New law paves way for Mission Road improvement

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May 20, 2010 No Comments ›› admin

Published – Wednesday, May 19, 2010 Jackson County Chronicle – by Matthew Perenchio | Editor

A new state law that allows the transfer of roads to Native American tribes will benefit Jackson County’s Mission Road.

The bill Gov. Jim Doyle signed May 6 allows municipalities and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to transfer roads on the Indian Reservation Roads Program Inventory to tribes. Tribes are then able to make needed repairs to the roads and can use IRR funds.

Mission Road, located north of Highway 54, was the catalyst for the legislation as the Ho-Chunk Nation and Brockway Township have been working to get the road transferred to the Nation for about a year. Mission Road has been in need of major repair, but the township’s financial constraints didn’t allow for such a project.

“Mission Road had been in such a state of disrepair,” said Jon Schrader, Ho-Chunk Nation Transportation planner. “(Brockway) would have continued patching it, but it needed more. It really needed to be completely rebuilt.”

The three-mile stretch of Mission Road leads to the Ho-Chunk-populated area known as The Mission, and the road is located in Brockway and Komensky townships. The two miles in Komensky were transferred to the Nation about four years ago, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs has since tightened its policy in allowing such transfers after right-of-way issues in other parts of the nation.

However, Wisconsin’s new law — introduced by Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, and supported by Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls — creates a mechanism for such a transfer.

“The bill created a win-win situation for everyone,” Vinehout said. “The road remains open to the public, and much-needed repairs can be done without the local taxpayers splitting the bill.”

Only roadways on the IRR Program Inventory can be transferred, and inventory roads are those that provide access to and within Native American reservations or lands. Mission Road is the only non-highway roadway in Jackson County on the list.

“Mission Road has been a high priority for us for quite some time,” said Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland. “We appreciate Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Rep. Mark Radcliffe in helping us move this legislation along toward our goal in providing safer roads for our town of Brockway residents.”

Schrader said the Nation will meet with the BIA and the township to begin the transfer. Garrett Blackdeer, tribal roads director, said work on Mission Road could begin as early as this fall, although a June 2011 project is more likely.

The Nation also will conduct regular maintenance of the road, such as snow removal, when the transfer is complete.

“I think there’s actually two ways this (legislation) actually benefits the local community,” Schrader said. “We can take on the road repair and get it up to a safe level, and we can do all the maintenance forever.”

Roads transferred to tribes could be closed to public traffic but would have to go through the same process other municipalities undergo to close a roadway. Schrader said the Nation doesn’t have any intention of closing Mission Road to the public.

Other roadways in Jackson County that are on the IRR Program Inventory include about 170 miles of 18 county-owned highways, including highways D, C, A, O, E, K, S, VV, N, H, V, X, P, F, T, FF, B and G. The Nation and county entered into an agreement last year that acknowledges the county will maintain ownership but gives the Nation the opportunity to assist with funding improvements. This year’s scheduled Highway K project is an example of this, in which $1.5 million will be contributed from the Nation through the BIA and the county will provide $230,000.

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