and a few small lakes, including artificial Arrowhead, which--oddly--is
at slightly higher elevation than a section of Bradee Road, directly
to its east. Most of these bodies of water are well known but
perhaps the most beautiful
is so well shielded by steep ridges and foliage, few residents have
©2012 Ted Schaar
For many years, this hidden lake and its surroundings were the site of
a sand and gravel operation called successively the Cleveland Pit,
Burleigh Pit, State Gravel Pit, and finally Richardson Pit.
The lake's location southeast of the Lilly-Burleigh intersection, not
far from Brookfield East High School, makes it a popular place for
students to get away from it all, in a scenic setting, far from
A woman named Shelley, who grew up in Brookfield and now works at a local
food store, said she and her friends called the lake Split Rock Quarry. However, when I referred
to it as a quarry during an interview with Jim
Dawson, chief financial officer of Lannon Stone Products, Inc., Lannon, he
quickly corrected me: "Sand and gravel operations are called pits; places that extract hard rock
such as limestone are quarries."
John Kelly, who has lived near the lake since
1978, identified the source of the name Shelley and her friends used
when he mentioned there once was a company located on Burleigh Road
near the pit called Split Rock Products. It produced manufactured
stone, also known as cultured stone, that is made by crushing gravel;
adding sand, water, a cementitious binder, and sometimes
dyes; and placing the mixture in
molds to dry. Uniform
building blocks result. Dr. Kelly said a
number of Brookfield and Wauwatosa homes are clad
in the material. (Coincidentally, when a contact I interviewed
for another Brookfield story reviewed a draft of this article, he mentioned the
he and his wife had built in 1962 features the material and allowed me to take the accompanying photographs.)
Ingrid Regal, whose family owns Regal Crest Village Apartments near the
former sand and gravel pit and who plays a role in
developments involving the property that occurred in 2013, told me the building at 13160 West
Road once housed Split Rock Products' offices. Today, it is occupied by Nackers
& Associates and several other businesses. The structure is visible in a 1963 aerial view of the area
available on the Waukesha County website.1 A similar aerial photograph from 1950 shows a vacant lot, so it was built in
or early 60s. The only houses in the 1950 view are on
Lilly Road and Fiebrantz Drive located to the northwest and on
the roads such as 130th that are south
or west of Center Street. Some of these
residences are also visible in an aerial view of the area taken in 1941.
Until recently, the 70-acre pit and its 23-acre lake were owned by
Real Estate--formerly Sileno Companies--which purchased the property in
1980 from the Ruth Porter Trust. The current owner is Quarry
Group Joint Venture, as noted in the signature block of a February
2011 letter James Sileno sent to Dan Ertl, director, City of Brookfield
of Community Development. (Attempts to contact Sileno for
an interview were unsuccessful.)
Underwater Connections, a Menomonee Falls-based diving and recovery
company, conducted "two days of observations" of the lake on October 19
and 20, 1990, and included the following in a summary of its findings
dated October 21 of that year: "Contours of the quarry are
consistent. There is a 'trough' running diagonally across...The
depth varies from seven to 21 feet. Conjecture would be that this
was excavated by machine...The quarry floor, other than in the trough,
has a depth from shore to shore of one to seven feet...Fish and marine
life are very minimal. During the entire two days of diving, only
two fish were seen. These were not identifiable as the encounters
were too brief. Numerous crayfish were observed...'Very sparse'
would be the best way to describe marine life." (Note: This
report and others mentioned in the story were provided by Bill Kolstad,
director of Parks, Recreation & Forestry, City of Brookfield.)
source and quality
An August 1993 report by Howard, Needles, Tammen, & Bergendoff
Company, a civil engineering, architecture, planning and construction
management firm with a Milwaukee office stated: "...there are no
tributary areas forming a watershed feeding the present [pit]
lake. All water in the lake is from groundwater seepage and
runoff from the area inside
walls...Testing performed on
random water samples...revealed the lake is acceptable for swimming and
other related recreational activity...Low levels of fecal coliform,
pesticides, phosphorus, and suspended solids indicate that the lake
indeed receives little, if any runoff from adjacent property, and that
there are no septic systems in the area affecting water quality...The
lake clarity is excellent and it appears to be a viable ecosystem."
