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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
“Honor and Remember” flag adopted by State
By Lynda Berg Olds
At the recent meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Vince Netherland reported that he had been contacted by VSO (Veterans Service Officer) Andy Butzler, who advised that the State of Wisconsin has adopted the “Honor and Remember” flag.
“This is a flag that honors all fallen heroes, all fallen soldiers that served the United States, whether they died in combat or if they died while in service in another capacity, but all are heroes who deserve recognition,” stated Netherland, who had circulated a photo of the flag, along with some history.
“I give this to you because in the next couple of weeks, these will pop up on all of our campuses. They fly below the American flag and it is a little bit smaller than the American flag and the protocol has been approved by the government.
“I know when people drive by, they are going to say, 'Hey, what's that new flag? It's not a Packer flag so what is it?' So now you will know what that is. I want to thank Andy for bringing this forward and there will soon be one on each of our flagpoles.”
The Honor and Remember Flag was created to serve as a national symbol that specifically acknowledges the sacrifice of men and women in the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives for their country in over two centuries if America's history, all the way back to the American Revolution.
“The Red Field represents the blood spilled by brave men and women in America’s military throughout our history, who willingly gave their lives so that we all would remain free.
“The Blue Star represents active service in military conflict. This symbol originated with World War I, but on this flag it signifies service through all generations from the American Revolution to present day.
“The White Border surrounding the gold star recognizes the purity of sacrifice. There is no greater price an American can pay than to give his or her life in service to our country.
“The Gold Star signifies the ultimate sacrifice of a warrior in active service who will not return home. Gold reflects the value of the life that was given.
“The Folded Flag signifies the final tribute to an individual life that a family sacrificed and gave to the nation.
“The Flame is an eternal reminder of the spirit that has departed this life yet burns on in the memory of all who knew and loved the fallen hero.”
The origin of this flag was shared by VSO Butzler:
On Dec. 29, 2005, George Anthony Lutz II (Tony) was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he was on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. His family and friends endured the shock, emotional agony and overwhelming loss that accompanied the news of Tony’s death, just like the many families who have suffered the same tragedy.
In the months that followed Tony’s funeral, his father, George, visited other families who had lost loved ones in the Iraq war. He began to sense that he had joined the ranks of a unique fellowship. These families were only the latest additions to a group that originated with the American Revolution, when the first soldiers to shed their blood for our freedom gave their lives.
George found another commonality among the families of fallen soldiers. After their grief had transitioned to numbness and finally to acceptance, many families wanted to know two things: their sacrifice was not in vain and the nation would never forget. These concerns led George on a quest to discover if there was a universally recognized symbol that specifically acknowledges the American service men and women who never made it home. To his surprise, he found nothing. Thus the Honor and Remember Flag was conceived.
Butzler also shared that George traveled over 25,000 miles through 50 states on a five-month cross-country campaign to promote the Honor and Remember flag as a new national symbol. He planned to meet with every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to enlist each legislator's support for a bill that would make the flag, which honors individuals who died in military service to America, an official emblem of the United States.
George was ultimately successful.
The Honor and Remember Flag was unveiled at a ceremony on Memorial Day, May 26, 2008. The mission of Honor and Remember is to create, establish and promote a nationally recognized flag that will fly continuously as a visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of national freedoms. The flag is meant to be a public symbol of appreciation that honors all military lives lost while serving since the nation’s inception.
Of note, personalized flags are now regularly presented to individual families of fallen service members. Each personalized flag contains the name, theater of operation and date of death of the individual. The flags are presented at both private and public occasions.
Honor and Remember, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
Here is to the success of one man's mission.
March 5, 2020
Community responds to third COVID-19 case
By Lynda Berg Olds
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health Madison and Dane County have announced that a third person has tested positive for COVID-19. The person was exposed while traveling in the United States and is currently isolated at home. County health officials are working to determine the people who have been in contact with the patient to isolate or quarantine people and test those who are exhibiting symptoms.
“We are working with our local health departments to make sure everyone who has been in contact with our confirmed cases is notified. We continue to urge state residents to take precautions to avoid illness,” said State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers. “As guidance is evolving, it’s important for people to monitor the DHS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites for the latest information and guidance on COVID-19.”
People who have traveled in the past 14 days to places where there is community spread of COVID-19 (international and domestic locations), are asked to self-quarantine themselves and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. If symptoms, like fever, cough, or difficulty breathing are present, they should contact their local health department and health care provider for possible testing. People should call ahead before arriving at a health care facility for testing.
“As this is the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Dane County, we have the experience in caring for patients in isolation and contacting those who may have been in contact with the patient. We will continue working with DHS and CDC, as well as our local health care providers and other partners, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County.
Public Health Madison and Dane County and the Department of Health Services responsibilities include:
Identifying and contacting anyone who has been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19. These people are asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days from their exposure and will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms. People with symptoms are tested for COVID-19.
Performing follow-up testing for individuals who test positive to determine when a person can be released from isolation.
Providing guidance to clinicians regarding testing.
Preparing Wisconsin for community spread of COVID-19.
If COVID-19 begins to spread in Wisconsin communities, state and local public health officials would consider community interventions such as temporary closures of child care facilities and schools, workplace social distancing, measures such as replacing in-person meetings with teleworking, and modifying, postponing or canceling mass gatherings. Decisions about the implementation of community measures would be made by state and local officials based on CDC guidance, as well as the scope of the outbreak.
