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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Consider Changes In Spring Load Limits On County Roads

Issue Date: December 21, 2016

Properties along a section of County Hwy. BB from the Keller Road intersection south about half a mile to the DNR boat landing entrance near Marinette have been subject to flooding during heavy rain spells and spring runoff season for years. The roadside ditches generally fill up, which damages the road bed. Excess runoff spills onto the yards of nearby residences. Plans of the Marinette County Highway Committee are to have the problem remedied in 2017.

Some months ago Ayres & Associates was hired to do a study on possible solutions to the flooding problem. Findings were presented at the Highway Committee's monthly meeting on Thursday, Dec. 15, by Ayres Senior Civil Engineer Michael Liebman.

After the presentation the committee agreed to go forward with a combination of drainage improvements in options 1 and 2 and authorized Highway Commissioner Ray Palonen to use funds remaining in the 2016 budget to begin the project design.

Several affected property owners were on hand to listen to the Ayres report and to thank the committee for addressing the problem that has in some cases threatened their homes. Among them were Dan and Barb Eskildsen, Candy Buchenauer, and Charles Lacourt.

County Supervisor Kathy Just, who also is vice chair of the county board, was present to discuss a proposed ordinance change that will restrict weights on some currently exempt county highways during the spring runoff period. She was concerned over the damaging effect that could have on businesses in those areas, and specifically what it could do to operations at the busy Wiedemeier Sawmill, which is in her supervisory district.

She acknowledged that the sawmill is owned by her nephew, but declared there were reasons for the exemptions and removing them could be detrimental to any business in affected areas.

"He's my nephew, but he employs a lot of people, and if he's put out of business, that would affect all of them," she declared.

Palonen said he could allow annual permits for specific businesses, but did not specify whether or not those permits would apply to vehicles making deliveries to those business.

Under the current ordinance, weight limits, with specific dates set by the Highway Commissioner based on weather conditions, are generally in effect from about March 15 each year until the spring thaw is complete. When weight limits are on, vehicles over 8 tons for two-axle vehicles and 18 tons for three or more axle units are not allowed to travel the roads except by special permit.

Highways currently exempt from the weight limits are County W from Hwy. 64 to Hwy. 141, County R from Hwy. 141 to the Kremlin Mine, County JJ from Hwy. 180 to the Wallace Bridge into Michigan, County X for about 1,450 feet west of Hwy. 141 (to Sterzing's Sawmill), County E to about half a mile south of Hwy. 64 (to the former Waste Management Transfer Station), and County A from the Village of Crivitz to Shaffer Road (which accesses the MarOco Landfill).

Also exempt in the current ordinance are perishable food haulers, school buses, emergency vehicles, waste haulers from town collection locations, leachate removal from MarOco Landfill, and waste haulers with single rear axles. The proposed ordinance would leave those exemptions intact, except that the exemption for single axle waste haulers would no longer apply. Garbage trucks could travel only on County A from Hwy. 141 to Shaffer Road unless hauling from town collection locations. There appears to be no provision for garbage trucks coming in from the west or those that collect garbage from individual businesses or residences.

The current ordinance includes provisions for single use emergency permits for specific purposes such as emergency fuel deliveries and emergency septic removal.

At a previous meeting and again on Dec. 14, Palonen suggested they could add a provision that would allow single-fee annual permits for specific businesses, for example septic haulers.

Total weight limits and time of day restrictions may be imposed on the special permits. Palonen said he would likely ask overweight vehicles to travel only during night time and early morning hours when the road beds are frozen.

Committee Chair Russ Bauer wondered what the spring weight restrictions would do to Kremlin Mine operations and other businesses. "Our forefathers did this for a reason," he declared. "Why are we picking and choosing which ones we do."

Palonen said it's not the businesses located on the affected roads that cause the problems, it's making the road exempt allows everybody to use them. He said for example that because County R is exempt, many loggers save their springtime jobs for that area, when the roads are most vulnerable to damage and all other town and county roads have weight limits on.

"We spend millions to maintain those roads, and I think it would be very, very irresponsible of us to let this continue," he declared.

He suggested he could work with the businesses so they could keep operating.

Bauer asked if the proposed changes had been approved by Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, and Palonen said they had.

Bauer also said it had been suggested to him that they should have a public hearing on the proposed changes, as they do for other issues.

Supervisor Bill Stankevich asked about septic haulers, and Palonen mentioned the annual permit and assured him they will have an exemption.

Bauer asked if every truck would need an overweight permit, and Palonen said no, there would be one permit for everything they have coming in and going out.

Palonen said his main concern is with the logging trucks that are cutting through Marinette County. He said for example it is not much farther for them to travel to Hwy. 141 to Hwy. 64 rather than use County W, and they should be encouraged to do that to prevent unnecessary damage to County W. "This is really about protecting our investment," he declared.

Bauer asked if Wiedemeier Sawmill would need a permit for every logger that hauls to him, and Palonen said they would not.

Stankevich said the septic haulers he spoke with are happy with the seasonal permit proposal.

However, as written, the ordinance makes no provision for that, so work remains to be done. The committee approved a motion asking Palonen to amend the proposed ordinance changes as discussed and present the proposal at a future meeting. The next committee meeting is set for 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Peshtigo Highway Shop.

When discussion of the County BB drainage problem opened at the start of the meeting, Dan Eskildsen, as spokesman for the residents, thanked everyone for doing the study and addressing their problem. "Hopefully we can get some drainage there, and we appreciate it," he declared.

