I-43 Controversy

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Introduction

I-43 almost did not exist due to the controversy surrounding it at the conception of the project. Mittam15 (talk) Many people opposed the making of this now well driven highway. The other part of the population was all for it. It seemed as though more people were opposed than for. From the Sheboygan Press that was published on March 6, 1974, there was a quote from a man named Wilmer Opitz from Saukville, Wisconsin. Opitz said that “ we don’t want or need this highway project. It would result in farm acreage loss and certainly wouldn’t help the environment”. Another man, in the Sheboygan Press, named William Wolf from Grafton, Wisconsin said “ concerned citizens not just farmers are fearful over this proposed highway project. We need all the farm lang we can get to produce food”. Many farmers at this time took to the newspapers to tell their stories to a wider audience and bring attention to the issues they faced. These newspapers reveal that while some were satisfied with the payment they received, many were discontent and did everything in their power to sabotage the construction of I-43 until they were given what they considered fair. Throughout the newspaper clippings, petitions, etc. it seems to that many farmers were willing to sell for the price of $1000 per acre or more. First many of them received completely different amounts of money for unknown or undisclosed reasons, and secondly that the average amount that people are being paid for their land is below $1000. Another problem faced by the farmers is that negotiating on the selling price of their land was almost impossible. The rural opinion on the construction of Interstate 43 would best be shown through the views of the local farmers in the affected areas. It was their land that was needed to build the highway. Nearly 2000 acres of prime farmland was eventually required for the massive building project. Issues such as carving up the land for the interstate highway meant that their tractors, no longer able to travel from field to field, needed to find an overpass to get to different fields. Proper drainage was another concern for the farmers along the planned highway route. People started the “Stop I-43 Environmental Alliance”. This was a group where they considered different options rather than constructing a new highway. Some people looked forward to alternate routes than than building I-43 in the location that the government wanted it to be. The construction of the new highway was going to start in Sheboygan and end in Green Bay. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Wisconsin was nationally recognized for transportation policies that encourage public input and minimize environmental impacts. Some farmers took to civil disobedience in order to gain attention to their protest of the highway that was soon to be under construction. In the beginning, Wisconsin was only supposed to have two main highway systems which were I-90 and I-94. The state was finally able to convince the federal government for I-43 (from http://worldcat.org/arcviewer/1/WIDAG/2006/04/07/0000018896/viewer/file1.html). But as you know some people did not approve of the new highway.

What Was the Urban View on the Construction of I-43?

The urban views of the construction of I-43 that would connect Milwaukee to Green Bay had mixed reactions. It was first believed to be a good thing for not only both Milwaukee and Green Bay but also for some of the other cities that I would pass through as well. But as the word got spread around the state about the possibility of the Interstate being made there was more people against it being built then there was people for it. In Manitowoc there was some opposition when a lady named Harlee Suttner who had over 50 signatures of people who lived in Manitowoc who opposed the building of the new Interstate. [1] There were others who opposed the new Interstate but there were also those who were for the Interstate. In Sheboygan there were some people who joined together to make a committee that was for the construction of the Interstate. There was also a different committee formed that was similar to the Sheboygan group in Green Bay that was for the construction of Interstate as well. [2] There wasn’t support from everyone though in Green Bay, a local woman said “This sounds like a sob story, but that road’s really going to do us in”. [3] So there was definitely both support and opposition in cities wherever the new Interstate was going to come into contact with.

While the people of Eastern Wisconsin were showing either their support or opposition of the Interstate, the construction of the Interstate was up to some people in Madison. The Governor Patrick Lucey was one of the big supporters of the construction of the road when he endorsed the road in 1975 when he said “I support the Highway Department’s plans to go ahead with construction”. [4] Governor Lucey also later went on to give the go-ahead for the construction of the Interstate in 1976 and also went on to say why he supported the building of the interstate. Lucey said “I would not support I-43 if it were not necessary and if it did not fit well into Wisconsin’s transportation plan and future” and “However, I-43 is necessary and what’s more it has been planned in a responsible manner”. [5] With Governor Lucey’s support and the support of other people that were in Madison is what lead to the Interstate eventually being finished.

What Was the Rural View on the Construction of I-43?

The rural opinion on the construction of Interstate 43 would best be shown through the views of the local farmers in the affected areas. It was their land that was needed to build the highway. Nearly 2000 acres of prime farmland was eventually required for the massive building project.[6]

Besides the farmers losing the acreage, and by default, their livelihood, many other issues were being thought about. Issues such as carving up the land for the interstate highway meant that their tractors, no longer able to travel from field to field, needed to find an overpass to get to different fields. Not only was this inefficient use of time, it was a burden on the bottom line of the farmer as well. The nation was in the grips of the 1970’s fuel crisis and any extra gas used was money out of the farmers pocket.[7]

Proper drainage was another concern for the farmer, they could potentially see more flooding during heavy rain events if the highway did not drain adequately. The worry was also that road salt from Wisconsin’s harsh winters would melt into the farmers fields in the spring. These concerns were shared by farmers up and down the new I-43 corridor.[8]