People should follow simple steps to avoid getting sick, including:
Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water. Covering coughs and sneezes. Avoiding touching one's face and staying home when sick.
At the regular meeting of the Unity School Board on Tuesday night, District Administrator Brandon Robinson discussed measures the school is taking specific to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). He said information regarding Unity School District’s response to COVID-19 will be updated and shared on the District website at www.unity.k12.wi.us.
“Parents are encouraged to log in to Infinite Campus or contact their child’s school office to update their contact information if it has changed recently. The District’s Pandemic Preparedness Plan was updated specific to COVID-19, with guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“The District reviewed with custodial staff all cleaning and sanitizing procedures and products. Staff have increased deep cleaning procedures. Unity has provided handwashing and hygiene learning lessons for children and staff. Lines of communication with the Polk County Health Department have been developed to ensure timely response to emerging information.”
For ease of information, the County Ledger Press is providing the two letters (in part) found on Unity's website, beginning with the most recent March 9 missive, addressed to Unity Parents/Guardians and Staff:
As you may be aware, there was a presumptive positive case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) that attended a portion of the DI (Destination Imagination) Event this past Saturday in Osceola. Osceola is (was) closed on Tuesday to conduct the recommended cleaning (and school resumed as usual on Wednesday). There were some Unity students who participated in this event and some Unity adults in attendance. Out of an abundance of caution we are communicating this to you today.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Polk County Health Department:
“Students or staff who participated in the DI event are generally considered to be at low-risk for being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Attendees are being notified out of an abundance of caution. The recommendations for low-risk individuals are to self-monitor for fever and respiratory illness symptoms, and to self-isolate and contact their local health department or provider if symptoms appear. There is no recommendation for asymptomatic people who had a low risk exposure to quarantine themselves.
Anyone considered to be more than low-risk would be contacted individually by their health department for further assessment.”
The letter concludes by urging those with additional questions or concerns to contact their local health provider, noting this is an evolving situation and further updates specific to the District community may be provided on the Unity School District Website.
Prior to the March 7 Destination Imagination agitation, Robinson sent a letter to parents on March 5. What follows are excerpts from the letter titled, “Pandemic Parent Letter:”
The best way to address the transmission of COVID-19 is to practice normal preventative behaviors:
Regularly washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (length of the A-B-C song) or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
Staying home when sick.
Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or with the bend/crook of the arm when coughing or sneezing.
To clarify, there have been no identified cases of COVID-19 in our community. As COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and this is also influenza season, good hygiene and handwashing are the best prevention. Being prepared is one of the best ways to lessen the impact of an infectious disease outbreak like COVID-19 on your family and our schools.
Even if your family is prepared, an outbreak can be very stressful. Specifically, children may have difficulty understanding the situation and the accompanying stress. There is guidance available regarding how to communicate with your children about COVID-19. One resource online is: https://www.nctsn.org/resources/parent-caregiver-guide-to-helping-families-cope-with-the-coronavirus-disease-2019
Please contact us at (715) 825-3515 with any questions regarding the District’s pandemic preparedness. If you have any questions regarding the disease, your family’s preparation, and current cases, please visit these websites: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/outbreaks/index.htm
Destination Imagination Event
The DI event on Saturday, March 7, was a regional one – the St. Croix / West Central Wisconsin Region). The individual in attendance with the confirmed case of the Coronavirus was from Pierce County, but was not a student. The person evidently became infected while traveling within the United States.
Luck or St. Croix Falls students did not participate in the event. The only schools from Polk County taking part were Osceola, Unity and Amery.
The other teams were from Prescott (in Pierce County) Hudson, St. Croix Central, Baldwin/Woodville, New Richmond, Somerset, Glenwood City, Mondovi, Shell Lake and Cadott.
There is a mass quantity of articles at everybody's fingertips reporting on the latest development – hoarding. And it is most definitely right here in Polk County, as anyone who has tried to purchase hand sanitizer in the last week or so knows. But now, even the toilet paper shelves at Walmart are empty, as are the shelves for cleaning products like disinfecting wipes (see photos of the St. Croix Falls Walmart.
Some folks are just doing what has been recommended, stocking up with a two-week supply of what a household requires to sit out a potential 14-day quarantine.
But there is a mob mentality afoot. One source puts it, “The concept of loss aversion heavily factors into panic buying: how feeling like you're missing out on something can drive your spending.”
“These are the real-world consequences of panic buying,” one BBC broadcaster commented, noting that this hoarding, or “panic buying” phenomenon that happens in the face of a crisis, can drive up prices and take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them most (such as face masks for health workers).
While it is rational to stock up on emergency supplies, it is not rational to buy 500 cans of baked beans for what is likely to be a two-week isolation period. This is also referred to as a “herd mentality.” One might have a perfectly sensible shopping list, but when items deemed necessary are disappearing off the shelves, the tendency is to follow suit – so as not to miss out.
So why do people do it? Experts say the answer lies in a fear of the unknown, and believing that a dramatic event warrants a dramatic response – even though, in this case, the best response is something as mundane as simply washing one's hands.
March 12, 2020
Chief Deputy to head County Finance, HR and IT
By Lynda Berg Olds
The regular March 17 Polk County Board of Supervisors meeting was canceled due to COVID-19. Then, barely in time to satisfy proper notice laws, a meeting was called for noon on Friday, March 20. It was supposed to be a Skype and Telephone meeting, but turned out to be by phone only – and it was difficult to hear with a constant clicking noise on the line.
