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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board to Reconsider County BB Project April 15

Hopes of many Shore Drive (County BB) residents that their road in the Town of Peshtigo will be resurfaced this year while retaining its rustic beauty as well as their yards, driveways and outbuildings may become reality. By 11 to 1 vote on Friday, April 4, Marinette County Board’s Executive Committee approved a motion recommending to County Board that the County BB surface be pulverized and repaved with no ditching or additional culverts and that the project be completed this year if possible. Supervisor Connie Seefeldt, who was strongly in favor of doing the road in accord with the expressed wishes of the people who live on it, cast the sole opposing vote.

The decision is expected to be on the agenda for the Marinette County Board meeting on Tuesday, April 15.

The final motion did include a provision that cost estimates be provided for an option by which two feet of additional paving be added on each shoulder to allow adding the long sought bicycle/walking paths.

The issue was on the agenda for Friday’s meeting in response to an appeal to the Executive Committee from Supervisor Don Pazynski for action taken by the Highway Committee relevant to work on County BB. Residents have come out strongly in favor of a plan to simply pulverize and resurface the road with the wider paved shoulders, at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

The Highway Committee favored a $3.5 million engineered reconstruction of the road, with the surface raised, ditches and culverts added, and a uniform 4-road width. There has been contention that the county does not own the 4-rod right of way in some areas, and that plan would have involved removing encroachments, including the historic Bird Arch. At its last meeting, in view of possible legal actions, the Highway Committee allocated $1.5 million of the funds that had been approved for BB to another project, and indicated BB would be put on the 2015 work plan.

The motion that finally was approved Friday came after a series of maneuvers that started with a motion by Supervisor Seefeldt of Grover, seconded by Supervisor Mike Behnke of Peshtigo, to recommend that County Board direct the Highway Committee to repave County BB in the following manner: 1) Retain the 3-rod (49.5-foot) right-of-way; 2) No ditches or driveway culverts added; 3) Include 3’ walking/bike path with base and asphalt; 4) Complete construction in 2014 and 5) Excess funds shall not be allocated toward another road project until County BB is complete.

After some discussion on possible need for more base if the paved shoulders were extended, County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder, Town of Peshtigo, with a second from Supervisor Melissa Christiansen of Wagner, proposed an amendment recommending pulverizing and repaving County BB “as it stands, no additional width, and complete the project this year.” That motion carried on a 8 to 4 vote, but only after an amendment offered by Christiansen, seconded by Behnke, asking for price estimates on the cost of adding two paved feet to the shoulders on each side. Voting in favor of the Schroeder amendment in addition to Christiansen and Schroeder were supervisors Alice Baumgarten, Behnke, Russ Bousley, Kathy Just, Ted Sauve, and Bill Walker. Supervisors Ken Casper, Russ Bauer, Ken Keller and Seefeldt were opposed. Just commented that with the cost estimates in hand, if they wanted to decide to go ahead with that option at the full board meeting they could do so.

Another amendment, offered by Christiansen and seconded by Just, specified that there should be no ditching or additional culverts. It was unanimously approved.

In other action at the meeting, the committee agreed to recommend ending the county’s oversight of Bay Area Medical Center, which formerly was a county-owned hospital, and to make some minor changes in County Board Rules of Order. Action on all three recommendations is expected at the board’s reorganizational meeting on Tuesday, April 15. The hospital is negotiating a partnership with Aurora Health Care that will affect membership on its governing board.

The jury assembly room was crowded for the meeting, mainly with Town of Peshtigo residents. Five of them spoke during time for public comment at the start of the meeting, beginning with Laurie DeWitt Davidson, a long-time BB resident and a member of the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s Board of Curators. Davidson was recently reappointed as Marinette County’s representative on the NWTC Board of Directors.

Davidson said she has placed the Bird Harbor arch in nomination for listing in the national register of historic places. She said the stone arch has been there for about a hundred years and deserves to be preserved. That arch is among encroachments the Highway Department had ordered to be removed.

Davidson declared she personally is among those who are very, very much opposed to the 66 foot right of way, and added, “we don’t need the ditches or culverts or raised road.

“You’ve been told this is opposed by a vocal minority of people up and down the road,” Davidson declared, adding that is a misconception. She said people all up and down the road are opposed, and she knows of only one who is in favor.

“That road goes in front of our homes,” Davidson declared. “The plans will take away our property. We’re taxpayers... We have a right to oppose!”

