Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau City Council on Tuesday approved a relocation order for a proposed recreational trail at the Business Campus after offering explicit assurance of working with property owners whose land has been identified for acquisition.

The relocation order includes acquiring six properties for the multi-use trail along 72nd Avenue from Packer Drive to International Drive through donation or acquisition, including using eminent domain, for the purpose. But Wausau will not compel owners to accept their compensation offer in lieu of using their property nor will the city condemn any property to do so.

The amended resolution, unanimously passed by the 11-member group at a special council meeting, excludes acquiring property by condemnation and specifically mentions that both the city and property owner must come to a mutual agreement.

During the discussion, Dist. 3 Alderman Tom Kilian asked Department of Public Works and Utilities director Eric Lindman to explicitly commit to respecting the decision of property owners whose land has been identified for easements along the trail. 

“Can we make it explicitly clear to these property owners that if they chose not to accept the city’s offer…the government cannot compel them to do so? Is that something we can make crystal clear straightaway and throughout?” Kilian asked.

Lindman said the city will ensure the message will be clear and said the consultant on the project will reach out to owners to explain the language of the state statute, which prevents the city from condemning a property for acquisition on a recreational trail.

At the beginning of the council’s special meeting, Lindman said that the eminent domain process is required because the project is relying in part on Wisconsin Department of Transportation funding. The DOT will provide an 80 percent grant for the project, with city funding making up the remaining 20 percent. DOT rules require an eminent domain process, but actual condemnation is off the table since the statute does not allow it for such projects (Business Campus trail.)

In 2017, Act 59 of Wisconsin’s budget bill amended the state’s statutes to prohibit the use of eminent domain, or condemnation, to establish or extend recreational trails, bicycle ways, bicycle lanes or pedestrian ways. But the DOT grant requires it for funding the project, a disparity the council sought to reconcile.

Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen said the temporary limited easements required for the project will go away once the project is completed.

The special meeting was called after Kilian asked City Attorney Anne Jacobson to weigh in on whether eminent domain was applicable to the project, which was initially included in the council’s consent agenda.

(For the amended resolution on the Relocation Order passed on Tuesday, click here, and go to page 2. For maps, go to page 5.)