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Douglas County officials hopeful federal funding coming for bridge

An $825,000 allocation for the County Highway W bridge mitigation project is included in the 2023 federal appropriations bill.

Douglas County Highway W bridge.jpg
The Douglas County Highway W bridge over the Nemadji River has been out since 2018, leaving residents near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border frustrated with alternatives to getting around the area. The bridge abutments were washed out when log debris blocked the river's flow during heavy rain in June 2018.
Shelley Nelson / File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County received some hopeful news to pay for improvements that could finally repair the bridge on funding for the County Highway W in western Douglas County.

The highway has been closed at the Nemadji River since 2018, when flooding washed out the abutments to the bridge.

Highway Commission Jason Jackman said he received an email from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., stating that funding for the project was included in a federal appropriations bill.

The U.S. Senate’s draft appropriations bill for fiscal year 2023 includes $825,000 for Douglas County’s Nemadji River bridge mitigation project, according to Baldwin’s press office. The senator included the funding as congressionally directed spending. If the bill is signed into law, funding would be available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“So right now, it’s basically sitting in Washington, D.C. … waiting for the fiscal budget to be approved,” Jackman said.

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“There is a chance that it does not get approved,” said Supervisor Nick Baker, chairman of the county’s transportation and infrastructure committee.

Jackman said if it’s not approved, the county will have some decisions to make on whether to improve the bridge or build it back to a pre-flood state.

County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert recommended coming up with plans to determine what it would cost and what actions the county should take, with or without the funding.

“One negative thing is that if we decide to build it back to preflood condition, the south abutment is hanging in the air,” Jackman said.

He said if the bridge is improved, that would become a pier and wouldn’t be an issue. However, if the county just fills it back in, an engineer would still have to determine how to build the abutment back up, Jackman said.

“It’s not as easy as us backing trucks up and starting to fill,” Jackman said. “… Right now, we’re just hoping that D.C. comes through for us.”

After four years of nothing happening, residents in the area started reaching out to elected officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin because the county highway impacts residents in Carlton County as well as those living between Oliver and Foxboro.

“The people want something done,” said Chuck Pleski, of Foxboro. “We’re looking at another year and it’s frustrating.”

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It’s expected that Congress will finalize the federal legislation before the current continuing resolution expires Dec. 16, Baldwin’s press office stated.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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