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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Rick Rickaby Resigns As Highway Commissioner

Issue Date: May 17, 2018

Marinette County Highway Commissioner Rick Rickaby is resigning to accept a position in the private sector. His last day on the job will be Thursday, May 24.

Rickaby has worked for the County Highway Department since July of 2012 and was a construction maintenance supervisor before being promoted to the Highway Commissioner position last September. For six months prior to that, following the resignation of Ray Palonen, Rickaby and Joe Baranek, also a Highway Department supervisor, had shared commissioner's duties on an interim basis. When he named Rickaby for the commissioner post, County Administrator John LeFebvre said he was pleased to be able to promote someone from within the department rather than bringing in someone from outside.

Rickaby's announcement came at the end of his report on Highway Department activities at a busy first meeting of the County Board's newly organized Infrastructure Committee on Thursday, May 10.

His resignation drew expressions of dismay from committee members. Supervisor Dave Zahn's expression of thanks to Rickaby for the good work he has done drew expressions of agreement from other members of the committee.

Supervisor Al Mans asked LeFebvre if the wheels were in motion to select a replacement, and LeFebvre assured him they are, but gave no hint of who the person may be.

The Infrastructure Committee, under County Board's new committee structure, is responsible for oversight of several major county departments, including Highway, Forestry and Lands, Parks, and Building and Property, and replaces the three committees that formerly supervised the work done by those departments.

Members are supervisors Mans, Zahn, Gilbert Engel, Shirley Kaufman, Al Sauld, and Bill Stankevich. Along with LeFebvre, Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison was on hand to advise members on legalities and proper procedure, and the meeting room was nearly filled with personnel of the various departments, including department heads Rickaby, Forest and Parks Administrator Pete Vilas, and Facilities Director Martin Keyport.

By unanimous votes at the start of the long meeting Mans was elected as chair and Sauld as vice chair of the new committee. Mans had formerly chaired the Forestry, Parks and Lands Committee.

Next came approval of the minutes of the previous separate committees. Kaufman objected that there was no quorum of the previous committees present, and they would need three of the five previous members to have a legitimate vote, and this was not possible with the committee membership. Sauld agreed there was no quorum of the previous Highway Committee. They were told this will only happen this one time.

"It should never happen at all!" Kaufman declared. She and others voted "no" on a motion to approve Building and Property Committee minutes, since they had not been present.

"You have every right to approve the minutes of the previous committee," Mattison assured them. She said if three of the six Infrastructure Committee members voted against approval the motion would fail, "but by abstaining or voting no you are only delaying things."

Sauld commented he always abstains from approving minutes if he had not been there.

LeFebvre noted there had been an election and new committee assignments, and said even without the committee restructure there might not be a quorum of the previous committee.

Kaufman said she had been unable to print the Buildings and Property minutes from the county web site and therefore had not read them.

Mattison asked people to vote approval unless they had a problem with the minutes themselves. Stankevich and Sauld agreed to change their votes. Engel, noting the approval would pass anyway, said he would still abstain. Kaufman again voted no, and the remaining four voted in favor so Building and Property minutes were approved.

There were the same issues with the Highway Committee minutes. Kaufman and Engel voted against approval, and on Forestry and Parks minutes Kaufman cast the lone opposing vote.

Next, Engel asked to address the committee during time for public comment, which comes at the start of the meeting. Mattison told him if you are a member of the committee you cannot address them under public comment unless it is on a subject totally unrelated to the agenda.

Regardless, Engel still wanted to address the committee.

"If you want to suspend the rules - it's not proper - but you can, if you can get the votes," Mattison told him.

Motion to suspend the rules was made by Sauld, seconded by Engel and supported by Kaufman and Broderick. Zahn and Stankevich were opposed.

Engel got his chance to talk. He mainly objected to the broad, generic agenda, with no mention of specific items of concern to the committee members, for example the Ella Court Building, problems with the communications antenna atop the Courthouse, the parking lot at the UW-Marinette Fieldhouse. Those, he said, were just a few Building and Properties Committee issues the committee should discuss. The same thing could be said for Forestry, Parks and Highway Department concerns.

Engel also objected that department reports on revenues, normally presented and discussed by the committees, also were not listed. "If we are going to have this as a combined committee, those things need to be on there. If it takes a long, long meeting, then that's the price we pay!" he declared.

LeFebvre said if there is no action required the department head gives a report, and those items would be included. He promised they would hear the department head reports, and that specific report items would be identified on future agendas.

