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Chickens, vehicles, burn pile and patios discussed at village board meeting
In Soldiers Grove
New Soldiers Grove Community Center sign

SOLDIERS GROVE - Discussion was again lively at the Soldiers Grove Village Board’s meeting on Thursday, May 6. Unlicensed vehicles and chickens in the village, the village burn pile, and a patio for outdoor service for Desperados Wonder Bar were topics addressed at the meeting.

Unlicensed vehicles in the village remained a hot issue, with village resident Diane Coleman continuing her efforts to bring the problem to the board’s attention. Soldiers Grove Village President Paul Nicholson explained that due to a change in state law, villages are required to contract with a police officer for enforcement of their ordinances.

“There is a process we have to follow, with steps, and following it out takes time,” Nicholson said. “We only found out who the officer that will enforce our ordinances was going to be just last week.”

Nicholson explained that Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputy Trent Berg will work six-to-eight hours per week working for the village when he is not on duty for the county. He said that the first step will be for the officer to write tickets for unlicensed vehicles. Ultimately, if the problem has to be resolved in the courts, it is the village taxpayers that will have to pay the lawyer’s fees.

“It irritates me too, and the violators have all received warning letters from the village at this point” Soldiers Grove Village Trustee Vicki Campbell told Coleman. “If we don’t start to issue tickets for ordinance violations, then things won’t change.”

Coleman asked if it would help if she were to forward her complaints to the county. Trustee Steve George expressed that “the more complaints the better,” and Campbell said that complaints from citizens would likely motivate resolution of the issue more quickly.

Chicken ordinance

The topic of whether chickens should be allowed in the village drew a number of citizen participants to the meeting. Nicholson told the board that their task at the meeting was to decide if they wanted to move ahead with having their attorney pursue changes to the village’s ordinance. He said what was most important was for the board to be clear about what kind of rules for keeping chickens in the village they think are most important.

Nicholson reported that Soldiers Grove Village Clerk Kaitlynn Gander had reached out to nearby villages where chickens are allowed to obtain a copy of their ordinance, and discuss the village’s experiences with allowing chickens.

“Readstown allows chickens in the village, and told me that they have not had any problems with it,” Nicholson reported.

Trustee Roy Davidson stated that he is opposed to allowing residents to keep chickens in the village. Trustee Vicki Campbell pointed out that there are already chickens being kept in the village, and that she thinks it is crucial to obtain public input before making any change to the village’s ordinance.

Campbell suggested allowing up to six hens and prohibiting roosters. Trustee Shayne Chapman stated that he does not think the birds should be allowed to roam around the neighborhood. 

Nicholson stated that he liked the idea of requiring a permit from the village to keep chickens. Desperados Wonder Bar owner Kathleen Sobek suggested looking at ordinances for backyard chickens from larger municipalities like Madison or Middleton, where “they have found a way to make it work.”

“I think board members need to do our homework in looking at what other communities are doing in order to decide what the best approach will be here,” Campbell said. “We can take the best parts from other ordinances, and then gather input from residents at a public hearing.”

Trustee Shayne Chapman proposed tabling a decision on moving ahead with changes to the chicken ordinance to the next meeting of the board. He said that “this will give the board time to look into it more.” The board voted unanimously to approve Chapman’s motion.

Village residents Sammy Shine and her son Peyton were present to speak in favor of the village allowing chickens, as were several other residents. Shine is currently circulating a petition for supporters to sign to encourage the board to adopt an ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens in the village.

Desperados patio

Desperados Wonder Bar owner Kathleen Sobek was present at the meeting to ask for board approval to sell land to the bar for the purpose of developing an outdoor seating area for patrons. Sobek explained that the area in question is located in the courtyard behind the bar, and would extend the 60-foot length of the building, and out into the courtyard 35 feet.

“Since COVID, patrons who are still concerned about gathering inside have asked if we could provide outdoor seating,” Sobek said. “Other establishments in the village are offering their patrons outdoor seating, and we would like to be able to do so as well.”

Sobek said that as it stands, it is currently not legal for a patron to be outside the building to have a drink, and perhaps a cigarette. She made the point that the courtyard between the buildings is currently an “underutilized space.” She said the project she envisions would involve leveling the area, adding a little fill, and then pouring a cement pad with a railing around it to create a ‘corral area.’

Trustee Campbell asked if the project would require relocation of any utilities in the area. Soldiers Grove Director of Public Works Brian Copus said that the work would likely impact the water utility, but could be easily remedied.

“When we sold land to Jerry Moran recently, it was sold by the square foot,” Nicholson said.

The board voted unanimously by roll call vote to approve the sale of land to Desperados for the purpose of building an outdoor seating area. They approved having the agreement be based on the square footage of the parcel in question, at the same price that they had charged Jerry Moran.

