NOTE: This story has been updated. You can read that story by clicking HERE.
Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) has sent a letter to all members of the Burnett County Board of Supervisors, asking the board to fire Burnett County Zoning Administrator Jason Towne.
Editor's Note: Rep. Jarchow's letter to the board members can be read at the end of this article.
Jarchow’s letter is in response to an action by the county zoning office on Friday evening, June 1, to close Whitetail Wilderness campground near Webster. The campground has remained closed since, keeping out the tenants who rent spaces for their park model trailer homes, travel trailers, and RVs.
The campground gate is closed and bears a sign that the campground is closed by the zoning office and county health department and is off limits until further notice. No date has been announced for its reopening.
The main reason behind closing the campground was the discharge of greywater onto the ground under some park model homes and other camping units rather than the water draining into a holding tank. Greywater is wastewater from sinks, showers, and bathtubs. It contains no human waste.
The county zoning office received a complaint alleging the problem. The county previously notified the Whitetail campground owners of other violations, including not meeting all zoning codes, allowing unlicensed storage structures and operating the campground with an undersized sewage dumping system.
Some years ago the county zoning office approved a conditional use permit for 75 camping sites, but says the campground has expanded to 100 units without enlarging its sewage dumping system.
County court issued a warrant
The county zoning office applied for a “special inspection warrant” for Whitetail Wilderness. The warrant was approved May 9 by Burnett County Circuit Judge Melissa Mogen.
The special warrant does not mention evictions or closing the campground, but a second county document signed by Sarah Miller of Burnett County Health Department authorized the evictions and campground closure. It was posted on the closed campground gate. As of Thursday afternoon, the campground has been closed for seven nights.
Deputies served the warrant
Campers say County Zoning Administrator Towne came to the campgrounds about 5 p.m. Friday, June 1, along with zoning employees and two Burnett County Sheriff Department deputies who were enlisted to serve the warrant.
The deputies, with Towne at times accompanying them, went door-to-door to tell residents they needed to vacate their properties by 8 p.m. that evening. They told campers the campground gates would be shut until further notice.
Camper: ‘We followed police order to leave’
Camper David Anderson said, “When the officers came to my door, they gave me no reason why we had to leave and showed me no paperwork. But, when an officer of the law says you must leave, that’s what we did.”
Anderson said while the officers were there, other campers arrived expecting to spend the weekend at their summer places. Anderson said the campers wanted to take advantage of the DNR’s free fishing weekend but were denied access to their homes. They asked if the officers could delay the campground closing until Monday so they could enjoy the weekend, but they were told no and to leave the premises.
Anderson said, “It turns out my unit was involved in the greywater issue, and it took me about two minutes to fix it.” He said he shut a valve that allowed greywater to drain into an underground tank where it seeped into the ground. Closing the valve diverted the water into the home's sewage tank. Anderson said each housing unit has a sewage holding tank and the campground operator owns a sewage pumper truck and empties the tanks on a regular basis.
Before Anderson and his wife departed Friday evening, he saw two men with shovels who were part of the zoning office group remove the skirting around some of the mobile homes and dig holes in yards, apparently looking for wastewater violations.
County’s Attorney: Raw sewage present
Burnett County Corporation Counsel David Grindell, the attorney for Burnett County’s government offices and county board, said Thursday morning the inspectors found the problem was not just greywater. “The inspectors also found blackwater (human sewage) on the ground,” and that justified closing the campground.
Rep. Jarchow responded that campground owner Mike Waltzing said, the raw sewage was a small amount leaking at one location and was quickly fixed.
Sheriff Wilhelm: My department did not authorize evictions
Burnett County Sheriff Ron Wilhelm was displeased with the events. “He (Zoning Administrator Jason Towne) apparently obtained a court order and then marched it down to the Sheriff’s Department after all of us administrators were gone. It was late last Friday afternoon. He had a couple of our deputies go with him out to the Whitetails campground to serve the warrant.
“Our deputies, acting in good faith, went around the campsite telling campers they had to leave. I was never notified, nor was Chief Deputy Burns. We do not have authority to do this. I was with my family when I got a call about 9 p.m. Friday night from one of my officers asking what was going on, and that was the first I had heard of it.
“The deputies were already at the campground, but when I found out about it, I put the kibosh on it. I stopped it and I mean right now. We have not been back up there and have taken no further action, nor are we going to.”
Rep. Jarchow: Zoning overstepped its bounds
Jarchow, an attorney who has represented the Burnett County area in the State Assembly in Madison, also owns and operates a campground as a family business in another county. He is not acting as an attorney in the case but is responding to several letters and calls he has received from people with summer homes at the campground, and the campground owners Mike and Jean Waltzing. The Waltzings were contacted but said they would reserve comments for now.
