Wisconn Valley neighbors pull up stakes

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Work continues on the expansive site for the future Foxconn company facility and Wisconsin Valley Science & Technology Park in the Village of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin Monday June 11, 2018. (c) Mark Hertzberg, for Racine County Eye
Uncut grass fills the front lawn of many area homes, including 9407 Braun Road, as work continues on the expansive site for the future Foxconn company facility and Wisconsin Valley Science & Technology Park in the Village of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin Monday, June 11, 2018. (c) Mark Hertzberg, for Racine County Eye

Yards overgrown with wheat — seeded by the adjacent farm fields –surround several abandoned homes around what will become the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park.

The homes won’t be there for long. The Village of Mount Pleasant bought up over 800 acres of property for the Foxconn Technology Group development, a 22 million-square-foot manufacturing campus that promises to bring thousands of jobs to the area, and sold it Foxconn.

The project has been a political win for elected officials and adjacent communities like Racine, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. But for some neighbors — forced to move under threat of condemnation or eminent domain — the process has been painful and life-changing. For others, the move is being taken in stride as they collect their belongings and move elsewhere.

Foxconn excavation in full swing

In the 11000 and 12000 block of Braun Road, signs mark the spot for gate 1 and 3. Mountains of dirt tower over the man-made valleys. Workers wait for equipment that hasn’t yet arrived. Bulldozers mar the land with their buckets digging deep into the earth. They pull up plastic culverts out of the ground like a bird pecking for worms.

Nearby, We Energies workers turn off the power to a nearby home at 1 p.m., and another house along Braun Road goes dark.

Pat Petersen fights tears as she describes the pain of losing her home and family farm as work continues on the expansive site for the future Foxconn company facility and Wisconsin Valley Science & Technology Park in the Village of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin Monday, June 11, 2018. (c) Mark Hertzberg, for Racine County Eye

Meanwhile, Pat Petersen, 13144 Braun Road, waits for a man to dismantle the garage door that had been part of the riding arena she and her husband Jack had started to build. They stopped working on it after the Village of Mount Pleasant told them their land was on the list to be bought for widening Braun Road, which the village has to do to accommodate the massive equipment needed to build the factory.

They were paid well for their property, but at the time it was taken through eminent domain it wasn’t for sale.

“I’m devastated,” she said. “Every time I come back here, I cry. My husband tells me to get over it. But how can you get over something like this?”

Jack’s family has owned 140 acres along Braun Road since 1912. The couple built their house on 30 of those acres 45 years ago. Pat’s father, Jim Axtell, designed the horse barn. It was the last thing he designed before he died. Pat still has the three drawings he made and has since framed them. She’s also removing the doors from the barn. She wants to use them at the new house, she says.

Their 29-acre parcel sold for $1.74 million. They bought a home in Union Grove. Still, she says she feels like she’s on vacation because she’s still going to the house to wrap things up. When she leaves, she cries all over again.

“We never thought we would be the ones to lose this,” she said. “We thought we would hand it over to someone else who would raise their kids here.”

It’s the tight-knit community along Braun. Pat will miss them the most.

The agrarian and rural residential setting on Braun Road will soon change dramatically, as work continues on the expansive site for the future Foxconn company facility and Wisconsin Valley Science & Technology Park in the Village of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin Monday, June 11, 2018. (c) Mark Hertzberg, for Racine County Eye

Moving on

For Katie Spencer, 11016 Braun Rd., the move just isn’t her focus as she works to empty her former home. She has spent her entire 28 years of life living in the area Foxconn is building on. Their house sold for $735,000.

“I don’t have any hard feelings… so I guess if I get a good chunk of change to move, so be it. My parents are moving. I’m moving. My sisters are moving. (And) my grandpa is moving. So it’s not like somebody else will be living my life in my house that I got kicked out of, just time to reset. And move on,” she said.

Now, the last crop of four-inch-tall corn stalks come up against the backdrop of a pile of trees. The smell of dirt wafts in the air. Construction equipment lines the road.

Neighbors scramble to get their affairs in order before June 23, the date they have to leave their homes for good. And when the bulldozers come, their homes will disappear. But their memories will not.

“I’m 68, my husband is 74,” Pat said. “Who wants to start over at that age?”

More Foxconn coverage.

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, we’ll also be featuring the effort the City of Racine and Racine County is making on employment and the groundbreaking ceremony.