It was good they held the meeting for a number of reasons readers will see, but from an emotional aspect as well...as it was the last one for three long-term supervisors – a bittersweet affair to be sure. Supervisor Larry Jepsen has served in all manner of capacities, representing Polk County on one board or another all over the State – for 18 years!
As for Supervisor Dean Johansen, he has served as County Board Chairman since 2017 and has been on the board for a solid dozen years.
Another retiring supervisor is Mick Larsen, who has been on and off the board over a number of years.
It was actually at the end of this brief (for the county board) meeting that gratitude for years of service was sincerely expressed and there were good wishes all around. Some sounded like they may have got something in their eye (or that could have been the press, it's been a long time).
The first item of note was the Chairman's report. Chair Johansen advised that he had attended the (virtual) WITC District Board Appointment Committee on Thursday, where James Beistle, fondly known as “Mr. B” on Unity's School Board, was one of the three appointments to the that board. Johansen noted that WITC includes 11 counties, indicating this representation from Polk was a feather in county's hat.
“I'd also like to report that I have attended a number of COVID-19 staff emergency planning meetings here at the county. The chair can report that the county board and the public can rest assured, that the elected officials and hired staff are working and coordinating very well together on policies to meet the operational challenges of the county to deliver services to the public – and internal operational challenges also. There will be a comprehensive report coming out soon.”
Next came the County Administrator's report and Vince Netherland also wanted to comment on the series of meetings they have been having, extending appreciation for the support of staff and elected officials who have participated and given input during this time.
“Most of this past week, as you can imagine, has been dedicated to this new pandemic and as with any large organization it is important that we set up a structure and a communication process to ensure that we are attacking this thing in the most appropriate, consistent way, so that you don't have mixed signals or confusion.
“As a result, we have set up an Incident Command structure, spearheaded by our Public Health Director, Brian Kaczmarski, as well as Lisa McMann, our Emergency Services Coordinator. We also have an executive team with the staff, along with Chair Johansen to set policy for the operations of the organization.”
Netherland said the team has been meeting at least twice per day as things have been changing so rapidly, be it from the state or federal government – whether from health issues, personnel policies.
“Just so you know, what we are emphasizing with our staff and with the public, is first and foremost we are concerned about the safety of our employees and the public. With the help of Public Health and our medical professionals, we are implementing policies that will keep those people safe – but things change rapidly as we go and we have to stay on top of the most current information.
“At the same time we are committed to providing the services that are essential to the public. We are still working. We are still open. We will be adjusting procedures to keep the public and our employees safe. But our intent at this point is to continue to provide the necessary and urgent services.”
Netherland went on for a while but nobody could hear him.
Once again within the range of hearing, Netherland was talking about a Comprehensive Policy Guide, which was about to be sent out to all employees and county supervisors.
Next came a “happy/sad” issue Netherland shared.
“Our favorite Finance Director Maggie (Maggie the Magnificent) Wickre, has decided to retire (sniff). But I can assure you she is at peace and happy with her decision. She is going to be spending some quality time with family and her dog. She has decided to move quickly over the next couple of weeks to do that.”
Netherland said that with that change he had another announcement.
“We have named a new General Government Division Director, Chad Roberts, who will be transitioning from the Sheriff's Department over to Administration, where he will be over Human Resources, Finance and the IT area. Not only is Chad effective in personnel and IT, but he also has a strong finance background and he is going to be able to step in and provide leadership as Maggie transitions out.”
Netherland said he wanted to wish Roberts well in the new position and stated, “And I also want to wish my very best to an outstanding person – in Maggie.”
Then came the action items, with three resolutions approved, all by voice vote over the phone. The first was to set the compensation for elected officials including the County Clerk, Register of Deeds and the Treasurer for the term from Jan. 1 2021 through Jan. 1, 2024.
The gist of this resolution was to give the same annual raise to these elected officials and other county employees have received – 2.7 percent. This had been through committee and promptly approved, making the salaries of the clerk, treasurer and register $66,209 as of Jan. 1, 2021, with a 2.7 percent increase annually, bringing each of their salaries to $71,718 on Jan. 1, 2024.
The two other resolutions were also considered necessary measures and clearly, conversation about these resolutions had already taken place prior to their ready and unanimous approval.
Resolution 09-20 was to “Provide County Administration Emergency Administrative Flexibility for COVID-19; and Resolution 10-20 was to “Establish a Separate COVID-19 Virus Fund to Track Expenses.”
The final item (before the goodbyes) was to ratify an “Emergency Declaration of the Board Chair related to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”
Fare-thee-well Johansen, Jepsen and Larsen - from the County Ledger Press.
March 26, 2020
Centuria enacts two weeks paid leave
By Lynda Berg Olds
On the morning of March 24, Centuria Village President Stanley Swiontek sent the following (COVID-19 update) to Village Clerk/Treasurer Karen Edgell:
“Following the directives from Governor Evers beginning Wednesday, March 25, 2020, it is critical that all non-essential employees stay home. Non-essential employees who are unable to work as determined by their supervisor, will be eligible to use up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave, pending Board approval.
“Non-essential employees, using emergency leave under this provision, must be available to work as directed by their supervisor and may be directed to support activities for the COVID-19 response efforts.”
Swiontek stated further, “All Committee and Department meetings are canceled until further notice. The regularly scheduled Board Meeting on April 13 is canceled.”