Two HNTB personnel who ventured out on the lake in a canoe reported,
"Numerous small bluegills from 3" to 8" were observed in the northeast
shallows and where weeds were established. One larger fish,
possibly a bass, was observed in the same area...We heard frogs but
didn't see any."
Benjamin Heussner, fisheries biologist, at the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources Service Center in Waukesha, said, "Most likely any
marine species in the lake were transported there by people." The
possibility that the sticky eggs of amphibians, crustaceans, fish, and
adhered to birds wading in a natural lake or
stream who then visited the pit lake and deposited them is "highly
unlikely over short time spans," he added.
Presumably sand and gravel deposits at the site were discovered when
the plows of settlers turned over more than topsoil and clay.
Chris Larson, a third-generation pit operator who is the president of
Wissota Sand and Gravel said, "Deposits typically begin 18
inches to six feet below the topsoil, but sometimes they poke through
According to Joe Leonard, a retired City of Brookfield employee,
"Adelmorn Cleveland started the gravel pit,"
although he didn't know
exactly when. It had to be early because long-time owner Grover
Cleveland, the son of Adelmorn, "was born
there in 1892," Leonard said. By the 1920s, when the
growing use of motor vehicles created the need
for paved roads, Cleveland began supplying sand and gravel to
contractors who used it to make concrete. I located Leonard, now
retired in Florida, after seeing his name in a
memorandum detailing an interview David A. Rudig, an HNTB engineer,
conducted with him in October 1993. Rudig recounted that Leonard
told him Cleveland "...and Harry Zervis, along with Ralph Bolster,
operated the facility for nearly 40 years."
Before excavation began, the site was a "long, north-south trending
hill," the 1993 HNTB report stated. Carol McCartney, outreach
manager for the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey,
explained, "That is a hill that is longer in the north-south direction
than in the east-west direction...In this part of Wisconsin,
north-south trending hills are glacial moraines and east-west trending
hills are usually drumlins."
Southeastern Wisconsin was shaped by two lobes of the last glacier
which is called the Wisconsin Glaciation because detailed studies of it
were conducted here first.2 Robert H. Dott, Jr. and
John W. Attig in Roadside Geology of
say that it slid into our state about 26,000 years ago, made it to the
Waukesha County area by about 18,000 years ago, and "retreated back to
northernmost Wisconsin by about 10,000 years ago."3
Moraines are formed by debris settling out of glacial melt
waters. This particular mound of sand and gravel was deposited
by the Lake
Michigan Lobe that came from the east, McCartney said. "Water running
off the melting glacier deposited gravel when moving fast, sand if a
little slower, and finally clay." Moraines are "important
to geologists," Attig and Dott noted, "because they mark places where
the margin of the glacier stood for some time. For example, the
maximum extent of the Laurentide Ice Sheet in Wisconsin is marked by a
moraine ridge and a broad zone up to 10 or more miles wide of hummocky
topography where piles of debris-rich ice melted."4
This description hit home because of a vacation my family spent in
Florida's Everglades National Park. There, low hills called
hummocks stand above marshy areas and are no less important to the
area's flora and fauna. Although the forces that shaped Florida
and Wisconsin are radically different, Brookfield has always reminded
me of the Everglades in the sense that it is a combination of wetlands,
streams, and higher ground. Earlier in its history, poor zoning
permitted homes to be built in places so low-lying they continually
flooded. One residence not far from ours was erected in a
filled-in stream bed near the intersection of Pilgrim Road and Neuberry
Court. After repeated inundations, it was purchased by the
City of Brookfield and razed.
Could most of the hills in Brookfield be moraines? Larson said yes,
explaining: "There is tremendous amount of sand and gravel in the
area. I'd say nearly all of the mounds and high areas
between Waukesha and Allenton, are moraines that were
deposited by the last glacier." Asked how much of the sand and
gravel in this part of
the state has been excavated, Larson said, "five percent."
high and wide
Looking out my window in a Brookfield ranch situated on top of what
moraine, it's easy to daydream back to a time when the
towering front of a glacier was retreating to the east and depositing
the sand and
gravel that produced the mound later excavated
form the pit and lake. "The glacier would have been one
miles high and as wide as the
eye could see, looming over what is now the Lake Michigan basin,"
said Quintin Bendixen, an associate lecturer in the Department of
Geography/Geology at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.
