Concerned others would request waivers
By Scott Bellile
The New London Board of Public Works denied a property owner’s request to waive her assessment for street repairs that require private lateral replacement.
Board members said by approving Julie Blohm’s request, the action might encourage other community members to similarly ask for their assessments to be waived.
Blohm, a resident on East Beacon Avenue, asked the board on April 5 to eliminate the special assessment that she will be required to pay for private laterals to be replaced as part of a road project happening this summer in front of her home.
The city plans to replace property owners’ sanitary sewer laterals on East Beacon Avenue from Mill Street to Montgomery Street. The portions of the laterals being replaced span from the sewer main in the center of the street to the public right of way in front of each home, which is roughly 30 feet.
The city is assessing the properties and requiring property owners to pay the full costs, which may be around a couple thousand dollars.
Prior to the April 5 board meeting, Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh recommended to the board it deny Blohm’s request in a memo.
“This would set a precedence in which the Board and Council would have an obligation to approve all private individual sanitary laterals,” Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh stated in a memo to the board dated March 24.
Blohm first presented her case before the New London City Council on March 14. The board of public works in response placed the topic on its April 5 agenda.
At the city council meeting, Blohm read from a 3 1/2-page letter presenting her arguments on why she should not be assessed.
Among her reasons were she has been subjected to an environment “filled with poor air quality and contaminated soil” since the former Simmons factory across the street was demolished. She believes her diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis is linked to neighborhood environmental conditions.
City officials have in the past denied residents’ allegations that the former Simmons site is contaminated, saying the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has given the property clearance.
Blohm wrote another reason is the view from her home since Simmons closed has been an eyesore comprised of rotten lumber, crumbling buildings, piles of broken cement and filth.
At the board of public works meeting, she said, “I’m sure I am the most directly affected by all of the struggle with contamination and dust that has been going on, and destruction of the property, more than anybody” on Beacon Avenue.
Blohm told board members miscommunication among everybody has led to ruins of the Simmons buildings remaining on site for longer than expected.
Mayor Gary Henke said the problem has not been miscommunication, but an ongoing legal battle between the city and Eric Spirtas.
Spiritas owns part of the former Simmons property. The city has for years asked Spirtas to pay back delinquent taxes and raze the ruins on his private property. Spirtas in response filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed a few months ago.
“That’s what’s taking so long,” Henke said. “He’s not been the most cooperative person in the world to work with, and anytime we make a move, he’s been fighting us. So it’s got nothing to do with communication.”
As the discussion veered into the city’s issues with Spirtas, City Administrator Kent Hager reminded the board the discussion is whether to waive Blohm’s assessment.
“That’s the question on the agenda. I’d suggest we stay on that topic,” Hager said.
Board member and Fourth District Alderman Ron Steinhorst said he agreed with Bodoh’s recommendation to deny the request.
“We know what happens when we open a can of worms, and while that might be helpful for [Blohm], it opens a bigger task for all of us,” Steinhorst said. “And so I would have to agree to deny the request. In fact, I will even motion to deny the request for the special assessment.”
The board denied Blohm’s request unanimously.
Blohm told the Press Star the right move for the board would have been to “set a precedent,” and she will continue to pursue the issue.