Engel still objected that there should be provision for the committee to talk about these things. Stankevich and several others shared that opinion.

Mans agreed they need to talk about this in future. At one point he exploded about lack of provision for committee members to have input. There also was no specific provision for conversations with personnel from the DNR and other outside agencies, just provision for reports.

"None of us are real happy...We can see that!' Sauld declared, and repeated: "I want administration to know, we are not happy. We should be a little more flexible."

Mans said for future meetings he will prepare the agenda and be sure specific things are listed for committee discussion as well as for listening to reports.

LeFebvre noted the committee had no chair when this agenda was set up, and agreed that in future the chair would have input. He admitted he and department heads had met and decided how the agenda would be set up.

"Change can be difficult, but it's not always bad," Mattison soothed.

"We're in the dark!" Sauld erupted. "We're elected officials. We're not sophomores in a Civics class!"

There had been talk about what reports from outside agencies would be permitted, and which ones might be cut to perhaps three or four reports a year.

Each month the Forestry and Parks Committee agenda included reports from DNR personnel that work closely with them. Dan Mertz, Forestry Manager from the DNR's Wausaukee office, and Cole Couvilion, Wausaukee DNR office supervisor and forester in charge of fire control, and DNR Wildlife Biologist Caroline Ward regularly attended Forestry and Parks Committee meetings and all were present for the May 10 meeting of the new Infrastructure Committee.

Mertz said it was important for the DNR people to continue their close relationship with their county counterparts. The state provides financial aid and management assistance for the county forest. Since the next agenda item for the new committee was reports from outside agencies and others, Mertz continued

He said last year DNR personnel worked 3,000 hours in the Marinette County Forest, and this year that was cut to 2,900 hours. Their fiscal year ends in June, and so far this year they have completed 2,831 hours of work, 98 percent of their time commitment.

"Because we partner in so many ways, I would sooner continue coming to these meetings... Sometimes things come up that we need to elaborate on," Mertz said.

Ward too preferred to continue attending the meetings and giving regular reports. She said the Wildlife program pays the county a nickel an acre to provide space and assistance with wildlife projects on public lands. Sometimes she brings ideas to the committee for approval, and sometimes she gets input from them. She said for example the following week they would be planting hawthorne and apple trees as wildlife habitat in a segment of the county forest, and they maintain wildlife habitat for other species in other areas. "What happens in the County Forest is very important to us," Ward declared.

They also report regularly on harvest techniques, ways to make various timber species thrive, fish habitat, deer concerns, and more.

"They provide an incredibly valuable educational service to our committee," Engel declared.

Mans asked Couvilion about a wildfire over the weekend. Couvilion said it burned 20 acres after a campfire got away in the Van Beek Subdivision west of Crivitz. Good cooperation between DNR personnel and local fire departments brought it under control before there was too much damage, he said. The person who had the campfire that started it all is responsible for all the suppression costs, Couvilion said.

Kaufman lamented the fact the DNR has closed all its fire towers.

Keyport reported during the next few months he will be requesting proposals for some exterior restoration work on the courthouse annex and the UW Fieldhouse, and will tie the work into one package in hopes of getting the right people to do the jobs at the right price.

The courthouse antenna studies approved by County Board in March is underway. The first site study visit included a look at the weight load on the roof and stress from guy wires. One problem is they have no original structural plans for the building.

"The good news is, the tower is up there and it's doing its job," he said. He was impressed with the engineers doing the study.

To questions from committee members as to how important the tower is, Keyport said it is the central point for radio communications for the county, provides a microwave link with the Law Enforcement Center for backup, and is the base for security camera coverage. The tower has to be located at least close to where it is now, he said.

Keyport also plans some improvements to the front steps on the courthouse, which once was the main entrance and now is strictly used as an exit. LeFebvre said they want to make it into an exit suitable for handicapped use. They are working on the new Extension Office space, a new employee break room, and "are absolutely in the last leg of the Field House restoration." He said Johnson Controls has been right on top of that, with the goal of providing, "a happy and healthy pool for people to use."

He is getting design work done for new lighting in the Field House parking lot, and the Highway Department will do the parking lot reconstruction.

To questions from Zahn, Keyport and Rickaby both said the current parking lot pavement will be pulverized, additional fill will be brought in to crown the area to improve runoff before it is repaved.

Keyport planned to stop at the Fairgrounds in Wausaukee on Tuesday, May 15. Some cell flooring in the jail will be replaced in June.

