/ Articles / Town of Enterprise to move forward with road project
There has been some debate of late regarding a proposed town road in the Town of Enterprise. Oneida County on March 4 asked for a contract with the town in regards to construction of the road. The contract offered an assurance the town, not the county, would be liable to any damage or injuries on county property near the road related to construction of the road.
At last month’s meeting of the county’s forestry committee, corporation counsel advised the committee to not approve the contract — which the town had already signed — due to a possible pending criminal charge against former county employee John Bilogan, whose property would be served by this road. Acting committee chairman Alan VanRaalte said, without further advice from the Lincoln County district attorney, he felt it was inadvisable to enter into a contract with the towns, stating also county board chairman Dave Hintz said he would not sign a contract, even if it were approved by the committee.
At this month’s meeting, the town was represented by Johnathan Sommer, the town clerk. He emailed some questions the town had to chairman Sorenson as well as to the forestry department.
“I had several phone conversations with state DOT representatives this week,” Sommer said. “I’ve also had several phone conversations with Wisconsin Towns Associations attorneys. The advice that we received from them, we then consulted with the town’s attorney, which is Greg Harrold. We don’t believe we need you to sign the contract. Nor do we believe the contract is necessary for us to proceed at this time.”
He said there was no statute or precedent set which would require a contract such as the one proposed by the county. At this time, he said, the town felt there was no reason to deny Bilogan’s request for the road to be constructed to his property. If Bilogan were to petition for access, Sommer said, the town would be forced to pay for a portion of the road.
“An easement has been granted,” Sommer said. “We can build a road. I have instructions from the chairman that if the county doesn’t wish to sign the contract or go forward with this right now, that my next action is to walk out into the parking lot, call our attorney, and potentially file suit against the county. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to have that phone conversation, but that seems like where we’re at.”
“And we’re caught between a rock and hard place,” committee member Bob Almekinder said.
“I don’t like being here, either,” Sommer said.
“We sit here, and then we go there (to the county board), and we’re told two different things,” Almekinder said.
“The necessity for the contract in the first place was something we have come to question now,” Sommer said. “The answer I got, bluntly, from the Town’s Association, removing some of the legal language he used, was, if we wanted to sue you, we’d win.”
The town would not sue the county for failing to sign the contract, he clarified, but would sue if the county attempted to block construction of the road.
The DOT representatives, Sommer said, also wondered why a contract was needed. Certificates of insurance could be provided to the county if required, but there should be no need for a contract. He further said there are state statutes that would cover any damage done by the town or their contractors.
Bilogan, Sommer said, has not been charged with anything. Sommer stated he checked with the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department, the Lincoln County DA’s office, and Bilogan himself regarding any criminal charges and none of the parties were aware of any at this time. For that reason, Sommer said, the town had no reason to deny the request.
“Again, I have to have a pretty clear cut reason to deny a request like this, especially when it’s so much in the town’s favor,” he said.
“Two good things you did, you got answers from the Town’s Association,” committee member Bob Mott said. “Typically they won’t give legal advice to a town. They just say this is how we see it. The other one is, to get somebody to make a decision at the DOT. That’s a tough one, too.”
Sommer said the concept of the situation seemed to escape several people at the DOT and it took multiple phone calls to get an answer.
“I will say that the Towns Association attorney did specifically say that this looked like overreach,” Sommer told the committee. Any issues the county potentially had to resolve with Bilogan, Sommer was advised, were separate issues and had nothing to do with the matter of constructing the road. The attorney also stated he did not understand that three-way contract between Bilogan, the county and the town.
With the easement granted, the grantor has no input or control over how the road is constructed. Sommer stated the town would be constructing the road to minimum town standards.
“What do you want today?” Mott asked.
“I would love you to say go ahead and do it,” Sommer said. “Because I would love to have this not be contentious.”
The Town of Enterprise, he said, would just go about building the road as it would with any other town road.
Corporation counsel Weinsch stated this was not his project, but left the meeting to consult with Mike Fugle regarding the matter. Upon his return he asked Sommer to have the town’s attorney call either Brian Desmond or Fugle, indicating that conversation had not yet taken place.
“I can certainly do that,” Sommer said. “And I can tell you that will irritate my chairman. Now we’re getting billed hours, and he doesn’t like that.”
“Are they going to answer these questions?” Mott asked, referring to the questions sent to the county by the Town of Enterprise.
“I know one thing we are not going to do is to give legal advice to a town,” Weinsch said. “We don’t answer questions for anyone but our clients.”
Sommer stated if the corporation counsel office felt the contract was no longer necessary, that would be just as good as the county signing the contract as far as the town was concerned.
In the end, Sommer said, as things sat at the end of the agenda item, the town would move forward at this point with the bid process for constructing the road.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected]