Menomonee Falls Plan Commission delays decision on Chemworks plant
Village faces possible lawsuit; hundreds of residents show up for 17-minute meeting
Menomonee Falls — With a possible lawsuit looming, Menomonee Falls officials had little to say Wednesday as the controversial Chemworks plant was put under the microscope.
In August, the village granted Advanced Waste Services, parent company of Chemworks, an occupancy permit. The maneuver gave the company the green light to begin renovating a former concrete block manufacturing plant on a 21.6-acre parcel at N5998 Lilly Road.
More recently, an outcry has erupted from nearby residential property owners, who have implored village officials not to allow Chemworks to proceed with its plans.
Since the permit was issued, concerns have arisen as reports have surfaced about odor complaints at Chemworks' existing facility on Milwaukee's west side. Nearby residents complained to Milwaukee officials about odors that allegedly caused some people to feel ill.
Also, Advanced Waste Systems has paid $11,475 in fines to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for 24 separate violations, stemming from incidents that took place between 2007 and 2012.
Mike Malatesta, president of AWS, has asserted Chemworks' past issues have been completely remedied. In January, as the outcry grew louder, Malatesta asserted misinformation had been spread and said, "the company you've heard about couldn't be further from who we really are."
The Plan Commission was to have begun its review of Chemworks' plans for the site at a special meeting Wednesday. Hundreds of residents filled the Menomonee Falls High School auditorium, but were not allowed to speak at the meeting.
Company prepared to sue
Hours before commissioners held their meeting, AWS filed a notice of claim with the village, asserting the company was seeking $2 million in damages — the amount of money already sunk into the property.
The village recently ordered Chemworks to halt all activity on the property until the Plan Commission has completed its review.
State statutes require a notice of claim be filed before an actual lawsuit is brought against a particular party. At Wednesday's meeting, village officials stated they had not yet seen the claim and declined to speak further on any possible legal proceedings.
After 17 minutes of dialogue with Village Attorney Michael Morse, commissioners adjourned their Wednesday meeting. In March, commissioners plan to hold two separate meetings — one with Chemworks staff March 20 and another with a public hearing March 24.
In a statement, Malatesta said he has been dismayed by the village's actions in recent months.
"We take our corporate responsibility very seriously," Malatesta said in the statement. "To be told now that the village can effectively put us through a 'do-over' process is not right."
A request for further comment Thursday at AWS' West Allis headquarters was unsuccessful.
During Wednesday's brief discussion, Morse essentially outlined commissioners' roles and responsibilities concerning the Chemworks review.
"I would caution the commission not to discuss this with anyone while this matter is pending," Morse said. "The commission's role is to make a decision on the use of the site and not be persuaded by the claim."
Timeline could change
At a Village Board meeting in January, Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald said it would be "well into March" before a final decision was made on Chemworks' plans for the site. With the claim hanging over the heads of village officials, the timeline will likely be pushed out further.
Village President Randall Newman, however, said he would like to stick as close to the original timeline as possible.
"We are going to do our best to stay on that timeline," Newman said.
WHO: Menomonee Falls Plan Commission
WHAT: meetings concerning Chemworks plant
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. March 20; 6:30 p.m. March 24 (public comment to be taken at this meeting)
WHERE: Ben Franklin Elementary School, W14701 Franklin Drive
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