Village burn pile

Justus Benson of the Swamp People Project (SPP) was present to request that the village discontinue use of their brush/burn pile on the shore of Myrtle Lake. SPP is currently working to restore the lake for use by village residents and visitors, and contends that having the burn pile at that location may be contributing to water quality problems in the lake.

Nicholson asked Benson if SPP members had been telling village residents that they could not pile their brush in that location. Benson responded that SPP had not told village residents that.

Benson asked Nicholson if it is okay for commercial companies to be dumping brush in that location. Nicholson said that if the brush came from a location in the village, then it is allowed.

Benson asked the board to find another place for the brush pile, and the board agreed to look into it. One area they agreed to look into is near the village cemetery.

“Last weekend, we rented a wood chipper from Nelson’s Agri Center, and were able to convert a lot of the material in the burn pile into mulch,” Benson said. “Nelson’s doesn’t donate equipment rentals, but they have said that they are interested in supporting the project, possibly with a cash donation.”

President Paul Nicholson reported that he had done some preliminary research on the DNR website about regulations governing the removal of material from wetlands. He said that the group would likely need permits from the DNR to remove any trash or sediment from the lake, and encouraged the group to be proactive in its communications with the DNR.

“The DNR owns the right to everything up to the high water mark, and along the shore and banks,” Nicholson said. “There are prohibitions against storing muck in a floodplain, against removing vegetation from wetlands, and against removing material from the water, so I advise the group to get the division in the DNR that issues permits behind your efforts from the start.”

Monitoring efforts

Benson went on to update the board on water quality monitoring efforts being undertaken by SPP on Myrtle Lake.

“Last week, we got trained by the DNR in water quality and water clarity sampling,” Benson told the board. “Our group has been sampling for coliform bacteria, e.Coli and phosphorous in the lake. We are also looking at testing for bacteria from human origins by DNA marker, and wonder if the village would be interested in helping to defray the costs of that.”

Reached after the meeting, Omaru Heras Ornelas, water quality monitoring project manager, and Forest Jahnke, program coordinator, with Crawford Stewardship Project, described some of the efforts the group had undertaken to date to understand the water quality issues with the lake.

Jahnke said that WDNR’s Alexander Selle had met with the group at Myrtle Lake to provide them with training and educate them about wetland and lake regulations. Selle is a water resources management specialist out of the Eau Claire Service Center. Jahnke reported that SPP member Randy Swiggum had filmed the training received from Selle.

Jahnke said that the group has conducted two water quality samplings to date at two locations on the lake – on the side nearer the highway, and on the side facing the park.

“From preliminary testing, the water quality itself seems to be quite good,” Jahnke said. “The real issue is all of the legacy nutrients and perhaps even some chemicals that are in the sediment of the lake bed.”

Jahnke said that one of the things the group is sampling is for water clarity. This involves taking monthly samples, timed to coincide with the passage over the lake of a NOAA satellite. This timing will allow results from the testing to be correlated to images received from the satellite.

Jahnke said that water samples are being tested at Helix Bio Lab in Michigan. Each of the tests has a cost associated with it. To test for bacteria with a human DNA marker would cost $89 per sample. The group is also in discussion about whether they should begin testing the water for metals. They are focused on capturing water quality results in the lake before, during and after the village’s sewer project this summer as well.

In other business

In other business, the board:

• heard in public input from former librarian Cele Wolf that she is interested in being part of discussions about plantings in front of the library and village hall, and in particular, in the benefits of pollinator plantings for their educational benefit

• heard a request from Justus Benson to allow access to the community center without having to have a village employee present

• heard that Gary Koch from Community Development Alternatives is still working on revisions to the village’s sewer rates, and would bring a proposal to the board’s June meeting

• selected options for new village signs in front of the community building, and at the village perimeters

• agreed to work with an assessor to see if it would be possible to sell village resident Kathy Benson a small parcel of land adjacent to her property so she can address erosion on her property

• fielded an inquiry from Justus Benson about availability of CDC funding for businesses, and learned that there will be a CDC committee formed, which will include all members of the village board, that will hold meetings outside of regular board meetings

• agreed that Vicki Campbell will purchase flowers for the village planters, and that Harrison Heilman will help her with getting them planted

• agreed to learn more about the request by Ryan Campbell to purchase village-owned land behind his storage lockers

• agreed to ask the ‘Cans-4-Kids’ group to remove their pop can collection unit from village property because it is not adequately maintained

• agreed to place ‘no dumping’ signs on village property on Park Avenue

• agreed to hold their June board meeting on June 10 so village clerk Kaitlynn Gander could take a vacation