Heated Exchanges Over Plow Damage and More at Hull’s Town Board Meeting
By Kate Knight
Monday’s meeting in the Town of Hull’s regular board meeting Monday night saw good attendance and heated discussion over a number of issues.
An early meeting agenda item – involving drainage problems and road improvements on Jordan Road, Driftwood Drive and Pinewood Drive – was tabled for a later meeting.
Hull residents Roger Siskoff and Bob Erdman came to the board seeking repairs for lawn damage caused by a Hull snowplow during the winter. Nearly 30 minutes of debate over a solution to the issue followed.
Siskoff said he is no longer able to physically re-level sod and dirt torn up on his lawn – a result of plow trucks clearing snow, and requested that the town use its equipment to level the area. The portion of lawn in question is also within the town’s right-of-way, defined as 33-feet from the center-line of the road.
“We’ve lived there for 30 years and it’s never happened until the last three years,” Siskoff said. He proceeded to pass around a sample plastic bag filled with the sod-gravel mixture from his lawn. “We’ve been trying to keep it neat and clean, but we can’t keep doing it if you keep tearing it up,” he added.
Nick Kaminski, acting road foreman, explained there is a new driver on the Plover Heights subdivision route, which could be why the issue has not occurred before.
“I’m getting tired of paying for his mistakes,” Siskoff said. Kaminski and other board members pointed out that there aren’t enough staff on the town’s road crew to just go around fixing residents’ lawns.
“We don’t get many complaints,” said Town Chairman John Holdridge, to which Siskoff quickly replied, “There hasn’t been a problem until the new driver, so the new driver should fix it.”
After more debate about additional plow training for staff and how other municipalities handle similar situations, Holdridge said, “Well perhaps we ought to have a policy on this – I don’t think we have any policy.”
Discussion continued, and Supervisor David Pederson started to describe how he levels his own yard after plow trucks have cleared snow using his lawn tractor.
“You have a lawn tractor,” Siskoff interrupted, “I don’t have a lawn tractor – I’ve never needed a lawn tractor …” Siskoff went on to describe the multiple feet of torn sod on his lawn that he cannot re-level himself. “I’m gonna have to hire somebody to come do that – can I take that off my taxes that you just raised?”
After more interruptions and debate, Assistant Fire Chief Mark Fritsche explained that he has been raking and re-leveling his own lawn for years after plows cleared the roads.
“For 23 years I’ve been raking gravel out of my yard,” Fritsche said. “I so choose, by choice, to plant grass right up to the road – it gets torn up every winter, I repair it every spring. I enjoy living out in the country … that’s part of where you live.”
Talks continued, and Siskoff asked the board, “Are you telling me that you have the right to tear up 33 feet from the center-line, and that you have no responsibility to do anything to fix what you tear up?”
Holdridge denied this, stating there is some responsibility within a certain distance.
“Well, what’s the magic footage then?” Siskoff asked.
“That’s what I think we need to determine,” Holdridge replied. He then said to the board, “I would say that we need to resolve this issue with these gentlemen, and we need to write a policy.”
“A policy would be in order,” agreed Supervisor Dave Wilz. “But I think if you’ve only had two or three years of ripped up lawn, boy you’ve been doing great.”
Supervisors then agreed that raking and re-leveling a few residents’ lawns would create more requests, which would ultimately become unmanageable.
“We could be opening a can of worms here,” Pederson said.
After final comments on the issue, the board moved to deny the request to re-level residents’ lawns with the town’s equipment. The motion carried 4-1 with Holdridge voting in favor to re-level the lawns in question on a “one-time basis.”
“One thing I’d like to say though, is we need to set a policy and say how far, so if it gets to be beyond what we’re seeing here today that we do take responsibility for it,” Kaminski added.
Later on as the meeting was about to transition into a closed session for discussion of the U.S. Cellular cell tower on Jordan Road, resident Jack Elsinger brought attention to a letter written by resident Don Butkowski, who was unable to attend the meeting. The letter included eight questions for the board regarding the town’s petition for a writ of certiorari regarding the cell tower.
“Don isn’t here, but I would really like to hear the answers to the questions he submitted,” Elsinger said.
Holdridge declined to answer the questions included in Butkowski’s letter, saying the board was going to go into closed session, according to the meeting agenda.
“He gave them to you for a public forum,” Elsinger replied. Adding that the questions should be addressed regardless of Butkowski’s attendance at the meeting.
Holdridge said that the board could not post-pone the closed session any longer, adding that the town’s attorney was already present. “Our attorney’s sitting here at $150 bucks an hour – how much do you want to go into this?”
After a spat over the meeting’s agenda and whether or not the board itself requested to have the town’s attorney present for the meeting, Holdridge concluded that no decisions would be made on the matter – or questions answered – until after a closed session.
“We have a public notice here of an executive [closed] session,” Holdridge explained, “because there’s the potential that we may well file an action against the county for their Board of Adjustment decision.
No other board members commented during the exchange, except to move into closed session after.
The Town of Hull’s next scheduled board meeting is Monday, June 6.