Dredging project managed by Mount Pleasant village president dumps sediment on public land

Contractor AW Oakes apologized for dumping dredged sediment without permission

AW Oakes spreads organic material from a private lake dredging project on public land on June 10, 2024. Margaret Faust/WPR

For months, some Mount Pleasant residents have been complaining about a construction crew dumping dredging material on public land slated for a park in the village.

The material  — dredged sediment generated by a village neighborhood homeowners association’s pond revitalization project managed by Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot — has been the subject of village staff objections, public meetings and an ethics complaint filed by one of DeGroot’s detractors.

This week, resident Kevin Rannow stood before the Mount Pleasant Village Board calling for the removal of a no trespassing sign recently posted in front of the site along Highway KR.

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Rannow said residents concerned about the project worry they are being blocked from keeping an eye on the work, which began last November, initially without permission from the village.

“I and others would like permission for access to the site when the crew is not working,” Rannow said. “It’s human nature to try harder to do the right thing when you know others that are counting on you.”

Now neighbors are concerned about the environmental impact of the dumped material, including worries about runoff into the Pike River. Litter, including golf balls, was mixed in with the sediment.

The goal of the pond project was to deepen it, improve its appearance, introduce wildlife and update a dam to create more water storage for the village.

“The lake was just a cesspool,” DeGroot said. “If this was ever going to get fixed, we’d have to do it ourselves.” 

The Pleasant Valley Lake is expected to fill up by the end of the year. Margaret Faust/WPR

According to the village engineer, the contractor hired for the Pleasant Valley Lake project, AW Oakes and Son, violated a permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources by dumping the dredged material on public land instead of a designated site in Somers. The village issued a cease a desist order to AW Oakes in December 2023.

In January, members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, all of whom were appointed by DeGroot, overturned the village’s order and allowed AW Oakes to continue using the site. Now crews are spreading the material to dry it out and restabilize the site. 

AW Oakes did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Linsey Weber, deputy director of public works for the village of Mount Pleasant, visits the site regularly. She told the village’s utility commission at a public meeting in in May that she doesn’t know if there is anything more she can do except make sure AW Oakes restores the site properly. 

“We shouldn’t be letting a private HOA, at no benefit to the village, dump this material on village park land,” Weber said at the meeting. “It needs to be stabilized ASAP. It should have obviously been done last year.” 

Weber did not return WPR’s request for comment.

“Any issues with stormwater runoff on the site have been addressed by the contractor as they occur, in a manner satisfactory to village staff,” the village administrator said in an email to WPR.  

Ethics complaint against DeGroot

During a public meeting earlier this year, an AW Oakes representative said dumping was done at the public site to save money and that the company received permission from unidentified individuals. It is still unclear who gave that permission to dump the organic material from the pond onto public land. At a village meeting in April, company CEO Dan Oakes apologized to the village. 

“It was wrong for not having permission to be your property. We’re not a company that’s going to dump contaminated material on people’s property. We have a better reputation than that,” Oakes said. 

Tests done by Wisconsin Lake & Pond Resource in 2022 show trace amounts of chemicals produced by the break down of the now-banned pesticide DDT. It can harm wildlife but it is not likely to move into groundwater, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The construction site along Highway KR in December, 2023. Photo courtesy of Kevin Rannow

DeGroot has been scrutinized by some community members for his involvement in the project. In May, Daniel Dimler of Mount Pleasant submitted a complaint against DeGroot to the state’s ethics commission and the Racine District Attorney. The complaint outline says DeGroot used his public position as village president to receive “significant financial gain and private benefit.”

“He’s done something egregiously wrong here. (It’s) just crazy to just dump his sludge onto public property,” Dimler told WPR in an interview. 

DeGroot dismisses the complaint, arguing it’s a personal vendetta against him from neighbors who don’t agree with his politics. He said he was not involved in any contract negotiations and that in all other aspects of the project, he was careful to act as a private citizen not village president. 

“This is dumb that they keep beating a dead horse and it’s 1,000 percent political retribution,” DeGroot said. 

DeGroot announced in May he is running for the 66th State Assembly District. 

Since the dredging of Pleasant Valley Lake, neighbors have spotted turtles, ducks and geese enjoying the habitat. The HOA plans to host an ice cream social at the lake in September. DeGroot said he is proud of the lake project.

“We do the best we can. We think that we’re doing something amazing that’s going to create a nice little village green for our neighborhood,” DeGroot.