YORKVILLE — Before public comment even began Tuesday evening, Racine County Board Chairman Russell Clark referred back to committees a resolution on land acquisition for the controversial widening of a 2.8-mile stretch of Highway KR.
The resolution will go back to the County Board’s Public Works, Parks and Facilities Committee and the Executive Committee for further review. The dates for those meetings are as yet undecided.
The committee referral comes two weeks after the Public Works Committee unanimously — and without fanfare — recommended the resolution for approval.
If passed, the resolution would have authorized measures as drastic as eminent domain to take land from residents on the Racine County side of Highway KR to facilitate widening it from a two-lane rural road to a four-lane urban road with a median, wider shoulders and a walking path, from 400 feet east of Highway H to just east of Taylor Avenue (Old Green Bay Road on the Kenosha County side).
A total of 68.9 acres of agricultural and residential land would need to be taken for the project, with most of it coming from the Racine County side of the highway. The $59 million project is a joint effort between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Racine and Kenosha counties; the counties are responsible for land acquisition.
The anticlimactic beginning to the meeting did not stop 14 concerned citizens and one state representative from voicing their opinions on the project. Making appearances to speak in opposition of the project were landowners from both Mount Pleasant and Somers who would be affected, local activists and state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee. It did not appear that any WisDOT representatives were present at the meeting at the county’s Ives Grove Office Complex, 14200 Washington Ave.
Most speakers urged the board to hold off on any decisions, with many of them slamming the project as catering more to Foxconn Technology Group than to Mount Pleasant and Somers residents.
“You represent the citizens — not the DOT, not Foxconn, not contractors,” Somers resident Carol Rannow told County Board supervisors.
Public comments not received
During a Feb. 28 WisDOT-hosted public information meeting at the Somers Village Hall, about 170 area residents came out to see the latest plans for the project, which is the second phase of a widening of Highway KR from Interstate 94 all the way to Highway 32 to allow quicker access to Downtown Racine and Kenosha from the Interstate.
At that public meeting, residents were able to provide written and verbal testimony to go into the public record. But three county supervisors said they never received any of the public comments submitted to the DOT.
“We don’t have the trust of the people, obviously,” said Supervisor Fabi Maldonado, of Racine, a member of the Public Works Committee. “Look what happened today, right? Everybody’s surprised. They were asking us if we’d received their comments. We have not received their comments.”
Supervisors Monte Osterman and Nick Demske, who both represent parts of the City of Racine, also confirmed they had not received anything from WisDOT, though Osterman said he had received emails from individual residents.
Emails from Steve Hoff, WisDOT’s southeast region project manager, sent to two residents and reviewed by The Journal Times, stated that residents’ concerns would be shared with Racine and Kenosha counties.
It was unclear Tuesday night if Racine County staff received the feedback and did not pass it on to supervisors, but Osterman said that was unlikely. Hoff could not be reached for comment Tuesday night following the meeting to see if WisDOT had provided any feedback to either county.
“There was a problem somewhere along the line, whether it was a miscommunication or a suppression of information, I don’t know,” Demske said. “But certainly, the public understood something would happen, and then something else happened, and that’s a problem.”
“There was a problem somewhere along the line, whether it was a miscommunication or a suppression of information, I don’t know. But certainly, the public understood something would happen, and then something else happened, and that’s a problem.” Nick Demske, Racine County Board supervisor