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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Residents Urge County To Save $2 Million, Beauty Of Hwy. BB

Many residents along County BB (Shore Drive) in the Town of Peshtigo have been quite vocal in their opposition to Marinette County Highway Department’s plans to enforce a road right of way of 66 feet and add ditches and culverts as part of a $3.5 million reconstruction project for the 4-mile stretch of road from University Ave. at the Marinette city limits to Pond Road. Current plans would force residents to remove trees, gardens, fences, decorative features and in a few cases buildings.

Three of them were vocal again during time for public comment at the start of the Marinette County Board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

The issues became major concerns for BB residents after letters went out in August from Highway Commissioner Robert Palonen informing 99 property owners they have encroachments that will have to be moved. The first letter gave a deadline in mid-May of 2014, and did not advise of any right to object.

After the town board at its meeting on Sept. 17 hired Attorney David Spangenberg to advise residents of their rights, at least 33 property owners sent letters to the Highway Department stating their objections.

One or more produced deeds showing the county only owns 44 feet of road right of way where BB abuts their property.

Town Chair Herman Pottratz has referred to the plans as “a scorched earth” policy. Another resident speaking at the Marinette County Board meeting said the clear cutting planned for their residential road will leave it looking “like a plucked chicken.”

Pottratz has been particularly critical of a change from a prior plan that would have cost $1.5 million to complete and that he feels would satisfy everyone. That plan called for simply resurfacing the road and adding three-foot paved paths on either side for bicycles or foot traffic. It left the ditches unchanged. The current $3.5 million plans, designed by Robert E. Lee after Palonen came on as Highway Commissioner, call for raising the road bed, widening it, and adding ditches and culverts. It does include the three-foot paved paths along each side of the road that residents had asked for. Trees will need to be cut and utilities will need to be moved, mainly because of the new ditches.

Pottratz maintains the ditches are not needed. He and numerous other residents say there has never been a drainage problem in the sandy soils of the area.

He and County Board Supervisor Don Pazynski, who represents the entire County BB area, have been upset that Palonen has been inflexible and refused to allow encroachments of even a few inches. Some of the fences, plantings, trees and decorations, including a large stone arch driveway entrance, have been in place for more than 40 years will have to be moved if the current plans are enforced.

Palonen has consistently maintained that by state law the county road must be built to the state’s county road standards, which require a cleared 66-foot right of way.

The previous plans for a $1.5 million project were designed by former Highway Commissioner Mark Desotell, who is a certified engineer, but there have been arguments that the design was “under engineered.”

All those concerns were expressed on Wednesday, Oct. 9, when a number of property owners who had received encroachment letters attended the Highway Committee meeting and asked that the county rethink its plans. There was mention of lawsuits that could arise if trees and plantings were removed from property that did not in fact belong to the county.

After that meeting a second letter went out from Palonen moving the deadline date for removal of encroachments from May of 2014 to Nov. 30 of this year. Again the letters “requested” removal of the encroachments and offered no advice on right to object.

The committee by a 3 to 2 split vote, with Supervisors Shirley Kaufman of Marinette and Russ Bauer, Town of Peshtigo, opposed, had approved the new deadline. Palonen told the committee he planned to have highway crews begin cutting trees and removing stumps along the right of way the following week.

However, that did not happen. At the next Highway Committee meeting, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, the work plans, and apparently the deadlines, were reversed. The committee by three to two vote authorized Palonen to suspend all planned utility adjustments, tree cutting and stump removal on the project until all encroachment and right of way issues have been resolved.

At the Oct. 23 meeting, Kaufman and Bauer voted against the motion to suspend, while Supervisors Mel Sharpe, City of Peshtigo; Joe Policello, Middle Inlet, and Russ Bousley, Dunbar, committee chair, voted in favor. Bauer and Kaufman have opposed the $3.5 million plans, but were concerned that improvements to BB may now be put off indefinitely. BB residents for years have been asking the county to repave the road and add the paths along side it, although many now are voicing objections to the plans for ditches and culverts.

Three town residents expressed their concerns to Marinette County Board during time for public comment at the start of the Tuesday, Oct. 29 meeting. Several other residents attended but did not speak.

First to the podium was Jim Kollross, a BB resident who called for replacement of Palonen as Highway Comissioner. “We are continually finding difficulty trying to negotiate with him,” Kollross said, “and speaking with employees of the Highway Department we have discovered the Road Committee is wasting taxpayer dollars.” He was critical that Palonen, who reportedly lives in Abrams, is allowed to take a county owned vehicle back and forth to work, and declared, “Marinette County should reconsider having a nonresident as Road Commissioner!”

