7/3/22 UPDATE ON INITIAL RUSTIC ROAD COMMITTEE MEETING
Continued Progress Made in Meeting with County Officials
On June 28th, three representatives of the Save our Rustic Road group and the community (Dick Govier, Joe Heitz and Doug Scott) met with County officials as a follow-up to our May meetings. Although we have not crossed the finish line, we continue to make important progress. The purpose of the meeting was to continue discussions on establishing ground rules and a written process for vegetation maintenance, road maintenance and road improvements on the Rustic Road 60 (the “Plan”).
Doug Scott, of Save our Rustic Road, commented that “I am very encouraged. “Great Progress is being made as we work out the details of the Plan. The community is working towards a relationship with the Highway Department that is open, transparent, and based on mutual trust.”
The following bullets summarize the current status of our agreement with the Highway Department on various issues relating to the Rustic Road:
§ No Paved Shoulder – At the June 28th meeting, the Highway Department said it had abandoned its plan to add a 3’ wide paved shoulder to both sides of the highway for the entire length of the Rustic Road.However, Troy Schalinske did point out that he could only speak for the Highway Department and not for the Highway Committee of the Vilas County Board of Supervisors. He also shared that he envisioned widening the road slightly around some curves to prevent drivers from driving off the pavement.
§ Tree Tunnels and Canopies remain Safe – The tree tunnels and canopies are still safe. The Highway Department has not changed its position and no longer intends to eliminate the tree tunnels or canopies!
§ No Ten Foot Clear Zone – The Highway Department no longer plans to implement a 10 foot-wide “clear” or “tree-free” zone.
§ Community Involvement in Trees Selected for Cutting - The Highway Department and community representatives have scheduled a date in July to walk the Rustic Road together and discuss the specific trees that may need to be removed for safety reasons. During the discussion at the meeting, it was reported that about a dozen trees were so close to the road edge that they had been struck by the snowplow this winter. There was general agreement that these trees may need to be removed. During the road walk, the community representatives and the county officials will assess whether additional trees are considered a safety hazard and whether their removal is necessary.
§ Brushing Clean-up – The Highway Department indicated that in late Fall/Winter this year it would clean-up the mess created by last Winter’s brushing operation. The community representatives had concerns about whether the cleanup could damage smaller intact long-lived trees amongst the stumps and whether the clean-up would further damage trees representing future generation canopy trees.
§ Speed Limit Reduction – The group discussed the benefits that a reduced speed limit on sections of the Rustic Road might provide. Troy Schalinske discussed how a road’s speed limit impacts the recommended highway design guidelines applicable to a normal road under the State’s Facilities Development Manual. He also described the process by which a speed limit reduction could be implemented.
§ Brushing Postponed - Brushing will not commence for the Boulder Junction section of the Rustic Road until the Plan is finalized. There was an extended discussion of the scope, nature and extent of brushing that was contemplated. There was general agreement that the scope of the brushing would be substantially reduced from what occurred this Winter.
§ No Plan for Straightening Road - There is no plan to straighten any existing curve in the Rustic Road.
Bike Trails Committee - During the meeting, Troy Schalinske shared that Libby Scott is forming a Bike Trail Committee that is exploring establishing a bicycle trail that will link Sayner, Star Lake and Boulder Junction. The Committee is exploring the feasibility of various routes that would include town roads and old railroad grades on State Forest land. Such a route would reduce bicycle traffic on the Rustic Road. The Bike Trail Committee is comprised of individuals that have experience designing and financing bike trails.
6/1/22 UPDATE ON MEETINGS WITH COUNTY OFFICIALS
Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we had some positive meetings with the Highway Commissioner, members of the Board of Supervisors, members of the Highway Committee and the Vice-Chair of the State’s Rustic Road Board over the last couple of days. Your efforts in getting the word out, sending emails, writing letters, making phone calls, authoring letters to the editor and posting banners and signs are paying off. Our message came through loud and clear! THANK YOU!!!
Although we have not crossed the finish line, we have made important progress. However, lots of specifics still need to be worked out. The Highway Department and local officials all want to work with us and begin building back a relationship of trust! Here’s the bottom line of what came out of our meetings:
Community Involvement - Troy Schalinske (Highway Commissioner) and Willie Otterpohl (Highway Committee Chair) agreed to work with community representatives to establish ground rules and a written process for vegetation maintenance, road maintenance and road improvements on the Rustic Road (the “Plan”). We would like to have a written agreement to carry the approach into the future. At this point, they resisted committing to a written agreement.
Brushing Postponed - Brushing will not resume until the Plan is finalized.
Some Trees Need Cutting - The County Forester, Deputy Chair of the Rustic Road Program, Board of Supervisors Chair and Highway Commissioner all indicated that some trees would need to be cut down for safety reasons. Specifically, trees to be cut would include dead trees, trees with low hanging branches that could interfere with large trucks and buses and trees that created a safety hazard because of their close proximity to the road, particularly on a corner.
Canopies are Safe - Troy Schalinske indicated that the Highway Department NO LONGER intends to eliminate the tree tunnels or canopies! The tree tunnels and canopies are SAFE!
Community Involvement in Trees Selected for Cutting - The Highway Department will mark trees recommended to be cut down, walk the road with the community representatives, and obtain input from the community representatives on the marked trees.
No Plan for Straightening Road - There is no plan to straighten any existing curve in the road.
Regrets over Brushing - Everyone regretted the impacts of this winter’s brushing operation; however, it was explained that the most severely impacted section near White Birch Village was necessary because of a cluster of dead trees. Sue Glovier also commented that the mess left behind by recent logging operations compounded the issue.
Reducing Speed Limit would Enhance Safety - As a means of enhancing safety, reducing the speed limit on some sections of the road was discussed, but no decision made.
Paved Shoulder Remains an Open Issue - There was a long discussion about the paved shoulder. The Rustic Road Board member suggested that the road qualified for shared use status (no paved shoulders) because of its low traffic volumes but also said that having a paved shoulder on one side of the road was a possibility. However, the County Highway Department did not commit to any of these approaches and is still considering its options.
Clean-up Deferred until Plan Agreed Upon - Clean-up of the mess created by the brushing this winter will be deferred until the Plan is agreed upon. Troy Schalinske indicated that winter snow banks impeded their ability to cut the brush and trees at ground level. There was a discussion of different approaches/tools to be used to clean up the mess, but no decision was made.
I am encouraged by the commitments made at this meeting. The Highway Department has reviewed and agrees with my summary of the meeting detailed in the bullets above. However, there are a number of important issues that are still open and undecided. We should know in the next few weeks whether things are working out as positively as I am hoping. In the meantime, I would suggest that we initiate a temporary cease-fire and suspend our letters, emails and phone calls to local and state officials and suspend our media publicity efforts. This would be a sign of good faith as we move into efforts to resolve the open issues and develop the Plan. If we do not make the progress we desire, we can reinitiate our government and media outreach efforts in full, aided by the funding that the GO FUND ME campaign is raising!
Thanks again for all that you have done and are doing to SAVE OUR RUSTIC ROAD!