Council: No Extra Consultant for Bus. 51 Project
Left, Alderman Mike Phillips (left) looks over plans with other area residents for the Bus. 51 overhaul at a public listening session in November. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point Common Council this week turned down a proposal to hire an independent consultant for the Business 51 project, with some Council Members saying the move was more about public relations than actual necessity.
City leaders had proposed hiring Charles Rasmussen, an engineer with the Milwaukee- based engineering firm OTIE who also has experience working for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, to conduct what city leaders called an “independent review” of the proposed overhaul of Business 51, which is scheduled to begin in 2016.
Director of Public Works Scott Schatschneider said the idea to hire Rasmussen came after a November public listening session dissolved into a shouting match when some residents said the project wasn’t necessary at all. Schatschneider said he worried the city wasn’t accurately describing the need for the remodel.
“We knew some of these concerns exist regarding how much the public has been involved in the process and how much say they’ve had in the process, so we feel we need to go back to the public and reengage them- see if we can’t get more buy in, or at least more of fair shake with public opinion of the project,” he said.
Schatschneider said Rasmussen would present the project in a more detailed manner in small groups of individuals from the three segments of the projects: the south business end, the central residential section and the north business side of the Business 51 corridor.
Mayor Andrew Halverson said the project could be broken down into even small segments to make things easier for the general public to grasp. He said Rasmussen would be brought on board for a payment not to exceed $30,000 to not only take a fresh look at the remodel, but to explain the potential for grant availability depending on the project’s final plans.
“So we’re hiring this gentleman to sell it to the public, to tell them it’s going to be okay?” Asked Alderman Tony Patton said. “We’re basically hiring a consultant for the consultant. We’ve already hired AECOM for this.”
“I’m not against hiring Mr. Rasmussen,” said Alderman Jeremy Slowinski. “I just have a real struggle with the taxpayers paying the $30,000. I felt AECOM was hired to do just what we’re hiring Mr. Rasmussen to do. If they’re willing to pay the money for him to do it, then I’m fine with it.”
Alderman Mike Wiza said city leaders have historically not given the public a reason to trust them- one main stumbling block, he said, to more widespread approval of the project.
“Nobody I’ve talked to; nobody at the meetings short of AECOM and city staff have been in favor of bringing this (Division Street) down to two- lanes,” Wiza said. “For that reason I will deny the $30,000 for the consultant.”
Alderman and Council President Jerry Moore also voiced his disapproval for the consultant, saying “I just fail to see the need to spend $30,000 to put lipstick on this pig.”
Halverson said there’s a misconception that public comment and concern hasn’t been taken into consideration during the planning phase of the roadway remodel, which has already been underway or several months.
“There’s that reaction that, somehow, the project has unfolded in a way that hasn’t been listening to the people, and it really has,” Halverson said. “The main concerns the engineering firm heard were that we don’t want to lose our businesses, we don’t want to lose our homes. Those were the main concerns. So how do we exercise some engineering common sense by addressing traffic flows and minimizes relocations? A lot of homes will be destroyed if we go to the four-lane model. We changed gears demonstrably based on what AECOM has heard from the public.”