Attorney argues village is not obligated to remove snow from sidewalks, path along rural stretch of highway despite its contract with the state DOT
A section of the multi-use path along the recently reconstructed Highway 33 remains covered with snow and complaints from area residents concerned about pedestrian safety continue, but a
Saukville official said last week that’s not the village’s concern.
In a Feb. 28 letter to Town of Port Washington attorney Steven Cain, Saukville attorney Gerald Antoine wrote that the village is not responsible for clearing snow from the recently constructed
sidewalk or multi-use path along a section of the highway between the City of Port Washington and village that is in the town.
Antoine wrote that while the village will not clear the pedestrian and bicycle path on the north side of the highway, it is, “for the moment,” removing snow and ice from the sidewalk on the south side
of the highway “without conceding the responsibility for this in the future.”
Antoine’s letter was a response to one sent by Cain to the village earlier last month arguing that village is, indeed, responsible for maintaining the sidewalk and multi-use path in the town by virtue
of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Highway 33 contract it signed.
Cain’s opinion was based in part on correspondence with DOT Maintenance Supervisor Adrian Lopez, who in January wrote in an e-mail to Cain, “Both communities (City of Port Washington and
Village of Saukville) requested that sidewalk be installed as part of the construction and both agreed to maintain the sidewalk.”
Regarding the pedestrian and bike path, Lopez wrote, “In this case, the City of Port Washington and Village of Saukville have committed to the maintenance of this multi-use path.”
According to the contract, the city is responsible for sidewalks and the path up to Jackson Road at the city’s western limit, while the village is responsible for the section west of Jackson Road.
The city has been clearing its section of the path, and, according to City Administrator Mark Grams, the Village of Saukville recently contracted with the city to clear the sidewalk west of Jackson
Apparently girding for a legal fight if needed, the Village of Saukville Finance Committee discussed the issue in closed session last week, citing an exemption to the state’s open meeting law that
allows a governmental body to meet privately to confer with legal counsel “with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.”
Village officials would say little about the issue after the meeting, although Antoine’s letter to the town and his comments suggest that the village’s position is that any responsibility it has to
maintain the sidewalks does not include snow and ice removal.
“The maintenance responsibility applies only to the repair of the sidewalk should it become damaged due to normal aging, such as long-term settling or cracking that would create a hazard to
pedestrian traffic,” Antoine wrote to the town. “The village has no responsibility for the multi-use path and it will not perform maintenance or snow and ice removal on the multi-use path.”
There is also a question about summer maintenance. In his letter to the town, Antoine wrote that the village is only responsible for landscape features such as trees, shrubs and berms, not grass and weed cutting.
“It comes down to contract interpretation and contractual rights,” Antoine said in an interview. “We hope this is a matter that can be resolved outside of the courts.”
Meanwhile, town officials have been fielding complaints, which have increased since last week’s snowstorm dropped roughly a foot of snow on the area.
“Some of the residents have been clearing it themselves, but they don’t want to do it anymore,” Town Clerk Jenny Schlenvogt said, adding that village officials have been telling people that the town is misinformed and there was no agreement to clear the walkway.
“I feel for them. They were under construction for a year, their mailboxes aren’t there any more and now this. Quite literally, the town residents are caught in the middle.”
Town Chairman Jim Melichar concurred.
“Between the sidewalks and construction, they haven’t had an easy time,” he said.
A number of the residents have expressed concern about the safety of people who are walking in the area, Schlenvogt added.
“People are trying to use it. There are people jogging on the side of the road. Others walk there,” she said. “They see people walking on the road and they’re afraid someone will get hurt.”
Melichar expressed frustration with the situation, noting that DOT officials have said the walkways are the responsibility of the village and Town Attorney Steve Cain has contacted the village to try and resolve the matter.
“They (Saukville officials) just don’t want to do it,” he said. “They signed all the papers.
“I think we’ll just let Steve work on that.”
This story was written by Ozaukee Press reporters Bill Schanen IV, Mark Jaeger and Kristyn Halbig Ziehm.
Image Information: HEADING IN THE right direction, Chuck Norman walked west on the Highway 33 multi-use path in the Village of Saukville Tuesday. Had he been headed in the other direction, Norman would have had to contend with the several feet of snow that obscure the path east of Green Bay Road behind him. The village contends it’s not responsible for snow on that section of the path, which is in the Town of Port Washington, but town officials disagree. Photo by Bill Schanen IV