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Soldiers Grove Village Board takes major action
Swamp People Project Harvest Festival

SOLDIERS GROVE - Soldiers Grove Village President Paul Nicholson described the decisions made at the board’s September 3 meeting as ‘momentous.’ The board made several decisions that will help to chart the course of the village’s future.

Chief among decisions of import at the meeting were those that set the course of direction regarding the village’s sewer utility and plant. Currently, the village is operating the sewer plant on a four-year variance from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to meet phosphorous discharge levels.

The most exciting news was that the village has secured a $914,000 grant from the Community Development Public Facility Grant program. This grant will allow the village to make needed repairs to the sewer system, and will pave the way for the bigger system upgrades needed to bring their system into compliance with WDNR requirements.

Gary Koch and Bjorn Unseth from Community Development Alternatives (CDA) were present at the meeting to announce receipt of the grant, explain the process going forward, and iron out the details of how the grant funds will be administered. CDA was instrumental in assisting the village with applying for the grant.

The board voted to accept the grant funds, to engage CDA as the grant administrator, and to designate Village Clerk Kaitlynn Gander, CDA’s Gary Koch, and Director of Public Works Brian Copus as signers on the grant funds checking account.

“The village will be required next to attend a training on the grant in September,” Koch explained to the board. “Then in October, the village will receive the contract. After that, the village can engage an engineer by January, put out a call for bids in February, and then have the spring, summer and fall of 2021 for construction, and the spring of 2022 if more time is needed.”

To administer the grant for the village, CDA will be paid $20,000 from the grant funds. The grant would pay two-thirds of the cost of the upgrades, up to $1 million, or $2 for every $1 spent by the village.

“We will now work with CDA to apply for a WDNR Clean Water Grant to help the village offset the amount we are obligated to pay for the sewer system repairs,” Nicholson explained.

No to joint venture

Throughout the application process for the grant to pay for needed repairs to the sewer system, the board continued to explore whether their existing plant could be upgraded or if a joint project with the Village of Gays Mills would be the way to go. To this end, the village engaged Delta-3 Engineering to give the village a second opinion about the viability of their plant.

“Delta-3 Engineering has sent the village a letter of opinion regarding the viability of our sewer plant,” Nicholson reported. “In their letter, they said that our plant is fixable, that it is good that it is built out of concrete, and that there is no reason for the village to send our sewage to a joint plant in Gays Mills.”

The village voted to approve spending $5,000 to 10,000 for Delta-3 to engage in a full study of the plant, and generate a recommendation about what would be needed to upgrade it. In the course of making this decision, the board also decided that they would no longer be exploring a joint venture with the Village of Gays Mills.

Delta-3 is also recommending to the village that a study be conducted on the use of various chemical additives in their waste treatment process to reduce their phosphorous levels. One of the chemicals to be tested will be alum. Nicholson explained that because the water going into every sewer plant is slightly different, a chemical might work at one plant and not work at another, making a trial necessary.

The board agreed to the study with the proviso that Delta-3 wait to initiate the study until October, when some of the sewer system’s holding tanks would have capacity to accommodate the treated waste. This would allow the village to avoid the expense of purchasing tanks for the study.

PSC study not needed

Nicholson reported that since the board’s last meeting in August, it had been brought to his attention that the village’s sewer system is not regulated by the Public Service Commission. For this reason, the rate study agreed to by the board at that meeting will not be necessary.

“First, I received a proposal from our auditor to file the rate study request with the PSC for $3,500-$5,200, which seemed very high,” Nicholson reported. “Then Delta-3 Engineering advised me that one service that they do for village’s is a rate analysis, and that we do not need to go through the PSC to make changes.”

Nicholson explained that one thing Delta-3 will look at is the ‘Residential Equivalent Unit’ rates the village charges to businesses. He said that this is a common area where village’s can make changes that will improve the bottom line performance of their sewer utility. He said Delta-3 could complete such a study for the village by the end of 2020, and the board voted to ask them to do this.

Back retirement loan

The village also dealt with a longstanding financial issue. That involves a loan the village has had for the last 20 years to pay off back due retirement for four former employees. The loan, set up through the State of Wisconsin, was originally for $110,730. Due to having only made minimum payments, the village now owes $153,224 at the end of the 20 years.

“When Kaitlynn found this document in the files and I realized what had happened, I felt sick to my stomach,” Nicholson said. “So, now we have to take the necessary steps to solve this problem once and for all.”

After discussion of different loan options from the People’s State Bank, the board voted for a 10-year fixed rate loan, with an interest rate of 3.05 percent. 

“Hopefully, in 10 years when we have to reconsider the rate for this loan we’ll be close to having it paid off,” Trustee Vicki Campbell said. “Maybe at that time, we’ll just be able to pay the remaining amount and avoid paying more interest on a loan.”

