The Alger County Road Commission meeting was action packed at its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 21. Major issues of union contracts and concerns stemming from the Eben Ice Caves road project being brought to the three-member board.
The meeting was the first under the control of Marci Taskey, who was named chair of the board at the meeting earlier in August. It didn’t take long for the other two members of the board — John Hermann and Pete Heyrman — to start verbally sparring over who would represent the ACRC board when dealing with union matters.
Heyrman started first by rushing the first action item of clarifying when the next meeting date would be due to the Labor Day holiday so he could declare his wishes of being named as the union matters delegate. Hermann responded by claiming more seniority, but Heyrman shut that concept down by pointing out Hermann’s 2022 Republican primary loss, which knocked John off the ACRC until he was appointed by the Alger County Commissioner to fill an empty seat three weeks ago. Pete, who served three decades in a union, said that he would “know more about the union” than Hermann, but John said that created an emotional bias.
The two were redirected by a combination of Taskey and ACRC staff based on motion procedure, effectively leaving the decision to Taskey on who to support. Taskey seconded Hermann’s motion, designating John as the board’s union delegate.
After that, Rock River Township Trustee Trevor Case presented the ACRC with a packet of information regarding policies by the road commission when dealing with the adoption of new roads, specifically a road that leads to a new parking lot to the Eben Ice Caves.
“You guys are a board and you can change your policies if you see fit, but you can’t sidestep the policies,” Case said.
“What’s done is done and water under the bridge, but depending on what happens further could hurt Alger County taxpayers.”
According to the documents provided by Case, the ACRC violated its own policy dated October 19, 1998 when it failed to hold a public hearing and receive a resolution from Rock River Township in support of upgrading the road from seasonal to year-round status. ACRC Engineer Bob Lindbeck clarified that the vote was held during a public meeting, showing transparency even though there was a policy violation.
Case then followed up with an ACRC policy for adopting private roads into county roads.
To get to the ice caves parking lot, drivers have to go through a stretch of now year-round road and another stretch on a private road built on an easement. The easement is on a parcel designated as Commercial Forest Reserve (CFR), a tax incentive to maintain natural forests. CFRs often provide noncommercial easements to help other property owners reach their land or for public access trails, but are prevented by the tax incentive from offering a commercial easement.
That means that the owner of the parking lot cannot turn that parcel into a for-profit business. According to a Freedom of Information Act request of emails involving former Rock River Township Zoning Administrator Jason Mc-Carthy, the owners of the parking lot did inquire about whether or not the parking lot could be reconsidered for a resort.
This email was also included in documents from Case.
“Wilderness Canyon LLC change of use from ‘Parking Lot’ to ‘Resort’. What is the process and what do you need from me to complete this process? We need to begin this transition,” wrote Jon Rondeau on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022.
Rondeau is one of the co-owners of Wilderness Canyon LLC, the entity that owns the parking lot. Case said the issue was important to bring up because John Hermann, in his last meeting in 2022 after losing his election, pushed for the ACRC to adopt the private road as a county road. If the stretch of private road was adopted as public road, it would remove any restrictions preventing commercial use of the property and allow Wilderness Canyon LLC to build whatever for-profit activity it wished immediately.
According to ACRC policy, the adoption of the road requires 20 years of maintenancefree activity. Pete Heyrman remembered that the policy was necessary after the ACRC was stuck with maintenance fees shortly after adopting a road.
“We would adopt a road and then a year later we were stuck fixing it,” he said.
When Hermann motioned to adopt the private road into a public road in December 2022, he jumped the gun on the ACRC adoption policy by 19 years, seven months and two weeks.
“Learn something new all the time,” Hermann said after Case’s presentation. “Lesson learned.”
While Wilderness Canyon LLC owners have sporadically attended ACRC meetings, none were in attendance on Monday. While the company is directly impacted by the situation, the policy concerns were focused only on actions taken by the ACRC.
Case said following the policy would have a stronger impact on the maintenance of roads in Rock River Township instead of adopting more roads.
“There are a lot of roads in Rock River Township that need to be maintained better. We should be worrying about making sure people can get to and from their homes rather than taking on more roads,” Case said.