Reporter Gillian Pomplun participated in the meeting via teleconference. Pomplun was not present for the public input meeting on the topic of the village’s proposed application for a DNR grant, nor for the public input portion of the board’s regular agenda.
SOLDIERS GROVE - The Soldiers Grove Village Board went through with their in-person meeting on Thursday, April 2 despite pandemic warnings from the state and federal government to practice social distancing and not gather in groups over six. As a precaution, the board met in the village shop to provide more room for social distancing between the participants.
The reason for the in-person meeting was a time-sensitive issue related to a DNR grant for a sewer project, according to village president Paul Nicholson. The grant will allow the village to address problems with their sewer system-whether or not they move forward with a joint sewer plant project with the Village of Gays Mills.
At the beginning of the meeting, with Dale Klemme from Community Development Alternatives (CDA) present, the board approved resolutions allowing Klemme to pursue the grant. The April 2 meeting satisfied the grant requirements that a ‘public input’ meeting be held.
“This week, I plan to meet with Delta-3 Engineering out of Platteville to discuss the possibility of the village working with them on the village sewer system’s collection system problems,” Nicholson said. “The representative I talked to over the phone told me that they think they can use the Davy Engineering report, and the money to pay for their services would be included in the grant.”
Nicholson reported that both the Driftless Brewing Company and the Village of Readstown gave Delta-3 Engineering a positive reference. Because of the short time before the DNR grant application must be submitted, the board agreed to allow Nicholson and Public Works Director Brian Copus to interview a representative from Delta 3 Engineering.
“I felt good about them after my (initial) conversation,” Nicholson reported. “The firm is located closer to us, so the trip charges will be less. We’re in a tough spot, and the representative seemed very knowledgeable about the grant process.”
The board agreed that Nicholson should go forward with the in-person meeting, pursue the reference from the Village of Readstown, find out the cost, and then call all of the board members to discuss it. Nicholson said that after he makes the emergency declaration for the village, the board will be able to meet and make the decision over the phone.
Nicholson commented that the village’s sewer plant had “not been given a fair look” by their prior engineering firm, Davy Engineering.
“Davy Engineering seemed to have wanted the contract for the joint project so badly, the village could not rely upon the work they had done for them,” Nicholson said.
The village president agreed with other board members that a second opinion was needed before the board could make decisions.
“I think it’s smarter for us to meet with Delta-3 Engineering before we make any decisions,” village trustee Vicki Campbell stated. “If it is going to cost us more to send our sewage to Gays Mills, then why do it? I’m not saying we shouldn’t, just that we need more information.”
Supervisor Shayne Chapman also weighed in.
“First we have to make the DNR happy by working to fix our collection problems,” Chapman said. “After that we’ll make further decisions – I’m not saying I am for or against the joint project.”
The board voted unanimously to table any decision about participation in the joint project until after the COVID-19 pandemic was past.
Neither Ben Clason nor the village’s attorney was present at the April 2 meeting, according to Nicholson-who later clarified the matter to the Independent-Scout (the phone-in teleconference portion started later in the meeting). At that meeting, the board voted unanimously to petition for a temporary restraining order against Ben Clason on behalf of the Village of Soldiers Grove and President Paul Nicholson.
“After the last meeting, I called Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputy Fortney,” Nicholson said. “Deputy Fortney talked with Ben Clason and reported not being satisfied that he had gotten through to Clason.”
The village’s attorney had sent a letter to the board, which Nicholson read at the meeting.
“The letter described what is and is not allowed in the public input portion of our board agenda,” Nicholson explained. “Anything that creates a disturbance or relates to a matter that should be handled in closed session is not allowed.”
Nicholson reported that since the board met last, he had been “dealing with the chaos related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s ‘Safer at Home’ executive order.”
The village president also reported that the BMW Motorcycle Club had cancelled their reservation to use the park for their annual gathering.
Nicholson also said there had “been some complaints on Third Street,” and that “it was kind of ridiculous and had been turned over to the Crawford County Sheriffs Department to handle.”
Paul Nicholson reported that he had delayed an emergency declaration for the village “to avoid alarming everyone,” but had already taken the steps of closing the village office and the library.
“I expect to make the emergency declaration in the week of April 6,” Nicholson said. “This will allow the village to apply for any kinds of federal relief funds that may become available to us.”
Nicholson said that this move would allow him as village president to pay all the normal bills and expedite public safety in the village. He said that it would also stop all meetings.
Driftless Brewing Company, like so many other businesses, has experienced a shortfall in their sales related to closing of the tap room, and taverns across the state. For this reason, they requested a six-month deferral on their loan with the village.
“I’d be comfortable with a deferral,” Campbell stated. “But I think they should make the interest payments during that time, an amount of about $120, because it will cost them more to defer the interest.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the loan deferral.
Soldiers Grove Public Works Director Brian Copus reported that the American Legion had brought a request to him to erect a monument to Gene Moran in the village park. The monument would involve a plaque, which tells his story and has pictures, on a post built by the American Legion.
“Moran’s family travelled to Germany where Gene was honored, and they were given a plaque,” Copus said. “Now the family is asking if the plaque can be displayed in the park.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the placement of the Gene Moran Memorial in the park.
Copus also told the board that the DNR had instructed him to increase the amount of chlorine in the village’s drinking water. He said he had complied by raising the level from seven to 20. He said that the tests of the drinking water were coming back safe. He reported that he has heard nothing further from the DNR about the sewer plant.
The board approved an expenditure of $334 to purchase two camping signs, three dumpster signs, and two non-camper dumpter signs.
Copus also discussed the need to contract with a hauler to remove sludge from the village sewer system digester. He told the board it would be best to get it pumped and land applied before the crops go in.
The board voted unanimously to go forward with the village’s spring clean up. They specified that it would need to take place at the town shop so there was a place for participants to wash their hands.
Trustee Chapman queried Copus about whether he was comfortable moving forward during a pandemic. Copus responded that he was, and Nicholson specified that “if the situation worsens, then we will just pull the plug.”
Village Clerk Tammy Kepler announced that she plans to retire on July 30.
“Part of the reason is that I have moved to Reedsburg, and the driving is just getting to be too much for me,” Kepler said. “The other part is that my hearing is getting worse as I age.”
The board agreed with Kepler’s recommendation that a new clerk should be hired to work four days per week, and that an ideal training period would be one to one-and-one-half months.
“When I left Readstown, I created a month-by-month calendar for my replacement,” Kepler said. “I will do that now for Soldiers Grove.”
The board agreed to begin advertising in the newspaper to fill the position. They agreed that the ideal candidate would have a background in accounting, but not necessarily a college degree. The board agreed to continue advertising for a month through the end of April.
In other business
In other business, the board
• heard that all was well at the fire department, and that they had responded to a shed fire in the prior week
• voted to extend the village’s flood loan by six months because the money had not yet been received by FEMA
• agreed that village trustee Harrison Heilman would assist Tammy Kepler with work on the village’s website• heard that Soldiers Grove resident Noel Miller will donate 24 maple trees to the village, and will plant them in the park.