Progress stalled on proposed Rhinelander fishing park
Now that the demolition work is complete at the site of the city of Rhinelander’s old wastewater treatment facility on Boyce Drive near Shepard Park, progress has slowed to a standstill on the proposed fishing and silent sports-themed park on the site.
The wastewater treatment buildings are gone, except for a small pump station and the holding tanks, which will remain on the property’s western side. However, according to city officials, the ultimate plans for the site are still likely years from being completed.
The latest hold-up has the City of Rhinelander waiting on the Department of Natural Resources to demo its old ranger station which sits across the road from the old wastewater plant site. According to City of Rhinelander Parks Director Gunder Paulsen, the building has issues with asbestos, which caused the city to ask that the DNR handle the demolition, rather than demo the building itself.
“The DNR wants to hand the building over to the city, but the city doesn’t have the money to demo the building property given the asbestos issue,” said Paulsen. “The city has asked the DNR to handle the removal of the building, and we’re waiting to hear back on those plans.”
Once the building is finally removed, the city has grant applications in place that will at least partially fund the construction of a boat launch on the site.
“We have the grant funding paperwork all ready to go, but we can’t turn it in as long as the building is there,” said Sherrie Belliveau, the chair of the city’s Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee. “The problem is that the DNR didn’t budget for this expense, so their hands are tied. We can’t act until they do, and they can’t do anything without getting approval. It all comes down to money, or in this case a lack of it.”
It is unknown whether the launch will insert boats into the Pelican River or Wisconsin River. Belliveau said it would be less costly to build the ramp in front of where the ranger station sits so that boats would launch into the mouth of the Pelican, but she is unsure if the water is deep enough in that location to handle larger boats.
“The DNR told us it was deep enough at the mouth of the Pelican, but there are fishermen in town who don’t think so,” she said. “We need to determine how deep it actually is there, and if a launch would work. If not, we’d have to look at launching into the Wisconsin River.
Ultimate plans call for the park to encompass both sides of Boyce Drive and include not only the boat launch, but kayak/canoe launches, fishing piers and a dog park that’s been in the works for some time. Jeff Pennucci, a DNR employee that works in the local division of land and program management, attended last month’s Parks Committee meeting, and Belliveau said the committee put some pressure on the DNR to move forward with the demolition of the building.
“Mr. Pennucci was there and listened to our concerns, and said he would be willing to work with us,” said Belliveau. “I’m sure his hands are tied, though. The city has no capital in the budget for parks projects, and I’m sure the DNR is in the same boat.”
Fortunately, work that has been done on the site will make it easier to implement the different aspects of the park once funding does become available.
“We were able to take advantage of the machinery that was there to demo the wastewater site, and the grounds were at least sloped much better, allowing a nice grade that can be mowed and a gravel parking area,” said Paulsen. “Grass was planted this spring, and is coming in nicely.”
Paulsen pointed out, though, that while the area looks inviting, the city is asking that people stay off the new grass this summer. He also pointed out that there are several tentative locations for restrooms on the site, with water access already “stubbed in” and available once the work does move forward.
“We would have made the parking lot blacktop, but part of it will be torn up again next year for a sewer interceptor line,” he said. “Once that is complete, the lot will be blacktop, and provide a nice access area to the Pelican River.”
According to both Belliveau and Paulsen, it will likely be several years before the majority of the work can be completed on the site. Paulsen said it is likely that “small chunks” of the project can be looked at a year at a time, though.
“When you take into consideration the money available for projects like this, you don’t have a choice but to look at it as a longer term project,” said Paulsen. “The most important thing that the city can do is to make sure any changes to the property are done with that long range plan in mind, because how quickly any plans come to fruition depend entirely on funding.”