Extending lake access

Extending lake access to the public is among priorities identified by the Rock Koshkonong Lake District. During its annual meeting held in August, electors voted in favor of funding a proposed lake access and landing project in Albion on property along Bingham Road. During its Sept. 17 monthly meeting, the board approved funding to pay for an offer to purchase two acres of land to be used for the proposed boat launch. Other details about the project are yet to be determined. Pictured is a pier owned by Lakeview Campgrounds situated where the Rock River joins Lake Koshkonong.

The Rock Koshkonong Lake District (RKLD) Board of Commissioners will fund an offer to purchase a 2-acre site on Lake Koshkonong in Albion along Bingham Road. The site is under consideration to become a public boat launch, the specifics of which have not yet been finalized, according to RKLD Chairman Alan Sweeney. The decision to fund the offer to purchase was made by the board during its meeting held Sept. 17 at the Edgerton City Hall.

In a follow-up interview, Sweeney said he has been in discussions with the board’s attorney to learn which of two attorneys — RKLD’s or the town of Albion’s — is in the best position to write the offer.

During previously held RKLD board meetings, Town of Albion Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Venske said representatives from The Legion of Christ, which operates Oaklawn Academy, Edgerton, the entity that owns the two acres, told him they would sell the property to the town of Albion at its appraised value. Venske said he has since received an appraisal valuing the property at $62,900.

During its Aug. 20 meeting, the RKLD board discussed parameters for its involvement in any future landing or lake access project, outlining five points: the district will not own any landing or lake access; RKLD will not maintain any landing or lake access; each project must have a local government sponsor, defined as a taxable entity such as a local municipality, county or state; projects reviewed would be for public access only, and proposals would require approval by the lake district.

MSA proposal

During the Sept. 17 meeting, discussion revolved around an engineering proposal submitted to Venske for the Bingham Road project in August by MSA, a Baraboo-based engineering firm. Venske shared the proposal with the RKLD board.

In the proposal, MSA engineer Raine Gardner outlined seven tasks, which he understood, he wrote, were goals of both the town of Albion and the lake district. They included: acquiring land to expand the Bingham Road boat launch and parking area beyond the current right-of-way; reconstruction of the boat launch; installing a parking lot, boat dock, break wall, and an electronic pay machine at the site, and applying for grant funding for land acquisition and project development.

The proposal posed several questions that the town and lake district would need to answer to allow MSA to move forward, included: What is the project timeline? and, Who will own the property and maintain the site? “This is needed to better understand the process for the grant applications,” Gardner wrote.

The proposal identified several grant opportunities and associated deadlines, including a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Recreational Boating Facility grant (RBF), with an application deadline that expired earlier this month.

To keep the grant process moving, the proposal suggested the town of Albion might lease the desired two acres on Bingham Road, allowing the town to show ownership until the acquisition was completed.

A second grant opportunity, the Sport Fish Restoration grant, has an application deadline of Feb. 1. MSA also recommended that the town of Albion apply for the Stewardship Local Assistance Grant, a federal land and water conservation program facilitated through the DNR, which could help pay for the acquisition of property.

The proposal offered a suggested timeline, beginning in August with both entities, the lake district and town, approving the project, and the lake district authorizing the town to use its funds to purchase the land and develop the project.

During the district’s August annual meeting, electors approved the use of $100,000 for the project.

So far, the RKLD board has said it will pay for the drafting of an offer to purchase the land.

According to the MSA proposal, if the town board becomes the grant applicant, passage of a resolution by the board would be required to apply for grants. The town would also need to authorize the engineer to start the planning and permitting processes for the project. Further, the town would need to secure a lease agreement or purchase the property.

In September, the town would need to develop a Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan or work with Dane County to have the project listed on its plan through an amendment process, according to the proposal.

RBF grant materials have an October completion date for review by the Wisconsin Waterways Commission in November.

The SFR grant application must be submitted by Feb. 1, 2021, and the Stewardship grant application must be submitted to the DNR by May 1, 2021.

July, 2021, is a possible start date for the project, according to MSA.

MSA proposes a charge of $34,600 for the outlined work, which would include a site survey and bathymetry, defined as a depth measurement of the lake, for the launch design; concept development, including a preliminary layout; applying for available grants, permit acquisition services, and design developed plans.

Assuming grants are awarded, MSA would create final documents for bidding and construction. “Those future costs would be covered under the grant,” according to the proposal.

