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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Town of Peshtigo Settles Mercury Asssessment

At its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Peshtigo Town Board settled the issue of a $15,000 special assessment against a property at at W1974 Hwy. 64 Hwy. 64 for cleanup of a mercury spill that was ordered by Marinette County authorities. By a three to one margin the board approved a motion to put the bill on the tax roll as a special assessment, but with provisions that it be paid off at the rate of $50 per year, with no interest to be charged.

Voting in favor were Town Chair Herman Pottratz and Supervisors Dan Staudenmaier and Dan Van Beek. Supervisor Mark Monnette was opposed and Supervisor Denise Wiedemeier was absent.

Before the vote, Monnette said at the $50 per year rate it will take 308 years to pay off the bill. Staudenmaier said he had no problem with that. Pottratz and Van Beek also appeared to have no problem. Pottratz said by taking the action recommended they were preserving lady's right to sue for what she believes are wrongful damages.

Staudenmaier said Grant and her father had been quoted one price by the contractor, but when the bill came it was far, far higher. He said that cleanup and the charges for it, "was a blunder on the county's part."

The issue dates back nearly two years, to January of 2015, when the property belonged to the late Dennis Enderby. It is believed now to belong to to his daughter, Diana Grant, who reportedly has a lawsuit in progress against the county for its handling of the cleanup.

The problem came up when Enderby, who lived alone, became ill and called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. When rescue squad workers arrived he reportedly told them not to go through the garage because he had spilled mercury there and had not had a chance to clean it up.

Since mercury is considered a human health hazard, the rescue squad workers called county authorities. County Health Nurse Mary Rosner and others had the spill cleaned up by the hazmat team and a private contractor without obtaining competitive bids. After his release from the hospital Enderby was lodged at a local motel before being allowed to return home. Rosner originally estimated the cleanup cost at $8,000, but the total ended up being more than $50,000. Work was done by a private hazardous waste contractor who charged by the pound. The contractor was hired and eventually was paid by the county.

At the time Enderby contributed $10,000, which Grant claimed they had been told would be the total cost of cleaning up the spill. He was either unwilling or unable to pay the total cost and his insurance company allegedly refused to cover any of the damages.

Enderby died in April and the property went to Grant, who claimed its value is about $40,000. County Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister obtained a $50,000 grant to help pay for the cleanup, but after the grant proceeds and Enderby's $10,000 the $15,407 balance remained.

The county cannot put special tax lien assessments against properties, but towns can. On June 21 of this year there was a memorandum of understanding signed with Marinette County in which the town agreed to place a special tax assessment against the property.

The memorandum of understanding includes a paragraph in which the county acknowledges that the town may be unable to collect the entire special tax and agrees the town is only responsible to pay the county monies collected as a special tax.

The town board had subsequently discussed ways to soften the effect on Grant and her family, and had considered allowing them to pay the assessment off in annual amounts.

Grant has said the contractor or other parties took things, including tools, from the home, garage and basement of the home that were not contaminated and should not have been removed. She is reportedly working with attorneys and legislators to get the issue resolved.

Deadline for 2016 special assessments is drawing near. The town board had discussed the issue at several meetings. In October they agreed to talk with Town Attorney David Spangenberg before taking action. Spangenberg was on hand for the November 15 meeting, and after the meeting advised Clerk Clarence Coble on how to handle the special assessment as directed by the board.

The evening started for the town board at 7 p.m. with a budget hearing that lasted five minutes, followed immediately by the annual town budget meeting, which was even shorter. The budget was approved without dissent by all 21 persons present as presented by Town Treasurer Vilas Schroeder and approved by the town board last month. Bottom line is that town tax rate will be 78 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which is about one cent lower than last year.

Schroeder said before the vote that it is hard to project budgets precisely because, for example, there is no way to tell what the weather will be and how much snow will need to be plowed. He added, "The big thing is that we have the reserves to cover what we're doing. We are not digging ourselves into a hole."

The aproximately 20 citizens at the meeting voted unanimously in favor of the budget, and also approved without dissent motions allowing the town to sell excess property, including real estate, if they have any to sell. Pottratz assured a questioner from the audience that particularly with real state the only way they would sell would be with sealed bids. They agreed not to sell a 42-foot boat landing on Shore Drive. A person who may purchase the adjoining property had offered $20,000.

Monnette said he had done some research the last time this issue came up and learned that by DNR rules, if the town closes this boat landing they would have to provide two to replace it. He was opposed. Several members of the audience said they do use the boat landing, and it is also used for snowmobile access to the bay.

Pottratz, Staudenmaier and Van Beek were also against selling. However, since the public access will remain the neighboring property owner can continue using it for access to his garage. Monnette stressed however that they cannot in any way block the town's access, including by plowing snow across it. He said in the past that had been done and he was called by snowmobilers to come and open a path for them, which he did.

Coble thanked the voters on behalf of himself and all the poll workers for their courtesy and consideration on election day. He said there were 2,304 votes cast, and there are 2,816 possible voters in the poll book, which is an 81 percent turnout. The 554 early voters put quite a strain on his office, Coble said. On the final Friday for absentee voters there 119 votes cast in his office in three hours. He had to hire someone to help for the three hours on that day.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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