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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Roads, Forests, NR115 Topics at County WTA

The quarterly meeting of Marinette County Unit of Wisconsin Towns Association (WTA) on Thursday, April 18 was the final one with Gaylord King as chairman. King did not seek re-election as Silver Cliff Town Chairman on April 2. The 23 members present elected Amberg Town Chairman Ron Holmes as the new WTA chairman, and returned Beaver Town Chairman Dave Bedora to the secretary/treasurer job he has held for many years.

At the end of the meeting King asked for a moment of silence for former WTA Vice Chair Bill Weisgerber, who lost a bid to retain his job as Wagner Town Chairman. King said he had intended to nominate Weisgerber to take over his job as WTA chair. Weisgerber died earlier Thursday. Currently the WTA vice chair position is open. A replacement will be elected at the next quarterly meeting

Near the end of Thursday’s long and informative meeting State Assemblyman Jeff Mursau and State Senator Tom Tiffany presented King with a citation from the state legislature.

The commemorative plaque states that since he became a member of WTA on April 13, 1993 King has seldom missed a meeting. He was chairman of Northwoods Recycling Coalition since its inception, working for the towns of Silver Cliff, Athelstane, Middle Inlet, Lake and Wausaukee and the Village of Crivitz; was instrumental in having a new Fire and Rescue Squad building constructed for Silver Cliff, and was a member of the Rescue Squad for many years.

Tiffany read the citation, which states that through his knowledge of roads and maintenance, King kept town spending within its budget during his 20 years as town chair. Tiffany then paused, and jokingly asked for (and received) reassurance that staying in budget was indeed a fact.

“It’s been a pleasure working for you,” King told the town officials present. He thanked Mursau and Tiffany and said those two could always be counted on to be at WTA meetings when they were needed. He was critical of 89th Dist. Rep. John Nygren of Marinette for not attending WTA meetings.

Speakers for the meeting in addition to Tiffany and Mursau were Marinette County Highway Commissioner Ray Palonen and Land information Office Administrator John LeFebvre. LeFebvre presented King with a copy of the latest edition of the Marinette County plat book as a retirement gift.

LeFebvre updated the group on some new sanitary system regulations, announced that the new county plat books are available, and responded to questions on the status of the DeSmidt lawsuit against Maroco Landfill, NR115, and grants that may be available to towns for waterfront improvements.

LeFebvre said there were in fact two landfill suits. One involving a complaint about landfill conditions brought by 30 signers went to a DNR hearing in mid-November and resulted in a state administrative decision that the landfill must do a better job of controlling litter. The other is a civil suit involving issues of “taking”, which may go to Federal court, and being a nuisance, which would be handled by local courts. Decisions, particularly on the Federal issues, could be years down the road.

As to sanitary regulations, LeFebvre’s office must have a completed inventory of all septic systems in the county by 2017, and by 2019 they must all be on a maintenance program. Illustrating the magnitude of that task, LeFebvre said they currently have 11,000 septic systems on inventory, and believe there are another 7,000 out there, based on the assumption that any property with more than $10,000 in improvements probably also has some sort of septic system. He admitted that could be high, because some properties may have a large garage and nothing else. All systems built since May of 1994 are already inventoried.

At some point his office will do a mailing to every property owner they think has an unrecorded septic system and tell them to notify his office if in fact they do not have one. Any property owner that receives a notice and fails to notify his office will be put on a maintenance program.

Implementation of the controversial NR115 is still scheduled for February of 2014, but chances are it will be postponed at least one more time, LeFebvre said. Later in the meeting Tiffany and Mursau addressed that issue. They predicted further changes in the proposed rules, and at least another year’s delay in enforcement.

New plat books are ready and two copies have been sent to each municipality in the county, LeFebvre said. Communities can buy more by paying the $25 each that the county charges to retailers who plan to resell them. The county produces and sells about 1,500 books a year.

On a request to make the books larger so there can be larger print, LeFebvre said they researched that and found most users do not want the overall size of the books to change, since right now they fit easily into brief cases and other folders and larger ones would not. He joked that they even considered issuing magnifying glasses with each plat book.

There was a comment that the Plat Book print and maps were larger until the county added advertising to the pages.

LeFebvre said formerly the books were prepared by Rockford Publishing, and the maps were not necessarily to scale, so print could be larger. The ones his office prepares are exactly to scale. He said the maps are available on-line as well, and can be viewed and printed in just about any scale.