To that end, a special meeting was called, which was held last Wednesday, to address how the village should move forward with services during this COVID-19 crisis. Edgell noted on the special meeting agenda that she willhave taken extra measures to provide a safe and clean room!
Present at this meeting were Trustees Steve Sylvester, Tom Boettcher, Chuck Ellsworth, Stan Swiontek and Kevin Kamish, along with Public Works Director Tony Weinzirl and Village Clerk/ Treasurer Karen Edgell. Trustee Katie Hamm was absent.
Village President Swiontek said the reason for the meeting was to follow along with federal, state and county guidelines and Weinzirl interrupted right off the bat and said, “If you don't mind, I will just give you a quick lowdown on what we've done so far – and in the reading of that statement, a lot of that stuff was based on healthy employees who don't have sick time coming and there is another line in there that the 80 hours kicks in once your accrued time is gone. In other words, for people who don't have any vacation or sick time coming.
[Editors note: included at the end of this story is the communique from Joel Brennan, Secretary of the State Department of Administration for the reader's edification.]
“I guess what I am looking at is a directive from you guys as to what you want me to do with the guys in the back. But before we do that, I will go through what we have done so far:
“Limited contact. We are not doing anything as far as people's basements. Unless it is an emergency, we are not coming in contact with people at all. If they call we will answer questions. If they come to the shop, we practice social distancing.
“The other day I contacted the Department of Health about the Gandy building and whether it should be open or closed. The recommendation at that time was to leave it open as they are encouraging people to get out and walk – and use the State and Town Parks.
“She did however say that if the building is going to be open, to try a couple times a day to wipe all the door handles and stuff, which we have been doing.
“As for the guys in the back, if anyone is feeling sick, no ifs, ands or buts, they are to go home. And we are following the CDC guidelines, which are a little different than the 14-day mandatory hide underneath your blankets. It is the seven days following onset of fever issues and things like that. That is what we are doing right now.”
Weinzirl said one of the reasons he wanted the board to meet right away was to sort out the employee guidelines.
“I have told them flat out, if they want to take time off they are welcome to it, but I don't think I have the authority to tell them they can take this week off and they will get paid for it. It is either without pay or PTO time. I don't feel comfortable mandating somebody to go home for a public health issue and then not paying them.”
Weinzirl went on to say that as First Responders they have been working non-stop with medical direction from Lakes Regions and Regions Hospital.
“We have changed up how some of our responses are. If you've seen the ambulances around, you see the guys jumping out with masks on as that is the protocol right now. They have changed how we do a lot of things as far as protecting everyone. Me and the guys have determined that we are going to kind of cherry pick the runs. And by that I mean in the past, so mom doesn't feel good and seven or eight guys would go into somebody's house. So we are changing things to minimize exposure and the possibility of having to quarantine and shut down the whole fire department.
“We have adjusted our responses accordingly – but we still go out the door. It is just the not-so-emergency issues that we are pulling ourselves back. I was on a conference call last night for an hour and a half with medical direction...a little kid breaks an ankle may be very traumatic for the kid, but it is not a medical emergency – he is not going to die because of it. We may even be stepping back from those, because who knows if the kid might have it?
“We are just trying to minimize exposure. We shut down training. We had a controlled burn planned for Saturday with Luck, Cushing, etc. – we had a big house fire we were going to do and I talked to the other chiefs and we shut it down...can you imagine if we had to quarantine five fire departments? So we are all being real cautious.
“But what I am looking for from you guys; we are considered an essential service; the directors of public works have been bouncing back and forth asking each other what they are doing. We all have the same basic ideas. Some or more elaborate than others. What do you want me to do?
“My personal thoughts are, we are doing what we are doing, but – if we end up with somebody ill or exposed, then we run the risk of quarantine. We could run as we are now, maintaining social distancing. We do a few things to minimize contact between each of us.”
Weinzirl discussed options of taking one or more guys “out of the loop,” minimizing exposure that way, and having one guy just run the weekends, taking care of rounds in the morning.
“I would be still at home and available so if Karen needs something I can come in. I will still have to come in and check emails for both the fire department and the village every day – because I am getting emails constantly for the fire department and public works. But herein lies the rub, I don't want to tell somebody they have to go home and then they are not getting paid.”
Village President Stan Swiontek stated, “We are doing this meeting so that if there is a chance for reimbursement, we are set to get in line to get money. Personally, I think it is our duty to protect our employees, so if we have to pay them for the 80 hours and don't get reimbursed, I don't feel it is something that we need to worry about. I don't think we should force employees to use their PTO time – they have vacations planned and other things.
“In terms of public works, in Minnesota they have already cut down to half crews, especially on the managerial side because if something happens to the crew that is there, they can sanitize and bring in a whole new crew. It is kind of the same thing here. If we can have one or two people off, in case something happens, we are not going to have three guys infected...and we will still have somebody who can come back and do our water and sewer. It is only for two weeks.”
Weinzirl noted he and his crew will be coming in to help Karen with the election.
“Rather than putting a number of hours on it, let's just leave it open as far as, we will do this until April 6 and then we will view where we stand as far as what the State is doing. Then if we need to push it out farther we could. It could be a whole lot worse.”
“It sure could,” agreed Swiontek.
Weinzirl expressed concern about what might happen after the 80 hours and said his recommendation would be to drop down to one guy doing rounds, the one who is not a First Responder and on the Fire Department.