Myrtle Lake fundraiser

Randy Swiggum was present at the board meeting to provide an update about the Myrtle Lake restoration project. He said the group had grown enormously in recent months, and their core organizing group had been holding regular meetings and making good progress.

“We have decided to name our group the ‘Swamp Project People,’ Swiggum told the board. “Since we updated you last, we have also made the decision to operate financially under Crawford Stewardship Project’s (CSP) nonprofit status, which will save us the time and effort it would take us for form our own independent nonprofit organization.”

Swiggum told the board that he was there to ask for their permission to hold a COVID-safe musical fundraising event in the park on Saturday, Oct. 10. The group is requesting to rent the entire park, including the Lion’s Shelter.

“We have seven musical acts already committed,” Swiggum said. “And Solar Meats will be selling us meat at cost, and Driftless Brewing Company is going to brew four barrels of beer for us.”

Swiggum said that the plan for the event will be similar to the one used at the Driftless Music Gardens this summer.  A semi-trailer stage would be placed on one of the back roads in the park, and then parking/tail-gating spots would be marked out for participants’ use. We would like to offer amplified music from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and then acoustic music until bar time if there are still people in the park.

Swiggum said that the group’s plans also call for a horseshoe tournament, and various artists have requested to have a booth at the event as well. Swiggum said that a chainsaw art artist is considering participating, and donating the items of art created to be auctioned off as part of the fundraising effort.

He said that food and drink would be sold in the Lion’s Shelter, but could also be ordered for delivery to tailgating locations and delivered by volunteers in UTVs. The group plans to serve hot dogs, brats and chicken.

“Our group intends this project and this event to help bring our community’s spirit back,” Swiggum explained. “Our Swamp Harvest Festival is intended to become an annual event.”

When asked about how the county’s guidelines for public gatherings would affect the event, Swiggum reported that the group had reached out to Director of Public Health Cindy Riniker.

“Cindy told us that the county can only make recommendations,” Swiggum said. “Generally, for public gatherings, the county recommends that they be held outside, that face masks be worn, and social distancing be observed.”

Swiggum reported that the group has agreed that all volunteers for the event will set a good example by wearing masks. He said they have also secured donations of hand sanitizer and masks for the event.

Nicholson told him that in order to hold the event, the group would have the same requirements as any other group that rents the park – they would have to have a picnic license, provide licensed bartenders, and secure liability insurance. Swiggum reported that the group would be able to fulfill all of those requirements.

Campbell asked if the group was going to engage police protection for the event.

“We already thought of that, and plan to do so,” Swiggum said. “We are talking with Lee Sherry, who runs a security company, and will likely engage them to provide security for the event.”

Campbell also expressed concern about how the funds raised by the group would be handled.

“We are part of CSP, but will have our own bank account,” Swiggum said. “CSP will provide our group with monthly statements.”

There was discussion about what the projected attendance at the event would be, and what amount of port-a-potties and sanitation stations would be needed.

“The port-a-pottie company we talked to warned us that because of COVID-19-related cancellations of so many events, any events that are held are seeing larger than normal attendance levels,” Swiggum said. “We are taking that into account, but would like to also request that the village open up the smaller bathrooms in the park for the event.”

Swiggum said that the group would like to paint the outside of the bathrooms with a swamp-themed mural, and would volunteer the materials and labor.

“We’ve had that bathroom closed this summer because of the additional sanitation requirements in place because of COVID-19,” Nicholson said. “Also, you need to know that that bathroom will likely be eliminated during our sewer repair project.”

Swiggum said that the event would also have an environmental education component. He said that he has invited a speaker from UW-Madison to talk about clean water. He said that the group would also like permission to have a warming fire at the event, given it is being held so late in the year.

“On that clean water theme, we would also like to request that the village relocate their burn pile away from the lake,” Swiggum said. “The burn pile is putting more pollution into the lake, and our project aims to clean the water up.”

At the end of the discussion Paul Nicholson moved to approve the group’s request to rent the park for a fundraising event. Shayne Chapman seconded the motion, and the board voted unanimously to approve the request.

In other business

In other business, the Soldiers Grove Village Board:

• approved Fire Chief Roger Olson’s request to purchase 11 or 12, 128-channel radios at a cost of $510 each

• agreed that as the Driftless Area Art Festival was not being held this year, they would not receive the usual donation from the village

• tabled a decision on selection of a company for local road improvement projects until at least one more bid could be obtained

• heard that the Public Works team had been busy with culvert installation, painting, mowing and weed-eating, placing new signs, installing new LED lights on the backhoe, ordering materials for paving projects and repairs of the snowplow

• adopted a village procurement policy