A Pembine representative asked about the possibility of a grant to help them build a boat landing. LeFebvre said there is grant money available for those types of improvements and other lake projects. He suggested town representatives should contact the Land Conservation Department for information and promised help in filling out an application.

Palonen handed out printed sheets giving rules for bridge aid applications, the local road improvement program, and listing county projects scheduled for the 2013 construction season, which include re-paving County D from County B to Hwy. 64 and County B from the Peshtigo city limits west to County W, and chip sealing, patching, wedging and ditching of County C from County A to F and then F to the west county line, starting on Monday, Aug. 19. To complaints about the condition of the remainder of County C and F, Palonen acknowledged there is dire need of repair, but it isn’t even on the schedule for this year. He said for next year he will propose improvements there, including perhaps incorporating some curb and gutter where it goes between two hills.

As to work that is on the list, he said the ruts on D and B are so bad that they have become safety hazards and his crews cannot even remove snow properly.

“You need to go there,” one lady suggested in regard to County C/F. “There are places you don’t even know where to drive without hitting a hole.”

Palonen mentioned road conditions being bad in spring, but Mike Cassidy, a County Board Supervisor from Goodman, declared, “It isn’t just bad in spring...the people who live out there shouldn’t have to put up with it!”

Palonen replied the budget for this year unfortunately is done, but promised to investigate for next year.

King said the rapid deterioration of the County C to Mountain surface was “a definite foul up by the road crew and a former commissioner.” He said the crew all wanted off for deer season and went ahead and paved it in the rain. “...and that road went to hell the next spring!”

Another person reported someone just the other day blew a trailer tire by hitting a pot hole on County F. He echoed the call for improvements.

“I hear you, I’ll just have to do the best I can,” Palonen replied.

Palonen offered to provide estimates for any towns that want to participate in the county chip sealing program. Cost will be about $15,000 to $18,000 a mile depending on where it is. He said they also do grader patching in which they use hot mix to fill ruts and holes and then pack it down with a grading crew.

On both bridge aids and TRIP program aids for local roads, Palonen stressed the need to follow rules and keep a close accounting of project costs, including saving all receipts.

The county administers the local road improvement program (TRIP) on behalf of WisDOT, and the county must establish a committee consisting of five town chairmen to determine whose projects get funded this year. He stressed again once funding is received, it is very important to follow the rules. “WisDOT is very serious about it and will sanction towns if the rules are not followed,” he declared. He said his job is to help, and anyone with questions should call him. Referring to how the complexity of rules has changed, he noted in the 1990s the TRIP application package was 9 pages long. Now it is several inches thick.

Athelstane Town Chair John Dobbratz questioned a state highway classification system that classifies County I higher than County C, “and we all know what County I is!”

Palonen agreed the state’s classification of County I ... “a gravel highway in the middle of nowhere” ... as a major collector is an error and one of the things he needs to correct.

Town of Peshtigo Chair Herman Pottratz was upset with WisDOT’s current attempts to convert the recently completed Hwy. 41 bypass of Peshtigo and Oconto into a limited access freeway by offering greater reimbursement for maintenance. “A freeway would kill all our businesses, but they don’t care!” Pottratz vehemently declared. “That whole organization needs a remodeling job!” He also criticized the DOT’s infatuation with roundabouts, but added, “they’re just like them...they keep going in circles!”

Palonen said the DOT has lost a lot of experienced people in the last few years.

Questioned on issues of encroachment, Palonen said the county has an ordinance that anything that is privately owned but situated in the county right of way is an encroachment and illegal. That is separate from roadside obstructions, which may be located on private property but still need to be moved because they cut safe vision at intersections and are a liability to the county or the municipality.

Told that the erosion material placed along County I has served its purpose and is now an eyesore, Palonen promised to see about getting it gone.

Palonen reported County G in Porterfield from County E to Spur Road is in line for major improvements fully funded by the federal government. Engineering will start this year and construction in 2016.

Representatives of several towns voiced criticism of county snow plowing this year, mainly that county plows got on the roads too late, after the towns had already plowed many roads, only to have the county come through and plow intersections shut so people could not get through. Towns then had to come back and do it again.

Cassidy said Goodman had that problem, and a Porterfield spokesman described the same situation. “I’d think we could get together on this!” he suggested.

Pottratz said there was some big malfunction during the last snow storm. County trucks weren’t out until 7 a.m. in some areas.

A Town of Pound spokesman said other years the county had done a good job, “but this year it stunk!” He said plow trucks were not on Hwy. 41/141 until 5:30 a.m., while many people leave for work at 5 a.m.

