The U.S. Highway 51 reconstruction project through Woodruff has caused some headaches for some business people, one of them Chuck Dicka, who’s owned the building housing his business, The Hunters’ Headquarters, for 25 years. 

The building the gun shop is in is well over 100 years old; Larry Kutschenreuter, owner of Minocqua Grading, said it’s in the neighborhood of 130 years old.

Another building that once stood next to The Hunters’ Headquarters last housed The Tech Geek.

That building was on the southeast corner of the intersection of Hwy. 51 and State Highway 47 in Woodruff, removed in November by Minocqua Grading as preparations began for the next phase of the multi-year Hwy.51 reconstruction project through the Minocqua/Woodruff/Arbor Vitae area that actually began in the spring of 2013. 

This next phase, from Third Avenue in Woodruff to Lemma Creek Road, is scheduled to be completed in November, if not sooner. 

Dicka has no problem with the highway reconstruction project itself. 

In fact, he thinks it will look nice once it’s done. 

It’s the runaround from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Dicka said he’s been getting for months — tied to damage his building sustained he and DOT officials say Minocqua Grading caused during building demolition — which is a big part of his current problem. 

The way it’s been

“When they tore it down, they did some damage to the building, mainly to the roof,” Dicka said. “My roof is a flat roof with a rubber membrane, which was attached to the wall of the next building and that wall was about 12 feet higher than my building.”

Dicka said he met with DOT officials anywhere from six to eight months before and told them what would happen to his building when the one next to it was demolished. 

“They said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll take care of your roof and we’ll re-side your building for you,’” he said. “That’s what they told us. I warned ‘em and they said they were gonna take care of all the damage they knew was gonna happen.”

After the demolition was finished and the damage to Dicka’s building done, he said he was told by a DOT representative there would be other contractors hired to repair his roof. 

“Well, it just never happened,” he said.

In the meantime, Dicka hired a contractor himself to have temporary repairs made, including tarp material along with tar to cover openings left when the demolition tore the roofing membrane.

“That’s the way it’s been,” he said. “Those are the only repairs that have been done.”

Two months later, Dicka said he found himself with a different DOT representative who told him the same thing — the agency would get a contractor hired and get his roof repaired. 

“We had her for a month to two months,” he said. 

Eventually, after getting handed off to at least two more representatives with no progress, Dicka heard from project manager Robin Stafford in the DOT’s Rhinelander office. 

“Robin was the first one (at the DOT) to tell us, ‘You know, the state’s not responsible for this — it’s the contractor,’” he said. “That’s my biggest problem. Why didn’t they tell me that last year? Why did they suddenly change their story?”

Dicka said the first contact person from the DOT he dealt with on the matter actually put the contract together that was ultimately signed by Kutschenreuter, owner of Minocqua Grading. 

“He knew,” Dicka said. “Why didn’t he tell me?”

He said Kutschenreuter told him he was going to sue him. 

“He told me that about two months ago now,” Dicka told The Lakeland Times on Sept. 13. “Because he’s not getting any contracts because of the bond. He says I’m holding up his bond. So, he’s suing me.”

‘It’s just ridiculous’

“We’re gonna sue his ass big time,” Kutschenreuter told The Lakeland Times on Monday. “We were done with that job the first of December and they (the DOT) held our bond up all summer.”

He said his business lost $500,000 in bonding work this summer, including an opportunity to bid on a $400,000 demolition contract as part of the FOXCONN project in Racine County. 

“They still owe us $14,000 and they want us to do $100,000 worth of repair work on that building,” Kutschenreuter said. “A 130-year-old building which was wrecked before we got there. We fulfilled the contract ... there was a common wall. A couple bricks did hit Chuck’s  roof and we fixed that.”

Kutschenreuter says he’s caught in the middle between Dicka and the DOT.

“It’s just ridiculous with that DOT,” he said. 

Unfortunate situation

The DOT’s Craig Smits is a technical services chief with the agency’s Wisconsin Rapids office. 

He’s also the most recent current direct point of contact from the DOT Chuck Dicka has had regarding his building issue.

“It’s definitely an unfortunate situation,” Smits said. 

He referred to Dicka saying last year what would happen to his building.  

“Unfortunately, Minocqua Grading (Kutschenreuter), in the process of doing the razing of the building next to Hunters’ Headquarters, was under the impression he was going to be able to do a lot of things as far as protecting the building on the roof which Chuck did not give him authority to do,” Smits said.

He said “not to point fingers” but the contractor — Kutschenreuter — failed on the contract the DOT had with him.

“Therefore, we had to go through the process so it’s been difficult,” he said. 

Smits said it isn’t so much the DOT removed Kutschenreuter’s bonding status.

“When we work with a contractor on a state-let contract, the contractor is responsible to provide bonding in the event they are not able to follow through on the contract they were awarded,” he said. “When Minocqua Grading failed to perform and complete this work according to the contract and per the specifications we had in the contract, the bonding is like an insurance for the state of Wisconsin in that if a contractor fails to perform or does not agree to do so, we will contact their bonding company and pursue completion of the work and the job.”

In other words, Smits said, until the DOT receives compensation it’s seeking from Minocqua Grading’s bonding company because the project was not completed to specifications outlined in the contract, “we’re not going to release the bonding for this contract.”

“However that affects Minocqua Grading, I don’t know, but apparently, it keeps them from getting additional work,” he said. 

Smits said there was an inspection of the damage done to The Hunters’ Headquarters building earlier this year by Al Szymanski, an architectural engineer with MSA Professional Services. 

“It really identifies getting that building whole again,” Smits said. “That really was the reason for that report. To treat the Dickas fairly and identify damages to that building. It’s a 100-year-old building and there were damages and we don’t deny that one bit.”

The report produced by Szymanski based on his May inspection of the Hunter’s Headquarters building is, Smits said, “in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

In a letter to Smits dated July 3, 2018, Szymanski put the cost estimate for “corrective repairs and improvements” at $80,000. 

“We’re stewards of the tax dollars that we’re spending,” he said. “We feel that’s a very fair approach to settle this.”

That “approach” Smits spoke of was an offer made to Dicka by the DOT on Aug. 15 for $45,000, an offer the Dickas have so far refused. 

Smits said $30,000 of that $45,000 offer was to get the siding for The Hunters’ Headquarters done. 

Dicka has had at least two other estimates done for the work to his building. 

One of those, for just getting the siding done properly, was $47,000 while the other had the siding portion of the work at $58,000. 

However, Dicka said if the $30,000 portion of the $45,000 offer from the DOT will get his building sided the way it was supposed to have been done in the first place would be what the result was, he’d take it.

“But he (Smits) gets the contractor and he pays for it,” he said. “I don’t care what he pays for the siding. I just want it done. That’s all I want.” 

As for Kutschenreuter’s pending lawsuit against him, Dicka didn’t seem to concerned.

“You know, these guys think it’s about the money,” he said. “It’s not. It’s about getting my building fixed and fixed right.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at