Evers proposes Gresham for new ranger station

Plan would bring together services from Shawano, Keshena, Bowler

Kevin Murphy Leader correspondent

A $2.2 million proposal in Gov. Tony Evers’ capital budget would consolidate ranger stations in Bowler, Shawano and Keshena at a new station to be built in Gresham.

The plan to consolidate state forestry staff and equipment from three stations to one in Gresham would yield savings in maintenance and operations, equipment, building repairs while also streamlining fire protection team efficiencies, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The village of Gresham was selected for the new station because it’s centrally located between Bowler and Keshena, according to information the DNR supplied to the State Building Commission.

Four-lane SH 29 is four miles south of Gresham, providing east/west access. Plus, county highways A, G and VV offer other travel routes from Gresham.

The Gresham Ranger Station would have office space for six full time and six part time employees.

A 4.6-acre property has been acquired in Gresham, according to DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian but the address wasn’t available Monday. Funding for the new station hinges on it obtaining legislative approval.

The new station would have a heated four- bay drive-through garage for six fire response vehicles and tractor/plow unit. The garage would also be used as an Incident Command Post in the event of multiple or exceptionally large fires or disasters within the station’s 520,000-acre service area in portions of Shawano and Menominee counties.

If the station is built, the Bowler station, constructed in 1937, would close and its staff would relocate. The same would occur in Shawano and Keshena where the DNR leases its facilities.

“They (the Menominee) are aware of our plans and expect no change in the response or relationship, DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian wrote in response to a reporter’s questions.

A call to Tribal Administrator Jonathan Wilber about the potential change was not returned before deadline.

Reducing the number of ranger stations from three to one, is not expected to have an adverse impact on response times on fires calls, according the DNR.

“Response times are determined by more than just distance from the station. All of these areas are served cooperatively by the department and local fire departments. Staffing for the department is determined based on the fire danger.

“As fire danger increases more staff are available and ready to respond. At the highest fire danger levels, DNR equipment is pre-positioned in critical areas. The average response time statewide is just under 14 minutes for an agency (DNR or fire department) to respond to an incident,” Savagian wrote.

An architect was slated to be hired last month for the project. If the project is approved, the station’s design would be completed in August, construction would begin in March 2020 and be completed by November 2020, according to the DNR.

The project is the fourth ranked DNR capital project behind new restrooms for Yellowstone Lake State Park in Lafayette County and the Council Grounds State Park in Merrill, and a connection for the Hank Aaron State Trail in Milwaukee County.

The project is only one requested in the capital budget for Shawano County.

The Gresham station is part of the $2.5 million capital budget Evers released Thursday for the 2019-21 biennium. He trimmed about $900 million from requests by various departments which were seeking approval for projects deferred from prior capital budgets.

The budget is about three times larger than the $803 million proposed by former Gov. Scott Walker for the 2017-19 biennium.

Evers’ request would be funded by $2 billion in new borrowing.

The capital budget is scheduled to be considered by the State Building Commission on March 20 and then by the Joint Finance Committee, Legislature’s budget-writing committee.