Sponsorship and funding

During discussion held Sept. 17, Venske said the town of Albion sent a letter Sept. 8 to the RKLD board asking for its sponsorship in constructing the landing, including grant applications and engineering. The town further requested that RKLD employ its lawyer to write an offer to purchase two acres of land from Oaklawn Academy, “pending receiving grants from Dane County and Stewardship programs.”

“We have no problem owning the land,” Venske said, but, the town has no funds to purchase the land, he said, adding that he believed those funds would ultimately come through Dane County and available grant money.

“I think the first step would be to write an offer and submit the appraisal. The owners said they would sell the two acres for the appraised amount. I think we should move forward on that, and according to the engineer, there is nothing to stop them from starting the grant process,” Venske said.

Sweeney, referencing an email sent to him by the district’s attorney Danielle Thompson, said a vote by the district’s electors would be required to authorize the district to buy and sell property.

Thompson further suggested that the district “memorialize its arrangement” with the town in a “binding agreement or MOU (memorandum of understanding).”

RKLD Commissioner and Treasurer Mark Meyer questioned a need for RKLD sponsorship, noting that the town of Albion was a government agency and therefore could make grant applications without sponsorship from RKLD.

He defined sponsorship as a process through which a government agency helps with making grant applications.

Meyer also offered concerns about funding, noting that grants typically require projects to be funded and completed before grant money is awarded through reimbursement.

“Somebody has to fund the project until the grant comes through,” Meyer said.

Referencing the timetable as submitted by MSA, Venske said: “You’re not going to see anything done until this time next year, so you will have another annual meeting if you need more (money).”

Describing RKLD’s current cash position, Meyer said the district has “a considerably small annual revenue of about $160,000,” and has already gained approval to borrow $1.5 million for the water control project at the dam.

“We may not have more borrowing ability with the bank. We can’t commit to spending more than we have at this point.”

While commissioners noted that the $34,600 expenditure being considered was to allow MSA to begin a grant-writing process, Meyer and Sweeney both shared concerns about beginning a process without making a full commitment.

“Once we start down that road, it will be hard to come back. If we pay $34,600 for design and buy the land, that’s a commitment,” Sweeney said.

Commissioners asked questions about who would sign a contract with MSA and what the associated liability might be. Confusion revolved around what the role of each entity, the lake district and the town, would be.

“We wouldn’t have to be a signature on the grant application. We want a signature from Albion that we would be reimbursed,” Sweeney said.

“We want to get it right this time for future projects and have a road map. We are a puny district, we don’t have a huge tax base. We have an annual revenue of $160,000. If we don’t do it right, we could own it (landing) even temporarily, and then the next township would expect us to do the same thing. We don’t have the financial horsepower to do this. The district does not have a lot of money,” Meyer said.

“Neither does the township,” said Venske.

After grant money was applied, Venske said, he believed the district would be paying about 10% of the full project cost, with that money representing engineering costs.

Said Venske: “All I’m asking is to get started. You’re not risking any money to get the land purchased. That’s totally on the grant.

“The land is in two grants, half from Dane County and half from the Stewardship grant. If you don’t get the grants, you can’t get the land. We don’t need your $100,000, we just need your sponsorship. If we don’t get the grants, we’re not going forward.”

Said Meyer: “Albion can do the same thing we can to apply for grants as a government. So there is no need for our sponsorship unless there is more to it.”

Burlingame asked: “Are we responsible for grant money before the grant comes in?”

Meyer noted his concern about risk, noting that $34,600 was a lot of money for RKLD to spend on engineering at one time with no assurances that the project would receive all or some of the grant money available. He suggested taking the process in smaller pieces thereby risking less money at one time.

“You can’t determine your grant application until you get the land. You are dealing with a lot of government agencies and everything has to be in line and perfect to get approved,” Meyer said.

“First thing you need is to get the land and you’re not committing anything to that. MSA will write the grant,” Venske said.

Said Meyer: “Then they need to break that out in their proposal.”

Venske pointed to grant application deadlines, suggesting the board approve the full grant-writing application process.

“If we don’t define the commitment of the land purchase, the only people who will lose $34,600 is the lake district. I want to make sure the money is going to something viable and real in the end,” Meyer said.

Commissioners asked Venske if the town could take a more active role in cost sharing.

“That’s not what my board approved. We’re not constructing it. We’ll own it. We were fine with owning it,” Venske said.

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