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Aftermath of Trenton's buyout: 3 years of campground discussion abandoned at board meeting

A view of the Mississippi River at the intersection of 860th Street, looking south from Everts Resort in Trenton. The road leading to the property which would hold the campground was blocked off due to mud and flooding residue. Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
The campground in Trenton township was proposed to be established south of Everts Resort off 860th Avenue along the Mississippi River. This land was given back to Trenton after the Federal Emergency Management Agency had bought it in the late 1990s after major flooding devastated the area. Map data: Google2 / 2

As the Mississippi's waters retreated in early July 1993 after nine days of flooding, which again saw the river's intrusive rise devastate homes and businesses on Trenton Island, a presidential disaster declaration opened the door for a $6.1 million project that would see the majority of residents relocated before the next major flood struck in April 1997.

Major flooding in 1952, 1965, 1969 and 1993 along with minor flooding in 1967, 1975 and 1986 took its toll on the community and as flood waters continued to rise year after year, so did the cost of restoring the island's infrastructure.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency made Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds available for Pierce County's buyout program in 1993, with a total cost of $6,147,186.

With funding secured, purchases began in 1995 and over the next three years, roughly 65% of the island's properties were returned to open space, according to a Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs report on the acquisition project. All but 20 property owners accepted the buyout, the report states.

In 2012, Trenton took back the land according to Land Management Director Andy Pichotta.

Pichotta said Land Management was approached by Dick Bunce as the town was interested in being the caretakers of that parcel and leasing it to a private entity at the time.

On May 14, Trenton Town Board voted 4-1 to abandon the pursuit of establishing a campground along the Mississippi River after some debate at a board meeting with more than 20 attendees in the public crowd.

The land on which the campground was to be implemented is south of Everts resort, a cabin and boat rental destination, on 860th Street in the town of Trenton. One road currently serves the property between the Mississippi River and an artesian well on the east side.

The property was originally part of the land which was devastated by major flooding in the area and was eventually bought out in 1997.

The floods in 1997 and 2001 both crested at more than 3 feet above flood stage — roughly double that of 1993 — but the benefits of the buyout became clear.

"Compared to the flood of 1993, later flood events were less damaging," stated a case study on the acquisition project by the Environmental Law Institute.

In September 2018, the campground was drafted before the Land Management committee to have around 21 campsites.

Trenton Town Chair Brian Berg said the campground could only realistically maintain 10-11 campsites due to usable area restrictions, however.

Trenton Town Board Supervisor Randy Trok began campaigning for the idea three years ago. Trok ran for board chair against Brian Berg in the April 2019 election and focused his efforts on moving forward with the campground to bring revenue to the township for road improvement funds. Berg ultimately won the chair position.

"With the Mississippi River running right on our border and we're not taking advantage of it, we're missing the boat," Trok said.

The ELI categorized the results of the buyout as "mixed" in their case study.

"The acquisition of 59 homes on Trenton Island reduced the county's vulnerability to future floods, but the piecemeal nature of the buyout limits the county's options for using the acquired land," the report states.

Trok said at the meeting it would cost approximately $16,779 to establish the setup, according to the estimates he had gathered for the campground construction.

This estimate drawn for 21 campsites included a 45-foot well with good water, 50 plug-ins and stand boxes for electric hookups, a 2,000 gallon holding tank, a small trash pump and trailer and crushed rock as needed. The price did not include the cost for REA to extend electricity to the pole on the property.

Trok said he estimated charging around $2,000 for each campsite.

"We'll be very competitive with everyone else. Word of mouth and social media is all you need to draw people," Trok said in a later phone interview.

Many citizens spoke up against Trok during the board meeting, saying it was not feasible to use taxpayers' money to invest in the campground with no guarantee for incoming revenue.

Others said they had concerns of the potential for noise and smoke from campers, the town's liability in the case of emergency, how the campground may be marketed and the erosion effects of inevitable flooding along the river.

"I myself would recommend after all the time the planning commission has spent on this, it is not a cost-effective or feasible idea to do on that piece of property," Mike Miller, Trenton township Planning Commissioner, said.

"You have to do the math on any project you're interested in doing. When you start doing the math on what you're investment is, what your turnaround is going to be in a matter of two to three years... the road down there is already beyond repair. It doesn't add up," Trenton Town Board Supervisor Rick Bunce said at the meeting.

Trok proposed leaving the item up for a referendum to be voted on by the townspeople, but chairman Berg said at the meeting that the public had already voted against the campground by having voted him in for president as he didn't campaign for the campground.

"I believe it would come up in the future if we got a different chairman of the board. I put in over three years of work, I was very disappointed," Trok said.

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