Swiontek made it pretty clear he was leaving it up to Weinzirl, as fire chief, how he was going to run that department, as well as public works. He also remarked that he did not think they had to be worried about reimbursement at this time.
“We can worry about that when and if the time comes,” he said. “We might not get reimbursed.”
Weinzirl said he had emails from FEMA telling him to keep track of everything that is being spent outside the norm – for future returns.
Swiontek said that is exactly what Village Attorney Tim Laux had told him – to just keep track of things.
“But you cannot worry about reimbursement when you have to think about the safety of your people,” he said emphatically. “Given that, you run the public works department. You do what you see fit, how you see fit. Right now we are only looking at these two weeks – and we will reevaluate down the road. And I don't want anybody using their PTO. I don't think that is fair. This is outside of our control and I don't care what the State does – I don't think it is fair for us to tell you, you have to use your PTO.”
There was concern about a public works employee who also works at Menards. Swiontek didn't think he should be getting paid at one job for staying home – and then going to another (high traffic area) job.
Trustee Steve Sylvester asked what would happen if this employee was working at Menards and Weinzirl needed help.
Edgell noted that has actually happened several times – and Weinzirl said the employee was able to respond and come and help the village – all but one time.
“Yes, he has left work to come and help,” stated Weinzirl. And Edgell indicated this employee has been at Menards for so many years, they know what to expect (or perhaps rather to expect the unexpected).
“As long as they are available to come in if there is an emergency,” stressed Sylvester
“Yes,” said Weinzirl. “That was one of the factors that I said, 'If I am paying you to stay home, you better darn well be home when I call you – and not off doing something else. If you want to go do something else, then that is on you, you shouldn't be getting paid...because we are supposed to be sheltering in place.”
Sylvester concurred, saying, “Then the employee should take their PTO – if they want to go ice fishing or whatever.”
Trustee Chuck Ellsworth stated, “There should be no 'double-dipping.'
Before action was taken, Edgell wanted to share a bit of information from Attorney Laux:
“You as a village have an obligation, not a 'should I, could I,' you have an obligation to your employees to promote goodwill, to be generous, to provide benefit to be healthy employees.”
This meeting, again, was last Wednesday, and the board, as per the 'guidelines' set forth, passed a motion to pay employees until April 6.
“So if anybody is taking time off because of this, they will not get paid after April 6. If they work, they work, if they don't work, that is when we pay them. I know some villages went to three hours per day in the office, with a note on the door.”
So everyone was clear on the motion that was to be passed, Edgell read aloud the letter Swiontek had penned the day before [the first three paragraphs of this article].
“So that covers our discussion I believe,” stated Swiontek.
Weinzirl reiterated, “I just want to make clear that what I am doing is the right thing. As I said, tomorrow will come, this thing will be done and we will have to look back and see what we've done and was it right, wrong or otherwise.”
Swiontek stated, “Our main goal here as an employer is to look out for the health, welfare and the betterment of our employees. Without you, where would we be?”
“What I am going to do is run a skeleton staff, almost like weekend work, doing rounds,” advised Weinzirl. “I will be in for a couple hours each day to check emails and then just bug out and wait for phone calls in case something goes south.”
Sylvester asked Weinzirl if they were riding two to a pickup and he said that as of this afternoon, not anymore.
“We were going to start flushing sewers, but I pulled back on that.”
The quarters are close and two people are working side by side in that situation.
“It comes down to common sense,” stated Sylvester.
The board concurred, and the motion (the aforementioned letter from Swiontek), was passed unanimously by voice vote. The board then adjourned with no further fanfare.
As promised, here is the letter from Secretary Brennan, dated Monday, March 23, and addressed to State employee colleagues:
“We appreciate everyone’s continued dedication during these unprecedented times and the COVID-19 pandemic. As Governor Evers announced, it is critical that Wisconsin residents stay at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is vitally important that we take the steps necessary to control the spread of COVID-19, ensure our state employees are safe, and maintain our ability to provide essential government services.
“Beginning Wednesday, March 25, 2020, all non-essential state employees shall work from home. Public access to state buildings will be restricted to those areas in which the public is accessing essential services. Employee access to the buildings will be maintained as if it were a weekend.
“Additionally, effective March 25, 2020, we are adjusting the emergency administrative leave program to reflect these additional steps that are necessary to preserve public health. Non-essential employees, who are unable to work from home as determined by their supervisor, will be eligible to use up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave. Non-essential employees, using emergency administrative leave under this provision, must be available to work as directed by their supervisor and may be directed to support various activities around the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.
“We understand this is a stressful time for many of us. It is important to know you aren’t alone and that we can and will provide support in the days to come. The following resources are available to all state employees:
“Employee Assistance Program (EAP) resources remain available to state employees. These comprehensive, confidential services include financial consultations, as well as counseling that can be provided over the phone and/or face-to-face for the topics of: Stress, depression, and personal problems; balancing work and personal needs; family and relationship concerns; alcohol or drug dependency; and workplace conflicts. You can call 1-800-985-5590 to speak to a trained crisis counselor. English speakers can also text TalkWithUS to 66747.
“If you elect coverage through Employee Trust Funds (ETF), they have compiled important links onto one landing page. Call 211 or 877-947-2211 to be connected up with nonprofit and government services in your area, including food pantries.”