“We only have 29 trucks and we try to get out at 4 a.m.” Palonen replied, mentioning budgets and cost overruns as well.

“We have wives that drive these roads...cost doesn’t matter,” the spokesman responded.

Cassidy said the county doesn’t seem to realize when it snows and plowing is needed in Goodman. “Highway 8 is bare in Forest and Florence counties, and at the Michigan end, but in Marinette County there is a foot of snow. Our crews don’t get out early enough!”

Palonen said his crew has a 16-hour window to work in, “and if I can’t hire people and can’t buy equipment there is only so much I can do.” He said there are 29 employees and 31 trucks.

Asked if the county considered contracting out some of their plowing work, Palonen said they may have to.

Cassidy noted the Forestry crews and equipment are now also available, since differing unions are no longer a problem. Palonen said they do work together. Cassidy repeated that Goodman has different weather patterns than most of the remainder of the county, noting a recent storm where neighboring Dunbar had two inches of snow in one day and Goodman had eight. He said dangerous conditions occur because plowing is not always done when needed, and road reports are not always accurate . “We had two kids killed two years ago because the county didn’t plow and the bus spilled kids all over,” he said.

Palonen said the state is planning a major project west of Goodman on Hwy. 8, and will fund a high quality camera that his department can use to view road conditions in the Goodman area.

Cassidy reported briefly on a rail study that will be coming out soon, and mentioned a meeting on Friday, April 26. He said rail transport keeps a lot of heavy log trucks off the roads, which cuts down on maintenance and reconstruction expenses, and helps loggers with lower fuel costs.

“Until I can add to the fleet and add to the staff, there isn’t much I can do about it,” Palonen said of the prospect for improved winter maintenance on county roads.

Next to speak was Mursau, who said he has submitted written questions to the DOT on what criteria is used to designate connector roads.

Moving on, Mursau, who heads the ’s National Resources Committee, said they are working very hard to get the National Forests opened to logging.

There is plenty of wood within a 20-mile radius to keep the mill in Laona going if logging were permitted in the National Forests as it should be, “but because we can’t cut, they hare hauling in wood from Canada...We lost about 8,500 jobs in Wisconsin because we are not cutting our forests as we should.”

Recent state legislation includes a change in the annexation laws that says if an area is annexed into a village or city, their laws apply to the newly annexed property rather than the DNR’s rural regulations. Towns, he said, have stricter set back rules so people may petition for annexation to get use of their property that might not otherwise be allowed.

New federal laws regulating phosphorous content of smoke could have a serious impact on Wisconsin, and Mursau said they are working in Madison on a plan that would allow a 20-year plan for compliance. A similar law was just passed in Montana. As to immediate enforcement, Mursau said many businesses simply cannot meet the new requirements with the equipment and technology available today.

Converting just one electric plant to meet the new standards can cost “millions and millions of dollars...and we all have to pay for it in terms of higher power bills,” Mursau commented.

Tiffany later said the Senate too is working on problems of compliance with the phosphorous emissions rule and the detrimental effect it will likely have on Wisconsin businesses.

Mursau said he personally is working with WTA’s Rick Stadelman on some improvements in school funding, including a per cord payment from National Forest harvests. County Forest payments may also be involved, Mursau said. He understands that towns do not want to lose the money they get from forest harvests and PLT payments, “but it’s a matter of community,” in which schools would be better supported by something in addition to the property tax.

Mursau said there have been many complaints over the years about administrative rules imposed by state agencies that in the past have become law unless the legislature specifically acted to reject them. That has now changed. For the first time ever, the Assembly is going over all 1,600 administrative rules.

“If a rule is antiquated, it will be gone. If it’s bad, we’ll fix it legislatively. If it’s good, it will stay as is,” Mursau explained. He invited anyone with concerns to contact him or go on the web site, “Right the Rules.” He expects the rule reviews and changes will take four to six years.

Mursau said, “the governor has proposed his budget, and now the legislators get a chance at it. He said the $11 million for the town road “TRIP” program remains at the same level as last year.

Beaver Town Chair Dave Bedora has heard the Hwy. 141 improvements are being put off again. He noted there is a meeting on Monday, April 29 at Coleman High School on reconstructing the interchange of Hwy. 64 and 141.

DOT plans tentatively include at least two roundabouts, one at each exit ramp off what is proposed to be a new Hwy. 141 overpass.

“Is there any way of knocking out those roundabouts?” Bedora asked, noting the Town of Peshtigo had gotten rid of roundabouts planned for Hwy. 41 exit ramps there.

