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Soldiers Grove Board acts to remedy sewer system issues
Soldiers Grove

SOLDIERS GROVE - The Soldiers Grove Village Board took several steps to remedy the problems with their sanitary sewer system at their last meeting. That meeting took place on Thursday, Mar. 4.

The village is currently operating their plant under a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) variance to meet phosphorous discharge levels that will expire in four years. The neighboring village, Gays Mills, has a five-year variance application currently pending approval by the state.

The board decided to continue forward with discussions with Gays Mills about the possibility of a joint sewer plant project, while also moving ahead with needed repairs to the current system. As was pointed out, the repairs will be necessary whether the village ultimately undertakes a joint plant with Gays Mills or choose to go it alone.

The board voted to appoint village president Paul Nicholson, and trustees Roy Davidson, Shayne Chapman and Harrison Heilman to the joint sewer plant committee to be composed of representatives from the villages of Soldiers Grove and Gays Mills. That committee will continue exploration of a possible joint sewer plant project.

“There are many unanswered questions, so we will need this joint group to work together to get the answers we need,” Nicholson said. “Through participation in this joint committee, the village may save money when talking to engineering firms, pursue the question of where a joint plant would be located, get firmer information about the financial implications, and talk to North Crawford School District about their level of interest.”

At the very end of the board meeting, Nicholson circled back to the topic.

“At our next meeting, I need everyone on the board to come to the meeting prepared to state an opinion about whether the village should continue to pursue these discussions,” Nicholson said. “This process is going to take way too much time for us to continue if everyone has already decided against going down this path.”

Flood control grant

Gary Koch from Community Development Alternatives (CDA) attended the meeting. He discussed the possibility of the village applying for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). This grant, if obtained, could provide the village with grant funding to fix their sewer system lift stations and address the infiltration problem in the old part of the village. The grant would pay two-thirds of the cost of the upgrades, up to $1 million. The grant would pay $2 for every $1 spent by the village.

“My colleague Dale Klemme read an article in the paper about the village’s issues with their sewer system, and thought that applying for this grant might help you make repairs to your system that will need to be made no matter how the village decides to move forward with your sewer system,” Koch said. “The grant application process is very competitive, and the May 14 application deadline is coming up very soon.”

According to Koch, the current version of the  ‘Community Development Public Facility Grants,’ which is the same one that the village used on the library expansion, is even better than it was in 2013. If awarded to the village, they would hear back by July, sign a contract by the autumn, and would have two construction seasons to complete the work.

According to Koch, there are many complexities associated with application for these grant funds. He said that Soldiers Grove Village Clerk Tammy Kepler would be familiar with the process and requirements from having gone through it with the library expansion project.

“Leading up to applying for the funds, there will be a requirement to hold a public input meeting,” Koch said. “The village will also need to decide very quickly what the scope of the project you want funded will be. CDA can start crunching numbers and writing the grant application without that, but will need the specifics by early to mid-April.”

Koch said that the village has a good position for the ranking of the project based on their median household income, as well as the severity of the problem faced with the system. He emphasized that CDA would need to be involved in the conversations with the engineering firm the village hires to ensure that all of the requirements for applying for the grant are met.

Village Trustee Shayne Chapman asked Koch what CDA would charge the village to make the application, and whether the village would lose that amount if the grant were not awarded.

Koch replied that the village would have to spend $2,300 on the application fee. He said that the village would lose that amount if their application was not successful.

The board approved working with CDA to apply for the grant funds. The board also approved a citizen participation plan for pursuing the funding, which will involve a meeting before applying for the funds, and then one during the construction phase. Koch said that CDA would lead these meetings and be available to help the board answer citizen’s questions.

Fire department

The fire department continues to be a topic at the board’s meetings. Ben Clason, the former Soldiers Grove Fire Chief, spoke during the public input part of the agenda.

Clason’s first concern was to address comments reported to have been made by Trustee Vicki Campbell in the story that appeared in the January 30 issue of the Independent Scout about the January 9, 2020 meeting of the board. Those remarks reportedly concerned the proposed purchase of a new pumper truck, and the purchase of a brush truck that had been made.

In that story, Independent-Scout editor Charley Preusser had reported that Campbell had made the following remarks:

“Well I just don’t want it to be like the brush truck, where we say $65,000 and it ends up being $100,000,” Campbell said.

Clason pointed out in public input at the March 4 meeting that Campbell’s statement, as published in the Independent-Scout, is not accurate. He said that the brush truck purchase had come in within the $65,000 budget.

Vicki Campbell said that she had not made the statement as reported in the Independent Scout. At the March 4 meeting, she moved to amend the minutes of the January 9 meeting, which had made no mention of any comments by her. 

The Independent-Scout verified with village clerk Tammy Kepler on Monday, March 9, that what Campbell meant, and the board approved, was to amend the comment that was published in the story in the Crawford County Independent regarding Campbell’s comments about the cost of the fire department's brush truck.  

Kepler reported that Campbell would like to amend the story to say, "We don't want to be told the total cost of the truck would be around $65,000 and then it ends up being $100,000."

Clason went on in public input to take the board to task for the decision that removed him from the fire department.

“I won’t stop until my name is cleared,” Clason told the board. “This is small town politics, and it’s not the first time this has happened here – I hope it’s the last.”

Trustee Vicki Campbell informed Clason that the board would not talk to him about his removal from the fire department unless the village’s attorney was present.

“Let us know if you are planning on attending our meeting and speaking,” Campbell said. “Then we can have our attorney here – we’re not going to talk to you without our attorney present.”

Clason stated that he used to “eat, sleep and breathe fire,” and that “the board has taken that away from me. I’ve never felt like this in my entire life.”

