Hearing held on the bill to repair the Potawatomi Tower

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No “immediately feasible project” available for repair of structure, according to governor’s office

A bill to repair the observation tower at Potawatomi State Park has moved forward, but an email from Governor Tony Evers’ office says the project is mired in disagreement.

Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) sponsored the bill, which asks Evers to allocate up to $ 750,000 in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to repair the tower. The 79-year-old structure has been closed to the public since December 2017, when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) discovered extensive wood rot that created dangerous conditions.

Sturgeon Bay resident Paul Anschutz testified at the October 20 hearing before the Assembly Tourism Committee, as did Christie Weber, Sturgeon Bay resident, president of the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation (SBHSF) ; and Kelly Catarozoli, treasurer of the SBHSF board of directors and owner of The Foxglove Inn in Sturgeon Bay. The SBHSF has been working on repairing the tower since it closed.

Observation Tower of Potawatomi State Park. File photo by Len Villano.

“Preserving our history is so important, and also, the people of Door County generate a lot of money for the state,” Catarozoli said by phone after the hearing. “We bring money from across the country and around the world. We deserve this [expenditure from the tourism]. “

No representative of the MNR attended the hearing.

“Normally they would be there,” Kitchens said, and if they weren’t staff members, then their legislative liaison. “I think it was very deliberate. They didn’t want to answer any questions.

Letters of support for repairing the state park tower have come from every entity that has an interest in the structure, including the Town of Nasewaupee, Town of Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Door County Historical Society, Destination Door County and Friends of Potawatomi State. To park.

“We have everyone,” Weber said, “and that should be taken into account.”

The bill will also likely go to the Assembly this month for a vote. But if the Senate were to act on the associated bill – Kitchens is not convinced it will – and the bill ended up on Evers desk, he would surely veto it.

Zach Madden, director of legislative affairs in the Evers office, emailed Kitchens the day before the hearing stating that they didn’t think they had an “immediately feasible project” at the time.

The disagreement over the project stems from three separate reports.

A 2018 visual inspection by the USDA Forest Products Laboratory found the repair to be unsustainable and recommended the tower be demolished for $ 153,000.

The SBHSF has hired Dan Tingley, senior engineer and wood technologist at Wood Research and Development, specializing in the restoration of wood structures. He concluded that the structure could be secured in place for less than $ 250,000.

Dr Dan Tingley, an engineer and lumber expert who specializes in restoring old timber structures, came to Sturgeon Bay in this 2019 file photo to talk about the Potawatomi Tower repair for less than $ 250,000. Photo file.

The Department of Administration (DOA), in coordination with MNR, then hired a third-party engineer to review Tingley’s work. Completed in January 2020, this report estimated that an in situ repair would cost $ 1.5 million.

Madden said they believed the third report raised concerns, questions and skepticism about the fixes Tingley proposed. Therefore, “the path suggested by Dr Tingley is not a viable option”. There is also disagreement over whether the repairs reach the level required for ADA accessibility. Tingley said they don’t; the DNR and the governor’s office disagree.

“In the event of a reopening, the DNR remains committed to ensuring that the tower is accessible and open to all visitors,” Madden wrote.

Madden’s email also claims that the ARPA money cannot be used and that $ 750,000 is insufficient anyway. Nor, Madden wrote, that other sources of funding from existing maintenance funds wouldn’t work. The only two viable sources of funding, according to Madden, would be for the legislature to adopt a specific, non-mandatory enumeration of stewardship, or for the legislature to use money from the general fund, “because as you well know, the state has GPR funds. ”

A legislative budget analysis from October 18 shows a general fund surplus at the end of the 2021-2023 biennium of $ 930.6 million.

“At this point,” Madden continued, “until the legislature passes one of the previous two options described above, the only other option available with an existing funding stream is the [former] The Walker administration’s initial plan to remove the tower.

The SBHSF and Kitchens disagree with the information Madden described in his letter as being either contradictory, inaccurate or totally wrong. On the one hand, the DOA-commissioned engineer did not examine the tower as a historic structure and cited a historical expert who stated that “the tower lacks the integrity and importance of a historic structure “. The tower was listed on the State Register of Historic Places in 2019 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020.

Additionally, they were led throughout this year by MNR Commissioner Preston Cole, who challenged the group to bring in a licensed Wisconsin engineer to stamp the concept plans drawn by Tingley for the repair of the tower. It happened in April of this year. Madden said in his email that they had “not been able to locate any document to support this claim.”

Cole also met with Kitchens, Sen. André Jacque (R-De Pere), Weber, Catarozoli and other stakeholders earlier this year, and he told them directly that the tower would be repaired.

Weber said the challenge of saving the tower is similar to the one she successfully led to save the Michigan Street Bridge in Sturgeon Bay from demolition.

“Their education is inadequate, the leadership is bad and we need real leadership, as we have had in the issue of bridges,” Weber said. “Point [Department of Transportation] didn’t want to fix a bridge because they had never repaired one before. They always went for federal funds and built a new one. The governor said, “Fix it,” and they did. They [the DNR] need that direction.

Despite divergent views on the remedy, historical significance and accessibility of ADA, Madden concluded by saying that the administration was “committed to finding a way forward” and “would re-engage all stakeholders to solicit additional comments on the way forward, given the challenges reported and the lack of an immediately feasible project at this time.


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