Bauer suggested the area residents should be allowed to speak during discussion on the Ayres presentation, and added, "If there's something that's really offensive to you, tell us."

"Just clean the ditches out," one of the ladies suggested. "You wouldn't have had to spend the $10,000 (for the study) if you'd just listen to the people that live there!"

"We're beyond that now," Bauer replied.

"I'm just happy as a clam that you're finally doing something," one of the men added.

Liebman said Palonen had asked him to look at the issue technically, and determine what would be the best combination of solution and cost. He said there are three culverts at three different locations along the affected stretch of BB, and drainage in general is in the direction of the Peshtigo River. In some places the road serves as a dam to prevent the drainage. In the overall picture, getting that water to the river is the best solution, he said, and a series of ditch improvements is the best answer.

He said to make a ditch in an area Palonen suggested they would need easements from property owners, since it is not road right of way. As to solving the problem by cleaning out existing ditches, he said, "it's not that simple," but the proposed solution does include cleaning ditches on both sides of the road.

Bauer wondered what the chances are that the DNR would allow the work suggested, since it involves a DNR boat landing.

Liebman said one DNR person he spoke with felt they would allow it, but another one, a wetland specialist, doubted it, and told him of another county that wanted to do similar work had been refused.

Candy Buchenauer said they had previously offered to allow a ditch through their property. She said it would help get the water away from the yard of a neighbor, where it gathers not 10 feet from the foundation of his house. She repeated that they would give a permanent easement at no cost to anyone.

"If a permanent easement for a ditch there is available, to me, that's gold," declared Liebman.

"We have no problem," Buchenauer said again. Her husband agreed.

Bauer asked if removing grass and other debris from the ditches would help, and was told by one of the residents that when they went in with their four wheeler and packed down the tall grass and the red brush, "the water just gushed out."

Palonen said because the land is flat, there will always be water after a storm. The ditches will always fill up to the shoulders of the road, but they intend to allow it to drain out and prevent it from crossing the road.

Buchenauer said the ditches on DNR land haven't been cleaned in 40 years, and asked, "Why are we afraid of the DNR?" He suggested they should get the county's legal department to work on making the DNR clean out its ditches, and felt that would go a long way toward resolving the flooding problems.

One of the ladies said they talked with the DNR and was told the county could dig a ditch in their wetlands, but could not leave the dirt there. "You can put it on our land," she offered.

Bauer wondered how much higher the ditch would be than the river, and was concerned that the river might back up into the ditch when the water is high. Apparently it will not.

Palonen said if the Buchenauers are willing to sell or give the county an easement, "We'll do it."

"We do not want to sell, but an easement is okay," she reassured him, and again Mr. Buchanauer agreed.

Patrol Superintendent Joe Baranek supported the idea of cleaning out the Buchenauer ditch. He said he had walked it with them and it is blocked.

Liebman agreed even a root in that ditch bottom will block it.

There also was a suggestion to put a ditch through the property where water collects 10 feet from the house. The owner said he owns the next property as well, but the house on it is just 100 feet away.

Supervisor Bill Stankevich suggested putting a ditch through the Buchanauer property as a first step, "and see what happens."

Liebman said that is part of alternate one. Another part of that is putting new and bigger culverts at the south end of BB. He said some driveway culverts are too high or collapsed or blocked. Water ponds overflow because it cannot run down the ditch.

The committee, Palonen and Liebman agreed they should pursue recorded easement with the Buchanauers that gives the county the legal right to maintain the ditch, and then combine some features of Alternate 2, which involves redesigning the ditching and adding new culverts to drain water from the Buchanauer property.

"We'll always have water there, but it will be less of a problem,' Palonen said.

It was agreed he should get out an RFP for a firm to design the project, prepare legal documents, and get DNR permits, "and hopefully we can get it done before the end of next year."

"I propose to keep the people here involved with the progress of this project, and I will have reports at each meeting so they can come in and see what is being planned and comment on it," Palonen promised. Everyone agreed that was a good idea. Money left from 2016 project savings will be used for the design work.

The committee unanimously agreed to use at least part of the $120,000 remaining in the 2016 equipment fund to buy a new sign truck in 2017. At the November meeting they had looked over the old sign truck, which was purchased used several years ago and does not really meet their needs. That truck will be offered for sale, and the Town of Peshtigo wants to buy it to use for various purposes, mainly trimming tree branches that overhang town roads, according to Town Chair Herman Pottratz.

Palonen reported the Highway Department's general maintenance fund balance is about $170,000 and the winter maintenance fund balance was approximately $200,000. Highway Department equipment revenue was approximately $215,000 over expenses for 2016. Balances reported at the November meeting included $274,832 in the general maintenance fund and $261,390 in the winter maintenance fund.

Capital improvement projects for 2016 came in under budget, and the money left will be used toward 2017 projects, which will reduce bonding needs. There also will be $400,000 of LRIP funding from the state, which also will be used to pay for projects one in 2017 and further reduce bonding needs.

Palonen said the department would be staggering employees in preparation for a pending winter storm to ensure that plows could maintain major highways without requiring employees to not work more than 18 to 20 hours straight without rest.

The Highway Supervisor and Shop Foreman reported the highway crew continued rubber and crack filling on Hwy. 64 while roads remained dry, brush cutting continued, and employees were sent out snowplowing and preparing for the snowstorm the previous weekend.


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