”

What is the definition of “truck trip”?

A truck trip is “Trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating, or actual gross weight, in excess of 50,000 pounds traveling on the GRR/NSB in Buffalo County.”  Or twenty five 50,000-pound loads a day.

What are some of the goals of this ordinance?

1.    Preserve an attractive, cohesive and safe environment for citizens and visitors.
2.    Safeguard the natural and historic heritage of the region by preventing the despoliation of scenic views.
3.    Preserve, protect and enhance areas of high tourist and visitor visibility
4.    Provide motorists and bicyclists with attractive and safe viewing and driving opportunities
5.    Stabilize property values
6.    Protect capital investments and infrastructure
7.    Implement the goals of city and townships along the GRR/NSB by protecting the ability of the citizens and tourists to safely use and capitalize on the county’s natural tourist attractions such as the many Wildlife Areas and Refuges for hiking, bird watching, canoeing, hunting and fishing etc.

What’s the Great River Road, why protect it?

State Hwy 35 was designated in 1938 by President Roosevelt as part of The Great River Road, managed by the Mississippi River Parkway Commission (MRPC).

State Hwy 35 is also Wisconsin’s first State Scenic Byway and Wisconsin’s only National Scenic Byway.  The State of Wisconsin created the program “to recognize state highways that offer travelers numerous scenic and/or historical attributes whose promotion can serve to boost a region’s attractiveness as a tourist destination.”  The vision of the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program is “to create a distinctive collection of American roads, their stories and treasured places.”

Thus, this amendment not only protects the segment of the Great River Road in Buffalo County, but also impacts the rest of this 250-mile route in Wisconsin and all 33 of the river towns located along its route.

What other issues caused by truck traffic is the ordinance designed to address?

Public Safety

Due to the size constraints (caused by the Mississippi River on one side and the bluffs on the other) city parking in Alma and Fountain City is extremely tight, other than parallel parking on the Great River Road and a few parking spots on side streets.  Most residential and commercial sites do not have an area for parking other than on the street.  Difficulty in parallel parking is already a concern and a massive increase in truck traffic will only make these safety hazards worse.

Reduction of Property Values, Taxes and Economic Revenue

Farmland and communities are all hurt by increased truck traffic.  But the impact of a high volume industrial haul route that passes directly through several of the county’s oldest main street communities (Nelson, Alma and Fountain City) will be especially significant.  These tightly packed communities will feel the brunt of loss of property value, and the finances of local governments will suffer (through loss of tax revenue) as a result.

Environmental and Pollution Issues

Residents of river communities will experience many adverse impacts living 15 feet away from high volume diesel truck traffic; substantial traffic increases, noise pollution and exhaust pollution to name just a few.  Quality of life for thousands of county citizens will diminish dramatically.

Infrastructure Impacts

Public utilities for the City of Alma are buried under the Great River Road, including community water lines and sanitary & storm sewers constructed years ago.  Wear and tear on this road by heavy truck traffic will hasten the need to replace the entire city’s utility infrastructure.

What about small businesses that might have lots of delivery trucks (UPS, FedEx and the like), would this be a problem?

No.  Trips by those trucks would not be restricted, they are much smaller than 50,000 pounds gross weight limit proposed by this ordinance.

What about existing businesses, will they be required to adhere to the 50 truck-trip limit?  

This overlay will only come into play during applications for new zoning permits.  Therefore, an existing person or business that already has a permit will not be subject to the limit.

Doesn’t this amendment discriminate against one industry – sand mining?

No.  Sand mining is not singled out.  This amendment will block any business or person who requests a zoning permit within the overlay district for a land use that will generate more than fifty 50,000-pound truck trips a day.

Doesn’t this amendment put Buffalo County into the role of saying who can conduct what kind of business and where?

Buffalo County, along with just about every other county and local government, is already using zoning law to place limits on what type of activity can happen in various places within its borders.  There are all sorts of good reasons for this, mostly having to do with protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.

What about public-works projects like hauling dredge sand out of the Mississippi, will this ordinance prevent that?

It might, if that project generated more that fifty 50,000-pound truck trips a day and required a zoning or conditional-use permit to dispose of material on land in the overlay district.  However there may also be alternative ways to transport dredge sand that might work better for everybody.

The DOT says that Buffalo County cannot regulate the traffic on a State Highway.  Are we setting ourselves up for a lawsuit?

This amendment doesn’t regulate traffic on State Highway 35.  It places limits on land use in a corridor that sits on either side of that highway, something that is within the authority of the County.

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