Future use of the Ella Court Building adjacent to the courthouse remains uncertain. What is certain, based on comments from both LeFebvre and Keyport, is that it will not be torn down. The building was law enforcement center and jail before the new LEC off County T was built about 15 years ago.

There have been discussions for some time about the possibility the City of Marinette might want to relocate its city hall and police headquarters there. Results of studies on remodeling costs to make that new use happen were included with committee packets. LeFebvre said he has been talking about the possibilities with Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot, and has been discussing other options with Keyport.

"If there's no interest from the city we'll move forward with making better use of it as a county resource," Keyport said.

Regardless of how it is used, LeFebvre said if it is going to be occupied it needs a new roof and a new HVAC system. The HVAC system would be different depending on what the use will be.

"In my mind, tearing it down is not an option," LeFebvre repeated. Currently the building houses two tenants paying $2,500 a month rent and a third using it at no charge. It also is used for county storage and for a county Employee Wellness Center.

In his Parks and Forest report, Vilas said migrant workers planted 66,000 trees in the County Forest last month, mainly Jack and Red Pine. He said because of a much better survival rate they buy containerized Red Pine seedlings from a source in Canada rather than planting bare root. They found some years ago that if the tap roots get bent when the trees are planted they will survive about 10 years and then die.

Vilas briefed the committee on the Wisconsin Counties Forest Association. There are 29 member counties. Florence County is hosting this year's Summer Tour in June. Committee members were authorized to attend. However, because there is no lodging in Florence housing is to be in Iron Mountain. Mattison cautioned the county has a rule that unless you need to leave before 6 a.m. to get to the site they are not allowed expenses for an overnight stay. Mans said their day on the tour starts at 7:30 a.m.

Vilas said next month he will have more information on replacing a failed bridge on Forest Road 533 near Ernst Road that was built in the 1970s. He said the road has been kept open by using a temporary bridge they use for logging jobs in the forest and will remain there until the permanent new bridge is built.

Vilas and Mans reminded committee members to attend the spring tax deed land sale in the County Board room at the courthouse in Marinette starting at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 18. Vilas serves as auctioneer for the sale. Mans said committee members could learn a lot if they watch. The committee had spent about two hours at its March meeting setting minimum prices on the properties that will be sold. The sentiments were to keep minimum prices low to encourage good attendance and lively bidding.

There was a brief discussion between Mans and Mattison on whether or not committee members will be paid mileage and per diem for attending the sale, which has always been done in the past. Authorization to attend was not on the agenda for the day's meeting, and Mattison said the committee could not do the approval after the fact, nor could the committee chair approve. For this year's sale they would need prior authorization from Board Chair Mark Anderson.

Vilas briefly summarized work being done in the County Parks. They opened for the season last weekend and were very busy. "Even way up in Goodman Park all but two sites were filled," Vilas said. For the first time ever, camping at Morgan and Twin Bridge parks is by reservation only and that has been well received, Vilas said.

Work has started on a new group camp site at Twin Bridge Park, and a new garage will be built there. A new log cabin restroom is being built at Goodman Park.

Sauld asked if there was annual maintenance on the walking trails at Goodman, and Vilas said there is one caretaker who will check them continuously, and whenever they can they will improve trails to the county waterfalls.

"That will be a large plus for tourism," commented Kaufman, who has been a member of the Tourism Alliance for many years and served as chair of the former Economic Development and Tourism Committee, which now has been merged with the Development Committee.

The two large log lodges at Goodman Park are now available for rent. One of the cabins at McClintock Park was broken into over the winter. Formerly cabins at that park were left open for anyone to use during the day. There were no provisions for overnight stays.

In response to questions from Kaufman, Vilas described park caretaker assignments, and said each park is monitored probably two to three times a week. Mans noted the County Forest Patrol also is out daily and they stop at the parks. Kaufman commented she never sees any workers when she is at the parks, "but they always look good."

Rickaby reported that County G would be closed between Ash Lane and Spur Road to allow installation of a new culvert. Traffic is being detoured on County X.

Also, the "new" used sign truck was purchased for $65,000 a little more than they had hoped, "but we got it." He said it is in pretty good shape.They had looked a another one, but it was not nearly as good as the one they got. The back end of the old sign truck, a 1996 model, is rusted out and it would have required a complete rebuild. "It's a money pit," he declared. The chassis from that truck will become the department's new service truck. He described the new truck as a "digger derrick," with a boom, bucket and and mid-mount auger, which will be much safer when working in the median on state highways.

