Oneida County committee wants more time to consider permit for youth wellness recovery treatment center in Cassian
The Oneida County Planning and Development Committee is holding off on a decision regarding a youth treatment center in Cassian.
The committee heard more than an hour of public testimony on whether it should approve a Conditional Use Permit for the facility.
The Great Lakes Inter Tribal Council [GLITC] wants to build a 36-bed youth wellness recovery treatment center in a wooded area of Oneida County in the Town of Cassian.
It would serve 13- to 17-year-old Tribal and non-tribal teens dealing with mental health issues and addiction.
GLITC has already purchased the land. It now needs county approval for a Conditional Use Permit to build the facility.
“We have an opportunity to save our youth,” said Bryan Bainbridge, the CEO of GLITC. “There was a lot of talk of safety and infrastructure concerns. We've tried to address those as they come up. I initiated the conversations with the township, I made the initial contacts because I wanted to be a good neighbor. It's important to create partnerships without a ask financial support, but support just to do something, to be part of the solution instead of the problem.”
Roughly 100 people turned out for the Planning and Development Committee CUP hearing Thursday evening at the Woodruff Town Hall. More than 30 people gave public comments.
Several of those in favor of the facility were health professionals in and around Oneida County who spoke of the need for this kind of facility in the Northwoods.
“The resources, especially north of Highway 29, are woefully inadequate to meet the mental and behavioral health needs of kids and families,” said Lisa Ludwig, who has spent years working as a social worker across the state and is now a licensed therapist who lives in Vilas County. “I have learned recently, there are more than 70 kids waiting to be seen by a practitioner, 70 kids within two school districts in our area. When early intervention either doesn't exist or isn't effective, kids need access to higher levels of care.”
Some of the health professionals who spoke also addressed some of the drug and safety concerns people had about a facility like this, saying, in their experience, these facilities are safe and people outside are not bringing drugs in.
A representative from Senator Ron Johnson’s (R-Wisconsin) office read a letter from the Senator in support of the facility.
Most everyone who spoke agreed a facility like this is needed in the region, but those against it argue Cassian is not the place for it.
“I think there are better places to put this, including on tribal lands. And this is something, with the priority being tribal members, that it should go on tribal lands,” said Congressman Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua).
Tiffany said he’d “go to bat” to get GLITC money if the facility were to be built in “an appropriate place, like on tribal property.”
The committee didn’t vote on the CUP. It did vote that this project is an allowable conditional use permit in District 4, which is what that land is currently zoned for.
The Town of Cassian is opposed to the facility.
Its lawyer, Frank Kowalkowski, argued that the type of facility doesn’t meet the zoning requirements, let alone the CUP requirements.
“The stated purpose of this zoning for this land is to provide an area for residential, limited commercial, and agricultural development in a rural atmosphere. That doesn't sound like dozens of people being treated in a drug rehab mental rehab facility,” said Kowalkowski.
Other concerns raised included the drain on groundwater in the area. Some nearby residents spoke of issues they ran into when they drilled wells for their homes.
People were also worried about the decline in value of surrounding properties.
Kowalkowski also brought up the concern that GLITC is governed by sovereign nations and that the land could eventually go into a federal trust.
“Once that happens, section 1.4 25 CFR 1.4 says once land goes into trust for a tribe, none of the laws ordinances and codes, resolutions, rules or other regulations of any state or political subdivision thereof, limiting zoning or otherwise government regulating or controlling the use or development of real property shall be applicable to that property,” he said.
Stockbridge Munsee President Shannon Holsey later addressed this later in the meeting. She said while a Tribe could try to go through that long process, GLITC itself cannot as it is a non-profit.
The Planning and Development Committee wants time to review all the written public comments and documents it received and ask questions of both the Town of Cassian and GLITC.
It plans to meet again on January 17th to discuss the CUP.