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Bridge cracks concern city

After a year of closures and $3.8 million spent on a new Main Street Bridge in Rice Lake, the new structure doesn't appear all that it was cracked up to be.

Or, rather, it is more cracked up than it should be.

By the time the bridge opened Oct. 3, it was not pristine, with numerous cracks along the parapets—or cement railings.

Cracks are apparent, too, in the bridge deck, said Jim Anderson, director of Rice Lake Community Services, at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Anderson said the City is appealing to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to see that lasting effects are minimized.

Anderson said the contractor, Lunda Construction, used epoxy on the deck cracks, and he is hoping the parapet cracks will be sealed up before winter.

DOT Northwest Region project development chief Paul Conlin stated in an email, "The cracks, while undesirable from an aesthetic standpoint, are not a cause for concern from a structural standpoint. We are looking into what can be done to minimize the aesthetic impact of the cracks."

Anderson said the cracks were visible as soon as the parapet coverings were removed in July, and that he immediately raised concerns with the DOT.

Dan Penzkover, representing SEH engineering, said the DOT, contractor and engineers, which also included Ayres and Associates, will continue to look at reports on the conditions and materials used in the bridge construction.

Conlin and Anderson both indicated concrete shrinkage likely caused the cracks.

Anderson went further to say that the inclusion of fly ash—a by-product of burning coal—might also have been part of the problem.

Anderson said fly ash is used to reduce costs, and while it might make for harder concrete, it also allows for more shrinkage.

And finally, the workmanship itself could be suspect.

"The trades are suffering," said Anderson. "This might be the new normal."

Alderman Dan Lawler asked if anything would be done about the graffiti on the west side of the bridge.

Anderson said it has been there for 25 years, and may be costly to remove, but it would be looked into. He said the last time the graffiti was painted over, it reappeared within a week.

The cost of the bridge project was about $3.8 million, with the City's share being 20%, or about $780,000, and the rest being federal funding.


Trick-or-treat hours set in City of Rice Lake

The City of Rice Lake trick or treating hours will be from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31. Those not wanting to participate are encouraged to shut off exterior lights at that time, advised the Rice Lake Police Department.

Downtown's Halloween Trick-or-Treat on Main Street is Saturday, Oct. 26 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Main Street from Messenger Street to Marshall Street will be closed to through traffic during that time.

Man dies in Hwy. 8 collision

A 44-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene of a van versus semi-tractor trailer crash near Poskin around 4:52 a.m. on Oct. 17. The next day, the Barron County Sheriff's Department identified the victim as Brian Morris of Turtle Lake.

A Barron County Sheriff's Department press release stated Morris was driving a van eastbound on Hwy. 8 when it crossed the centerline and into the path of a westbound semi-tractor trailer that was hauling U.S. Postal Service mail.

The driver of the semi-tractor trailer, 51-year-old Robin Gregg, of Niagra, was taken to Mayo Hospital in Barron with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the release.

The crash is being investigated by the Barron County Sheriff's Department and reconstructed by the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Council tweaking budget

Rice Lake City Council continued to tweak the 2020 budget at its meeting Tuesday night.

Previous special budget meetings and Tuesday's regular Council meeting have produced some relatively minor changes in a balanced budget, a notable improvement over the norm of sizeable structural deficits in the recent years.

On Tuesday, the Council approved the following budget adjustments:

—A reverse of a $10,000 cut to the Rice Lake Senior Center in 2019, raising its contribution $10,000 in 2020 to $113,000.

—$40,000 to the Community Services Department, with $24,000 for the hiring of a 6-month seasonal employee for park maintenance and $16,000

to improve city ballfields. The ballfield funding bump followed a public comment from local sports proponent Mark Angel, who said the fields were in poor condition.

Community Services director Jim Anderson said new dirt would help the fields, which he said had hard infields and we're allowing water to pool. He said harder dirt also increases risk of injury to players.

Among those questioning the need for funding were Alderman Dan Schwab.

"I've played a lot of ball in my life, but I don't remember not playing because of field conditions. As a kid, you'll play on anything," he said.

The Council approved the additional funding by a 5-4 vote, with Mayor Mike Diercks breaking a tie. Opposed were Schwab, Jim Dorrance, Doug Edwardsen and Harlan Dodge.

Anderson said the seasonal position would help the department keep up on mowing, maintain ballfields and perform other parks and rec maintenance.

As far as how balanced the budget is, that is unknown until Dec. 31, 2020. While a shortfall of over $100,000 is expected for 2020, the City typically comes out of a year better than expected.

"We've outperformed our budget 6 of the past 8 years," said city administrator Curt Snyder.

For example, the City is projected to be ahead by nearly $200,000 this year.

The mill rate is at 7.9, down from 8.6 this year. The budget will not be finalized until after a public hearing on Nov. 14.

A significant budget measure was passed on Oct. 15 in regards to the Rice Lake pool.

The Council voted that the City dissolve itself of any responsibility in funding pool maintenance.

Currently, the agreement between the City and the Rice Lake Area School District stipulates that the City pay 53% of the pool operating cost, while 47% is paid for by the school district.

A new agreement set to take effect when a new pool is built stipulates that the school district will pay for maintenance in return for the City funding the majority of construction.

But those plans are in doubt, or at least on hold.

In June of 2018 a fundraising committee for the pool stated that it would attempt to raise $4.2 million in 90 days to go along with a $5.5 million bond from the City. But the effort fell short of the mark.

The ad hoc committee focused on replacing the existing pool recently reported to the school board finance committee that it is looking into forming a nonprofit group to aid in fundraising through not just donations, but also grants.

City administrator Curt Snyder said that regardless of what happens the City will continue to own the pool facility. He suggested the school district could levy a special community services tax to help fund the maintenance.

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