The landscape is now barren in front of dozens of Wauwatosa homes.
In June, their city launched its largest public improvements project ever, and it entails cutting down trees. Wauwatosa is replacing miles of aging sewer pipes, in hopes of ending basement back-ups.
While some residents are thrilled, we found others wondering if the cure is worse than the problem.
The growl of excavators is the new alarm clock for people living between 86th Street and Swan Boulevard. Gone is the song of summer breezes rustling leaves. That’s because, in order to reach the city’s subterranean infrastructure, workers had to clear-cut about 60 mature trees. Some shaded houses that never flooded.
Lorraine Miller says it’s distressing to look at the street she’s on for 22 years.
"It’s just so devastating to see it. I lost three trees and I lost a small tree that was only here about two years. The largest trees were at least 60 years old. I just can’t believe, you know I said to my husband, I’d like to know who voted for this, because I’d like to vote ‘em out." Miller says.
Loraine, meet your Alderman, Jeff Roznowski.
"I hear from five to ten people every single day," Roznowski says.
Wauwatosa’s Common Council approved the sewer project last year.
Roznowski says, now that the job is underway, people in its path are getting daily doses of dust and window rattling vibrations. He says the resulting anxiety makes communication with constituents a must.
"When you take the time to explain not only what we are doing but why we are doing it, they still may not agree with the decision, but at least they understand and then effectively deal with it," Roznowski says.
Randy Daut has been all ears.
He’s listened to the discussions at city hall about how to combat basement flooding. The retired psychologist has lived in Wauwatosa for 30 years. Wastewater has backed up into his home seven times, so he’s pleased the city is taking action.
"I believe that it should be a beneficial project for a lot of people and hopefully the disruption will fade from people’s memory. I guess I’ve got to say, that I appreciate the sacrifices that people are making to finally bring this project to fruition," Daut says.
There are several phases. They include replacing three-foot diameter storm pipes with new 10 footers and installing higher capacity sanitary sewer lines. Above ground – by next June, crews will erect new streetlights and plant young trees.
The project is one of several Wauwatosa is undertaking to replace undersized, 90-year-old pipes. City Administrator Jim Archambo says the upgrades may take 30 years to finish.
"It’s important to understand that the deterioration of the systems happened gradually, it didn’t happen all at once and the cure to some of these problems is not happen all at once either. But, it’s something that we need to diligent about and we also need to be financially responsible in the way that we go about managing that process," Archambo says.
Archambo says the tab will approach $120 million, with the city selling municipal bonds to pay the bill.
City leaders say the flood mitigation steps should protect everyone’s property values, even though there is no guarantee the upgrades will stop all basement back-ups during heavy storms.
Ron De Villars seems accepting of the gamble. The retired high school music teacher has a front row seat from the stoop of his house on Meinecke Avenue.
"There are some very, very unhappy people, and I think they have a right to be. Whether all this is going to be worth the support that the few people who do have flooding had over the years. So, I have kind of mixed emotions about it. If they needed it, really, it’s okay," De Villars says.
However, if the project fails to meet expectations, it might mean money down shiny new drains.