Bendixen, a native of New Berlin, which is just south of
Brookfield, is working on his PhD at UW-Milwaukee.
"Temperatures would have been well below
around," he continued, "and the glacier would have had a crumbly front
masses of ice, with rocks, gravel, sand, and silt mixed in.
Successive advances and retreats of the ice ultimately created Lake
McCartney consulted a United States Geological Survey topographic map
for the area and estimated that the pre-excavation moraine
might have been as high as a "small knob just to the south that is 860
feet above MSL (mean sea level)." She added that "the elevation of the
intersection of Burleigh and Lilly Roads is 788 feet, which means the
untouched moraine could have originally been 50 to 80 feet
higher than the nearby road." Her conclusion is supported
by the HNTB report: "The [pit] was
cut from the top of a low ridge of high ground that originally ranged
from Elev. +840 to +860 MSL...Approximately 6.7 million cubic yards of
materials were taken from this site, from 1921 to 1978. Another
1.1 million yards of overburden have been stripped and piled around the
active excavation in the form of windrows." These form the steep
ridges that hide the lake.
origin of the pit's sand and gravel
HNTB report also states that the gravel in the pit
"appears to be
drift products of hematite- and limonite-bearing rocks from the Upper
Peninsula of Michigan having significant iron contents, plus diorites
(a gray to dark gray igneous rock) of that region." This means
the glacier scraped up materials 200 miles to the north, dragged them
to what is now eastern Waukesha County, and released them to form
Sand & Gravel Co., Inc.
The last full-time operators of the pit were Alana and David
Richardson. (After her husband's death, Alana remarried and her name is
now Phelps.) They leased
the site in the early 1960s and eventually established an office on
Burleigh. Richardson was from Verona, a town near Madison and Phelps,
crossroads village located about 11 miles to Verona's south. He
attended UW-Madison for three and one half years, studied architecture,
joined the Navy just before World War II, and spent his time in the
military stateside teaching "tail gunners how to operate the rear
turret on bombers," Phelps said. After the war, he went into the
trucking business with his father.
the middle 1950s, Richardson began delivering materials to contractors building
I-94 between Madison and Milwaukee. Huge amounts of aggregate,
primarily a mixture of sand and gravel, were needed.
"Construction of one mile of four-lane
interstate highway, requires 85,000 tons of aggregate," a Michigan
State University website points
out.5 "David came to understand that the materials he
hauling did not always meet specifications," Phelps said, "and
decided he could do
better." Around 1962, he learned that the pit on Burleigh Road,
then operated by State Sand and Gravel, was available for
leasing. "We had $35.00 in the bank but David knew materials and
felt that what
was there was high grade and he could sell it." Earth-moving equipment manufacturer Caterpillar was
impressed by the Richardsons and sold them their first end loader on
terms they could afford.
"I was very much against the venture in the first place," Phelps
stressed. "David enlisted me to help with the business, and
the place didn't even have an office, so I'd have to park my car--I
think it was an Oldsmobile--on the road that led out of the pit and
record every truck full of material that exited. Drivers would
stop and I'd give them a ticket. I was so busy I didn't know if I
was coming or going!" Success in the sand and gravel business
depends primarily on location,
as the Michigan State University website explains: "Construction-grade
sand and gravel is a high volume, low-value commodity, and cannot be
transported long distances economically. Most commonly, large trucks
are used to transport the sand and gravel, and the rule of thumb is
that it cannot economically be transported more than 30 miles...Thus,
sand and gravel pits must be located near the consumer, and that is why
sand and gravel pits are common in large, expanding urban areas."6
The pit the Richardson's operated is a case in point. During the
opening months of
the company, it supplied sand and gravel to the then-under-construction
Penny's Distribution Center, located about one mile to the east on
Burleigh at 112th Street. "That was our first major project, and
I spent an entire month working out of my car," Phelps said.
She remembered another job was supplying aggregate to the
veterans hospital at 50th and National now known as the Clement J.
Zablocki Medical Center. Public Affairs Officer Gary Kunich sent
a brochure titled "Historic Milwaukee VA" that confirms her
recollection: "Construction began in July 1962 and was finished
1965. The building was dedicated and occupied in May
1966." Another destination for the pit's output was
Subdivision across Burleigh Road to the north. "It was like a
swamp over there," Phelps said, "and we'd fill the trucks and they'd go
right across the street and dump their loads."
