Home » News » Hobart questions interchange project change

Hobart questions interchange project change

By Ben Rodgers

HOBART – Brown County Public Works is sticking to a change in the Wisconsin Highway 29/County VV interchange project that will cost an additional $432,216.

Village Administrator Aaron Kramer, in a June 4 letter to the Brown County Board of Supervisors and Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach, called into question a change in the route for the extension of broadband services because of objections by the Oneida Nation.

Kramer questioned why the original route was scrapped for the more expensive option.

“Additionally, Matt Ternes, of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (‘DOT’) confirmed he received a voice mail on July 9, 2019, from the Oneida Tribe Historic Preservation Officer (‘THPO’) stating that this broadband route, along with an alternative route, were both acceptable to the Oneida Nation,” the letter from Kramer states. “Only a few days before field work was to commence, the Oneida Nation apparently changed its mind and would not sign off on the most beneficial route but indicated the tribe would only agree to the secondary route.”

The letter from Kramer also includes an email from Kevin Raye, Brown County Technology Services Enterprise and Infrastructure manager, dated Aug. 5, 2019.

“I just want to get on the record that this route change will significantly reduce the opportunities for Public Safety and the Rural Broadband initiatives,” Raye wrote. “To get fiber to this tower in the future will require the same approvals and will cost Brown County $432,216 versus $0 if the primary route is used.”

Kramer stated in his letter it was “alarming” for a county department manager to go on the record about the negativity of the route change and how “the County took no action whatsoever to even look into why the previously agreed route was jettisoned only days before field work was to begin.”

Hobart is scheduled to pay around $3.21 million for its 11 percent share of the interchange project.

The total cost for the fiber/broadband extension was listed in the preliminary budget document on July 3, 2018 as $898,950, with Hobart slated to pay $89,985 for its share.

The revised budget with the route change has a total price of $1.3 million. Hobart’s contribution of 11 percent is slated at $143,000.

The interchange project is being funded by a $20 million federal grant that will require the county, Hobart and the Village of Howard to share in the remaining costs, as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation administers the project.

Kramer’s letter requested the county board initiate an investigation to obtain answers to questions, which include the desirability of the new route in terms of public safety, environmental concerns referenced by the highway commissioner, why the tribe’s approval was required in the first place, why the route became problematic, and why the county would want to pay at least $432,216 in additional costs.

County response

Paul Fontecchio, director of Brown County Public Works, issued a letter on June 9 to Kramer, the county board and Streckenbach to answer those questions.

Fontecchio said the secondary route meets project criteria in terms of public safety and broadband initiatives.

He further wrote the THPO identified historical/cultural resources along the original route, namely Trout Creek Road, and because the project is federally funded, the National Environmental Policy Act process must be followed.

The tribes’s approval was required under federal and state guidelines because part of the project is located on tribal lands, Fontecchio wrote.

In August 2019, the tribe purchased 9.87 acres of land to be included in the project for $9.87 million.

Fontecchio said the original broadband route could not be preserved without jeopardizing the $20 million federal grant awarded to the project and could have halted the project entirely.

He also wrote the increased costs were due to an installation-type change.

“The Village’s letter dated June 4, 2020, is unmistakably NOT COOPERATIVE – calling for the County Board to initiate an investigation of the broadband portion of the project,” Fontecchio wrote. “All the Village needed to do was call me or the Wisconsin DOT for clarification and the project team could have answered the questions raised. Thus far, the biggest threat to the project’s success has been the Village of Hobart’s continued adversarial tactics with the Oneida Nation and Brown County.”

Next steps

Hobart Village President Rich Heidel said the village will continue to advocate for a meeting to get answers.

“There may be good reasons for doing what’s being done, but we have no confidence they have been shared with us,” Heidel said.

Emails requesting a meeting between the village the county date back to March 9.

“We’re not letting it lie,” Heidel said. “With regards to a meeting, we have removed all preconditions off the table. So the county is well aware that we are willing and have offered up to meet with them anywhere, any time, by any means.”

Heidel said the primary route first identified happens to be a route which takes advantage of village plans for upcoming road repairs.

He also said the THPO changed mid-project and so did the tribe’s opinion on the primary route.

“The next guy is saying there is a problem, and our assumption is not just the Village of Hobart, but the Village of Howard and Brown County itself would be interested in safeguarding the taxpayers’ money, regardless of the amount,” Heidel said.

Jeff Flynt, Brown County deputy executive, said the county’s doors are open to any municipality with questions or concerns.

“The reality is we’ve been trying to work with the individual village board members and with President Heidel on potential meeting dates,” Flynt said. “We unfortunately have not been able to find a date that is meetable, but we continue to work towards that.”

Facebook Comments
Scroll to Top