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Minocqua Brewing Company permit public hearing ends abruptly without public comments

The Oneida County Planning and Development Committee abruptly adjourned Wednesday’s public hearing on the Minocqua Brewing Company’s [MBC] Administrative Review Permit.

The committee was considering amending, suspending, or revoking the permit altogether for the brewery. The brewery would shut down without it.

The meeting ended without public comments and many were left confused in the disarray.

To begin, Karl Jennrich, Planning and Zoning Department Head, presented for about 35 minutes on the county’s history with the Minocqua Brewing Company. He read emails between the county and MBC’s owner, Kirk Bangstad, and established a full timeline of every staff-observed violation of the brewery’s permit, going back over a year.

County staff then called Bangstad’s lawyer, Lester Pines, for a 15 minute presentation. Tensions started to spike after Bangstad announced that Pines had not been able to join the remote zoom participation option, since the meeting link was already overwhelmed with viewers.

Pines argued that improving the relationship and communication between MBC and the county would eliminate violations of the permit.

“But the bottom line is that today, the committee is looking at a very, very serious determination, and that is whether or not it will seek to revoke the permit,” said Pines. “I want to suggest to the committee that the revocation of a permit that allows a business to operate should really be done only in circumstances where the violation is creating a danger to the public, or the health of the community. There is no such danger. Obviously, the committee has discretion. But in the exercise of its discretion, I suggest to you that those are the considerations first that should be looked at.”

Bangstad then began reading his speech, but committee members interrupted, calling for him to redirect more specifically on the permit issue, as opposed to discussing his timeline and history with the Zoning committee. Bangstad continued to read his prepared statement.

Eventually, one of the committee members called for a five minute break in the middle of Bangstad’s comments.

Bangstad tried to continue reading his speech, but some members of the audience began shouting “no” and “stop”. Bangstad, audience members, and committee members were all talking over each other at once.

The meeting adjourned without a public hearing, much to the surprise of the audience, and committee members began to quickly file out. WXPR spoke to the County Board Member representing parts of Minocqua, Billy Fried.

Even Fried acknowledged how unusual this situation was.

“I've been on the county board for a long time,” said Fried. “Maybe there was one other adjournment that got out of order. But this is not a normal operating procedure.”

Bangstad spoke with media after the meeting.

“The government is supposed to be able to let both sides share their story. Then those guys are supposed to decide on what would've happened here. Today my story was not allowed to be told,” said Bangstad.

Tim Gifford is a Watertown resident vacationing in the Northwoods. He said that he came to the public hearing because he had a feeling he knew what would happen, and he says it didn’t disappoint.

“They were able to stand up there for an hour basically and label these accusations, which maybe are true,” said Gifford. “But when it came time for him to speak, then they didn't want to hear what he had to say. And I mean, he knew coming in that his chances of getting a positive vote out of this were not good. If they had heard him out, I have a feeling they would have voted him down anyway. But tonight, to not even listen to him, to shout him down, to adjourn is to me not the way local government should run.”

WXPR’s news partner WAOW reported that some community members have become frustrated by MBC.

"He disgraces all of us for not abiding by the permits we all swore we would do. He violated those permits, but he just keeps right on violating what he said he was going to do," said Wayne Trapp, a contractor in Minocqua.

For now, the Minocqua Brewing Company remains in business.

There is another hearing for the businessthat is scheduled for August 2nd in Woodruff.

This one is for a Conditional Use Permit for Bangstad to operate a beer garden.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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