Richardson Sand and Gravel eventually erected a small office on the
road into the pit off of Burleigh. "It was on top of the hill
as you drove in, on the left side," Phelps said. "A corrugated metal
garage large enough to hold three semis was also built."
(Snapshots she sent to help illustrate this story were taken from the
road into the pit and record views to the south. Other Richardson
Sand & Gravel documents and photographs
were lost in a fire at their son's home or disposed of when
company records stored at her mother's residence were discarded
Equipment used by the Richardsons included a dragline for removing overburden, sand, and
gravel; a crusher that broke gravel into pea-sized pieces;
and a Loraine Loader for depositing materials in dump trucks.
"The lake was much smaller than it is today, and sometimes we would
material out of the bottom with the dragline and stack it in pyramids
to dry," Phelps continued. "As the company grew, four end
loaders were acquired for loading and
other tasks. The dump trucks that carried material to job sites
were leased from independent
owner-operators. Some had contracts for three or four different
jobs, each with its own specs, so they were loaded in different areas
of the pit, which is why we had to add more end loaders."
The couple worked long hours, often arriving by 6:00 a.m. and
until 10:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. At its peak, they had
18 people working at the site, but it was a
seasonal operation. "We'd shut down just after Christmas, spend
our winters in Florida, and not reopen until the first week of
April. During our time in Florida, David was a supervisor
a construction firm."
natural Phelps said Richardson had a talent
for geology and was able to spot likely sand and gravel deposits from
his car: "One time we were driving along, when
he saw one just off of Blue Mound Road. He contacted the
owner, had some tests run, struck a deal, and wound up removing gravel
for two seasons. He then restored the land so you wouldn't know
anything was mined there. David was a big believer in
restoration, and I was very proud of him. If he cut a tree down, he
planted another one. He was an unusual man who was very
well liked." He was also a master at meeting contractor
said: "It was like baking a cake, he'd read the spec, then
mix in the right amounts of pebbles, sand, and clay, depending on the
purpose." Larson elaborated: "Probably she was referring to
mixing up 'base'
material, which was used as fill to provide a firm foundation on
unstable ground. Clay was often part of the mix in the 60s but
isn't used as much today, mainly because the goal is to reduce moisture
content in the base, and clay is fairly wet."
Suburban Brookfield continued to grow around the Richardson Pit and
greater numbers of homes and residents ultimately led to concerns from
neighbors. "David had the idea of turning the site with its
growing lake into a
recreational area, basically a park, and
taking down the hills and
slopes. He went door-to-door telling the neighbors about his
plan. They were well-pleased but then an ex-employee spread a
rumor that the pit was going to be closed and turned into a
landfill." It was hard to win back the neighbors after they were
ranches, colonials, and tri-levels on big, tree-lined lots might soon
share the area with a dump.
The Richardsons decided to abandon the Brookfield pit in about 1970,
after they found a new sand and gravel deposit on Lannon Road just
north of Silver Spring. "It was on a farm owned by a Mr. Dolman,"
Phelps recalled. "We leased the right to excavate and set up an office;
we were supplying jobs in the Menomonee Falls area."
In January of 1976, not long after they arrived in Florida for the
off-season, a fatal heart attack struck Richardson as he prepared to go
fishing. "He had just had a complete physical and received a good
bill of health," Phelps said. The house they occupied on
Bittersweet Road in Brookfield was sold in
1978, Phelps relocated to Stuart, a community on Florida's Atlantic
coast, where she remarried. "A lot of dreams and hard work
were factored into
our lives in Brookfield," she reflected, "and, as with most people,
dreams and hard work are part of what life is all about. They never hurt anyone even
though they may never eventuate."
Ex-City of Brookfield employee Leonard told Rudig that the Zignego
Construction Company "hauled stone out of the quarry for their highway
projects" during the final two years of the pit's operation between
1975 and 1977.
Richardson didn't live to see his idea of converting the site
into a recreational area realized, but a similar plan was proposed in
1993 in a document prepared for the city by HNTB titled, "City of
Brookfield, Proposed Park Development, Sileno Property." The
Project Overview includes: "The City of Brookfield has the
opportunity to take title to this property through a donation by the
Sileno family." Six phases leading to completion were
detailed. When finished,
recreational activities would have included fields for soccer and
softball, scenic overlooks, play areas for children, and an
interpretive trail. Facilities for picnicking, swimming, diving, and
fishing would have been available, along with watercraft rentals.
