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‘An investment in your future’

September 06, 2019 by Kayla Houp

The Minocqua Town Board met Tuesday to consider preliminary cost estimates, scope, and phasing of the Minocqua downtown planning project.

The board was joined by Lakeland Sanitary District superintendent Carl “Cully” Akey.

In May, the board approved a cost sharing plan with the Lakeland Sanitary District for the downtown Minocqua project master plan. The sharing cost was split 65/35 for the town and the Lakeland Sanitary District respectively for the contract with Madison-based engineering firm Strand Associates for $215,000.

“We’re here for an update to see where the engineering and the surveying work is now and look at some cost estimates, and have the board provide some direction on how we want to move forward from here,” town chairman Mark Hartzheim said.

“About two weeks ago, we met with Mark here, and we just started talking some broad numbers,” Matt Yentz of Strand Associates said. “And those broad numbers are large.”

Yentz provided the board with rough cost estimates for the project regarding the street and sewer infrastructure for the island’s side streets and sidewalks.

According to Yentz, previous estimates were low, but in the reconstruction of urban streets, there were certain elements that were unavoidable.

These elements included a new water main, sanitary system upgrades, improvements to storm sewers and drainage, as well as curb, gutter, and sidewalk replacement.

In addition to the project cost estimates, Yentz also provided the board with an assumptions packet detailing “reasonable” assumptions Strand Associates made about the project.

Given the assumptions, Yentz said Strand Associates established a “phasing plan” that divided the project into quadrants of “roughly equal value.”

Yentz said the numbers outlines in the cost estimates were based on what it cost to build an “urban street” per linear foot.

“And, right now, I would say, if you add these up, with a fairly large contingency, 25% contingency, you’re looking at about $4 million per mile of street, not including the utilities, not including the sanitary or water utilities, it would include the storm utility,” Yentz said. “You have roughly two miles of street. So that puts it in the $8 million category.”

Yentz mentioned this estimate was with them being roughly halfway through the 30% design process Strand Associates was hired to do, but the estimates wouldn’t change much as they proceeded.

“And I’m trying to give you a pretty big number right now so that we’re not in a situation next year where we’re exceeding those numbers,” Yentz said. “Again, these numbers have a fairly large contingency on them.”

As for the alleyways, Yentz said the cost was estimated at $1.5 million per mile.

Sticker shock

Yentz assured the board these were broad estimates to provide the board a scale of what they were looking at if they were looking at redoing the majority of the streets on the island.

The board had several questions for Yentz regarding the price of the project and how much of the plan was needs-based. 

“That $4 million a mile on this project is kind of taking my breath away,” town supervisor Billy Fried said. 

According to Minocqua public works director Mark Pertile, the cost to redo a town road was “about $180,000.”

Fried said he was thinking the town would just “pave over” the street after the Lakeland Sanitary District repaired what they needed to.

“Why wouldn’t I do it that way?” Fried asked.

“Our infrastructure, the storm sewer, needs to be upgraded,” Pertile said. “So then, when we go in there and basically dig up our storm sewer, we’re going to have a section of roadway that we’re going to have to replace.”

Yentz said the prices were for a full reconstruction, and not a pulverize and overlay.

“Your $180,000 a mile, is that full excavation, all new base? That’s just coming in and pulverizing and putting a couple inch overlay over the top, right? Those are dramatically different things,” Yentz said. 

The full reconstruction would entail removing “everything,” bringing in a new base designed to handle the appropriate traffic load and new asphalt.

Major rehabilitation, on the other hand, would be pulverizing what the town had and then overlaying it, which could reduce the prices by 30% to 50%, Yentz said. 

“The problem is, with three major utilities being reconstructed, there’s really not much of that left,” Yentz said. “So we dug three fairly significant trenches in your roadway, and that creates problems with a traditional pulverize and overlay, or a mill and overlay.”

The full reconstruction would also provide other utility providers, such as Wisconsin Public Service or the town’s Internet Service Provider an opportunity to upgrade or replace what they had, Yentz said.

“Your shock and awe is not unanticipated,” Yentz said. “In fact, when we met a few weeks ago, Mark, you had mentioned that, they this is going to be shocking to the board,” Yentz said, referring to the meeting he had with Hartzheim a couple weeks prior.