In the county of Sheboygan, one local farmer, William Ford, had organized some of his fellow like minded farmers and started the “Stop I-57 Environmental Alliance”. The original proposed name for I-43 was I-57, and was changed later. Ford, who was the president of the alliance, organized events at the local supper clubs in the area. They met to discuss alternatives to the construction, loss of local tax revenues and the state of the lawsuit the group had filed to halt the construction of the highway.[9]

Alternate routes were extremely important to Mr. Ford and the Alliance. The sentiment was that that new I-road would be a disaster for farms and also the environment. They thought that it would have been more advantageous to use an alternate route. One such alternative route was to use the already existing highway 141. “However, we recognize that if an I-road is superimposed over the present 141, the cost and damage both agriculturally and ecologically would be lessened considerably.” Mr. Ford stated.[10]

The lawsuit that was filed was mostly to impede the construction of the highway north of the city of Sheboygan. Sections to the south had already began being built. One resident of the small community of Cleveland and plaintiff in the lawsuit said, “It saddens us to realize that through the developing past history of this proposed I-57 highway, which threatens the damage of so much agriculture…we farmers are such a small voice in the wilderness, we are desperately shouting for help.” Unfortunately for the farmers and opponents to the highway, the lawsuit failed and the construction on the highway between Green Bay and Milwaukee was to begin.[11]

For some this was the end, the lawsuit was over and there was really nothing that could be done to stop the new I-43 from being built. Some farmers, however, took to civil disobedience in order to gain attention to their protest. Farmers would sit in front of the bulldozers preventing them from destroying the farmland. When the farmers were arrested for these actions their family often stepped in. In one instance the daughters of a farmer had placed themselves in front of the heavy machinery with the same goal of preventing the destruction of land. While these protests also did not succeed it shows just how hard the resolve of the farmers, turned environmentalists, really was.[12][13]

Why did the Movement to Stop I-43 Fail?

Interstate-43 started construction in 1972 and was finished in 1981. Despite the efforts of protestors to influence and point out the damage the interstate would cause on the surrounding farmland and environment, the Wisconsin state government disregarded these protests and felt the need to find a better route from Green Bay to Milwaukee rather than preserve a couple hundred acres of farmland.

The protestors, which included farmers, environmentalists, and others who opposed the construction of I-43, tried to do everything they could to bring awareness to the state and to the legislation of Wisconsin. The protests brought up the environmental concerns the highway could bring, from salt/improper drainage into the farmer’s fields, losing valuable farmland, and higher pollution in the area due to more carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Protestors did everything they could to halt construction. Some farmers brought their cattle to the State Capitol Building in Madison to showcase their anger of legislation ignoring their concerns. Other protests included marching along highway 141 from Sheboygan to Green Bay to showcase the alternate route the protestors wanted.[14] I-43 protestors did everything they could to save the roughly 2,000 acres of farmland going to be destroyed by the construction of the Interstate.[15]

Despite their efforts, Wisconsin Governor Patrick J. Leucy would not halt construction of the interstate. The alternate idea of turning highway 141 into an expressway, favored by the protestors, was quickly swept under the rugs. The cost of an expressway would be roughly $85.6 million, compared to the construction of an Interstate would roughly be around $87.4 million. Most taxpayers would favor the smaller cost, but the cost is only a small margin and the state would need something to sell to the people of Wisconsin why it needs a new Interstate. That’s when the Federal government granted to pay for 90% of the interstate rather than just 70% if Wisconsin decided to make 141 an expressway. This push of having the federal government pay 20% more for a new highway was a strong selling point Governor Patrick J. Leucy sold to the people. Leucy stated that the Interstate was “necessary” in the matter it would help balance the transportation that would benefit both urban and rural areas.[16]

The expressway isn’t the perfect solution either. Despite I-43 destroying around 2,000 acres, turning U.S. Highway 141 into an expressway would consume around 1,755 acres. Turning U.S. Highway 141 into an expressway would also disrupt 188 homes, 33 businesses, and 11 farms, compared to just 22 homes, 1 business, and 11 farms being affected by the construction of I-43. Given all these costs and benefits, the idea of building I-43 was basically bought and sold by the majority of Wisconsinites. Protestors continued to protest but realized there is nothing they could do to stop construction. So instead of admitting defeat and to at least achieve some voters from the protestors, the construction will at least cut down its median width from 84 feet to the minimum 60 feet, saving roughly 100 acres of farmland.[17]

The protests may have failed to halt construction of I-43, as I-43 continues to be a vital source to maintain traffic from Milwaukee to Green Bay. The protests did bring vital aspects that the government should look before passing anything in Congress, that they should look at the costs and benefits, how it impacts everybody in the state, and the environmental impacts on the idea at hand so that all sides can compromise.

Did the Farmers Believe They Received Fair Compensation?

