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April 28, 2001

UW-RF Sponsors Conference on Regional Growth

If predictions are accurate, the cou.nties of St. Croix, Pierce, Pepin, Polk and Barron in Western Wisconsin will be fully developed by the year 2040. Whether this is good news or bad new is highly subjective, but the fact remains: there will be significant growth, and the way it is managed will determine the future of the region.

About 150 area residents, public officials, faculty and students attended "The St. Croix Valley of the Future: Regional Planning and Growth," a conference to explore future growth and its effect on the quality of life, held April 26 on the campus of UW-River Falls. The conference was sponsored by the School of Business and Economics at UW-RF as part of Inauguration Week activities.

Panelists included David M. Rasmussen, Polk County planner, Balsam Lake; Andy Pichatta, Pierce County planner, Ellsworth; David Fodroczi, St. Croix planner, Hudson; and David Sheridan, who represented Pepin County , Pepin. Other participants included Greg Flogstad, director, Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission, LaCrosse; Jay Tappen,West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Eau Claire; and Marc Hugunin, vice chair at the Metropolitan Council, St. Paul, Minn.

Tappen defined the regional growth issues as a decrease in open space; stress on infrastructure, such as water supply, sewers and roads; traffic congestion; stress on government finances; increased housing costs and loss of wildlife habitat. He stressed the need for intergovernmental co-operation among the counties to resolve the issues.

Flogstad said the Mississippi River Planning Commission would like to see all the communities develop individual plans, which would then be coordinated with those of other communities at the county level.

What happens in the Twin Cities metro area affects Western Wisconsin. Displaying the Metropolitan Councilšs maps of expected growth in Minnesota, Hugunin said there is not a lot of growth projected for Washington County, because that is what communities want. "That will contribute to growth in Western Wisconsin," he said.

Because St. Croix and Pierce Counties are along I-94, a major transportation corridor, and because they are along the western edge of Wisconsin, they have experienced the most growth. Between 1990 and 2000, St. Croix County grew 26 percent. Pierce County experienced 12 percent growth during the same period.

In Polk County, newcomers are driving up the cost of homes and creating a lack of affordable housing. Residential value increased by 16 percent from 1999 to 2000, according to Rasmussen. The average cost of homes being built in Polk County today is $150,000 to $175,000. "Almost 31 percent of the workforce is employed in the manufacturing sector and can't afford those homes," he said.

Sheridan said Pepin County is probably the smallest county, with the least population density in the state, but residents are well aware that there are about four million people just across the river and expansion may be moving their way .

Fodroczi reiterated the importance of good planning, but noted there are some wild cards that could affect their plans, such as another bridge across the St. Croix River, a casino in Hudson, municipal wastewater capacity, possible farmer retirement programs, fuel costs and transit, and the real estate market.

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