The Village of Mount Pleasant is using blight ordinances to close an operating business despite diminished Foxconn plans.
In 2017, two decades after first opening Erickson Trucks-n-Parts along Interstate 94 in Mount Pleasant, Jack and Colleen Erickson applied for a building permit for their property.
Village officials rejected the application, saying the permit was denied because of a soon-to-be-announced redevelopment project. That project, as it turned out, was Foxconn Technology Group’s proposed $10 billion LCD screen factory pitched as a facility that would revolutionize manufacturing in Wisconsin and bring in 13,000 new jobs.
The Ericksons’ business fell in the area of Foxconn’s proposed megafactory; the business is still standing in 2021, as Foxconn has now scaled down its plans from hiring 13,000 workers for a $10 billion factory to hiring 1,454 to work in a $672 million facility.
But that’s not stopping Mount Pleasant officials from confiscating land originally promised to Foxconn using the same unsavory tactics that it infamously used to remove dozens of homeowners and demolish their houses.
In 2018, the Ericksons met with village officials and said they were willing to work with the village to find a new location for their business. But they said working with the village has been “empty promises from the start.”
“They painted such a pretty picture when we were face-to-face,” Jack said. “Once we left there, that was totally over. We couldn’t even get them to call us.”
After a series of controversial events, last week, the Village Board officially designated the Ericksons’ land as blighted without any public comment or discussion before the vote. The Ericksons, who live in Minnesota, and their attorney, Daniel Bach, said they are still weighing their options for how to go forward.
Bach, an attorney with Madison-based Lawson and Cates, said he’s “never seen anything like it.”
Village officials declined to provide UpNorthNews with comment and instead referred to a Journal Times article on the declaration in which attorney Alan Marcuvitz, who occasionally works for the village, said the village made “all reasonable efforts to reach voluntary agreements with individual property owners to acquire the property needed for public infrastructure improvements.”
“If I were in charge and they were my employees doing stuff like they’re doing, I’d fire them immediately,” Jack said. “Because they’re not doing their job.”
In their initial discussion with the village, the Ericksons were promised assistance finding a comparable place to relocate.
Instead, the village offered them $1.6 million for the 13.5 acres off the frontage road and found a new lot for the Ericksons—all without consulting the couple, who never signed off on it.
“Really what they wanted to do is pay us $1.5 million and take 13-and-a-half acres from us and say, ‘Good luck on trying to find something along the interstate,’” Jack said.
And that new plot for them to relocate all their equipment and inventory? It was along the interstate and of comparable size at 13.3 acres, but it was unpaved and undeveloped.
“It had no utilities on it at all. No building, no fence, no asphalt,” Jack said. “It was to start all over in the middle of a field.”
“It wasn’t even a piece of land that we could have even moved our inventory on to, because without being on a hard surface, you can’t put heavy trailers and stuff on because they’ll sink,” Colleen said. ”It’ll just be a disaster.”
Last summer, they were given a 90-day deadline to relocate all their equipment. But it was in the midst of the pandemic, which made removal complicated because scrap yards were closed or operating at a limited capacity. The deadline was extended twice, but in January, Bach was notified that the Ericksons would be barred from their property after the end date of the last extension, Feb. 19.
The village notified them that they were in violation of a public nuisance ordinance. Jack went to look at what still needed to be done to clear out the property and found concrete barriers blocking off all access to their 13.5 acres of land. When Jack tried to enter his property in April, he was ticketed for trespassing.
“There was no clarification of what the village considers blighted,” Bach said.
While the parcel includes the site of the business, several acres of the Ericksons’ property is farmland.
“Not sure what is blighted about that,” Bach said. “It’s a field. It’s a farm field.”
For Kim Mahoney, the whole process felt like history repeating itself. The Mahoneys are now the sole homeowners within the initial Foxconn area, though Kim Mahoney doesn’t like the term “holdout.”
The Mahoneys made four offers to sell their house to the village, but village officials refused to pay their asking price. The village was unsuccessful in using eminent domain to claim their property, so they remain as the sole residents of what used to be a subdivision.
Given the diminished size of the Foxconn project, it’s unknown why the village would still go after the Ericksons’ property, because it’s located almost 1 mile west of the current development.
“One can only speculate because they won’t talk and they’re not being transparent about what’s going on here,” Mahoney said. “I almost think this is worse than what they did in the beginning [with the residential properties], because the project is no longer going forward as originally planned. And to me, it seems that they didn’t ever need all this land for Foxconn in the first place. Foxconn was just an excuse to do a giant land grab.”
Jack Erickson said he just wants the whole thing over with, even if that means getting his business back up and running at the same location.
“We’re busy with all kinds of stuff in our business and, and this is a big draw of our time and money, everything,” Jack said. “I just want it over with. Just take your money back, but take your barricade. And just give us our permit so we can continue to do business. And we’ll leave you alone, you leave us alone.”
CORRECTION: The Ericksons’ property is about 1 mile west of the Foxconn development.