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Project costs, tree removal could slow sewer work along Meinecke Avenue

May 11, 2012

Christine Riley was gardening in her yard a couple of weeks ago when she noticed a utility worker making marks in front of her property. Curious, she inquired about his assignment and was shocked to learn he was prepping for what is anticipated to be the city's largest public works project.

"How did I not know about this?" she said. "It's in front of my home."

The Meinecke Avenue flood mitigation project has been in the works for 15 years, since some homeowners in the neighborhood experienced flooding after heavy storms in the 1990s. It became a higher priority after floods in 2008-10. Since then Common Council lifted a borrowing cap and budgeted for the project that calls for improving sanitary and storm sewers, road pavements, sidewalks and street and traffic lighting.

"This project is intended to reduce the frequency and severity of basement backups and street flooding," City Engineer Bill Wehrley said, adding the area served is greater than the section that has experienced problems.

The project area extends from Meinecke Avenue from 80th to 90th streets, down 90th Street south to the Menomonee River Parkway and along the parkway from 90th Street to Swan Boulevard.

Riley counts as one of about 25 homeowners that didn't get official notice of the project from the city because of Wauwatosa's special assessment policy.

Back in the loop

The city sends out notices when a property is going to be special assessed for road projects, City Administrator James Archambo said. The road in the 2300 block of North 90th Street will be torn up as part of this project, but the property owners were already assessed for a resurfacing project about three years ago so the city didn't want to charge them again, he said.

As a result, those homeowners were left out of the loop and now want time to catch up on the details of the project and share their opinions with elected officials as their neighbors have already done.

"I'm not saying the project isn't needed," Riley said. "We just need to slow up the process. We need to get people involved and have an inclusive discussion."

With contractor bids coming in over budget today - a low bid of $14.4 million exceeds the $12.5 million allocated - there will be a holdup to talk finances.

The Board of Public Works is scheduled to meet and discuss the bids on Monday. Due to the higher-than-anticipated price tag, it will then go back to the Budget and Finance Committee, which doesn't meet again until May 29 for reconsideration.

Alderman Brian Ewerdt, one of the district's aldermen, said he's asking for a public hearing to give those residents an opportunity to be heard, as well as residents who were aware but worry the magnitude of the project has grown over time.

Tree removal needed for pipes

More specifically, it came to light during a pre-bid with contractors that numerous trees would need to be removed to accommodate the larger sewer pipes going into the ground and the large, heavy machinery they have to maneuver in the project area.

Initially, 240 trees were slated for removal; that has since been reduced to 60 trees, said Alderman Jeff Roznowski, the other district alderman.

He agrees the city should have alerted the 2300 block residents when they are facing so much disruption outside their homes, but he asks people to stay focused on the need for the project to abate flooding and replace sewer pipes that are aging and not sized correctly.

"It's addressing the severe flooding that has occurred to these residents on numerous occasions," he said.

Resident Randall Daut has been waiting for years for the project to happen. He has experience seven basement backups since 1986.

He's worried that putting off the project would just leave the neighborhood unprotected for a longer period of time. One more flood and neighbors are leaving Tosa he said. There are numerous younger families that use their basements as extra living space and without it they'd look elsewhere for a larger homes.

"To me that's really going to help stabilize people's property values," he said.

Roznowski said he always planned to hold a neighborhood meeting to delve into project details after the bids and construction schedule were set and that's still his anticipation.

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