Wausau and WPS looking to install fencing under the Scott Street Bridge

Some homeless people seek shelter under the bridge and the city and WPS say its a safety issue
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 7:34 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - A project to install fencing under the Scott Street Bridge was approved and funded in the amount of $40,000 in the 2022 City Budget. Originally the project was bid in 2022 as a joint project with Wisconsin Public Service.

Now, Wausau Public Works is asking the city council for the money to be carried over to this year.

“The bids came over again and WPS had said that they would be willing to pay the remainder of the costs,” said Eric Lindman, director of Public Work & Utilities.

The total cost for the project would be about $87,000. Wisconsin Public Service owns the area near the dam. The service provider is offering more than $47,000 to fence off and secure the area.

“If we have an emergency repair on a control joint or something, it creates an issue for us and safety issue for the people that are under there. So, for us to work on the bridge, and to have people in that public right of way, it just doesn’t work well,” said Lindman.

Both WPS and the city said the fencing is a matter of safety. “They want to secure that as well and keep people away from there so people can’t be on top of the dam,” said Lindman. “People can fall in the river.”

“There are no safety concerns where they’re camping now. There have been no instances that we’re aware of that they’ve caused a safety issue for the public,” said Sandra Kelch, Marathon County Community Outreach Task Force. “I think the proper way to go about it is to let them be until they have alternative housing for them.”

The fencing project has raised concerns from advocates of the unhoused population.

If the Scott Street Bridge does get fenced off, the homeless population would have to find somewhere else to settle. “If we can just give them a place to go first, and then remove the campsite, put up whatever fencing you want. We’re okay with that,” said Kelch.

There needs to be a 2/3 vote, 8 votes for/against, by the city council in order for the $40,000 to be carried over to this year. If the fencing project moves forward, Wausau Public Works said there would be a communication plan to give the unhoused a heads-up.