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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Committee Puts Co. BB Project On Hold For Now

Unless something changes, it appears the County BB (Shore Drive) right of way issues will be settled in court. County BB will not be resurfaced or rebuilt this year, unless either the Town of Peshtigo or Marinette County changes its mind. The 54 property owners who received 30-day notices to remove encroachments sent out on Feb. 4 will not need to do anything about them, at least for now.

Part of the $3.5 million that had been budgeted for BB in 2014 will now be used to resurface County D, which had been on the waiting list for 2015. That will be good news for the motorists who use it regularly. Highway Commissioner Ray Palonen said the County D surface is badly rutted, causing problems for snow plows in winter and collecting rain in summer.

Marinette County Highway Committee on Wednesday, March 5 voted unanimously to suspend all planned construction activities for the $3.5 million County BB project between University Drive and Pond Road, in view of the official objections filed by property owners that will force the right of way issues into Circuit Court. He said they need to get the actual right of way settled in any case.

Before proposing the change in plans, Palonen reported that as of Monday the county had received 51 letters from property owners denying right of way encroachments and objecting to the county’s plans. He added that 30 of those were from property owners who had not received notices, meaning that 21 of the owners who received notices filed objections, and 33 did not, which he interpreted as meaning they are willing to remove their encroachments.

He said the county has been clear that its claim to a 66-foot right of way is supported by a registered survey and the Corporation Counsel has expressed that opinion. However, the right of way needs to be defined, and for that, court action is required.

Palonen said with approval of a required engineering contract delayed by County Board in January and the time involved in getting the encroachment issues settled in court, there will not be time to get the BB project done to county specifications this summer. The work, and the money to pay for it, will be in the 2015 budget.

All that could change if the Town of Peshtigo would relent and accept a county offer to build the road as the town wants it done, and then accept ownership, which would make the town responsible for future care and maintenance. State highway aids would help offset the cost to the town, but Town Chair Herman Pottratz feels that would not cover expenses.

There has been a sharp division of opinion between the Town of Peshtigo and the County Highway Committee over plans to rebuild County BB as a 66-foot county road with paved shoulders, ditches and culverts, with a $3.5 million rice tag, versus an earlier plan to repave and recondition the road at its current 44-foot width and add paved shoulders, at an estimated cost of $1.5 to $2 million.

Supervisor Shirley Kaufman, who has consistently supported the town’s arguments about the road, was reassured that even after transferring the $1.5 million there will be enough left of the $9 million bond issue approved by County Board in January to build the $2 version of BB.

In a related action, committee vote was 3 to 1 to spend approximately $1.5 million of the $3.5 million that had been approved for BB reconstruction this year on reconditioning County E from Hwy. 64 north to County G and south to County D.

Votes in favor were cast by supervisors Joe Policello, Mel Sharpe and Russ Bousley, committee chair. Supervisor Shirley Kaufman voted against, after some deliberation. Supervisor Russ Bauer, the fifth committee member, was absent.

Kaufman, who along with Bauer has consistently favored the town’s version of the BB plan, was reassured that even after transferring the $1.5 million for County D, the $2 million needed to construct the less costly version of BB will remain.

Nearly a dozen members of the public were on hand. Supervisor Don Pazynski, who represents the district in which the 5.8 mile BB project is located, had some harsh words for the committee during time for public comment at the start of the meeting.

“I have been addressing this committee for over a year and a half. Citizens have appeared as well, we had 35 citizens here at one time last fall. We also had 2 citizen meetings with more than 125 people in attendance at each meeting. We submitted a petition to you with about 100 signatures and only once in all that time did you offer a face to face meeting,” Pazynski declared.

He accused the committee of basically ignoring the citizens’ wishes, and went on, “I’ve got to ask — Are you so convinced you have such autonomy that you do not need to respond to the citizens you have sworn to serve? Are you so arrogant that no one should dare to differ with your plans?”

He said the town board maintains just under 100 miles of roads, and he as a past town board member and the current town board have much experience with the care, construction and maintenance of roads, as well as working with the DNR.

He accused the committee of “acting like spoiled children wanting to take the ball and go home”, because of the halt caused by the official objections. “You want to reallocate the funds designated by the full board for County BB and apply them elsewhere. Are you so naive that you do not realize how you are essentially insulting the citizens?” he asked. “Either way, it is our opinion and that of other legal counsel that the full board must approve such action.”

He said a historical 3-rod right-of-way was established the last time the road was resurfaced in 1967.

“It would appear you have nothing budgeted for a 2nd relocation of utilities. How much does it cost to relocate 6 miles of nature gas line? I don’t know. I hope you do. You have been insistent that you will not tolerate any encroachment of inches and yet major utility poles appear to be well within a 66 ft right-of-way. What will it cost to move them? We have offered a proposal that would eliminate the need for expensive litigation over encroachment and right-of-way issues,” Pazynski went on.

He said if he must he will call for a showdown decision by the full county board.

Peshtigo Town Chair Herman Pottratz chastised the committee for spending $2 million that could be so well used elsewhere. He noted the county only has $21 million in reserves and said the $9 million bond issue approved for 2014 projects will need to be repaid. He too asked the committee to let the whole County Board help make the decision.

“We still have one option,” declared Policello. “If the Town of Peshtigo will take control of the road we’ll build it the way the town wants before we give it to them...That’s the sensible thing to do!”also declared the town should accept the count’s offer.

Sharpe, who represents part of the Peshtigo city maintained if the town takes control of the road they can get enough instate aids to handle plowing and ordinary maintenance and put away $80,000 to $100,000 to cover the cost of more serious maintenance when it is needed 25 or so years down the road. By doing so, there would be no more future hassles with the county over right of way issues.

Pottratz said the town had given its response to that proposal, and maintained the state aid will not come close to covering cost of being responsible for the road.

Sharpe argued in 25 years the town will collect over $225,000 in state road aids, far less than they will need to spend. He agreed after 25 years, it might start costing the town money.

Pazynski insisted the entire County Board approved individual projects in the bond issue, and that their approval is needed to change that.

County Administrator Ellen Sorensen disagreed. Pazynski said he will seek to have the issue settled at the March County Board meeting.

After the committee approved the two motions, Bousley commented the work still needs to be done on both BB and D, and they have three years to use the bond issue proceeds, so one way or the other, BB will be done.


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