Sledding and ice skating were planned for the winter. Cost
for the proposed development was in the neighborhood of $4
million, which is equal to approximately $6.3 million in today's
dollars.7 Saying that amount "exceeded the public
city rejected the donation.
In 2000, a "concept" was presented to the city by the
site's owner; it called for building 160 condominiums on the
north end of the property. The city stated it would approve the
plan only if the developer improved the southeast portion of the site
so it could be turned into a neighborhood park. The Quarry Group
took no further action.
Eleven years later, Ertl was approached by a representative of the owner and asked
if the city was "potentially interested in accepting a donation"
property. R.A. Smith National, a Brookfield-based engineering firm, was retained by the city to conduct a "study of
development potential and possible public use" of the site and to help
determine whether the municipality should consider "taking ownership of
the property, if offered."
The firm wrote a report indicating two separate but adjacent Quarry
Group properties, which it labeled Parcel A and Parcel B, were
involved. Parcel A is the former pit and lake; Parcel B is a 15-acre
rectangle that begins at the pit's western boundary and ranges out to
Lilly Road. The owner's motivation for donating the two
parcels, according to the R.A. Smith report was, "to be free from the
current tax burden of approximately $31,500 per year." In
addition, Ertl said the Quarry Group and its investors hoped the donation would
produce tax advantages.
R.A. Smith's planners scaled back considerably what should be done if the site was acquired by the city. Essentially, they
turning the former pit into a nature park featuring trails, scenic
overlooks, basic rest and information stations, and limited playground
equipment. Use of the lake would be restricted to non-motorized
craft such as canoes and kayaks. Primary access would be
from the north end, off of Burleigh Road--a parking lot near the
water tower would accommodate visitors. Secondary access points
would be near the intersection of Center Street and 131st Street, where
a rustic trail winds up the ridge and leads to the site and from Lilly
Road on a new "Woodland Trail Loop" that would lead to the lake.
This approach is similar to what neighbor Dr. Kelly thinks is the
best use for the site and what a neighbor of mine, a retired art
teacher, prefers. Viewing the lake and surroundings for the first
time from the southeast ridge, he proclaimed it a "beautiful place and
a real surprise." He thought it should be left "as natural and
undisturbed as possible." However, another friend, a retired
postal inspector, said the owner should subdivide the land around
the lake and sell lots for homes.
All planning ceased in March of 2011 when Jim Sileno sent an e-mail to Ertl withdrawing
the offer because one of the Quarry Group's
members couldn't "use the deduction from a dedication."
In June, 2013, an e-mail arrived from an individual whose parents live near the hidden lake. It stated that Quarry
Group Joint Venture, current owners of the property, proposed selling
it to Super Excavators, a company that would "dump roughly two million
cubic yards of 'clean
fill' from the Zoo Interchange Project into the quarry in an attempt
to make a park." The e-mail continued "...then the group would build multi-family housing
(100-120 units)...anyone who travels
the Burleigh corridor would be affected by 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. dump truck
operations for seven years. Petitions have been circulating, under the
acronym B.R.A.D. (Brookfield Residents Against the Dump)." A link to
a City of Brookfield Notice of Public Information Meeting document was included.
BRAD created a website
about the development and direct-mailed a flyer promoting a rally at
East High School. The flyer
lists Mark Regal--Ingrid's son--as BRAD's president. Regal is
quoted in the July
18, 2013, Brookfield and Elm Grove Now as saying during the public comment session of a Brookfield Common Council discussion of the Quarry
Group proposal: "I have
concerns about the safety of our residents on the pedestrian
pathway. Every four minutes, there will be a risk of a dump truck
hitting a pedestrian." That same evening, Veterinarian Laurie McCabe, owner and
manager of Burleigh Road Animal Hospital, which also stands between Burleigh and the abandoned pit said: "The
geese, deer, turkey, and other animals use the area as shelter and
a quiet place for clean water. This project will contaminate the
water. Leaving it alone is the best option. We implore you
to fight with us, not against us."
Later, in an August 23 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
article, Regal expressed worries about decreased property
values, even desolation: "In a recent letter to the mayor, Regal says:
'A dump in the backyard of our properties will turn our luxury
apartments into vacant buildings.'"
