Land acquisition continues on Wisconsin side of bridge project
The $676 million St. Croix River Crossing project has a long history. In March of 2012 soon after President Barack Obama signed the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act the Wisconsin Department of Transportation restarted the process of land acquisition.
The acquisition process was halted in late 1996, after the National Park Service advised it they needed to review the project before a Coast Guard Permit could be issued. That permit was one of the last steps before bidding on the, then $60 million, bridge could begin.
At the time the project came to a halt, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation had spent $660,000 dollars on five parcels in the right-of-way in Wisconsin. Minnesota Department of Transportation had spent $7.5 million on right-of-way purchases, according to a November 1996 story in the Hudson Star-Observer.
“Those owners retained their property,” said Troy Stapelmann, Technical Services Supervisor, WisDot. “We restarted negotiations last year.”
The present project requires 189 acres of right-of-way in Wisconsin, of which 99 acres will be new right-of-way acquisition. Ninety acres, of previous right-of-way acquisitions for the 1995 Preferred Alternative alignment, will be utilized.
“We are going to go out there and treat those property owners fairly,” said Stapelmann. “We are going to give the fair compensation.”
The first phase of land acquisition included the bluff land west of Hwy 35. It consisted of five parcels or which four have been acquired.
Monday was the deadline for the owners in the second phase of land acquisition to complete negotiations with the WisDOT.
The second phase of right-of-away acquisitions consisted of seven parcels of land, totaling 63 acres, east of Hwy 35.
“First we define what the property is and then we do an Eminent Domain appraisal, which is more detailed,” said Stapelmann. “We give them an offer and they can accept it or have their own appraisal done, which the DOT also pays for.”
“We then can negotiate off of these two appraisals,” said Stapelmann. “We offer this option so they can have an independent opinion on the project. By having two appraisals it gives us a couple of boundaries to work with.”
Time ran out on negotiations for two parcels on Monday. Condemnation paperwork went out on Tuesday for both Ed Gillstrom and Neil Severson properties.
“Just because we condemn a parcel, it does not mean we can’t come to an agreement,” said Stapelmann.
In the case of the Severson parcel, points of concern included the owner’s desire to have two field access points instead of one and he preferred a larger cattle pass. The new highway will nearly bi-sect his 200 acre farm.
Some land owners prefer to go the condemnation route if they multiple leans or mortgages or other concerns. If land owners negotiate an agreement they still have six months to appeal. If they don’t sign, and the condemnation process begins they have two years to appeal.
The third phase of right-of-way acquisition is set to begin and it include 20 parcels north of the new interchange, which connects the bridge approach to Hwy 64 and gives access to local residents.
“As that section of the project is finalized it will give us a better idea of what we need,” said Stapelmann. “Parcel appraisals are beginning right now.” This phase should be complete by August of 2014.
“Our goal is to reach out to property owners, to be fair to them and the taxpayers of Wisconsin,” said Stapelmann.
The current project alignment requires approximately 278 acres of right-of-way acquisition between both Minnesota and Wisconsin, with the result that it will be converted from agricultural, commercial and residential land to transportation use.
According to the MnDot, the Minnesota approach project will be complete by fall 2014. The new St. Croix Crossing Bridge and Wisconsin approach project will be complete by fall 2016.