La Crosse County Court hears first civil suit arguments for, against new bluff trail project

Judge did not make decision Friday, will hold next hearing June 5

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– A group of concerned people are trying to stop construction of a new trail system on Grandad Bluff.  The Grandma’s Gateway project would initially create about five and a half miles for pedestrians or bicyclists, but is part of a larger project in the future.

The group has opposed the construction because of environmental and safety concerns. They worry it will cause irreparable harm to the bluff itself and potentially the residents on, adjacent to and below the bluff.

The virtual La Crosse County court hearing Friday morning was for a temporary restraining order.

The city argues the petition is technically improper. Attorney Ryan Braithwaite is representing the city. He said during the hearing those opposed were given multiple chances to make their point throughout the approval and zoning process.

“Their opportunity to challenge those decisions is not through a temporary injunction. If you have a problem with the actions of the parks board, then you follow the procedure for challenging the actions of the parks board,” Braithwaite said.

Attorney Christine Clair is representing the Grandad Bluff Coalition and other parties named in the civil suit. She said they often weren’t given notice of the meetings. When they were, the group’s request to get on a Board of Parks Commissioners’ meeting was rejected.

The suit specifically cites a February 20th meeting, when Chairman Paul Medinger denied the request because the correct procedure to be put on the agenda had not been followed. The court document claims no one informed Clair or any neighborhood resident of the procedure prior to that date.

“We’ve exhausted every available means of addressing this through municipal structure. This is our only remedy at this time,” said Clair.

Judge Todd Ziegler, who was presiding over the case for La Crosse County, said he shared the concern that maybe the citizens’ group should have pursed other legal means.

“Is there any allegation that the city violated some law in the way that they handled this?” Ziegler rhetorically asked.

That’s a question the judge wants the parties to answer that at the next hearing.

The city also argues that to stop the construction, Outdoor Recreation Alliance, which received a grant for the project, and the contractor Rock Solid should have been included because they have a contract for the construction, not the city.

“So I don’t understand how the court can do that when neither party to the contract is before the court,” Braithwaite said.

Because ORA is a non-profit, the petitioners argue they don’t have access to its records and the site is city property. They can only ask the court for remedy.

“We reserve the right to add them on as a party, but up until today, we did not know this argument,” Clair said.

Among other legal questions, the judge told both parties to consider these issues– and for those against the trails to be able to explain how they would be harmed by this project.

“There’s potentially a standing issue as to whether any of the current petitioners have standing in this case,” Ziegler said.

Meaning, the case could be dismissed if the group can’t show they would be harmed by this project.

The judge did not rule on a temporary injunction. But it did order the city to take steps to ensure construction will not start before the next hearing. It is currently scheduled to start on June 10.

The next hearing for the matter will be June 5 at 10:30 A.M. It will be held via Zoom video-conference.

The coalition is also seeking a permanent injunction to stop the construction.