August 26, 2013, Mayor Steven Ponto announced at a BRAD rally held at
Brookfield East High School that a compromise plan had been
developed that would: 1. Reduce fill from 1.8 million cubic yards to 1
million cubic yards; 2. Leave a larger lake (22.75 acres versus 12.25 acres); 3. Reduce project time (preparation for fill, fill
operation, preparation for a park) to five
years from seven; and 4. Make the developer responsible for
grading, bringing in top soil, and planting grass
The mayor said the City of Brookfield would pay $1,150,000 for the
70-acre park, using money from Brookfield's Park and
Greenway Corridor funds, supplemented perhaps by money from the Wisconsin Department
of Natural Resources Stewardship Fund.
Those who live or own businesses near the hidden lake have learned the hard way that
their concerns, dislikes, preferences, and worries are distant thirds to
superior interests having to do with money and what is often
termed the "greatest good for the greatest number." These individuals own the backyards
in the expression "not in my backyard." NIMBYism matters little unless it's your
backyard or you're among the business and government officials who deal
with it regularly in situations ranging from the siting and expansion
airports to the location and operation of wind farms. Only rarely do
government or business interests offer financial compensation
for the burdens--perceived or real--those living or working near public projects bear.
It is equally
unusual for citizens in the wider community to back the causes of NIMBY property owners. For example, BRAD's supporters
probably didn't try to help Brookfield residents along Calhoun
Road south of Blue Mound Road who fought expanding Calhoun
to four lanes. And almost certainly not one has joined forces
citizens on or near Undercreek Parkway in Wauwatosa who are protesting
erection of towers strung with high voltage lines in the vicinity of
their properties. I was a NIMBY property owner
myself and wrote about two other NIMBY situations--the Arrowhead-Weston high voltage
power line in northern Wisconsin and the Oak Creek Power Plant.
Affected neighbors experience a
terrible feeling of helplessness when the weight of the state and
financial interests bear down implacably like the glacier that created
the moraine and set the stage for the pit and hidden lake.
I came away from my time as a NIMBY homeowner much wiser about where
to invest in real estate, making sure it wasn't near
arterials, railroad tracks, unused parcels with uncertain futures,
landfills (abandoned, new, or proposed), high voltage power lines, and
What makes this different from most NIMBY situations is
money the Regals have brought to bear. Websites and direct mail
appeals are expensive and beyond the means of most citizens.
After the first flyer, BRAD direct-mailed three
additional postcards, one about a city planning commission meeting and
two promoting rallies at the Venice Club and Maxims.
The Regals even hired an attorney, Alan H. Marcuvitz of Michael
Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee, to help BRAD make its case. He spoke at a Brookfield Planning Commission meeting that
held on September 9 in the Central High School gymnasium.
Ponto and Ertl also addressed the crowd, along with
representatives of the
developer. The NIMBY audience was hostile
and became boisterous and belligerent when one speaker from the
developer mentioned that dumping operations might occasionally
occur after 7:00 p.m. With the crowd groaning, one man shouted, "That's what you think, buddy!"
I bugged out when
neighbors were invited to speak because I knew they would unleash a
torrent of emotional condemnation. Never mind that it's likely
every one who excoriated business and government representatives
that evening will motor through the rebuilt Zoo Interchange happily and
without thinking of the
people living nearby who probably wish the entire
freeway would go away. Period.
Moreover, if they succeed in stopping the deposition of Zoo
Interchange debris at the hidden lake, most likely they won't work
to make sure its eventual destination doesn't rile others who
near the ultimate point of disposal or along the route to it.
Citizens applaud the conveniences better public facilities afford and generally only mind
the irritations when they are the ones being
irritated. This is a prime example of the
phrase, "All politics is local," which is often attributed to former
Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill but evidently was coined by Washington
AP bureau chief Byron Price in 1932.8
Short-term nuisance, long-term good
Despite BRAD's protests, as projects go, this one is pretty good to neighbors.
First, unlike many public improvements, the perceived nuisance produced by
truck traffic and dumping operations will end after just
five years. And second,
neighbors will have a beautiful new park with an attractive lake in
their midst when work is complete.
about possible reductions in property values ignore the
reality that just about everything in the area bordered by
Burleigh, 124th, North, and Lilly was built when
the hidden lake property was a dawn-to-dusk--even to 10:00 p.m.--sand and gravel
with bulldozers, draglines, end loaders, excavators, and other heavy
equipment gouging, scraping, processing, and rearranging the land
noisily and dump
trucks rumbling in and out.
