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Energy & Environment

Manitowish River Bridge Public Hearing Draws Crowd

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MANITOWISH WATERS – A dozen people stepped up to the microphone to voice their opinions Monday at a public hearing on a permit request to place a bridge over the Manitowish River to accommodate a future hike/bike path in the township of Manitowish Waters. They were among the 35 citizens who attended the hearing at the Manitowish Waters Community Center. As property owner of the site, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) needs a construction permit. The agency has made a tentative decision to issue the permit, but held the required hearing to gather additional facts from the public on the bridge project.

DNR’s Kyle McLaughlin, water management specialist, said the project could not “materially affect navigation, not materially reduce the flood flow of the stream, and not be detrimental to the public interest.” Of the latter, the agency’s review would assess any potential impacts on fish and wildlife habitat, natural scenic beauty, water quality and quantity, navigation, fishing and swimming. Jeff Pennucci, DNR Northwest District parks supervisor, said a state archaeologist did not find any Native American artifacts at the site. He said the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians declined an opportunity to conduct an independent survey of the site. The bridge would be located about 400 feet from U.S. Highway 51 and would not be visible from the highway, he added. Of the 12 citizens speaking, seven were against issuing the permit; four favored it; the final person, Shari Younger, did not express an opinion either way, but was concerned how Mercer’s new hike/bike trail would connect to the Manitowish Waters hike/bike system if that bridge was not constructed.

As outlined, the bridge would be 182 feet long, 10 feet wide with a clearance from the river of at least eight feet during normal water levels. It would be a clear span, meaning the concrete supports would be on land and not in the river.

Town Chairman John Hanson said the town board last October adopted a resolution supporting the bridge construction, adding this about the bike path ... “(I)t creates a very unique loop which will be the first one in northern Wisconsin, of five and a half miles, which will make it a very attractive trail for people to use. Because of its length it will be a good trail for families with small children. Of the bridge, he said, “I look at it as a great opportunity for probably thousands of additional people to enjoy the beauty of that portion of the Northern Highland Forest and, in particular, that part of river that now canoeists and kayakers can see. I can see the benefit of the bridge over the river so bikers and walkers can enjoy that scenic part of the river.”

The hike/bike trail loop under consideration would connect to The Heart of Vilas Bike Trail System, which already connects Manitowish Waters with Boulder Junction and St. Germain, and in the future, Mercer. Merry Perkins, whose family owns property near the proposed bike path, opposed the bridge. “My biggest concern is that I think the Manitowish River right there -- that’s one of the prettiest spot (on the river),” she said. “I can’t believe you guys would even consider putting a bike bridge over that. It was always my understanding that the DNR and the state of Wisconsin protected the Manitowish River...” She also had concerns about construction equipment damaging the forest when it’s moved onsite. Town supervisor Bob Becker said he would welcomed the bridge as it would allow fat tire biking in the winter, making the bike path a year-round recreation opportunity. Former supervisor Chuck Rayala III said he grew up in Manitowish Waters and cherishes the river, which he called a “prized jewel of this town.” He voiced concerns about noise and pollution from the bridge construction, and the effect of the bridge on spawning sturgeon in the river. The area should remain “untouched” and saved for future generations, he said. Like others had noted, he said he was not opposed in general to hike/bike trails. Ardent bicyclist Gale Wolfe favored the bridge construction, but understood the concerns of those opposed to it. “I am reminded of the statement that man tends to love those nature places to death,” he said. “The argument is how much access should we provide to the general public and to what degree will that be a detriment to the wildlife and the natural setting that’s there. I think that is exemplified in this discussion here. “I am in favor of having that bridge there; and still recognizing the kind of arguments that are coming from people who are concerned about it. So I’m somewhat caught in the middle. I would lean toward construction of the bridge, but recognizing full well that there are sacrifices that will need to be made in order to accomplish that.”

Hearing examiner Keith Patrick, waterway/wetland field supervisor for the DNR, said the agency would take written comments until Feb. 8. They expect to make a decision on the permit by Feb. 28. To learn more about this project or to see the application and plans, visit the DNR’s permit tracking website at: permits.dnr.wi.gov/water/SitePages/Permit%20Search.aspx and search for WP-IP-NO-2017-64-X12-19T15-01-02. Written comments can be e-mailed to Kyle.McLaughlin@wisconsin.gov or by U.S. mail to Kyle McLaughlin, 107 Sutliff Ave., Rhinelander, WI 54501.

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