Also included in Strand Associates’ plan was the town’s parking lots.

“If we’re going to completely reconstruct them, all of your parking lots with a fairly large 25% contingency, it’s like $1.65 million. Just for your parking lots,” Yentz said.

Yentz said the sanitary sewer, due to a large number of laterals per linear foot of street, had a cost that went up “quite a bit.”

“Same thing on the water main. So, they’re looking at almost $3 million per mile, just for the sanitary and the water,” Yentz said.

“On top of the $4 million?” Fried asked. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Yentz said the numbers had come from “hard bids,” some of which were local, and the trend had been for these numbers to be higher.

“This is what’s going on in my mind,” Fried said. “We want to work together with the sanitary district because once we open up a street, it benefits both of us. And it’s still $7 million a mile?”

Yentz said that was correct, and if the contingency were between $1-$1.5 million, that was the “order of magnitude” the town was looking at.

“Whether it’s $5.5 million or $7 million, it’s still a big number,” Yentz said.

“I’m kind of with Billy, that seems like a lot,” town supervisor John Thompson said. 


While the cost of the project was an initial concern, more questions regarding the project were raised by the board.

“You’ve told us what it’s gonna cost to rebuild, but the question I have is does it need to be rebuilt?” town supervisor Bill Stengl. “And, if so, when does it need to be rebuilt?”

Yentz said one of the challenges was, regardless of the condition of the road, if the water, sanitary, and storm were being replaced, the road couldn’t be saved.

Some streets weren’t in very good shape and were probably reaching the end of their useful life, Yentz said.

“You could, absolutely, come in and mill and overlay them and give you some time, but some of your streets probably have less than five years of life left, if that. And others, like West Front Street, might have a solid 10, maybe 15 years of life left in it,” Yentz said.

Pertile indicated there were areas which were worse than others and should be kept in mind as they moved forward with the phasing process.

“After that, we would evaluate to see what would be the next phase depending on our needs and wants,” Pertile said.

“I know you guys got stuff you need to do, but it seems like a lot of the stuff you’re — I don’t get it,” Thompson said.

“We have not decided if it’s worthy or not worthy of being reconstructed at this moment,” Yentz said. “Right now, I’m assuming it’s all going to be done.”

Yentz said the map included in the packet were rough phases that were made roughly the same size and cost.

“A lot of these are going to come back from the worst case scenario, but I want you to aware of what the worst case scenario is, and then we can figure out a way and a plan,” Yentz said.

Over the course of two hours, the board discussed the issue of prioritization and how they could best suit the needs of the town roads and the Lakeland Sanitoary District.

Pertile said the board could think of the plan as more of a planning document.

Yentz said it was a generational project and that it wouldn’t be completely reconstructed for “50 years” and that if the town wanted to change the way the streets interacted, this would be its opportunity to do so. 

“If you just wanna patch what you have, or rehabilitate it, that’s a whole different game than what we’re talking about right now when we’re talking about completely reconstructing it,” Yentz said.

Hartzheim said Yentz had included an “all-encompassing” plan, which was what the board had wanted to see.

“I don’t see how we can pay for the grand plan. I think if we did this, let’s say we do get PRAT passed here, this alone would eat up about 15 years of that PRAT revenue,” Hartzheim said.

Hartzheim said his thinking was more along the lines of targeting key areas that needed rehabilitation and that the town didn’t have a drainage problem, as they “rarely” had standing water following a heavy rain.

“Visually, to sell the public on $9 million of improvements where their tax dollars are going, and essentially, they don’t really see much other than new blacktop, new sidewalking, it becomes a tough sell,” Hartzheim said.

He asked if there was a way to identify key problem areas while still allowing the sanitary district get in where they need to so they were only addressing the critical issues.

“One of the reasons that Cully needs to get in, is also if we’re going to improve your storm sewer. So, in some places, you have a 10-inch storm sewer and you probably need a 24-inch storm sewer, but if we’re OK with a 10-inch, then Cully might not even need to get in,” Yentz said.

“The dollars scare me too,” Pertile said. “We’re competing with a lot of other communities that are investing in their downtown areas, and if we don’t eventually invest into it, we’re going to fall behind, and then it’s even gonna cost more.”