Don Dittmar, manager, Land Information
Waukesha County furnished the aerial to the left that shows what the
pit and its
surroundings looked like in 1963. Many of the homes that ring the
site today were already in place; more were being added nearby and
Brookfield at the time. You don't have to be a realtor to know that the kind
of building boom Brookfield enjoyed during the fifties, sixties,
and seventies wasn't slowed by day-to-day activities at what was
then called Richardson Sand and Gravel Company, Inc. or its neighbor to the northeast, Split Rock Products.
I spoke with Alana Phelps, who operated Richardson Sand and Gravel with her first husband, about
plans for the site that might culminate in a park: She told me she had just turned 89 and
said: "With news like that, my David is smiling. He wanted
much to make
it into something favorable. That's wonderful, wonderful!"
BRAD solicited signatures on a "Petition for Direct
designed to require the City of Brookfield to either adopt
an ordinance the group proposed or ask voters to decide whether it should
be adopted. If passed, the ordinance would force the city
to put acquisition of the hidden lake property--or any formerly
mined land--to a general vote, taking responsibility out of the hands
of elected officials. Nothing in the petition directly stopped
the hauling of fill to the site.
Brookfield and Elm Grove Now published a
"Message from the Mayor" about the situation on
October 10, 2013. In the piece, the mayor invited citizens who
have questions or comments to call him at 262
787-3525, so I did. Ponto didn't see anything in the
petition effort that would stop Super Excavators or another company from
legally depositing DOT-generated debris at the hidden lake. In his view, the proposed ordinance, if passed, would
simply make it more difficult for the city to acquire the site for use
as a park after dumping had occurred.
A voice mail I left on the BRAD hotline was returned by a representative
who said the ordinance would prevent the city from paying
$1.15 million for the site, without the explicit approval of
voters. That uncertainty, he said, would dissuade Super
Excavators from buying the property because its real motivation
was selling the park to the city five years hence.
I also e-mailed a question to BRAD attorney Alan Marcuvitz
who replied: "Mayor Ponto’s support for the City’s adoption of a
agreement with those who propose the use of the site for a landfill
rests exclusively on his expectation that, after 5 years of intense
trucking and dumping activity, there will be an opportunity for the
City to purchase the site and establish a park. The direct
legislation petition prevents the City from acquiring the site, unless
approved in a referendum. Without the 'end-game' of a park, the
City has neither reason nor excuse for supporting the cooperative
BRAD's position appears to acknowledge there is
no straightforward way to prevent the dumping of certain kinds of debris. The petition
might have specified, for example, that no dumping would be permitted
unless a majority of Brookfield residents voted in favor of it,
but it didn't. As the mayor pointed out in his Brookfield and Elm Grove Now
message, the city has few options due to Wisconsin Statute 85.193 that
was, he wrote, "inserted in the 2011 state budget at the urging of
special interests--the earth-movers. Its purpose was to effectively
eliminate local control on fill operations if a landowner wished to
accept clean fill from Wisconsin Department of Transportation projects."
Cost of hauling
Exploring how Super Excavators might profit from its involvement
led me to contact the Wisconsin Department of
Transportation's Zoo Interchange Team on October 22, 2013. ZIT
never responded so I called WisDOT and reached Nancy Gibson, office of
public affairs. I asked how much WisDOT was likely to pay or had
paid in the past for hauling one million cubic yards of fill to a
lawful dump site. Gibson's colleague, Lindsay Schmidt, WisDOT
communications, replied in an e-mail that there
is "no clear cut answer," however, "based on past large projects, the
average unit cost for excavation is approximately $8.00/CY."
When I asked Schmidt in a follow-up e-mail if "excavation" included "digging
the material out, hauling it away, and depositing it," I received a
call from Michael Pyritz, WisDOT communications department. He
stressed that forming a cost estimate was difficult
because the job hadn't been "let out for bids" and past experience
might not be an accurate guide to how much will be spent on this
project due to a long list of variables. He also said bidders
with relatively nearby disposal sites have an advantage over other
competitors because the price of fuel is a major factor in the overall
cost. He agreed to review a
summary of our discussion that I later e-mailed to him but subsequently did not respond to
For the most part, I have found the ZIT (this goofy acronym should tell
reminds me of Richard M. Nixon's sadly appropriate "Committee to
Re-Elect the President [CREEP]" from 1972) and its
managing organization, WisDOT, unresponsive and evasive.
