Council vows action on flooding

Cameron Clapper

Cameron Clapper

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

Members of the Whitewater Common Council agreed Tuesday that the city’s storm sewers must be upgraded to handle heavy rains and prevent flooding.

The exact remedies and their price tag – which could approach $700,000 just for two of three problem areas – are still up in the air, however, as is the question of how the city will pay for them.

Council members are targeting flooding in three areas: on the city’s west side around Woodland Drive; on the near south side around Home Lumber Co.; and on the east side at Fremont Street.

Consultant Strand Associates delivered updated plans and cost estimates to fix sewers that are too small to handle the water that pours into them during heavy rains.

Streets Superintendent Chuck Nass said the problem at Woodland Drive is similar to those on the south side.

“We’re taking all the water that we can take in a 15-inch pipe and dumping it into a 12-inch pipe,” which is “clearly the bottleneck of the system,” Nass told the council.

The problems stem from inadequate design that stretches back to the 1950s, he said.

Homeowner Richard James told the council in the public-comment period that his flooding problems went back more than five years, to the time he saw water shooting from a drain tile in his yard on North Fremont Street.

James said he was “flabbergasted” by the city’s lack of response, even after the city acknowledged that it was responsible for the line.

“At least tell us what’s going on,” James told council members.

City Manager Cameron Clapper apologized for the delay. The city will “scope” the affected lines by examining them with a flexible video probe as soon as the weather warms, he said.

The extent of the east-side problems is still unclear, Clapper said. “It is being addressed, albeit slowly,” he added.

Estimates from Strand, meanwhile, put the cost of upgrading lines on the west side at up to $86,000, and the larger area around Home Lumber as high as $600,000.

Council member Jim Winship said that, given the increasingly volatile weather associated with climate change, the city should err on the side of caution. New sewers should be built to handle the “100-year” rains that are supposed to occur once in a century but lately seem more frequent, he said.

Zoning hearing is set

In other action, the council set March 10 for a public hearing on the residential portion of the city’s new zoning plan. A hearing on the commercial and industrial aspects already is set for Feb. 25.

At issue is a residential zoning “overlay” known as R-2A, which would allow “increased occupancy in a focused area” near the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus.

The R-2A area includes West Center Street, South Summit Street, South Janesville Avenue, West Whitewater Avenue and Fourth Street.

Landlords and owners of single-family houses want the city to finalize the plan to ease uncertainty in the real-estate market. Landlords, for example, are hesitant to move ahead with property purchases or modifications until zoning is in place.

Larry Kachel, whose family is Whitewater’s largest owner of student rental properties, told the council that private owners must supply more housing, because the university’s enrollment has soared past 12,000. Enabling the university’s growth is vital for Whitewater, he said.

“The university is our General Motors,” Kachel said. “They employ roughly 3,000 people.”

Money raised for K9 unit

Also on Tuesday, Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher announced that the city had met its fundraising goal for a new K9 unit.

Steinig Tal Kennel of Campbellsport will purchase and train a police dog, and the Police Department will select an officer to be the dog’s handler. The dog and the handler will train together for two weeks, and the city will purchase a specially equipped K9 squad car.

The council has authorized the K9 program but specified that it must be paid for with private donations. Otterbacher said a donation from Stan Kass, owner of Skylark Automatic Vending Inc. of Milwaukee, had helped fill the final $12,000 gap in funding for the program.

Total cost of the start-up is $45,000. Periodic fund-raising events will help keep the K9 program going, Otterbacher said.

The dog will assist in drug searches, track missing people and criminal suspects, and act as a goodwill ambassador for the Police Department in visits to schools.