What started with the death of 42 pine trees in southwestern Rapid City has led to a $50,000 settlement for the property owners and a rearranging of city priorities to speed up the reconstruction of Wildwood Drive.

Work could be underway yet this year on a portion of the street after the Rapid City Council recently gave the green light for city staff to request proposals for the $829,000 project.

“We have a road that’s in really bad shape," Public Works Director Terry Wolterstorff said while noting the city had already planned on rebuilding the street. "That entrance up into the Wildwood development is one of the worst in town."

Aside from the street's obvious disrepair, the reconstruction project was prioritized as part of a $50,000 settlement paid to Conrad and Reone Rupert, who sued the city in 2009 claiming that road salt seeping into their property from Wildwood Drive killed their pine trees.

The curbless southern stretch of the street, a horseshoe roadway that connects to Sheridan Lake Road, ends in a steep grade. The Rupert property, where nearly all the damage from road salt occurred, flanks the north side of Wildwood Drive and seems perfectly positioned to soak up salt-tainted runoff as water drains down the hill.

"Drainage is just part of the components that we look at," Wolterstorff said this week. "The project needs to happen regardless of the drainage needs but that litigation certainly did cause us to bump it up on the priority list a little bit.”

The city wasn't found to be negligent in salting the steeply graded road, but the reconstruction of the southern section of Wildwood Drive will include drainage improvements to help keep runoff in the public right-of-way and off private property.

While damage to other trees in the area didn't amount to enough for a lawsuit, Reone Rupert said the damage to her property has already been done, so the new gutters won't offer any real satisfaction.

"The trees are all gone, so it's going to be one of those deals," she said before declining to comment further on the matter.

The Rupert's home was built in 1961 and the surrounding homes along Wildwood Drive sprouted up into the 1970s and later, according to Pennington County Equalization Office records.

City Engineer Dale Tech said Wildwood Drive was under county development standards when built.

"It was probably a rural road section as opposed to a urban road section that requires curb and gutter," Tech said. "That Wildwood Drive area was annexed some time ago, a long time ago."

Patsy Horton, a long-range planning manager for the city, said the Wildwood Drive area was originally platted in the 1970s. She said Rapid City annexed the area in September 1984.

"It extends north of Wildwood Drive," Horton said of the annexation. "It actually goes up to Corral Drive."

Tech said Rapid City's street projects and new development follow a Infrastructure Design Criteria Manual that was adopted in March 2012.

The criteria governs other work along the southern portion of Wildwood Drive, including the addition of city sewer service for the area, a secondary water main, guard rails and the overall reconstruction of the street.

The northern stretch of Wildwood Drive has already underwent reconstruction that included curb and gutter work and Wolterstorff said the $829,000 Wildwood project is the first of many for the decades-old development.

Some of those projects, however, don't fit in the city's five-year plan for capital improvement projects within the Public Works Department's budget.

"There are several phases up in that Wildwood Drive development that need work," Wolterstorff said. "This will just take care of the bottom portion of it.”

While Joyce Kucera said she isn't aware of any trees killed by de-icer on her property that sits up the hill from the Ruperts, she's still looking forward to having the road rebuilt.

"Just in the year that we have lived here, the pavement has been cracking and sliding," said Kucera, who recently moved to the area from Piedmont.

Contact John Lee McLaughlin at 394-8421 or john.mclaughlin@rapidcityjournal.com

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