City of Milton holds off on sponsoring proposed interchange
MILTON—The city of Milton's involvement with a proposed County M interchange might be off the table for years to come.
The city council on Tuesday decided not to spend staff resources to investigate the proposed interchange at this time, Mayor Brett Frazier said.
The necessity of a municipal sponsor to guarantee funding for the County M interchange with Interstate 90/39 has complicated the plans of developer Bill Watson.
Watson owns Janesville-based Mulder Dairy Farms and hundreds of acres of land earmarked for development. He has said he would pay for the $16 million interchange project, but state and federal transportation officials said he needs a taxing authority to guarantee funding of the private development.
The city of Milton is one of the local governments Watson and the state Department of Transportation have asked to sponsor the proposed development. If the city were to take on the plan, it would involve annexing part of the towns of Fulton and Milton into the city to complete the project.
At the council's July 16 meeting, Frazier announced the city was not in a position to put discussion of a sponsorship on a future agenda. That was before Frazier received a call from DOT Project Manager John Vesperman in early August asking if the city was sure it didn't want the interchange.
It also was before a citizen wrote a letter to Frazier asking the council to consider the area as a location for the Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group project recently turned down by Evansville. Watson said the project would be a “tremendous addition” to a proposed industrial park at the interchange, and that he would support it at any location.
Frazier also promised some council members they would get a chance to discuss the issue.
In an effort to provide people with definitive answers on where the city stands, Frazier had planned to ask the council to support his appointment of an advisory committee to “objectively study the impacts of an interchange,” he said.
Those plans fell through after the resignation of City Clerk Michelle Ebbert. Frazier planned for Inga Cushman, assistant to the city administrator, to staff the advisory committee, but Cushman will be doing double duty to cover the clerk's responsibilities until a new one is hired.
Instead, Frazier asked the council if it desired moving forward with the proposed interchange study in the first place. Council member Lynda Clark adamantly backed the proposed interchange.
“I don't think we're done here. Every municipality in the area is going to benefit,” Clark said.
Watson has said the proposed development could bring 10,000 jobs and add $8 million to the local tax base.
The council decided to table the discussion of a committee until the city receives a proposal for annexation.
Frazier plans to tell the DOT that the city is not in a position to consider annexation or to deploy staff time and resources toward the further investigation of the proposed interchange.
Watson said he has attempted to apply for annexation for the past few months, but he said Frazier has indicated he wants to have a meeting with the city's attorney before the application. That meeting hasn't happened because “the mayor has a very busy schedule,” Watson said.
Watson said the city's understanding of being exposed to hundreds of millions of dollars in liability is not correct. The project would be completed with private money, he said.
Watson said if the city doesn't want the project to happen in Milton, he will go away. Still, the project is still worth pursuing, he said.
“This seems too important to let it die,” he said.