Ray and Pat Heistadt, owners of the arch, showed photos of the landmark arch, which they said has been there at least since the early 1900s and sits three feet within the right of way claimed by the county. Weddings have taken place with the arch as a backdrop. Graduation photos have been taken there. Pat Heistadt said people in their 90s have told her they recall the arch being old when they were kids walking to classes at the Little Red School House. She said hundreds have signed their “Save the Arch” efforts of Facebook. She and her husband own property across the road from the arch, and if necessary they would donate land on that side to save the arch. She commented that Shore Drive is not a straight road, and one more curve wouldn’t hurt.

Peshtigo Town Chair Herman Pottratz said BB was built as a 3-rod road in 1924 and had served the people well until the bicycle path idea came up. He pointed out that the former Highway Commissioner drew up plans for the proposed $1.5 million resurfacing/paving project that he and most town residents favor, and declared certainly the $2 million they could save over the plan backed by the current Highway Committee could be better used somewhere else in the county.

Ken Exworthy said he had heard disparaging comments that “everybody out there (on BB) thinks they’re an engineer... Well, I am an engineer!” He went on to list some of his credentials, including the fact that he taught engineering for 20 years. However, he said his main authority to speak for BB comes from long experience. “I’ve walked that road for 30 years,” he declared. “I’ve looked at problems the road has had, both with the old road bed and the new surface coating added in 1988.” He said some problems were built in, with longitudinal dips and low spots where snow was not plowed cleanly collecting water. With over 250 residences on BB itself, in addition to side roads leading to other residential developments, there are almost a mile of driveway entrances. Snow piles on both sides of the road completely seal off any drainage that might happen, he said. However, he vehemently declared, “We do not need 66 feet of bulldozed road!” He too testified that the vast majority of the 250 property owners are opposed to wasting the extra $2 million on a plan they don’t want, and they do not to lose their driveways, which he assumed the county will not replace. Public Service put in new gas lines two years ago and they would need to be replaced, at county expense over and above the estimated $3.5 million for the roadwork itself. He said one owner has taken his concerns over the right of way width to court, and declared, “I don’t think this group wants to take on 285 people if this goes to the Supreme Court!”

Wayne Gerondale, another engineer who lives on BB, said he had attended a meeting on zoning the previous day, and it made him wonder where they intend the water to run if they put in ditches and culverts that would ultimately lead to the Bay. “If the intent is to let the water stay in the ditches and sink into the ground, why culverts? If they intend for the water to run into the Bay, how would the DNR react?”

Pazynski, who represents the BB area on County Board, presented a history of the dispute when his appeal came up on the formal portion of the meeting. “The County BB issue is a topic that has been simmering far too long and thus I am here today to ask for your help,” he told the committee.

He declared it is absolutely untrue that only a vocal minority of residents object to the project design.

In 2009 residents requested that the road be resurfaced, and it was then budgeted and scheduled to be done in 2011. Work began when culverts crossing under the road were installed, utilities were moved and cross cuts were made on all driveways. At the time it was intended to finish the repaving portion in 2012. In July of 2012 the project was suspended.

“It became apparent that the $1.5 million budgeted for this project was going to pay the estimated $900,000 cost overrun of County L,” Pazynski declared. “It was not until October, when I threatened a press conference to focus public opinion upon this project, that funds were released to resume this project in November of 2012.”

In April of 2013 a public meeting was held to introduce a revised paving project design and residents immediately voiced objections to what was perceived as over engineering. Despite the objections the highway committee ignored the residents and proceeded to send out encroachment notices.

Pazynski said the residents had acted in good faith and kept encroachments out of the 3-rod right of way established when the road was last paved in 1967.

He said about a week after County Board voted to postpone allocating the $100,500 the Highway Department wanted to proceed with their design the committee sent out another letter of encroachment. “Being the middle of February, with nearly two feet of snow and record ground frost depth, citizens had no choice but to follow proper legal procedure and file letters of protest,” Pazynski said. “At this time,we understand the committee is requesting litigation with the Circuit Court in regard to the encroachments and the right of way boundary.”

“What a shame that citizens have to appear in court to be heard by those elected to serve them!” Pazynski declared.

He said clear cutting the 66-foot right of way as the Highway Department plans would remove the trees that create the scenic drive that residents cherish.

“When we say savings of $1.5 to $2 million, we are not picking numbers out of thin air,” Pazynski declared, as he presented figures on costs that could be eliminated, starting with relocating the WPS natural gas lines for $375,000 at a cost of $10 per lineal foot plus $200 to reconnect every dwelling. The figures added up to $1,418,000 the county would not need to spend.

Several supervisors were present in addition to those who serve on the 12-member Executive Committee, and Schroeder reminded them that only Executive Committee members would be allowed to vote.

“I think this needs to go to the full County Board, we need to get this settled,” Just declared.

