The town of Oakland won’t halt the reconstruction and widening of Ripley Road, set to begin July 10 with the removal of trees from the right of way.
Town Chairman Eugene Kapsner and the Oakland Town Board faced off Tuesday night with a standing-room-only crowd of residents. Residents presented a petition with 161 signatures, representing 125 properties, asking that the project be delayed due to a host of concerns. Four Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies were present to keep order.
A deputy stepped in once during the hour-long meeting, warning a resident who reacted strongly, with vulgarities, to a statement by Kapsner. The deputy warned the man that he would be removed if he didn’t tone it down. There were no further incidents.
Kapsner, in a prepared response, said breaking the contract with the firm slated to do the work, which includes reconstructing and widening the roadbed from 20 to 22-feet wide, and improving the two-foot-wide shoulder that is now grassy, would cost a “substantial penalty.”
Kapsner said the work, originally scheduled to begin in April and recently set to start July 5, was pushed back again this week to July 10 due to a delay in a state Department of Natural Resources permit.
Kapsner offered no further response to calls to delay the work, until pushed by increasingly vocally irate audience members as the meeting progressed, about whether the board might consider that.
“No,” he said finally. “The board is not interested in pursuing that avenue.”
He made it clear that was the board’s call to make.
“It is a board decision,” he said. “The board is not interested in waiting on this.”
About a dozen people spoke during a public comments portion at the start of Tuesday’s meeting.
They said worries include safety with the potential for more speeding vehicles on a wider road; the removal of trees and the detrimental effect of that on the area’s rural ambiance and on storm water runoff into Lake Ripley; the potential loss of the roadway’s rural feel; and poor communication by the town over the past two years, about the impending work.
“Most of the people I have talked to did not understand what the scope of this project was going to be,” said town resident Tina Springstead.
Residents said there are more than 200 trees in the right of way along the 1.8-mile-long project area between Park Road and County Hwy. A, and questioned how many of those were slated to come down. Kapsner, in response, said he knows now of 28 trees that are marked for removal, including old-growth oaks in the Cedar Shores neighborhood.
Town resident Dave Springstead said the planned widening and striping of the road’s center lane will “destroy the whole nature of the road.”
“It is going to look totally different. It is going to look like a highway,” town resident Tina Springstead said.
Town resident Jim Hogg said a letter that went out about the project this winter wasn’t received by everyone “and even for the ones who did get it, it was vague as to what was going to be done.”
Residents also said they’re concerned about oak wilt on trees that aren’t removed; summer isn’t a good time to cut trees, they said.
The petition suggested that, during a suspension of the work, town residents be surveyed on their views of the project and that the results of that survey drive how and if the work resumes.
One resident suggested that rather than widening the road, that it be reconstructed along the same configuration and made into a one-way route.
Town resident Deborah Hogg asked that a focus group be convened during the suspension period, held on upcoming weekends when more people are in town at their vacation homes. Hogg also said she’s concerned about safety, with large trees being felled during the peak summer tourist season.
“I think the timing is really unfortunate,” Hogg said.
Kapsner responded that 3,400 people live in the town of Oakland, and town information shows that about two-thirds of those use Ripley Road regularly.
Kapsner said town board members “have to make a decision for the whole town,” not just those opposed to the project. And he said he has received many calls in recent weeks from residents who want to see the work proceed as plan. No one, however, spoke in favor of the project during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Kapsner said the road, which hasn’t been reconstructed in about 40 years, was identified several years ago to be redone because it is generally in poor shape, the roadbed is sinking in places, and something needs to be done about drainage off of it. The project includes the construction of curb and gutter along a 0.8-mile-long portion of the construction route, that Kapsner said is part of an effort to improve drainage and to mitigate storm water runoff into Lake Ripley.
The project also includes new shallow ditches to filter storm water runoff.
Kapsner responded to questions from town residents, about whether an environmental impact study was done in connection with planning for the project, by saying he did not have that on hand. He said he “would assume,” that the engineer hired to plan for the work has such documents, as the work was signed off on by the state Department of Natural Resource and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Town resident Judy Dillingham said she’s looked in recent days into the state of Wisconsin’s Rustic Road program. Ripley Road, built more than a century ago as tourism boomed around the lake, would be a perfect candidate for that program, Dillingham said.
“Ripley Road has many of the things that the Rustic Road program wants to see,” Dillingham said. “We are as beautiful as some of the others. However, if we ruin this beauty, we have lost that opportunity.”
Kapsner’s response to Dillingham’s suggestion was blunt.
“It would not qualify as a Rustic Road,” Kapsner said, but didn’t elaborate on that view.
Kapsner eventually ended the public comments portion of the meeting, saying “this is a board meeting, not a public hearing. We did that in December.”
That statement drew loud cries of protest from residents, who said many people along the lake are seasonal, and were not in town in December.
The board then voted 4-0, despite continued protests from town residents in attendance, to spend an additional $45,000 to pave about a mile of the existing two-foot-wide shoulder, that is now grassy but had been slated to be laid with gravel, and to line the center of the road with a double-yellow line indicating no passing of cars is allowed. White “fog lines” will also be painted to set apart the roadbed from the two feet of paved shoulder on either side. The remainder of the route, about 0.8 miles, will be installed with curb and gutter, with no shoulder.
That $45,000 cost on top of $1.4 million previously approved for the entire project, that is being split between the town and a state Department of Transportation grant.
The work will take 13 weeks to complete.
Angry town residents gathered outside the Town Hall after the portion of the meeting about Ripley Road was completed. Inside the Town Hall, the board went on with its regular meeting.
Town residents said they expect to take further action to try to stop the reconstruction before July 10 – possibly a court injunction. They said they are considering a recall drive of town board members and said they may call a meeting in coming days for town residents to consider their next steps. With the road work slated to begin in less than three weeks, they said time is of the essence.
“They’re obviously not responsive to any kind of public pressure; they don’t care,” said Dave Springstead, who has lived along the route for 46 years.
“They showed no consideration for the opinions and feelings of the people most affected,” Springstead added. “There are a lot of angry people.”