It was billed as an appreciation gathering of the Ho-Chunk Nation for the major contribution made by that Native American tribe to construct a much-needed improvement on County C near Ferryville.
Almost 50 people showed up at the intersection of County C and White Road late Friday morning for the ceremony. The strong wind and cooler temperatures had those in attendance puling up collars and hoods and donning hats and gloves in some cases.
After a short delay, Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock started the ceremony with some brief remarks about the need for the project and the $440,000 in Bureau of Indian Affairs funds that the Ho Chunk Nation directed toward the project.
Pelock began by reminding those in attendance of the state of the old bridge structure located at the bottom of the hill on a sharp curve that was discovered to be deteriorating during an inspection in 2007.
The highway commissioner explained the old bridge structure was badly in need of replacement. The bridge’s abutments were disintegrating and leaning.
In addition to the condition of the bridge, another concern was the high incidence of accidents at the bridge, according to Pelock. Safety was a factor alluded to by more than one speaker during the ceremony.
Team Engineering was contracted in 2008 by Crawford County to design a replacement bridge project and went on to create the project that was completed this past spring.
Meanwhile in the fall of 2008, the Ho Chunk Nation Highway Division approached the Crawford County Highway Department with a request to designate County C and County B from Highway 35 to Highway 27 as Reservation Access Roads. The Native American tribe owns several tracts of land in northern Crawford County, Pelock noted in his remarks. The Crawford County Highway Committee approved an agreement of the designation of the two county highways as reservation access roads in 2009.
“Our (highway) department met annually in Tomah with staff to discuss the Tribal Road System,” Pelock explained to those present at the ceremony last Friday.
“In 2011, we submitted a request for funding on County C. This safety project would realign the bad corner, improve the White Road intersection and replace a deficient bridge,” Pelock said.
The Ho-Chunk Highway Division approved the project and allocated $440,000 in BIA funds for the project in 2012.
TEAM Engineering competed the design and right of way was surveyed and purchased. Construction began in 2013 with Pustina Construction doing the work under the supervision of bridge builder Steve Steiner Construction. The total cost of the project was $522,000.
Pelock thanked the contractors for the work on the project. He also thanked members of the county highway committee and county board members for their help in making the project happen.
“Most of all I want to thank the members of the Ho Chunk Nation and all the staff of the Nation’s Road Division that provided the funding that made this project possible,” Pelock said. “This project greatly improved highway safety on County C for motorists, bikers and pedestrians. Crawford County is extremely grateful to the Ho Chunk Tribe and all of their personnel that we have worked alongside of for this generous gift.
“We are here today to unveil a permanent sign to recognize the contribution of the Ho Chunk Nation to Crawford County. You are truly a valued partner to the people of Crawford County and the State of Wisconsin.”
Pelock's comments formed the basis of most of the comments of others on hand for the appreciation gathering.
Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling, whose district includes Crawford County, was quick to thank the Ho Chunk Nation for their contribution to the project and other projects in the area.
“In my office in the Capitol, I have three flags, the U.S. flag, the State of Wisconsin flag and the Ho Chunk Nation flag,” Shilling noted at one point in her comments.
Crawford County Board Chairperson Pete Flesch also thanked the Native American tribe for their financial assistance in completing the important bridge and roadway improvement project on County C. Flesch also noted that financial assistance from the Ho Chunk Nation has been essential in funding the work of the Crawford County Economic Development.
The county board chairperson pointed out that everyone benefits when the community becomes stronger.
Wisconsin State Representative Lee Nerison also thanked the Ho Chunk Nation for their support of the project on County C and their “other work throughout the whole 96th State Assembly District in all three counties.”
Like almost everyone else present for the ceremony, the state representative could only agree that the project was a great improvement over the former bridge and roadway.
“I remember the old bridge,” Nerison said with a chuckle. “While I never ended up in the creek, I think I came close a couple of times.”
Speaking for the Native American Tribe, Ron Poppie, the Ho Chunk Civil Engineer-GIS Tech, explained that although Ho Chunk President Green Deer could not attend the ceremony on Friday because of other commitments, he was pleased with the completion of the project and the enhanced safety it would provide.