“I hope we can put aside our egos and do what is best for everyone,” Seefeldt commented as she prepared to present her motion, which was intended to have the road resurfaced and the paved shoulders added within the 3-rod right of way as requested by the residents. “If someday they try to take my cornfield under eminent domain, I hope you will stand up for me,” she added.

Bousley, who chairs the Highway Committee, declared there is no way to put bicycle paths there without spending $2 million. He mentioned liability from obstacles in the right of way, and declared, “I’m not trying to be a meanie....I’m trying to do what’s best for the county!”

He maintained a document Pazynski referred to as deeds proving the county does not own the 66 feet “was not a deed, it was some other form of document.”

Keller said his first bicycle ride was in the area involved in the dispute. He loved it then, and he loves it now. “It has a rustic road atmosphere. Why spend the money to spoil their atmosphere?” he asked. He recalled even when there was high water 30 years ago there was not a water problem on that road. He also noted if the city ever extends its sewer lines along Shore Drive, which has been proposed in a DNR plan, the wider road and ditches would be a problem, so it is better for everyone if the road remains narrower.

Seefeldt noted the original $1.5 million plan included a bicycle path that started as an ATV trail and was scaled down. Bousley said if they eliminate the paved bike path they could repave the road for $1 million.

“Today I drove down that road, and in many places you don’t have a shoulder that’s two feet wide to put a bike path on,” Schroeder declared, then added, “I have come to the conclusion that we just need to pulverize and pave that road...and that road needs to be fixed!”

Bauer recalled they had sought a $400,000 grant for the ATV trail, but were told it had to be four feet wide on each side, so they narrowed the paved shoulders to two feet in addition to the one paved foot that already exists beyond the fog line.

“I’ve been getting more and more messages from my constituents that we have to listen to the people,” Sauve said. He asked if there was any way, without waiting for the courts, to get an outside legal opinion on the right of way.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison told him at this point there is no court action in progress.

More discussion ensued on the feasibility of including the paved bike/hike path, and Schroeder told the crowd, “in all fairness, when you live in the country, you don’t get a paved path.” He agreed with Bousley’s statement that the base is not wide enough to put in the paths that the residents are seeking. Bousley said if they start widening the paved area without sufficient base it will break up the first time a garbage truck pulls off, “so why waste all the money?” Pazynski insisted the base is already two feet beyond the blacktop.

The series of motions and amendments then began. Behnke wanted to know the opinions of those present, but Schroeder said they could express their opinions to County Board supervisors prior to the April 15 meeting.

Keller said the bike paths on each side had been added to the city portion of Bay Shore in his district, and there is no problem.

“We’re not really going with the people’s will if we leave out the walking path,” Casper commented.

Several supervisors wanted to be sure they have the cost figures for consideration at the full board meeting so they can add the paths if they want to.

“And if it collapses, it collapses,” commented Mattison.

“When you people came in to this meeting today you were willing to spend nearly $4.5 million (the $3.5 for construction plus nearly $1 million to move utilities) and now you’re worried about how much it will cost to put two feet of pavement on each side!” Bauer declared. He said the Highway Committee and County Board had the costs for the improvements the residents want when the job was first planned two and a half years ago, and they most likely have not changed much.

After the meeting Pazynski expressed dismay and shock that it was Schroeder who made the motion that led to the recommendation to do the BB repaving without the paved shoulders that the residents have been asking for. He believes Seefeldt’s original motion would have passed, and expressed strong hope that a majority of supervisors at the April 15 meeting will okay the job as the Town of Peshtigo residents have been requesting.

BAMC CEO Ed Harding was present to discuss the request for changes to the hospital’s Articles of Incorporation to facilitate their merger with Aurora Health Care. He said when the BAMC corporation was formed in 1985 Marinette and Menominee counties each had equal representation on the Board of Directors, with each county to ratify four appointments, and the ninth member to be ratified by the hospital board itself. New by-laws retain representation from each county, but eliminate County Board approvals. He said one member of the new board is to be a local business person, one a medical care provider and two at large members are to be Aurora officials from the Green Bay area.

There will be a parent corporation formed with boards from each separate hospital. He said the board is to make a recommendation within six months to either build a new hospital facility or totally renovate the existing hospital.

Harding expressed hope they can resume friendly relations with Bellin Hospital and NorthReach Health Care. He said BAMC continues to need a group of physicians that supply the hospital with patients, “and it is our hope that NorthReach will continue to have a Primary Care network.”

“Marinette County holds absolutely no financial interest in this hospital, and I have faith in its Board of Directors,” Seefeldt declared.

“It’s time to cut the umbilical cord,” declared Keller, as he expressed agreement with Seefeldt’s comments.

Harding said language in the existing Articles of Incorporation that requires using assets to medically benefit citizens of Marinette County if the corporation is ever dissolved will remain intact in the new documents.


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