Many farmers at this time took to the newspapers to tell their stories to a wider audience and bring attention to the issues they faced. These news papers reveal that while some were satisfied with the payment they received, many were discontent and did everything in their power to sabotage the construction of I-43 until they were given what they considered fair. Nick Jacque was a farmer in port washington. His story was printed in the Sheboygan Press on Thursday July 8th, 1976. When the highway was first built they took 17.5 acres from him. 7.5 acres was comprised of “cutoff” land. This land is clearly labeled as inferior and is worth less. Due to this its price is not relevant to the comparisons made later. The other 10 acres was prime agricultural land. The state offered $750 per acre for this land. Unsatisfied with this Jacque points out that both of his neighbors were offered $1000 per acre. The ozaukee county Highway Commissioner intervene and got him $1000 per acre. Even still Jacque states that four years ago he sold other prime agricultural land for $1350 per acre.[18] Another farmer named Arthur Salm was paid $49,000 for 26.56 acres of land. This is then immediately contrasted by Karen Weichart who was paid $20,000 for 26.17 acres. Clearly the State of Wisconsin was paying different people different amounts for land. It is later stated that in total 574 acres were purchased from Manitowoc county for $515,880. This averages out to $897.90 per acre. The news paper later lists several farmers that were paid extremely varying amounts for similarly varying amounts of land. Some of the extremes are Erik Klessig with 2.33 acres for $800 dollars, George Andre with .21 acres for $2000, and Viola Hermann with .16 acres for $4200.[19] Throughout these newspaper clippings, petitions, and the like it seems to be that many farmers are willing to sell for the price of $1000 per acre or more, the problem is twofold. Firstly that many of them are receiving completely different amounts of money for unknown or undisclosed reasons, and secondly that the average amount that people are being paid for their land is below $1000.

Eminent Domain

Another problem faced by the farmers is that negotiating on the selling price of their land was almost impossible, because the government holds the right of eminent domain. Eminent domain is the right of the government to take private land and convert it to public use assuming fair compensation has been given.[20] It was first implemented by the supreme court in Khol v. United States, 91 U.S. 367 in 1875.[21] The problem the farmers faced is that they were not the ones who decided what was a fair amount of compensation. This meant that so long as the government made an offer that wasn’t ludicrous they could then take the land regardless of the opinion of the farmers living there.

References

  1. More Opposition to Highway Shown, Manitowoc Herald Times, March 12, 1971, Found in Box 3, Folder 11, Bouda Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  2. Citizens For I-57 Group Formed, Sheboygan Press, January 28, 1972, Found in Box 3, Folder 11, Bouda Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  3. More Support Generated For I-Road, November 9, 1973, Found in Box 3, Folder 11, Bouda Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  4. Lucey Thumps Drum For Spending Limits, June 24, 1975, Found in Box 3, Folder 13, Bouda Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  5. I-43 road gets Lucey go-ahead, The State Journal, May 19, 1976, Found in Box 3, Folder 14, Bouda Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin
  6. ["Sheboygan Press 5/14/1975 p.22 Other Side of I-43 Controversy Given at Manitowoc Conference Box 3 Folder 11 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  7. [Sheboygan Press 4/7/1975 p.3 State Ag Official Condemns I-43 Disruption of Farmland Box 3 Folder 13 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  8. ["Sheboygan Press, 6/14/1972 p. 3 478-Page Environmental Impact Study on New I-Road Released Box 3 Folder 13 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  9. ["6/14/1972 Stop I-57 Alliance Won't Be Active in 23 Plans Box 3 Folder 11 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  10. [Herald Times Reporter Manitowoc Two Rivers, WI 11/3/1973 p.2 I-57 Design Hearing is Slated Box 3 Folder 11 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  11. ["Sheboygan Press 5/22/1973 Anti-I-Road Leader Laments Federal OK Box 3 Folder 11 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  12. ["6/4/1976 Protesters Stall I-43 Work Box 3 Folder 14 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  13. ["6/8/1976 I-43 Foes Face Tress Pass Charges Box 3 Folder 14 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin"]
  14. [Two Arrested for Trespassing...Protestors Stall I-43 Work, Sheboygan Press, June 6, 1976 in The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 3, Folder 13, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin"]
  15. ["I-43 Go Ahead, Sheybogan Press, June 10, 1975 in The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 3, Folder 13, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin"]
  16. ["Lucey backs I-43, Sheboygan Press, 1975, in The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 3, Folder 11, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin"]
  17. ["'Other Side' of I-43 Controversy Given At Manitowoc Conference, Sheboygan Press, May 14, 1975 in The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 3, Folder 13, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay, Wisconsin"]
  18. Bob Bushner, The Farmer Or The Roadbuilder… Who Pays The Price? Sheboygan Press, Thursday, July 8, 1976, found in box 3 folder 14, Bouda, Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin
  19. 515,880 Paid for Manitowoc-Co. I-43 Land, The Green Bay Press-Gazette, Thursday, June 10, 1976, found in box 3 folder 14, Bouda, Francis J. Papers 1968-1976, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Archives and ARC, UWGB, Green Bay Wisconsin
  20. "Eminent Domain" https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/eminent_domain
  21. "Eminent Domain" https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/eminent_domain