Madison, WI - On April 16, 2003, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision in Step Now Citizens Group. et. al. v. Town of Utica Planning and Zoning Committee, et. al., No. 02-2760. The decision represents a complete victory for Michael Best & Friedrich LLP's client, Algoma Ethanol LLC, area farmers who will benefit from value-added corn processing, and the environment by the production of cleaner-burning fuels. "We are very pleased with the court's decision and look forward to joining the ethanol production industry," said Paul Olsen, president of Algoma Ethanol. According to Olsen, the facility plans to begin operations tomorrow. Algoma Ethanol sought to build an ethanol production facility in the Town of Utica in Winnebago County. After extensive public input and meetings spanning several months, the Town's Planning and Zoning Committee and the Town Board rezoned a parcel of land from Agricultural to Industrial, allowing Algoma Ethanol to proceed with its construction plans. The Winnebago County Board later approved the Town's actions. An unincorporated opposition group dubbed Step Now ("Stop the Ethanol Plant NOW"), sued to have the Town's rezoning law declared invalid on the grounds that it constituted illegal "spot zoning" and was inconsistent with the Town's land use plan. The circuit court agreed with Step Now and ordered a halt to construction.
Michael Best & Friedrich was retained by Algoma Ethanol, LLC after the trial court issued its ruling and promptly obtained a stay of the circuit court's order pending full review by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals then reversed the circuit court in its full decision. Agreeing with Algoma Ethanol's argument that "spot zoning" is not illegal when it is in the public interest, the Court of Appeals held that courts should not substitute their own opinions about what constitutes the public interest when Town and County officials properly make this determination, as they did here. The Court of Appeals also held that a land use plan is an advisory tool for local governments rather than a mandatory one. Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected claims of various procedural irregularities and rejected claims that Town officials were "biased" simply because Algoma Ethanol arranged for them to take a tour of another functioning ethanol facility. "Michael Best & Friedrich's efforts were instrumental to our success on appeal." Olsen said.
Ethanol is an oxygenate additive that is made from corn and replaces groundwater contaminating methyl tert-butyl ether ("MTBE").