Emergency Administrative Leave
“The state is authorizing for certain employees the use of up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave to cover pandemic-related time away from work. Eligible employees include: All non-essential limited term employees except those limited term employees hired in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or - all permanent, project, and appointed employees with no available leave balances other than future legal holiday, or - all non-essential permanent, project, and appointed employees who, as determined by their supervisor, are unable to telework.
“Note: Employees who are required to be present for operational necessity are ineligible unless the employer directed them home for flu-like symptoms or the employee is under quarantine at the direction of a health care provider or the employer.
“Accordingly, eligible employees may record up to a total of 80 hours, or prorated portion thereof, of paid administrative leave during the period of this public health emergency. This leave may be used by eligible employees for:
“Providing self or family care in relation to the pandemic, including but not limited to self-quarantine, self-isolation, being sent home with flu-like symptoms, care of an immediate family member, and child care due to school/day care closures, or
“Covering normal work hours for those employees who, as determined by their supervisor, are unable to telework. Employees utilizing administrative leave under this provision must be available to work and may be assigned duties related to the state’s COVID-19 response.”
April 2, 2020
Assume COVID-19 is in Polk County
By Lynda Berg Olds
Polk County Health Officer Brian Kaczmarski recently cautioned citizens, “While there remain no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Polk County, the Polk County Health Department wants to urge everyone to not get a false sense of security.”
He followed with the understatement, “Not everyone is being tested who goes to the doctor.”
As former Polk County Judge Bob Rasmussen put it, Kaczmarski is “on point.”
“We understand there are people in our communities who are sick and experiencing signs and symptoms of respiratory illness. Our advice to residents of Polk County is to assume that the virus is in our communities and act accordingly. Do not assume that our area is ‘safe.’ We encourage everyone to ‘double down’ on the expectation to stay at home, avoid unnecessary travel, limit interactions, and practice social distancing.”
Kaczmarski continued, “If you must venture out, please do not make it a family affair. We understand that this might not always be possible, but the goal is to limit person-to-person interaction. Now is the time to re-focus our commitment to doing our part to stop the spread; keep your ‘circle’ small, wash your hands, stay six feet apart. Together, we can lessen the impact of COVID-19 and help to keep each other safe.”
He reminded everyone that the entire state of Wisconsin is under Emergency Order #12: Safer at Home until 8 a.m. on April 24, or until a superseding order is issued. To view details of the safer at home order visit: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/prepare.htm.
To date, the word is that unless one is very, very sick and needs to be admitted to the hospital, they will not be given a test, with the possible exception of health care workers on the front lines. But there may be some light in the testing tunnel as Wisconsin is reportedly expanding to a “new phase” of COVID-19 testing:
“The State of Wisconsin now has the ability to test 35,000 people a day,” according to health care officials in a Department of Health Services briefing Monday.
Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer of the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said, “Improved technology, as we start to understand the virus, has allowed for more tests nationwide, and in the State of Wisconsin.
“We're not, I would say, out of the woods because they're still subject to some limitations, but we're in a much better position than we were in even a week ago.”
The tests were previously reserved for people in intensive care units and healthcare workers who were showing symptoms of the virus.
In this new phase, doctors will be given discretion to determine who needs a test. They can also be used to target areas of immediate need, like nursing homes with positive cases.
“How do we open the pipeline a little, recognizing were never going to be in a place where either asymptomatic people should be tested or where everyone needs to be tested?” wondered DHS Secretary Andrea Palm.
Dr. Westergaard pointed to a study out of China that he said suggests as much as 86 percent of the people infected did not go to a hospital to get tested.
“Right now our guess is we are testing the tip of an iceberg that might be 10 to 20 percent of the most sick people,” he said.
State health officials reaffirmed that not everyone needs to be tested, and DHS is providing guidance for healthcare providers to make sure the people getting tested are the ones who need it most.
Just a note, a PSA (Public Service Announcement) as it were, in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Polk County is limiting access to county buildings for the health and well-being of the public and Polk County employees. Anyone with county business is expected to call at least one day in advance to schedule an appointment.
All visitors will be screened prior to entering any Polk County building.
April 9, 2020
New county board chair elected
By Lynda Berg Olds
It was the first meeting of the “new” Polk County Board of Supervisors since the April 7 election Tuesday night. As such, it was their “organizational” meeting, which was ham-stringed a bit by the insidious COVID-19.
The agenda, the amended agenda and the second amended agenda, all proclaimed this meeting a “virtual one,” that is, participating by phone or video conference. For the first hour or more, the Ledger attended via cell phone, but it was difficult to hear at best and later attended by laptop [which wasn't much better]. What was surprising when joining the Webex Video Conference, was seeing how many supervisors were there, in the boardroom, in person. Thirteen were in attendance, with only two supervisors, Michael Prichard and Steve Warndahl appearing virtually.
Outgoing chair and retiring Supervisor Dean Johansen got the meeting going and gave his final brief report. He encouraged the supervisors to take some time to consider serving on one or more of several different outside committees, whose appointments will be forthcoming. He said if they have a particular passion to serve on one committee or another, they need to self-advocate.
“Be sure to let the new chair know. Trust me it will be very helpful.”
After the County Administrator's report [see separate article] and a few instructions, Johansen declared nominations open for the county chair position. Only one name was put forward: Supervisor Chris Nelson so nominations were closed and Nelson had a few remarks to make:
“One thing I need to be very clear on is I would agree to do it if I form a team. I know Dean had to do a lot of running around the State. I do have a daytime job. But I certainly have time to make for this job. But I would like to ask this board, if you are going to consider me for chair, I would like to let you guys know what I would expect as a team because I am certainly going to need help and need certain people to step up.”
