Road closed

EAU CLAIRE — A new 1.1-mile section of recreational trail planned for Eau Claire’s west side would mostly be paid for by the state government through a pact the city has signed.

The City Council voted 10-0 — one member, Councilman David Klinkhammer was absent during a portion of Tuesday’s meeting — to approve an agreement for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to pay 80% of a trail segment estimated to cost $811,000 with the city picking up the balance.

The project would pay for the asphalt paving of an abandoned railroad bed that’s become a worn path winding through a neighborhood, creating a trail connecting Folsom Street to West Madison Street.

Councilman Jeremy Gragert pointed out two major employers — Nestle and Mayo Clinic Health System — that would be along the new trail as well as Roosevelt Elementary School and Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School.

“I can really see this being a commuting route,” he said, referring to workers and students he’d expect to regularly use the trail.

The new trail segment would also link up to an existing one that borders Half Moon Lake and connect to the rest of Eau Claire’s recreational trail network.

Council members did show some trepidation in their votes, though, worried that some residents who live near the proposed trail want it to remain earthen, not paved.

“I don’t think the neighbors were on the same page on the fact this is a 12-foot-wide paved trail,” Councilman Andrew Werthmann said.

During Monday night’s council meeting, four people who live on the west side spoke about the proposed trail.

Shawn Putnick, president of the Upper West Side Neighborhood Association, said she was disheartened to see the planned trail’s width and that it would be paved. She advocated for a narrower, more natural trail that wouldn’t disturb wildlife that currently live in the wooded corridor.

On Tuesday, interim City Manager David Solberg said the grant application was submitted specifically for paving a 12-foot-wide paved trail — akin to the rest of the city’s recreational trails. Given that was specified to qualify for the grant, he said that aspect cannot be changed for the city to still receive the funding.

City officials said they will work with the neighborhood on the exact placement of the trail and attempt to retain as much habitat as possible.

“We can work to preserve the larger trees within that area,” said Leah Ness, deputy city engineer.

The city has held meetings with the neighborhood association to discuss the trail in the past, but not during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following Tuesday’s vote on the state grant, Ness said the city will resume meetings with the neighborhood later this year to discuss details of the trail’s design.

Based on the timeframe specified by the grant, the new trail segment would be built in 2023.

Other business

Also during Tuesday’s council meeting:

• Changes proposed to the process for getting a backyard chickenkeeping license were rejected by a 7-3 vote.

• Failing to get majority approval in a 5-5 council tie vote, the city will not renew a lease with landlord John Mogensen to use a 32-stall downtown lot for public parking. The lot is at the intersection of South Barstow Street and East Grand Avenue, next to The Informalist restaurant and The Lismore Hotel.

• An 8-3 vote removed 17 stalls of on-street parking from a summer repaving project for the 200 block of Garfield Avenue, opting to add bicycle lanes to the street instead. That block leads to the archway into the UW-Eau Claire campus.

• A decision on roadwork for a stretch of Omaha Street has been delayed until next month after council members learned how much it would cost churches that own a large cemetery there. The group of churches would be facing about $100,000 in special assessments for the street construction, and the council asked Solberg to come up with options to reduce that financial burden.

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