Mans asked if the old truck will be sold at auction. Rickaby said some local municipalities are interested in buying it, "and we'll go that route and help them if we can."

Due to the late season snowstorms, mainly the 3-day blizzard in April, the department has spent almost $240,000 of its winter maintenance budget already this year. There is only $94,000 left in that account, Rickaby commented. "We'd better hope we have a mild fall." A bit later he said it is common to shuffle money around within budgets, and they may be able to take some from general maintenance.

Mans asked if there was any chance of recouping money from state disaster funds. Since the whole state suffered from that blizzard money from the state is not likely. However, Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister had informed his committee that the county met the "disaster" spending thresholds, as did several of the towns and if the state meets its expense threshold there may be disaster money from the federal government.

"We've submitted all our costs," LeFebvre said, adding that other counties had done so as well.

Kaufman asked about the salt/sand supply and Rickaby said there is none left, except perhaps a little in Pembine.

Supervisor Glenn Broderick, present at the meeting as an observer, asked about "bumps" caused by the county's paver. Rickaby said they are looking at upgrading to a new sonar system for the paver, at a cost of about $20,000. That would keep pavement nice and smooth as it is applied, he said. They have made other changes to eliminate some of the bumps, for example if the driver keeps going at an even speed rather than slowing or stopping there are no bumps. Also there was a leaky valve on the paver and that has been repaired. Plans are to pave seven miles of county roads this year, and the Town of Lake has some small jobs for the county to do," Rickaby reported.

Late in the meeting the agenda called for setting a date for the Spring Road Tour. Kaufman said that is always a full day tour. They take the county's 12-passenger van, and hold their business meeting before or after the tour in which they look at projects that were recently completed and projects that are to be done.

LeFebvre suggested instead of mixing the tour with the business meeting they schedule a separate date and let the three department heads decide what they want to show them and determine what the route will be. The tour was set for Friday, June 15, probably starting at 9 a.m.

Mattison said if it is to be a tour only, "and if you do not discuss county business"anything that will require action"you do not need to notice it as a meeting."

"That's impossible!" Mans declared.

Mattison said if it is a meeting the public is entitled to ride along. No decision was made regarding whether or not the tour is to be a meeting or not, but the date remains on June 15. The next regular committee meeting will be on Thursday, June 7.

Rickaby presented a long, long list of surplus and obsolete parts and equipment that he wants to dispose of. He hopes the vendors will buy some of it back, some will be sold at auction, and some will be offered to the towns. He wants to have the storerooms cleared of these items so there is room for the parts and supplies they do need, and he want to get it done before his final day on May 24, "so I'm going to have a busy couple of weeks.

After some intense discussion, and over strong objections from Engel, the committee agreed to recommend County Board approval for adding some segments of County P to the list of county highways approved for limited daytime ATV travel.

Later in the meeting Engel agreed to be the committee's designated representative on the Traffic Safety Committee. Mans is to continue representing the county at Wisconsin County Forest Association meetings.

A $500 donation from Crivitz Lions Club was accepted and added to the Parks Building and Maintenance Fund.

Agenda for the next meeting will include Engel's concerns over the ATV issue, specifically his proposal for a change in county ordinances to prohibit drivers under the age of 18 to operate ATVs on county highways.

Engel also asked that they address the location of committee meetings. "It makes no sense to me to meet here (in the courthouse in Marinette) when two of our main departments are in Peshtigo," he said. "The staff is there and the meeting room is as big as this one." He was referring to the Peshtigo headquarters of the Highway, Parks and Forestry departments, where those committees regularly met in the past.

He attempted to get the June 7 committee meeting scheduled there, but Mattison told him County Board voted to hold meetings "in this place," indicating the new courthouse committee room. She said any regular change in location would require a change in the ordinance and would probably need to go to the Executive Committee and then be approved by the full County Board, "so the June 7 meeting will be here."

As the meeting broke up Mans reminded everyone about the Tax Deed Land Sale on Friday, May 18 and urged, "I'd like to see you all there." In the past land sale auctions were handled as committee meetings and committee members were expected to be on hand.

There are 22 properties being offered for sale, including 12 with houses and/or other buildings. Minimum bid prices range from $10 to $15,000. A full listing of properties with brief descriptions and addresses is available on-line at the county Forestry Department web site, by clicking the link under "Latest News," and from the Forestry Department in Peshtigo. Bidders must be prepared to post 25 percent down payments. Sealed bids are also accepted from those who cannot attend the auction.


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10-18-2018Obituaries
Robert A. Portlock


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