City of Wauwatosa concerned about DOT plans for DNR land
Highway builders want staging area on FEC site
The city is objecting to the Department of Transportation's use of several acres of state land set aside for the Forest Exploration Center, even as the center explores school and public uses of the land.
Hundreds of heavy metal beams destined for use in the Zoo Interchange project have been stacked at the site for more than a year. The beams are visible across the flood control basin from Underwood Parkway, near the Hanson Golf Course clubhouse.
Department of Transportation representatives said last week that the DOT is in discussions with the Department of Natural Resources, which controls the land, for expanded operations at the site, including a concrete batch mixing plant, a concrete crushing operation for recycled use of the material and likely a trailer or trailers for personnel.
A road would be cut from Swan Boulevard through the woods to provide access for DOT trucks and other vehicles, DOT and DNR representatives said.
FEC has distant plans
Tom Chapman, president of the FEC board, said the proposed DOT site is viewed as the eventual location of a modest pavilion for the public and for students. Utilities are already available there, Chapman said, as the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District had a trailer in use there during the construction of the basin.
Chapman said the FEC has no position on the use of the site by the DOT, but he did view the road or driveway as a benefit. He said plans for a pavilion or other structure there were in a holding pattern.
Emlynn Grisar and Michael Pyritz of the DOT said in an interview that the site is desirable because of its proximity to the upcoming work on the interchange project, including the relocation of the Swan Boulevard bridge over Highway 45 and the planned free-flowing ramp system that will connect Watertown Plank Road to the highway.
They said using the site would improve efficiency, reduce truck traffic on Wauwatosa streets and roads, save costs and fuel, and, because the site is not close to residential neighborhoods, provide a buffer for sounds and other byproducts, including dust. Other sites they said that might be considered would be close to homes, and/or as far away as Butler.
DNR supports use
The site is likely to be used by the DOT for a period of years, said Eric Nitschke, southeast regional director of the DNR. The Swan Boulevard bridge project has begun, and the highway ramp project will close Watertown Plank Road entirely beginning later this year and continuing through much of next year. Future phases of the project close to the proposed concrete plant include the rebuilding of Highway 45 from east of Mayfair Road north to Burleigh Street — work that isn't scheduled until 2017.
"We view this as a positive from the Department of Natural Resources' perspective," Nitschke said. "This could be a win-win, where we're saving taxpayer dollars on staging costs and construction costs for DOT, and the money that they would've used to stage out another area, some of that cost savings is going to go to upgrading DNR's property, and that's huge with the tight budgets that we have. We're very excited about the opportunity to get the access road installed into the Forest Exploration site."
The area of potential use by DOT would be limited to the cleared area around the stacks of beams, Nitschke said.
"They have to stay out of the woods that we're trying to preserve and use for educational purposes."
Some tree-nursery trees on the site may be cut, he said. He said he was not ready to give an acreage figure for DOT use.
The 67-acre site has about 18 unforested acres, said Wendy McCown, director of forestry business services for the DNR.
City considers options
If the DNR is ready to work with the DOT on the site, the city does not appear to be.
Dennis McBride, president of the Common Council, said the city has received emails from citizens concerned about the operations that might be housed there.
"We're not happy with it," he said. "We don't want it to happen. We have to find out whether we have any control over it. The DOT seems to be all powerful in all this. Obviously it's going to have a huge impact on Wauwatosa if for five years there's a concrete recycling plant there, not to mention the impact on the green spaces. It doesn't make anybody happy.
"Here we have this beautiful parkway, and we have this golf course, and we finally got the retention pond thing all straightened out, and now they're going to use it for concrete plant. What's to like about that?"
Public Works Director William Porter said the city has discussed the proposed use of the site with the DOT.
"We don't think that under local zoning that's allowable," he said. "They do. So we're discussing it. Anything beyond that, I don't know."
City Administrator Jim Archambo said the crushing operation is the biggest problem. He said if the city prevents DOT from using the site — even if that's possible — it might settle on a site that's worse.
"If they go from one site to another site, and the other site's no better off, we're better off trying to find a decent resolution for everybody," he said.
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