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Minocqua Wants Second Look At Proposed Island Projects

Wikimedia Commons Royal Broil

MINOCQUA – An engineering firm’s outline to do nearly $15 million of infrastructure work on the Island of Minocqua met with stiff resistance at Tuesday’s special town board meeting.

As outlined in the two-hour meeting, the preliminary proposal by Strand Associates of Madison called for coordinated utility and street related work with the town’s share pegged at $9 million and the Lakeland Sanitary District’s (LSD) share at just under $6 million.

LSD Superintendent Carl “Cully” Akey wryly commented that the price tag was “a sticker shock from Hell!”

The original directive to the consulting firm was to review utility and streetscape options for all streets on the Island outside of the Hwy. 51 corridor (Oneida and Chippewa streets) and provide preliminary full reconstruction cost estimates for a master planning docment. That full reconstruction package covered two miles of streets, sidewalks, curb and gutter, sewer and water mains, stormwater mains, alleyways and parking lots.

Matthew Yentz of Strand Associates told the group it would cost about $4 million a mile to do the town’s share of the full reconstruction work. The town could expect a cost of $1.5 million per mile of alleyway work. On the LSD’s side of the ledger, it would cost about $3 million a mile for sanitary sewer and water mains. Some streets have less than five years of useful pavement life, Yentz said. Park has upwards of 10-15 years. North Front is even in better shape.

Director of Public Works Mark Pertile said the pavement on East Milwaukee Street between Oneida and Chippewa is “just junk right now.” Yentz pointed out that that his firm’s work is in the early stages, and that he was looking for direction as to what the town wanted done after giving the “worse case scenario” of full reconstruction costs.

“Four million (dollars) a mile for this project is like...taking my breath away,” said town supervisor Billy Fried. Later, in calling for a plan of needed work based on priority needs, Akey noted, “We are going to have to do something sooner or later. Everyone in this room agrees to that.” Supervisor Bill Stengl agreed: “The plan will prevent spending good money after bad.” After much discussion, Yentz was directed to work with Pertile to refine and prioritize the work.

Board members, with two LSD representatives in attendance, did some weaning themselves. Not needed now was renovation of the town’s parking lots; nor did they see a need – at a projected cost of $1 million – for new street lighting. Also, sidewalks on both sides of the streets are not necessary in all areas. Redoing the five parking lots would account for $1.32 million of the $9 million overall town cost. The latter figure includes a 25 percent estimate for contingencies to cover work that’s not anticipated in the work plan. Questions also arose on how much of the Island’s stormwater lines actually need replacement. “The Island doesn’t have a drainage problem,” said Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim. Pertile will get quotes from firms that send cameras down those lines to assess their condition. Reducing the amount of those replacements would cut costs drastically. Yentz will produce overlay maps showing where the town’s infrastructure and LSD’s sanitary sewer and water mains are candidates for critically needed upgrades.

Of upmost concern, of course, was the cost. There appears little chance for either state or federal grants to offset the town’s share. As one town supervisor observed, during budget time they scrambled to save even $100. One financial pipeline – besides including the work in the annual town budget – is a taxing device called a “premier resort area tax, or PRAT. It would impose a small sales tax on items and services that tourists (but also residents) typically purchase. The governor did not include Minocqua’s request in his budget, but there’s still a chance the Legislature could take it up. The town board has said it would use PRAT solely for road programs. Too, there’s concern that the “never-ending” construction (four phases of work were proposed) would harm the Island’s businesses with shoppers turned off by the torn up streets and sidewalks.

On the flip side, Pertile pointed out that the Island is a major tourism attractor and the town should not let infrastructure upkeep fall behind. On that point, Yentz said it was important to have early support from the business community. “It’s an investment in the future,” he said. The town clerk will provide financial figures on the town’s debt load and borrowing capacity for a future meeting.

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