The Vilas County Board Highway Committee reviewed and approved a Bridge Aid Policy on July 16 which would govern the procedure by which towns may apply for aid in replacement of failing culverts and bridges within Vilas County in accordance with Wisconsin Statute 82.08.
“Reviewing it and looking back into it, even though we had a letter that we submitted each year, the actual policy to show the policy wasn’t there,” Vilas County highway commissioner Nick Scholtes said. “What I did was I put a policy together.”
Scholtes said each year the department sent out a letter to the towns to inform them the department intended to start work on the budget.
“In order to do our budget, we need to know what are the figures that are going to be coming up for the towns for their bridge aid request,” Scholtes said. “So what we did is we asked them to go out and check their particular culverts and any of them they’re anticipating replacing in the following year, as long as they meet the criteria of 36 inches or larger, they can submit it to us.”
Once the request is submitted, Scholtes said it goes to the Vilas County Board Highway Committee for its approval to “agree upon the cost” as the committee is the oversight for the program.
According to Scholtes, the process for the bridge aid policy was outlines in order to clarify what exactly Wis. State Statute 82.08, the bridge aid policy, was and what qualified under the program.
“Our policy also states that the towns will be responsible for inspecting their culverts annually and shall submit a list of all failing culverts they’d like to replace that meet the minimum standards,” Scholtes said.
This list, according to the policy, includes the location of the culvert, name of creek or stream, the current size and length of pipe as well as type of pipe and proposed replacement, and the cost of replacement and the name of contractor doing the work.
Upon receipt of the request, Scholtes said he’d make an appointment with an inspector to ensure the proposed culvert is necessary.
“After the inspection, I’ll bring the petition back to you guys for your approval. You’ll review it. The town and the highway committee must agree on the cost of the project and must consult during construction. That’s in the state statutes,” Scholtes said.
Following completion of the culvert replacement, Scholtes said he’d go out and inspect the culvert replacement to make sure it had been done correctly and all best management practices were used.
Then, after inspection, it’s up to the towns to show proof the contractors were paid for their work.
“Then we’ll bring a resolution forward to this committee for your final approval, at which time, from there, it would go to the full county board for the full county board’s approval,” Scholtes said.
He said he would send out the policy next year so “they know exactly what we’re talking about.”
Once the budget was set, Scholtes said, the committee wouldn’t be accepting any new bridge applications until the following year, with the exception of an emergency.
Emergency petitions have to be filed with the county clerk and the highway committee and is brought forward with an explanation for the necessity for immediate construction.
“I was just going to note that, having not reviewed this in advance, that’s the thing I was looking for and the commission put that in there,” corporation counsel attorney Jack Albert said.
Albert said the committee needed to be aware of budget and manpower issues that could circumvent “the whole thing” if there was an emergency in one of the towns.
“The last thing I put in here is something that we have not done in the past, but I put it in there because the state statute says that we can. So, basically there’s an administration charge,” Scholtes said. “The county may charge the towns that apply for aid underneath this section and administration charge.”
According to Scholtes, this administration charge shall be a “fixed as a percentage of the total cost of administering aid under this section and the percentage shall be no more than the percentage that the county charges the state for records and reports.”
According to Scholtes, that figure is 4.65%.
“So there is an avenue there should the committee decide that they want to start that process,” Scholtes said.
Scholtes said he wanted to get that information in the policy as it was state statute.
“I think that this is awesome and there’s a lot of new people that come into some of the town boards and stuff, and it’s right there,” committee member Todd Achterberg said. “It’s spelled out. You don’t have to guess or hear from somebody what it used to be.”
Achterberg said the policy would help in the future.
The policy’s section on administration charges raised a couple of questions for Scholtes.
“Under number 12, you mention the 4.65%,” committee member Chuck Hayes said. “How often does the state change that?”
Scholtes said the state changes that percentage yearly.
Hayes asked if the policy needed a statement that reflected that.
Scholtes said the policy already covers it, because it states there would be a fixed percentage of the total cost which couldn’t exceed the percentage the county charges the state for records and reports.
“Even if that amount would change, and we stayed with that percentage, we would be alright,” Scholtes clarified.
Hayes asked if there was a downside to putting some of the state statute citations in the policy.
Scholtes said the references let people know this was the policy that governed 82.08 of the state statues.
“So everything that’s in there could be sourced back to (Wisconsin State Statute) 82.08?” Hayes asked.
Albert said it did and that the section wasn’t very long.
“Last question. Last month, the committee approved a culvert request and it was referenced that there were not the best management practices, for lack of a better term, in terms of what the town did,” Hayes began. “Does this policy address that at all? In other words, if the town didn’t carry its share of maintaining?”
Scholtes said it was basically covered underneath the section which states the town has to solicit the committee and the committee has to inspect the culvert.
“Chuck opened the door, I wanted to ask when it would be appropriate to ask to comment on that culvert that we did on June 18,” committee member Jerry Burkett said. “It’s come to my attention that one of the reasons that it was a plug was the fact that public service buried their line right through the middle of the culvert.”
Scholtes said he wasn’t familiar with the issue.
“The Town of Washington is pursuing that,” Vilas County supervisor Holly Tomlanovich said. “They are pursuing it because they feel that there may be some liability on the part of Wisconsin Public Service.”
“That being said, if the Town of Washington pursues some of those costs, is there a chance that that will carry forth onto the highway commission and our budget?” Burkett asked.
Scholtes said he would have to check with the Town of Washington.
“I guess this is my request then to do so,” Burkett said. “Because I have from a pretty good source that the powerline went right through the middle of that, and that’s what caused the break, the blockage.”
The question about who inspected culverts in smaller towns that had either a limited or no road crew was brought the committee’s attention.
Scholtes said it was still the town’s responsibility, whether they contracted the county to do it or a private individual.
Hayes asked if Scholtes was looking for approval of the policy, and when Scholtes confirmed, moved to do so.
The motion was seconded by Achterberg and passed unanimously.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]