Mursau was noncommittal. “Much as we don’t like roundabouts, they’re safer than 4-ways and stop lights,” he said.

Pottratz aired some complaints about DNR and DOT rules in regard to setbacks, ditch areas and permits towns are supposed to get before working on culverts and other projects. “If the DNR and DOT are short of money, make them sell a couple of acres so people can have enough setbacks to build houses,” he declared.

“The DNR doesn’t need that much land and their rules are horrible! I’m not buying a permit to clear culverts or clean up rocks in the Peshtigo River.” He objected to the way DNR rules are enforced and interpreted differently, depending on which person you talk to.

Mursau felt since the new administration took over the DNR is getting a lot more friendly, and said efforts to fix things that have been wrong are continuing. “It’s not easy. Some DNR people in the field aren’t doing what they should do,” he added. “If you have a problem with rules, now is the time to tell us about them. We’re trying to fix it. If you have a problem with people in the field, call (DNR Secretary) Cathy Stepp and she’ll get on it.”

“I appreciate the job you, Tom Tiffany and John Nygren are trying to do,” Pottratz told Mursau. He said one rule to look at now involves unnecessary continued expensive ground water testing around long-closed landfills.

Cassidy asked when they plan to changed the Managed Forest Lands law to prevent a repeat of a supposed glitch that allowed Coleman Lake Club to reap the low-tax benefits of MFL listing while keeping their property closed to public access for hunting and fishing.

Mursau said three groups have been looking into solutions for four months, and he expected new legislation on that issue to come out on Monday, April 22. He said current MFL laws have flaws, but are beneficial in many ways because the forests provide valuable resources and jobs.

“We don’t want to kill the program, but it needs some changes,” Mursau said. He said they may change the law so MFL owners can split off portions of their property as long as it stays ion the program, and also are looking at a change by which closed acreage fees would go to towns and counties on an 80/20 split rather than to the state. Copies of the final proposed legislation will be available on-line before it is voted on, he said.

Cassidy repeated references to abuse of the program and Mursau and Tiffany both assured him that is being worked on. Cassidy said his town was promised that three years ago, but nothing has been done yet. Mursau said they have separated big land owners from smaller owners. Large tracts now must be open for public hunting, and MFL properties cannot be leased other entities, which should solve problems like the one in Goodman.

Tiffany said the Senate is also seeking ways to make MFL regulations appropriate in today’s world. In the past, major paper and lumber mills owned most of the northern Wisconsin forests in large tracts, and used those forests to feed their mills, with 30 to 40-year timelines. That has changed. Forests have been sold off to individual owners, who want more frequent harvest and more flexibility with their property.

Tiffany agreed with Mursau that National Forest timber should be harvested and that schools should get the transfer money from them. Marinette County schools, except for the Goodman School District will not benefit from that, but the county benefits in many other ways.

As to Marinette County specifically, Tiffany declared, “You can thank your forebearers who had the wisdom not to put your land in to National Forest! Because of them, Marinette County has an active and sustainable forest...one of the best County Forest programs in the state!”

Several Wisconsin counties in recent years have petitioned the Federal Government to return the forest land they ceded many years ago in expectation that the National Forests they helped create would produce income and raw materials for jobs and growth. That has not happened because of federal harvest restrictions.

Tiffany was pleased to report that the new mining law has passed. He assured the group that despite objections from some factions, “We did not change the environmental standards, which have always been very strong in Wisconsin.” Tiffany expressed hope the mining people will apply for their permits very soon and start creating jobs.

As to town funding from the state, the “per mile” allocation stayed the same in the proposed budget. Attempts are in progress to get it increased by $50.

As to the NR115 issue Tiffany declared, “That rule got very controversial...very onerous...very restrictive for shoreland property owners.” He felt it unfair that it applies to properties in towns, but not in cities and villages.

“In my estimation, NR115 should be eliminated,” Tiffany said, “but the chance of that is slim to none, so we’re trying to make it as reasonable as possible.”

He likened the NR115 impermeable surface rules to a “rain tax” law recently passed in Maryland.

“Marinette (the city) already has one,” Pottratz declared. He estimates the city took in $560,000 on their rain tax, which is based on size of impermeable surfaces like roofs and pavement, “but they’re dumping black snow next to a creek that runs right into the Bay.”

The next quarterly WTA meeting is set for Thursday, July 18. A new vice chair will be elected at that time.


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Peshtigo Times
841 Maple St
PO Box 187
Peshtigo, WI 54157
Phone: 715-582-4541
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PeshtigoTimes.com

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