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Minocqua Town Board has better idea of infrastructure project costs

April 21, 2020 by Brian Jopek

The Minocqua Town Board will revisit in a few weeks — and potentially make a decision on — the prospects of borrowing money for infrastructure projects. 

Included in a “road planning” spreadsheet public works director Mark Pertile presented to the town board during an April 15 special meeting is a cost estimate of just over $1.2 million for East and West Park Streets in 2020 and 2021.

Not included, he said, are any cost estimates to repair boat landings next to the Thirsty Whale and on Schoolhouse Bay. 

If ultimately approved, another nearly $1.5 million in loan proceeds would be used by the town for different repair projects on Bo-di-lac Road, Manhardt Road, West Squaw Road and Leary Road this year. 

Pertile also included in the spreadsheet $250,000 in the town’s 2020 budget, $289,000 in grant funding the town anticipates in 2020, another $250,000 for the town’s 2021 budget, $400,000 for miscellaneous road repair work in 2021 and a 10% contingency of $231,600.

Out of all of it, figuring in the town’s annual road budgets and what it will receive in grant funding, he’s forecasting, essentially, the town borrowing nearly $2.6 million to cover everything else. 

Also attending the meeting was Cully Akey, the superintendent for the Lakeland Sanitary District, which the town would be coordinating with as far as some of the downtown infrastructure work, such as that on East and West Park Avenue. 

He suggested getting engineering and drawings done, even if it was ultimately decided to do Park Avenue in sections. 

“At least you’d have the drawings done,” he said. 

Akey also expressed, as the group talked more about a time frame, he didn’t have a problem with waiting a little while longer. There was one thing he was concerned about.

“I hope you guys are right, but I don’t think this summer’s gonna be all that great,” he said, a reference to some positive opinions expressed by town supervisors regarding what they see happening to the area economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I would hate to see a s--- summer and then we start construction next year ... you look at Wausau, you look at Three Lakes, they’re canceling the Fourth of July.”

With a portion of the work in the planning being West Park Avenue, which goes past the Minocqua Bowl where the Min-Aqua Bats waterski team performs each summer, Akey said he personally didn’t believe they would be performing this summer because of the COVID-19 restrictions. 

“I don’t think you could get a thousand people down there,” he said. “I mean, that’s a risk you’ve gotta take, but I would hate to see that and then all of a sudden, we’re starting (construction). That’s just my opinion. Something to chew on.”

Town supervisor Bill Stengl asked what was needed to cover the commitment the town has already made for the Bo-di-lac Road work as well as the engineering. 

“About half a million,” Pertile said. 

He also said as he saw it, the top priorities in the short term for the town are repairs for Manhardt Road, estimated at $315,000, and West Squaw Lake Road at $125,000.

“I can’t recommend going with any engineering without getting those fixed,” he said. “We have to get those fixed.”

Before the town board meets again to discuss road project financing and hammers home a more definitive direction, town clerk Roben Haggart will gather more information on things like interest rates and available loan repayment terms from financial institutions. 

During last week’s meeting, members of the town board mentioned at different times a possible 30-day extension by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers of his “Stay At Home” order put in place in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The day after the meeting, on April 16, Evers issued an extension to May 26 of the “Stay At Home” order, originally set to expire April 24. 

Because of the mention of a possible extension at last week’s town board meeting, the question pertaining to that subject was raised by town supervisor Bill Stengl.

“We’re gonna know if things are getting better or getting worse at that point, right?” he asked. 

Even without knowing for sure during the meeting, but with all indicators pointing to an extension by Evers, town chairman Mark Hartzheim remained positive.

“I think we’re going to know a lot in the next two weeks,” he said. “I think initially, if you go back a couple of weeks, everybody was expecting this thing to go at least through May. I think the natives are starting to get a little restless. People are thinking ‘Let’s roll’... I think people are more willing and advocating for moving forward and picking things up.”

TAP resolution

On another matter, the town board gave final approval to a grant application submitted by Pertile through the federal government’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).

The application is for construction of a multi-use path between Manitou Park Drive and Northern Road. 

If the town is awarded the grant, it would pay the up-front cost of approximately $500,000 and reimbursed for 80%.

Pertile said the window to do the project once the grant is approved is five years. 

He also said when the Wisconsin Department of Transportation eventually reconstructs U.S. Highway 51 from Manitou Drive to the bridge, sidewalks on both sides of the highway will be improved.

“The game plan would be to make that a continuation of that west walk from Manitou Park down to Northern Road to allow more free flow of pedestrian traffic,” Pertile said, adding he’s been asked by the DOT about further trail type work to The Waters.

“Logistically, I think there’s a little more to talk about at that location with the town board itself,” he said. “There’s still some cost issues ... could be adding another couple hundred thousand dollars to the project. We can always apply for additional grants.”

In addition, Hartzheim said he believes there might be some movement with the DOT to have the retaining wall on the west side of Hwy. 51 near The Pointe pushed back about six feet. 

In places along the wall, the sidewalk is four inches wide and over the course of the past few months, the wall has been a point of contention between town officials and the DOT.

Some of that contention around the retaining wall, he indicated, may be smoothing out.

“We’re still working with them,” he said. “I think there’s reason for optimism. We talked with them again and I think they’ve gotten some more reasonable estimates.” 

Pertile explained the town hasn’t had much success with TAP grants in recent years, but he feels the town might have a better chance with this application because of the proximity to the downtown and the number of residents on Northern Road. 

Billy Fried, attending his final meeting as a Minocqua town supervisor, said from the time he first got on the town board, he had been pushing for a way to get the Minocqua-Lake Tomahawk-Hazelhurst School District access via a trail. 

“I keep thinkin’ that access to MHLT has all the elements with safety,” he said. “We’ve had snowmobilers hit trying to cross over there. If we could access from the Bearskin (Trail) over to the school, I think it would be a very desirable grant. Why we aren’t applying for that I don’t understand.”

Hartzheim acknowledged there are a “handful” of MHLT students who in the winter drive snowmobiles to school and he also noted these days, there are very few students who walk to school as most are bused or their parents drive them. 

One of those students, he said, lives two houses away from MHLT and is driven to school. 

“Every day,” Hartzheim said. “I think a big part of that crossing down there is you can spend $2 million building a pedestrian bridge or a tunnel under it or whatever you want. Is anybody going to use it? Is it worth the time and money ... for five kids to drive their snowmobiles to school for several weeks during winter? I don’t think it would increase the number of people who walk to school or bike to school.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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