Pertile said he had reviewed the information and the numbers were preliminary.

“The numbers scare the hell out of me, which I think it does with everything, but I don’t really want to piecemeal it, personally,” Akey said.

Akey said he had done numerous jobs where he wished the person had done it right the first time, and that he would like to do the road “right.”

“Like everything in life, there’s prioritization that has to happen. There’s needs and there’s wants, and then there’s a total rebuild, which I don’t think we either need or want, but we need to figure out what the needs are,” Stengl said.

“We can give you all of the prioritization, and I think, through the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis), this is my first opportunity to come and tell you, if you completely reconstruct, this is what you’re looking at,” Yentz said. “If this isn’t what you want, we can definitely prioritize areas, and say these streets are the worst, or these utilities are the worst, but we’re not that far along.”

Yentz said this meeting was to inform the board of the magnitude of cost and get direction on how to proceed.

“Some direction on what you do want to spend would be very helpful,” he said, stating with that information, he could tell them where the best place to put that money would be.

Hartzheim said prioritization was something the board would have to work with Pertile on, and removing items not a necessity, such as the parking lots or the lighting, would reduce the overall cost of the project significantly.

“I agree that we want to be a community that welcomes tourists, and we do that very well, but this is addressing stuff that isn’t bringing tourists in or keeping them away,” Hartzheim said, stating that this project was just “infrastructure.”

“I believe you are right, there, Mark, but infrastructure is huge,” Akey said. “I think infrastructure is the thing we gotta focus on a little bit, rather than the beautification.”

“Eventually, something will have to be done here,” Pertile said. “At what level, that’s going to be up to the board, or infrastructure is going to tell us.”

“We need to see each block, where’s the priorities for the street, where’s the priorities for the infrastructure. Then we look at it and try to match up between Lakeland Sanitary and us and target the areas that need the most need,” Fried said.

Moving forward

One of the concerns moving forward was the ramifications of lowering certain utilities in problem areas and how it would affect other areas.

“Our design deliverable to you is a 30% design of the roads and the utilities, but right now, I don’t even know what typical section you want the road to be,” Yentz said. “I can give it to you as if we’re just putting back what you had.”

Fried said it was his opinion that, due to the sticker shock, he would recommend proceeding with replacing what the town had “the correct way” and that if the town decided to enhance in the future, they could pursue those options.

Hartzheim said he kept going back to the costs versus the benefits.

“If this were a third of the cost, I’d say, let’s figure out a way to get this all done,” Hartzheim said.

“As we move forward with prioritization, we also need to concurrently look at what our capacity is. What are our funding options in terms of borrowing versus our annual budget,” Stengl said.

“Let’s just forget the initial numbers, they just ran some numbers. As they tighten this out to get to 30%, these costs will reflect that as we move forward,” Pertile said.

“We could probably remove a couple million dollars just by prioritization, and then further reduction of the scale of what’s one,” Hartzheim said.

The board also discussed how to maintain the utilities they currently had, but that in the case of a catastrophic failure, they would have to figure out a way to address the issue.

Yentz said a good step would be to perform a condition assessment on the town’s existing storm infrastructure.

“That’s the main reason we’re considering any of this really, it mostly comes back to storm sewers and whether you want to go this far with it,” Hartzheim said. “We know the surfaces need attention, but the reason it’s to the extent it is because of storm water.”

Fried said he would rather see the completed plan and prioritizations from Strand Associates before spending money on more studies.

Stengl said they also needed to look at what their capacity for spending was with current budget constraints and borrowing limits.

Akey said the board didn’t have to do it this year, and it could be done in the near future, but that he at least wanted to have a plan of where the project was going. 

“Get a plan, get sticker-shocked to hell, but we got a plan, and that’s what we’re paying Matt to do,” Akey said. “But we got a plan of something to do. Whether it’s next year or five years from now, but that plan’s not gonna change.”

Yentz said he would incorporate the board’s feedback into the plan to prioritize areas of need for utilities and roads.

Yentz also recommended engaging with the local businesses and public as the board moved forward.

“You make the initial investment and the stuff around it grows,” Yentz said. “It’s really an investment in your future.”

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]

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