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Kabekona group wants road project in progress stopped

County Road 37 opponent Sarah Lawrence outlines her family's opposition to widening and paving the roadway that runs along the south side of Kabekona Lake, to county board members and engineer Dave Olsonawski, in the background. The estimnated $3 million cost could be spent fixing bridges or on other road projects, they maintain. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

An emotional three-decade-old argument against paving County Road 37 along the south side of Kabekona Lake, took voice again Wednesday.

Members of an extended family, most of them seasonal residents, have been fighting the proposal to widen and eventually pave the natural preservation road. Many showed up to implore Hubbard County commissioners to rescind their approval of the project.

The board took no action.

The Hubbard County Highway Department is in the process of acquiring easements for the roadway, which will actually move a few feet away from the lakeshore.

Work on the grading will begin this season. If funds are available, the plan is to lay asphalt on the surface in 2012.

Engineers and commissioners have conducted hearings and met with the opponents to smooth out the eventual construction, even singling out certain trees for salvaging. They have also added a paved shoulder for hiking, something the opponents want to stay graveled.

Wednesday opponent Sarah Lawrence reiterated the arguments against widening and paving the road the family has made before. Paving a pristine area will spoil the ambiance, motorists will speed through the area and cause more accidents and the runoff into the lake will be worse on a paved surface, she said.

Pavement will be more expensive to maintain than filling potholes on a gravel surface, she maintained.

Opponents also object to the 4-foot ditches as further widening the project. That was done to accommodate snow storage and moisture drainage, county engineer Dave Olsonawski said.

Lawrence claimed residents along the stretch will see their taxes go up even though Olsonawski said the estimated $3 million project is state-funded.

The county says 201 driveways will be affected by the east-west project that runs from County 39 to Highway 64.

The Lawrence and Preus families said they have garnered support from 80-some residents in the last week to stop the project.

The board meeting and Robert's Rules of Order, which are supposed to dictate decorum at public meetings, teetered a bit out of control as angry opponents confronted board members from the audience, refuting each assertion by commissioner Lyle Robinson, whose district the project is in.

Board chair Greg Larson accommodated the opponents by allowing them to speak much longer than the three minutes allowed under the public discussion rules.

Lawrence and other family members sharply rebuked the commission.

"Don't laugh at us, don't be dismissive of us," they said.

The eventual hour-long discussion did not sway any minds on the board. The project will proceed. Currently right-of-way appraisals are being made and offers to purchase easements are in the works.

Robinson said the opponents, who are there infrequently, don't understand what a safety hazard the roadway can be in the winter and early spring, when washouts close it off entirely.

"If we needed to get a fire truck or ambulance in there, we could get sued," being unable to traverse the stretch, he said.

Commissioners also said a permeable surface is not possible without being destroyed by the frost-thaw cycle the area frequently experiences. It will freeze and crack, Robinson said.

Lawrence, granddaughter of one of the first lakeshore residents on Kabekona, said her ancestors "didn't expect the woods they went to would be turned into a suburb."

She told the board it was their "opportunity to be quite heroic here" in reversing approval for the project.

"It is a rare jewel and we are the stewards of it," she said.

Robinson said in his dealings with residents in the area, many of which have spoken in support of the roadwork, the family is in a distinct minority of opposition.

Right now the road is a safety hazard when people walk down the middle of it, Robinson said. And at times when the area is only accessible by boat, he said the county incurs liability for the road's maintenance.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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