Jarchow said Zoning Administrator Towne overstepped his authority by closing the campground. “It’s not like all the people there are weekend campers,” Jarchow said, “For some of them, this is their summer residence. These people live there all summer. They are the most inconvenienced and it wasn’t really necessary for them to leave at all.”
Those summering residents include a military veteran who has no transportation; Anderson and his wife, who found shelter in a sister’s small vacant home but had to depart when she returned. Anderson was to undergo surgery Thursday and wasn’t sure where they would go afterward. A construction worker from Minnesota who works in Wisconsin told Jarchow he spent $2,600 for full summer rent at the campground, but now is paying for a motel room.
No state involvement
Jarchow said a Burnett County official told him the campground closure was authorized in Madison by Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).
Jarchow said, “I called and spoke to a DATCP deputy secretary. That is the agency that employs the sanitarians who inspect campgrounds. The deputy secretary said DATCP had nothing to do with the campground closure. It is purely Burnett County zoning administrator who made that decision.”
Owners request re-opening
By Wednesday afternoon, the campground owner told DrydenWire.com all the repairs were made and he personally delivered the required documentation and photographs to prove it to the zoning office. His hope was to re-open the campground later Wednesday night.
Zoning Administrator Towne was out of the office but responded to Waltzing by letter, listing many other violations, some serious like an undersized dumping station, and some less serious, like have a number on each trailer home or campsite. He said in the letter that even if the health department allowed re-opening the campground, he would use zoning office authority to keep it closed until other infractions were fixed.
Thursday afternoon Jason Towne sent a message to DrydenWire.com stating, “I will be meeting with our legal counsel on Friday afternoon, and I will have a statement for you at that time.
Rep. Jarchow Letter to Board Chair
Dear Chairman Taylor:
While representing the people of the 28th District in the Wisconsin Assembly, I have, time and again, received constituent issues and problems regarding the Burnett County Land Information Director and County Surveyor, Jason Towne. His name has become infamous to my staff and me. This is because he has consistently positioned himself as a roadblock to development and progress in Burnett County, especially regarding zoning and property rights – forcing my constituents to reach out for help. This has happened far too often.
The most recent issue occurred at the Whitetail Wilderness campground in Webster. A possible concern with gray water draining suddenly led to the effective eviction of residents from the campground. Mr. Towne showed up to the campground and executed an inspection warrant that resulted in these evictions. The Burnett County Sheriff has spoken to me about how he was beside himself after finding out his deputies were brought in during this ridiculous situation. The old inspection warrant used made this entire situation seem like Gestapo-esque tactics in enforcing sanitary issues.
What is most infuriating was the runaround I received while looking into these evictions. County Administrator Nate Ehalt appears to have intentionally misled me about under whose authority the campground was closed, saying it was the state. After conferring with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), it was clear the sole authority sits with the county. Yesterday, I left a voicemail with Mr. Ehalt and have yet to receive a return call. Additionally, I left a voicemail with the Burnett County Health Department regarding the authority to close Whitetail Wilderness. I am still waiting for the department to return my call. Representatives from DATCP explained the issues which lead to the county closing the campground were either repaired or they never existed in the first place, meaning the entire situation may have been a knee-jerk overreaction and power trip that evicted people from their seasonal homes. This outcome is abhorrent and falls on the shoulders of Mr. Towne.
In addition to the outlandish treatment of the small business owners here, I have received numerous phone calls from the residents of the campground who have relayed to me the unprofessional and curt treatment they received from Mr. Towne. One campground resident told me they spend thousands of dollars per year in Burnett County but, due to the behavior of Jason Towne, they would not be back. Mr. Towne is an embarrassment and a detriment to the people, businesses, and economy of Burnett County. It is time that you, as the elected representatives of the people of Burnett County take decisive action to end this madness.
Mr. Towne has been the reason for statewide legislation due to his obstructionism regarding property rights and overreach in zoning implementation. That a single person can create a need for heavy restrictions to political subdivisions’ zoning powers is ridiculous. Additionally, Mr. Towne has refused to accept state shoreland zoning changes. The blatant disregard for the law, property rights, and community growth all lead me to urge you to terminate Mr. Towne’s employment with Burnett County.
Such a termination would put Burnett County in a position to do something great for its citizens. The county should hire a pro-growth, pro-development individual who would benefit the communities of Burnett County with an attitude aimed at helping property owners, businesses, and developers to achieve their goals in making Burnett County prosper. The current obstructionist attitude of Mr. Towne is a roadblock to progress in the county. The people of Burnett County do not want their local government working against them, the people want a local government that works with them. I urge you to terminate Jason Towne and put the county back on the track to success with a champion of property rights and prosperity.
Rep. Adam Jarchow
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