The Oneida County Board of Supervisors tabled a request by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that could possibly have some legal ramifications in the future at their Tuesday monthly meeting.
The DOT has determined that Hwy. 51 through Cassian, Hazelhurst, Minocqua and Woodruff, needs revising and this reconstruction project has not been well received by local businesses and especially county supervisors whose constituents live in that area. Board chairman Ted Cushing is one of those supervisors and has felt all along that the DOT has been “ramming the project down our throats” since its inception.
The DOT requested “an order to county to convey highway right of way title” for two small parcels of land near the intersection of Hwy. 51 and 70 in Minocqua. “Back in the 30s through the 50s the DOT was not allowed to buy land for state right-of-ways,” explained Freeman Bennet, Onieda County Highway Commissioner. “These lands were put into a trust and were purchased in April of 1950. The DOT would like to put it back into their own now.”
According to state statutes the DOT can demand lands in these trusts be transferred to the state “when so ordered by the DOT.”
Supervisor Mike Timmons, whose wards include Woodruff, told the board he had reservations about relinquishing this property to the DOT at this time. “With the Highway 51 project there are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “We need to get our ducks in a row before we lay over this land.”
Cushing, whose wards are in Hazelhurst, agreed and suggested tabling the request. “This is an opportunity to send a message to the DOT that we are not going to have them come in and ramrod a project through,” he said. “I don’t know if this project is even necessary.”
But Corporate Counsel Brian Desmond explained there could be legal ramifications if the board didn’t act on the resolution. “When the DOT issues an order directing a county to give them lands, the statutes indicate you have to do it,” he explained. “It’s a mandatory directive, and I don’t believe we have the legal authority to not act when it is requested by the DOT and their order is proper.”
Supervisor Carol Pederson offered up a suggestion. “But if we table it and ask them to come and explain, isn’t that acting on the order?” she asked.
Desmond told the supervisors that wasn’t exactly what the DOT had in mind, and that could be construed as a very “obtuse” way of dealing with a DOT directive. “They could sue the county over not handing over the property if they wanted to go that far,” Desmond explained. “If they did sue I’d be in court trying to make some pretty obtuse legal arguments as to how to get around the mandatory legal directive. In fact, I may not have any legal argument at all.”
Despite that advice, the board voted unanimously to table the resolution and request representatives from the DOT come to a monthly meeting and explain the reconstruction project to the entire board. “I think everyone here should know what’s going on with that project,” said Cushing.
In other business the board:
• Listened to a presentation by Sara Pischer, northeastern region tourism specialist outlining the importance of marketing Wisconsin to tourists.
• Rejected a resolution stating “members of the Oneida County Board shall not actively solicit county employees in partisan or non-partisan political activity whether on the local, state or national level. This includes any activity in which a member uses his/her position to pressure employees to divulge political preferences and includes discussing candidates, soliciting signatures and/or financial contributions.”
Those voting to reject the resolution included supervisors Paul Dean, Jerry Shidell, Gary Baier, Tom Rudolph, Sonny Paszak, Scott Holewinski, Dave Hintz, Billy Fried, Denny Thompson, Jim Intrepidi, Mike Timmons, Carol Pederson and Ted Cushing.