Next up was Pottratz, who repeated his contentions that what started as a $1.5 million project now has ditches and culverts that are not needed. Those ditches, he said, will decrease safety of the road, cost taxpayers $3.5 million, and destroy the scenic beauty and rustic quality of the road. He said 99 property owners were notified that they have encroachments, and many are unhappy about possibly having to move them.

“That is a beautiful road,” Pottratz declared. He said property owners all along the highway maintain the roadsides beautifully, just as they do their yards, mowing right up to the gravel shoulders. Some have been doing that for half a century.

He said the road was last improved 40 years ago, and is basically still in good condition except that the blacktop is crumbling. It doesn’t need a total rebuild, he said. “Just put on some new pavement and add the 3’ paths on each side and that would make everyone happy,” he urged. “I’m sure the county has better places to spend that extra $2 million.

Noting the Highway Committee has been divided on BB issues, he asked the entire County Board to become involved in the decisions.

Last up was Lori De Witt Davidson, who has been appointed repeatedly by County Board since 1991 to represent Marinette County on the NWTC District Board of Directors.

Davidson said she has lived on BB for almost 50 years, and has never seen a drop of water along the roadsides, and neither have her neighbors. She and her husband own other properties along the reconstruction area of BB and have never seen water collected there either, she added.

“I bike on this road, I walk on this road, and I have never seen a drop of water in any ditches!”

“No ditches...No culverts...Do not raise the road,” she urged. She said the county should save the $2 million difference between the $3.5 million project the Highway Commissioner wants and the $1.5 million road the residents, who pay the bills, want. “Spend that money somewhere else, that’s real money!” she repeated.

She added that her neighbors “are very intense” in their opposition to what is planned for their road.

“I used to want the bike path... I used to want the walkway...I don’t any more. It’s too much!” she declared.

She said the county needs to listen to the property owners, the people who live there, the people who pay the taxes.

“Instead of our beautiful rustic road we’ll have a highway that looks like a plucked chicken,” Davidson said, referring to plans to cut the trees and bushes that shield many homes along the road from passers by.

“I know you’re good, thinking people...Think about it,” she told the board.

Davidson said she had gone with a neighbor to speak with Palonen about the BB issues, and picked up “a ho-hum attitude...he’d been through all this before.”

“I hope he isn’t in the business of disregarding the wishes of the property owners,” Davidson added.

She concluded, “Just resurface the road and find somewhere else to spend the $2 million.”

Later in the meeting the board unanimously approved a $55,022 three-way contract with Meade & Hunt to design a new bridge and approaches over Little River on BB, but only after several questions were answered by Palonen. The contract includes Marinette County, Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Meade & Hunt.

First to object was Supervisor Robert Holley, who felt $55,000 was “an excessive amount of money for engineering that bridge.”

“The residents don’t want it, and I don’t want it,” Bauer said of the plans for BB. Now that the project is postponed, he asked, “How can you design a bridge when you haven’t decided on the road?”

Palonen said the bridge will be built either way, and will fit the road regardless of the final design.

“Didn’t we just put some money into that bridge in the last two years?” asked Supervisor Tom Mailand. He said the county had done a study at that time, which he felt should still be good.

Palonen said if that was done, it was before he became commissioner.

Supervisor Al Mans asked who decides the bridge needs to be rebuilt, and Palonen explained every few years all bridges are inspected, and those in the worst condition become eligible for funding.

Highway Committee Chair Russ Bousley noted the county does not select the engineers, the state does.

Palonen explained reconstructing the bridge is jointly funded by the state, county and federal governments, with the county paying only 20 percent of design and construction costs. Under the grant programs, counties must hire an engineering firm and cannot do their own engineering. The state handles the entire project, except that the county puts out an RFP for a design consultant and selects the two highest ranked responses, which are then submitted to the state and the state then negotiates with them for the design and contract.

Supervisor Gilbert Engel asked if the $55,000 is the amount Marinette County pays, or if the county pays 20 percent of that, and was told the county pays 20 percent, so design cost to the county will be just over $11,000.

The only other speaker to address the board during public comment time was Supervisor Ted Sauve, who serves on the NEWCAP Board of Directors. He showed impressive photos of The housing development under construction on Water Street behind Marinette Middle School, mainly to serve the influx of Marinette Marine employees. The project is being built with NEWCAP, HUD and WEDA funds, he said. There is to be a ribbon cutting ceremony in February or March.


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