In his fire department report, Fire Chief Roger Olson told the board that they had purchased the new pumper truck, and have fixed a few little things that are wrong with it. Those include some lights and some valves. Olson reported those things had been fixed by Shayne Chapman and Charlie Strait.

When asked about the old pumper truck, Olson said that after a “few things the department wants to keep” have been removed, the truck will be taken to Mt. Horeb, where prospective buyers can go to take a look at it.

Olson also reported that the department may have a new recruit. Paul Nicholson said in his President’s Report, “I want to give a shout out to the Fire Department – I recently spent some time with them there, and they have been working hard to get the new truck up and running.”

Conditional use permit

Another topic that the board addressed was whether or not to grant a conditional use permit to a resident for keeping fowl and livestock within the village limits. The residence had been annexed into the village and had fowl and livestock on their premises at that time. Originally, their parcel had eight acres, but is now down to just one acre, precluding it from being zoned agricultural. A village ordinance prohibits the keeping of fowl or livestock within the village limits.

“No one has complained about the fowl or livestock, but there have been complaints about the two dogs not being kept leashed,” Nicholson reported. “Since this was brought to their attention, the dogs have still not been kept leashed and Brian Copus reports they were out chasing the snow plow.”

Nicholson told the board that if the decision is to explore granting the residence a conditional use permit, it would be necessary to hold a public hearing first so the neighbors could weigh in on the decision.

Trustee Vicki Campbell expressed that she thought asking neighbors to speak at a public hearing about another neighbor might make some people uncomfortable. She proposed instead that before going to a public hearing, those neighbors should be contacted by phone to survey their opinion.

“Whether or not they decide to stay in the Village of Soldiers Grove or work with the Town of Clayton to be annexed out, they still will not be able to let their dogs run within the limits of the Village of Soldiers Grove,” Nicholson pointed out. “And they will also need to make sure that their dogs are licensed.”

A new business

Nicholson reported that he had been approached by an individual who is interested in starting a salvage business in the village. The individual is in discussions to purchase Dennis Swiggum’s repair shop at 105 Sunbeam Boulevard. The individual also proposes to buy the lot next door. Nicholson said that the individual stated that he plans to hire five to seven employees.

“The business would be a metal recycling business, and the materials would come in, be processed, and then gone,” Nicholson said. “The task before the board isn’t to make a decision tonight, but rather to take the board’s temperature about the possibility being explored. This will have to be taken up at a Planning Commission meeting.”

Trustee Harrison Heilman stated that his concerns include noise and any environmental impacts. Trustee Vicki Campbell stated that she does not want to see a junkyard on the edge of town. Village President Paul Nicholson said that as far as environmental impacts, salvage businesses are highly regulated by the DNR.

It was agreed that the proposed owner of the business would take his proposal to a Planning Commission meeting.

Flood control grant

Soldiers Grove Director of Public Works Brian Copus told the board that he had reached Travis Williams from the DNR to discuss possible remediation of the damage to Baker Creek from flooding.

“Williams told me that the village can apply for a 50/50 grant from the DNR to install rip rap along the impacted stretches of Baker Creek,” Copus said. “That stretch runs from the Rod-n-Gun Club to Steve George’s house.”

Copus said that the application deadline is March 16, and the village would have two years to complete the work. He told the board that doing the project would result in phosphorous credits for the village. The board approved Copus to move forward with applying for the grant.

Public works

Copus brought several issues to the board’s attention in his report, and the board approved various expenditures.

First, citing Wisconsin DSPS safety regulations, Copus told the board that it is necessary to purchase safety clothing for members of his team. He said that there are probably more requirements, but that purchasing the clothing would be a “good start.” Copus stated that he would prefer the clothing to have the village logo on it so citizens would know that they were dealing with a village employee.

The board agreed to purchase one winter coat and seven shirts for each member of the public works team. 

Another issue related to playground equipment that was damaged in the 2018 flood. Copus told the board that he thought it was necessary for the village to replace the swing seats – eight baby swings and 12 adult swings.

Vicki Campbell moved and the board approved spending up to $1,000 to buy new seats for the swings. They agreed that they wanted to purchase a commercial variety, and not a cheaper home swingset variety.

Copus also discussed the railing for the play structure in the park that had been damaged in the flood.

“There is a busted piece of aluminum which is the handrail, and then the fittings for it are busted too. Something really big must have hit it,” Copus said. “Paul Nicholson is working on fixing the railing, and the cost for two fittings that will hold it is $364.” 

The board approved the purchase of the fittings. 

Copus then brought the need for new signs to the board’s attention. He stated that two more camping fee signs are needed; one handicapped sign; and another informational sign for the campground RV dump. The board directed Copus to obtain pricing for the proposed signs, and bring that to their April meeting.

Copus then told the board that if he can’t obtain parts for the chemical pump in the sewer plant, then it will be necessary to purchase a new one at a cost of $12,000 to $14,000. He stated that if the village changes their pump, it will be necessary to obtain a permit. The board directed Copus to purchase a new pump if he is unable to obtain the needed parts for the old one.

Lastly, Copus told the board that he proposes to build a wall with a locking door in the shop in the area where he has his desk and computer. Copus said that the cost of the wall and door would be $600, with the construction being done by the public works crew.

“We have the computer and printer in there now, and we also need a place to securely store tools,” Nicholson said. “This will also allow us to keep village information secure.”

The board approved building a wall with a locking door in the shop.

Other business

In other business, the board:

• heard that the public works crew had done a great job in repairing the snowplow this winter when it had quit on Helgerson Hill

• approved sale of a five-acre parcel of land owned by the village to the Rod-n-Gun Club for $500 on a roll call vote, with three voting yes, two voting no, and George and Miller abstaining

• approved a liquor license for Howard Arndt for the Acorn Lounge, and an operator license as well

• set the date of spring clean up for April 25.