Nelson was seeking an experienced team, a “ticket” per se. On said ticket, he wanted longtime supervisor and current Second Vice Chair John Bonneprise as First Vice Chair and current First Vice Chair (also long time supervisor) Jay Luke as Second Vice Chair. In addition, Nelson wanted Supervisor Brian Masters to serve as chair of the Executive Committee, which historically has been chaired by the county board chair. He was looking, again, for an experienced team to help lead the county forward. Each of the three aforementioned supervisors chairs a standing committee.
It took a bit of time, but the gavel was handed over to Nelson unanimously, along with the key to Johansen's, now Nelson's office.
“Are you ready?” asked Johansen.”No, I'm not” replied Nelson – but in the next breath said, “Here we go guys...”
Nelson's wishes ultimately came to fruition.
Corporation Counsel and Deputy Administrator Malia Malone took the floor after the election of officers was accomplished – and the board had convened into a COW session (Committee of the Whole). Malone had spent considerable time going over the Polk County Supervisor's Rules of Order and had some changes to recommend, particularly on “how legislation happens.” Supervisors seemed to agree that said changes made sense, but it was decided to give them a bit more time to digest all the information and to act on the Rules at the next meeting. It was decided an ad hoc committee be formed and Nelson asked for volunteers to serve on that committee along with himself, Malone and County Administrator Netherland. Supervisors John Bonneprise and Doug Route volunteered. This action was unanimously approved.
It was stated a few times that the board intends to meet twice in May, to play a bit of catch-up organizationally. Other agenda items that got moved to the next meeting included: “Continue Organizational Matters for the Board Term 2020-2022 and Establishing Duties, Responsibilities and Assigned Functions of County Board Standing Committees.”
A big order of business was to nominate, appoint and confirm supervisors to the standing committees, which was facilitated by Bob Kazmierski and County Planner Tim Anderson. This also took some time, but really only a few changes were made with new supervisors plugged into vacancies created by outgoing supervisors.
A bit of moving around within the committees took place as Supervisor Prichard only wanted to serve on one committee and he wanted it to be on General Government – and not Health and Human Services. His wish was granted.
New Supervisor Fran Duncanson also very much wanted to serve on General Government [as that complements her area of expertise]. Her wish was also granted. She was also appointed to the Health and Human Services Committee to fill the seat vacated by Prichard. And Amy Middleton was also happy to serve on that committee to fill the seat vacated by Mick Larsen.
Finally, new Supervisor Steve Warndahl was appointed to the Public Safety and Public Works Committee, a very good fit for him as well.
Ordinance No. 08-20 was approved, which amended the Polk County Shoreland Protection Zoning Ordinance, which allows residential, agricultural and commercial zoning [rules] to be placed inside the shoreland area and effectively prohibits CAFOs, large hog farm operations to take place within 1,000 feet of shoreland.
Lastly, there was a roll call vote with 11 supervisors in favor of directing the county administrator to investigate options for saving the Clam Falls Dam. Supervisors Brian Masters and Russ Arcand were opposed.
This will be expanded upon at a later date.
April 23, 2020
First Polk County COVID-19 death
By Lynda Berg Olds
Many by now have heard that the first death has occurred in Polk County due to COVID-19, but there is more to the story. In addition to the county's Public Health Department putting out a press release, this sad occasion was also discussed by County Administrator Vince Netherland at Tuesday night's meeting of the County Board of Supervisors:
“Yesterday (Monday) there was one death of a county resident who died in a Minnesota hospital. He worked in Minnesota and is believed to have contracted the virus at his place of employment. He was an older gentleman with underlying conditions. We certainly express out sympathy to their family. It's a good reminder that this is a virus that is still here and we need to be aware of it and practice good safe habits.”
Of note the press release stated, “This individual was initially tested on April 16, 2020 and passed away on May 18, 2020 at a Twin Cities hospital. This individual had multiple underlying conditions.”
Polk County Public Health reminded everyone that Covid-19 is still in local communities and physical distancing and other public health recommendations should be followed to the fullest extent possible. It concluded:
“Businesses are strongly encouraged to follow safe practices and guidance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC); https://wedc.org/reopen-guidelines/
“Polk County Public Health is ready to handle positive cases of COVID-19. We will continue to work with Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control, and our local partners to make sure our community remains safe and healthy.”
Netherland noted there are six confirmed cases in the county, with three recovered. The DHS site says there are seven confirmed positive cases; and 837 individuals have tested negative. The site says it was updated as of May 19, but still does not show the death.
Supervisors also had some Coronavirus information to share. First was John Bonneprise, who updated the board about his Health and Human Services Committee meeting. He was pleased to note that there have been no reported COVID-19 cases in any of the county's nursing homes.
Supervisor Jim Edgell followed up on what Bonneprise had to say, noting Public Health Officer Brian Kaczmarski said (at that time) that only 700 people had been tested.
“There's 5,000 of us, so that is not a very good representation. It kind of bothers me. If there is six positive, say in 1,000, there could possibly be 250 positive cases. You can get checked three places: St. Croix Hospital, Osceola and Amery and supposedly it is free, according to Brian.”
Netherland had more to report with regards to county's COVID-19 response, as well as it's financial impact.
