The situation between Sturtevant and SC Johnson over a 2.6 acre parcel of land worth approximately $70,000 has moved from a negotiation to what appears to be a stalemate.

At issue is the village’s need to acquire a sliver of land located at the southern end of Waxdale, SC Johnson’s primary manufacturing plant, so Willow Road can be redirected to connect with what is now 84th Street ahead of the Wisconson Department of Transportation’s plan to widen Durand Avenue from 92nd Street to Highway 31.

Most of Waxdale is located in the Village of Mount Pleasant, but a small southern portion of the property lies within into Sturtevant, and since the 1990s officials there have been in talks with SCJ about the plan for Willow Road. After so many years of conversations and a general lack of action on the part of the company, the Sturtevant Village Board last month unanimously approved filing an eminent domain action.

SC Johnson threatens to leave Racine County

And now, SC Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson is threatening to take his operation elsewhere.

“While I suspect the community would like us to expand here, if the village feels differently, or if it feels constructive dialogue and an open mind to alternative solutions is too much to ask, that would be very helpful information for me to know, as it is an indicator of how the village views our factory and will be important as we make plans for the future,” The Journal Times quotes from a letter Johnson sent Thursday to members of the village board.

The situation has alarmed local elected officials – Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, Rep. Robin Vos and RAMAC President (and former County Executive) Jim Ladwig – who have requested a private meeting with Sturtevant Village President Steve Jansen.

Jansen, however, denied the request and instead invited the group – with SCJ representatives – to attend an open session Committee of the Whole meeting for a discussion. A meeting date is being coordinated between all the parties.

“My board was adamant that we do this in open session, and I agree,” Jansen said. “We’ve been talking about this too long, and we don’t meet in closed session unless there’s a privacy issue to consider. This kind of meeting at this juncture should be open to the public.”

Vos told me during a phone interview Friday that when he thinks of SC Johnson, he thinks, “Racine County.”

“From my perspective there is no other company more important to our community than SC Johnson,” he said. “When I heard about the difficult time the village and the company were having with an answer, I thought maybe we could get together to try and get some resolution.”

Kelly Semrau, a spokesperson for SC Johnson, told the newspaper that company officials are fine with an open meeting.

“If that’s the only way the village wants to do it, we’re going to do anything we can to save 1,000 jobs here,” she is quoted as saying.

Agreeing to meet is a positive step toward a peaceful solution, because the public’s business should be conducted in public. But first, a little perspective:

Willow Road discussions go back years

SCJ accuses Sturtevant leaders of taking them by surprise and issued letters earlier this month accusing each trustee of not communicating with the company about the Willow Road relocation project and said Sturtevant filing for eminent domain earlier this month amounted to an act of aggression.

Aerial shot of the berm constructed by SC Johnson in advance of the Willow Road project. Photo credit: Village of Sturtevant

But, village meeting minutes going back to an October 2010 Planning Commission meeting tell a different story; specifically that SC Johnson was always aware of the Willow Road project.

“The Village of Mt. Pleasant and S.C. Johnson are proposing to construct a landscaping berm south of the existing Waxdale plant to serve as a visual barrier for the property. The berm would screen the back of SCJ’s property from the Village of Sturtevant’s development area just north of Highway 11,” the minutes read.

Trustee Chris Wright used the minutes and the aerial photograph of the area in question to support the village’s position.

“(The berm) was constructed by SCJ after coming to the Planning Commision for approval to do so. It was designed to go above the proposed road. Now according to SCJ the road is encroaching on their plans for development,” he pointed out.

In the letter Johnson delivered Thursday threatening to take his company elsewhere if Sturtevant doesn’t agree to sit down and work out a solution. SC Johnson is coming to the table with alternatives, commissioned from Graef Engineering but presumably without the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the state agency Sturtevant has been working with all along.

Sturtevant trustees contacted by the newspaper say they are willing to look at the company’s alternatives, but until they received the first letter they hadn’t been made aware of any additional options.

The proposed Willow Road relocation has been up for discussion for years; I know because during several meetings over the last decade or so, village staffers have along the way provided the trustees with updates about discussions with SCJ representatives.

In short, though, what this comes down to is a multibillion-dollar company using the press to blackmail a village with an annual operating budget that is probably less than Johnson’s annual salary over a 2.6-acre piece of land worth $70,000 for an expansion plan they’ve known about for years.

 

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