Ballpark plan held hostage in Port-Saukville sewer dispute

Complex slated for city’s west side stymied by utility boundaries, spat with village
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Cries of “Batter up” could be heard coming from a new baseball complex on Port Washington’s west side next year — except for one thing.

A long-simmering dispute between the City of Port, which owns the land on its far west side, and the Village of Saukville over which will provide sewer service to the roughly 40-acre parcel threatens to derail the project.

“It’s really a shame it’s being held hostage,” Port Mayor Marty Becker said.

The city believes it is in the best position to service the property at the southeastern corner of Highway 33 and Jackson Road, since both its sewer and water lines abut the property.

But the land is in the Saukville sanitary sewer district, giving the village the right to provide service there even though the city would provide water to the site. But the village’s sewer lines currently end west of the property, near Schmit Ford, and it would be costly to extend them to the site.

Port City Administrator Mark Grams said it would cost the city an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 to service the site, but it would cost Saukville more than $200,000.

The city petitioned the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, which sets the sewer service boundaries, to try and get the land into its service area, Grams said, but that failed in large part because the formula used by the commission requires the city to include Saukville’s cost in its own.

The city went so far as to hire an attorney who said that if the city took the issue to court it had less than a 50 percent chance of winning, Grams said.

Port and Saukville officials have held talks in the past over ways to service the site — perhaps through a swap of properties in their respective sewer service areas — but they have not reached an agreement.

Grams told the Common Council that Saukville officials had told Port they want between $25,000 and $30,000 annually to allow the city to provide sewer service to the area. 

Saukville Village President Barb Dickmann said the village is open to resuming talks over the property, but said officials have not heard from Port about the issue since February 2016, when she wrote a letter to then-Mayor Tom Mlada.

“It’s hard for us to come to the table if we’re not invited to the table,” she said.

The village engineer estimated it would cost the village $23,000 annually over 20 years if it did not provide sewer service to the property, Dickmann said.

“I am certain if the situation were reversed, the city would not ignore such a revenue loss,” she said, noting that when the village upgraded its wastewater treatment plant in the early 2000s, it sized the facility to provide service to the property.

“I would ask the city to look at this from our perspective,” she said. “All we’re looking for is something that’s fair to both communities.”

While the issue has been festering for years, it came to the forefront last week after a representative of Port Youth Baseball told the Common Council the group is ready to move forward with the initial stages of a plan to build four fields and a concessions stand at the site. 

However, he said, the group needs to have sewer and water services in order to have permanent bathrooms and running water in the concession stand. 

“Port Youth Baseball is ready to move forward,” Doug Biggs, a member of the baseball group’s board of directors, announced, saying the group has funds in hand to build the concession stand and one field, with a second field possible soon. Biggs noted that the group had an agreement with the city to place the ball fields on the city-owned land at one time, but the agreement has since expired.

Port Youth Baseball has discontinued its fundraising for the complex, he added, because it needs the agreement in place.

“Does the Common Council still have the appetite to go forward with this?” Biggs asked, especially given the issues with the property. “We would like a complex and we would like it in the City of Port Washington.”

But, he said, the group is willing to look for land elsewhere if need be. 

In addition to the question of the sewer service area, the city also needs to look at the cost of developing infrastructure for the complex, including an internal road system and improvements to Jackson Road, Grams said.

The city originally envisioned selling a portion of the land around the baseball fields for residential development and three lots along Highway 33 for commercial uses, with the developer paying a portion of the infrastructure costs.

But, Grams said, the cost of developing the rest of the property may be so high the city has to “give the land away.”  

Even if the city decides not to move ahead with plans for the baseball complex, officials said, the debate over the sewer area threatens to derail any plans to develop the property.

“The sanitary sewer issue doesn’t go away,” Biggs, a former city alderman, said. “You’re being held hostage by the community directly to the west.”

Aldermen suggested that if the sewer issue is not settled soon, Port Youth Baseball could install a holding tank as a temporary solution.

This has been done before in the city, Grams said, with the requirement that when the city’s sewer service is extended to an area the property be hooked up to it.
Ald. Mike Ehrlich said he wants the baseball complex to be developed in the city, especially since a holding tank could solve the sewer issue.

“I really want to see this in the City of Port Washington. I think it’s the perfect place for it,” he said. “I would like to see us as a council look at what it would take to make it work.”

Ald. Pat Tearney agreed, saying the Parks and Recreation Department could look into potential grants that might make the complex more feasible.

But Sigwart said he believes the city should fight SEWRPC’s decision not to transfer the land into the city’s service area.

“I still think logic should win this battle,” he said, especially since the lack of sewer service could leave the city with a large parcel of undevelopable property.

The council directed Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven to come up with current cost estimates for the needed infrastructure improvements necessary for development of the land, whether for a baseball complex or development. 

Those costs are expected to be presented at the Jan. 15 council meeting, when aldermen will discuss whether to negotiate an agreement with Port Youth Baseball for the complex.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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