Lack of notice about river bank stabilization project frustrates Student Senate

Upset over what it called a lack of communication among those involved and affected by the bank stabilization project for the Chippewa River, Student Senate passed a resolution Monday voicing its frustrations.

“This is a huge shared governance issue,” Senate Vice President Kelly Witkowski said. “I think the administration does notice when we take stances on issues like this.”

The issue, which also has drummed up concern among some university professors, is a $950,000 project that would address the erosion concerns of the Chippewa River’s south side bank. The project would create a 1,200-foot long bank made of chunks of limestone from 100 feet before the footbridge to Putnam Park.

Last week, a meeting was held in response to a letter sent to Chancellor Donald Mash by nine professors stating concerns about the project and requesting primary data.

“It was news to me, it was news to students,” Senate President Andy Oettinger said of the project. “And to a certain degree, it was news to the faculty.”

The resolution said the project is “subject to the same potential bureaucratic hang-ups and delays that were associated with the coolant pile system …” and undoubtedly affects students, even if the project is proposed to be completed during the summer.

There already is a snag in the project, though, that has pushed back its starting date, causing the end of the project to span into September. Both the La Crosse and Eau Claire branches of the DNR are involved in the issue.

Before the DNR issues a permit for the project, it wants a diver to search for mussels in the river. The diver is waiting for the water level in the river to go down before doing the search.

Terry Classen, director of Facilities Planning and Management, said a previous search of the river found no mussels and it’s assumed there aren’t any present. But if they are found, a relocation plan likely will be created.

Classen estimated the DNR permit – as well as the required permit from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers – will be approved around late May, although it’s hard to set a date for when the project will begin.

Because the start of the process has been backed up, Classen said the project won’t be completed by the time fall semester begins. Though the trucking of the large rocks will be done, sidewalk work and landscaping will be taking place in September.

Classen also said if anything pushes the timeline back even more, the administration will re-evaluate the entire project.

“We don’t think it was some sort of covert, keep-it-secret issue,” Oettinger said. “But the administration said they didn’t think it was a student issue.”

Vice Chancellor Andy Soll said he waited until an acceptable bid was entered before publicizing the project, because it didn’t make sense to do so unless it was going to happen.

Classen said he believes the project is a public issue for everyone in the area. He also said he thinks the administration was aware of that and informed students and faculty about it.

“As soon as we had information enough to tell people something, Andy Soll was out there telling people,” Classen said. “Otherwise, you’re just talking concepts.”

But Oettinger said Senate felt slighted by the way it found out about the project.

“The administration is conscious of the shared governance issue,” Oettinger said. “But there are just times when I don’t know if it’s lapses of thought or what.

“Sometimes they do things not only without asking, but without even letting us know.”