Other attempts to obtain basic
or clarifications from
ZIT or its parent have proved futile. Contacts with staff
members of Senator Leah Vukmir, who represents my area, haven't been
It seems reasonable to conclude that if Mayor Ponto's compromise limit held, something
in the neighborhood of $8,000,000 would likely be paid for hauling one
million cubic yards of material to the hidden lake site.
The October 24, 2013, Brookfield and Elm Grove Now reported that BRAD submitted petitions with "more than 3,600
signatures" to Brookfield officials on October 18, 2013. A week
later, a story in the same paper stated that the "city clerk confirmed October
24 that there were sufficient signatures" on the petitions "to force the
council to consider the ordinance." The mayor urged its
adoption, mainly to save time. "It would take a lot to educate
the public about it," Ponto said, "and I think it's generally better for
the council to make decisions than to send it to the public."
BRAD-authored ordinance passes
Two weeks later, following the mayor's lead, the Brookfield Common Council passed
the BRAD ordinance as detailed in
a November 7 Brookfield and Elm Grove Now article. The same issue contained letters to the editor by BRAD President Regal and a Brookfield resident, each expressing an opposite point of view.
About a month later, the Brookfield and Elm Grove Now ran
a frontpage story titled "BRAD leader gains option on Sileno
property." This article indicated Regal was in negociations to
buy the property. However, it contained the odd wording that he, "...accepted
an offer to purchase the land..." Usually, a company or
individual makes an offer, not accepts
one. In any case, the article reported that the offer is "...on
the contingency that he (Regal) can get a development agreement with
the city to build 120 luxury apartments." The city is weighing that now.
On the heels of Regal's actions, a public hearing was held at the state
capitol on a bill that would make it harder for companies to dump
materials on a property
without the consent of the local municipality and nearby
Schraufnagel of Super Excavators spoke against the bill, according to a Brookfield and Elm Grove Now
story that appeared on December 26. The article notes that, "Schraufnagel said his
company put nine months of work and more than $125,000 in consulting
fees into its proposal for the (hidden lake) property..."
A week later a story in the January 2, 2014, Brookfield and Elm Grove Now reported
Regal, "...paid his attorney...more than $100,000 to help him defeat Super
Excavators plans to bring fill from the Zoo Interchange project"; the
story also credits Marcuvitz with coining the BRAD name and acronym.
This means that between the two sides, after something in the neighborhood of $225,000 was spent, nothing has
On February 20, Brookfield and Elm Grove Now featured a story
about a Brookfield Plan Commission and Park and Recreation Commission
meeting that the article states was intended "solely to give feedback"
on Regal family plans for the hidden lake site. According to the
article, the "Regal family's proposal includes building 89 to 112
luxury apartments on 10 acres of the property and donating the
remaining acres for a park, conservancy, or both." Commission
members reportedly reacted favorably although some concerns about safety
Regal proposal for site
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
published another report about Regal's plans on June 9, 2014. The article states that he presented city officials with, "A
detailed plan (click for graphic)
to develop 113 apartments and a city park..." Called the "Hidden Lake
Preserve," its address would be 13275 West Burleigh Road. About
around the lake, including the rectangle of land that connects to
Lilly Road, would be preserved as a "nature conservancy." Regal
proposes giving the lake a formal name for the first time and calling
it Lake Ingrid as a salute to his mother.
Though a sweet gesture, I'd prefer formalizing the "hidden
lake" moniker many have known it by or better, a name that acknowledges
its glacial origins or the many centuries Native Americans lived in the
In some ways, the goings-on in business and government circles involving the hidden lake property resemble a game of chess with
gambits and tactics. The stakes are high, and I'll keep expanding the story as new moves occur.
2. "Ice Age Deposits of Wisconsin," PDF. University of
Wisconsin--Extension. Geological and Natural History Survey.
3. Roadside Geology of
Wisconsin Robert H. Dott, Jr. and John W. Attig 2004, Mountain
Press Publishing Company, page 52.
4. Ibid. Page 25.
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