Verona sewage project at Ice Age Trail sparks concerns, City investigates possibility too many trees were cut down

VERONA, Wis. – A sewer project in Verona has community members raising questions, concerned that more of the natural landscape surrounding the area’s portion of the Ice Age Trail is being destroyed than necessary.

“It’s really sad,” said Joe Przywara, looking out at the Ice Age Trail in Verona where many of the trees have been cut down. He lives nearby and used to commute to work on the trail. “I really love the trail.”

So do his sons, who cleared out a space of their own in the old trees here this summer.

“It’s that much harder when the machines came and took those trees down, destroying my boys’ peaceful spot,” Przywara said.

After an Oct. 29 public input meeting, work began in early November on a two-year-long sewer project. The project is a joint effort between the city and the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to replace the sewer lines running parallel to Badger Mill Creek.

Signs posted in the area show crews must clear a corridor in the vegetation about 60 feet wide to make way for the pipes.

“My wife and I came out and we measured, and just down here we measured from the creek to the edge of where it was cleared, it was about 175 feet, so much wider,” Przywara said.

Community members expressed concerns during public comment at a Common Council meeting Monday.

Verona Mayor Luke Diaz acknowledged it’s “kind of surprising and shocking how it looks now,” saying that the city is looking into the possibility that a handful of trees marked to be kept may have been cut down.

“Obviously, that’s pretty serious if the contractors or someone else took down trees they weren’t supposed to,” Diaz said.

As a nearby resident himself, Diaz said he and the city as a whole take the trail and its restoration seriously.

“It’s not how it looks today, it’s how it’s going to look when it’s restored,” he said. “I want people to know how much I value and the city values the Ice Age Trail.”

The city is working with the Ice Age Trail Alliance on restoration plans.

“I think people have to take the long view, which would be helpful, and think about what it’s going to look like in two or three years,” said David Lonsdorf, a volunteer with the group and longtime Verona resident.

They’re working to put an extension to a new side route for the trail, which he thinks might be part of the large clearing people are concerned about.

Lonsdorf remembers the last sewer project 25 years ago when he lived right near the trail, and said it’s never easy to see trees come down. At the same time, he said Verona is a growing community with a need for the project.

“Yes, that’s unpleasant and I would prefer it didn’t happen, but at the same time, I know a year or two from now — because I’ve seen this before the last time the sewer went in — it’s going to look pretty much back to normal again,” Lonsdorf said.

The city and county are working with the alliance to build the area back up.

According to Sara Rigelman with the Dane County Land & Water Resources Department, the county is collaborating with volunteers and neighbors to restore the area, possibly with native prairie vegetation when the project is complete. The county’s 2021 budget has $100,000 set aside specifically for improvements in the trail area, she said. The county is also in the midst of a stream improvement project along the Badger Mill Creek.

“I think it’s going to be more beautiful, maybe better than it was,” Lonsdorf said.

In the meantime, Przywara said he worries the destruction is going too far.

“Without the trees, that causes erosion, and erosion’s obviously bad for the land, but it’s also bad for the spring back there and for the water quality,” Przywara said.

He also asks the city for more transparency on the project, saying there wasn’t enough notice or time for feedback prior to construction beginning last month.

Diaz said that the city will release more information to the public by the end of the week and that improving communication related to the project is a priority, with monthly meetings a possibility.