The restoration of the 1905 Winter railroad depot is one step closer to reality following a Sawyer County committee’s agreement to advertise for bids on the project.
The Friends of Tuscobia Trail (FOTT) have been pursuing the restoration of the historic depot in Winter since 2008. The goal is to turn the facility into a trailhead resource for the Tuscobia Trail, a welcoming center for the Winter Chamber of Commerce, a site for historical displays and the FOTT headquarters.
In 2009 the project received a $302,000 transportation enhancement grant, federal dollars managed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. It also received other grant funds from the Department of Natural Resources and support from the county and donations to the friends organization.
Bids for the project were first let in August 2014, but the one bid returned came in at $100,000 over the estimated project cost. The contractor claimed he bid high because the project specs were unspecific. Later the project was redesigned to be more specific and to include alternatives to lower the overall cost.
On Monday, March 11, Ron Petit, president of the Friends of Tuscobia, along with Dan Yankowiak, DNR property superintendent, and Bill Zimmer of the Northwest Office of the DOT appeared before the Sawyer County Economic Development and UW-Extension Committee asking the county to sign a land-use agreement originated by the DNR because the depot sits on DNR property. Petit said the land-use agreement had to be signed before bids could be pursued.
Yankowiak said the agreement had just been prepared the Friday before and was the standard agreement the DNR uses. He said Sawyer County is being asked to sign the agreement because the county is the fiscal agent for the transportation grant and it manages the Tuscobia Trail.
Supervisor James Schlender, a lawyer and tribal judge, said the agreement didn’t identify the county’s authority or obligation, possibly putting the county on the hook if the FOTT fails to meet the agreement. He advised the county’s corporation counsel to review the agreement before it was signed.
Zimmer said there is some urgency in going forward because on June 30 the project is coming to the end of a 10-year deadline.
Asked about the current estimated project cost, Petit said the architect estimated $395,000, but that amount included approximately 10 percent for overages. He said roughly $200,000 of the original grant was available, but with DNR grant funds and the option of approximately $110,000 of the project being dropped if the overall bid was too high, there should be enough funding.
Sawyer County Administrator Tom Hoff suggested the committee take no action until the corporate counsel reviewed the agreement, but allow the advertisement of bids.
Zimmer said bids could be advertised but final approval would not be given until the land-use agreement had been signed.
Zimmer said he would like the bids approved by the end of May.
Tom Duffy Sr., chair of the committee, said he would like to see all documents related to the project, including the county’s fiscal agent agreement.
Supervisor Troy Morgan said corporate counsel could review the agreement and the next board of supervisors meeting on March 21 could consider it.
Economic development update
Lynn Fitch, president of the Sawyer County/Lac Courte Oreilles Economic Development Corporation (SC/LCOEDC), gave an update on the organization.
She said it is continuing to still restructure committees of volunteers and is still studying issues of housing and creating greater collaboration with other parts of the county, including the towns.
Fitch said there would be another attempt in April to present a business improvement district (BID) proposal to the Hayward Planning Commission, then to bring it before the city council in May to consider for passage. She said there appeared to be more support for the revised plan than existed for the first BID proposal that failed in 2018.
The first placemaking meeting for the City of Hayward, she said, would be held this week and an exercise would be run in April with results produced in May. Placemaking considers ways of making specific areas more attractive for people. The concept is the more there is available in an area the longer people stay as they develop greater affinity and the desire to return.
Fitch also announced that Ann Kozak had been hired as a part-time director who was available to meet with those interested in economic development in the county.
Schlender reminded Fitch that the county government is starting its budget cycle and the SC/LCOEDC should be preparing a written report on its accomplishments if it wants to secure future funding.
Schlender also requested the SC/LCOEDC consider leading an effort to raise funds from businesses to acknowledge the good work that snow plow drivers have done this winter to clear roads of snow.