Referendum could halt riverfront plans
The city of Merrill last Monday received a petition to put the Riverfront Revitalization Plan to a referendum.
The citizen-generated initiative garnered more than 700 signatures. A total of 526 signatures, equal to 15 percent of the city voters who turned out for the most recent gubernatorial election, are needed to place the referendum question on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. As of this Tuesday, City Clerk Bill Heideman was in the process of certifying that the petition has the required number of legitimate signatures. At about halfway through the petition, Heideman said he anticipates that the petition will meet the requirements. The city has 15 days from receipt to determine whether the petition meets the statutory requirements to be placed on the ballot. The petition does not require city council action.
Assuming the petition does carry the necessary signatures, the question on the Nov. 2 ballot would ask voters whether the city should continue with what is known as the riverfront project outside of the downtown area.
With the referendum on the table, Mayor Bill Bialecki said he will ask that all progress on the riverfront project be halted until after Nov. 2.
“This way the voters have a say,” Bialecki said.
The riverfront revitalization plan encompasses a stretch along the north bank of the Wisconsin River from the downtown area East to Hwy. 64. The plan is to redevelop the riverfront to provide for recreation while creating new areas for commercial, residential and tourist-related development. The redevelopment is projected to be undertaken over many years at an estimated cost of more than $20 million.
Opponents of the project have cited the high cost, along with the potential additional cost of cleaning up long-time industrial sites along the Wisconsin River. There are two known areas of contaminated soil in the project boundaries, and those critical of the project fear there is much more yet to be found.
The wording of the prospective referendum question would allow redevelopment plans to continue within the area along the river directly south of downtown. The riverfront land in that area is owned by Wisconsin Public Service, which has offered to cooperate with the redevelopment.