“Our staff meets on a daily basis quite often and we are very impressed with Polk County overall in the practices that many people, businesses and families are doing. And we can always do better. We do continue to stress good fundamental practices of distancing, cleaning and so on. Now, with the Supreme Court ruling, the businesses can open, they can, they can open. What's important, and what this county has done, is a good job of communicating with the public and businesses to still follow the guidelines that are laid out. And I think you will notice when you go by and see signs on businesses that say, 'We are practicing COVID-19 best practices – or we are spacing people.' That's a good sign because businesses that do that will get customers and businesses that don't may run the risk of customers saying, 'I don't know, it looks crowded in there.' So we are going to rely to a large extent on the good common sense of the Polk County residents.
“Regarding that, even though the Supreme Court has ruled, I'm happy to tell you about what the Polk County staff, along with the EDC, have done working together to create a Business Recovery Plan. Within that plan it stresses how they can ensure safety as much as possible. It is also linked with the WEDC's best practices and it has specific steps for every type of business to follow. So we are doing what we can to encourage good fundamental practices that will enable us to keep our numbers low with the virus.”
Netherland went on to say there are some serious financial implications related to the pandemic. He said added expenses have totaled so far around $90,000. he anticipates a large portion of that should be eligible for reimbursement, maybe even 87 percent of it.
“The real hit is coming in revenue shortfalls. It has been estimated, for example, the Polk County sales tax will be reduced because of the lack of sales by up to $540,000. That's a hit on our budget right there.”
Other financial impacts Netherland mentioned included lower census numbers at the county-owned nursing home, Golden Age Manor. He said hospitals are empty so they are keeping short-term patients that might otherwise have gone to GAM.
Also, jail numbers are down. The county gets income from housing out-of-county inmates. Netherland also noted he was not sure what the property tax situation is going to be – whether or not a lot of residents will be able to make their July 31 payment.
All-in-all, Netherland estimated the budget shortfall will be between $900,000 and $1.1 million.
But all is not lost. He and county staffers are doing everything in their power to mitigate the shortfall. Some steps include a hiring freeze, except in the most dire of circumstances, reducing expenses at every possible turn, and making some staffing adjustments.
May 28, 2020
Two gravely injured in head-on crash
By Lynda Berg Olds
On May 31 at 9:39 a.m., a Polk County Deputy arrived on scene of a two-vehicle crash on County Road I near 160th Street. One vehicle had been northbound on County Road I and the other had been southbound on County Road I. The vehicles smashed head-on in the southbound lane. The driver of the northbound vehicle appeared to have operated left of center and struck the southbound vehicle.
The occupants of the southbound vehicle appeared to have serious injuries and were trapped inside the vehicle. The northbound vehicle driver fled the scene on foot according to witnesses on scene. At least the driver of the northbound vehicle assisted his passenger - and then fled the scene.
The male passenger, Eric Larson, 32, of Granton, was lying in the road due to injuries from the crash. He refused to identify the driver, would not answer questions, and said he wanted an attorney. He was eventually taken into custody.
Both occupants in the southbound vehicle were taken to Regions Hospital in St, Paul due to the magnitude of their injuries. One was airlifted and the other transported by ground ambulance once they were extracted from the vehicle by Fire/EMS. The deputy was later in contact with staff at Regions Hospital who said the male passenger in the southbound vehicle had a broken femur and the female driver was intubated.
Both occupants of the southbound vehicle appeared to have received great bodily harm from the crash.
While inspecting the northbound vehicle, a 2013 Ford Taurus with Minnesota plates, the deputy could see the following items in plain view: one loaded metal 9mm firearm magazine containing 28 9mm bullets in the front driver's side door pocket, one unloaded 9mm semi-auto Norinco Model 320 "UZI style" firearm sitting on top of everything in the backseat on the driver's side, one plastic tube with meth residue and one plastic bag containing .29 grams of meth.
At about 10:15 a.m. the driver, Anthony Tourville, 34, of Neillsville, was located a short distance from the crash scene by deputies and was arrested, cuffed and transported back to the scene to be seen by ambulance staff. He was found to be in possession of over $7,000 in cash. Tourville would not speak with the deputy and refused to talk about the crash. According to the report in support of probable cause for arrest, he appeared to be “very tired, as if he was coming down from being under the influence of meth.”
It should also be noted that at one point while the deputy was transporting Tourville in the squad, he made the statement, “Between you and I, I fell asleep while driving.” He evidently made that statement while driving past the crash site on the way from the hospital to the jail.
Polk County Sheriff's Dispatch advised the deputy that Tourville had a Wisconsin Department of Corrections felony probation and parole warrant and that he had a criminal history indicating he was a convicted felon. The deputy advised Tourville he was under arrest and he was transported by ambulance from the scene to St. Croix Regional Medical Center Emergency Room.
The deputy followed the ambulance to the emergency room and while Tourville was being checked out by medical staff, the sock on his right foot was pulled down and small plastic ziplock bag containing meth was inside. The deputy seized the meth, which weighed 3.04 grams. He issued Tourville a citation for injury (causing great bodily harm) by intoxicated (suspected meth use/influence) use of a vehicle.
It should be noted that the car Tourville was driving was seized by an investigator and he obtained a search warrant to search the car at the Polk County Sheriff's Office. The investigator located two bags of meth with a total weight of 88.51 grams inside the car, along with two digital scales and numerous empty plastic bags.
Tourville was eventually medically cleared at the hospital and transported to the Polk County jail without incident. Upon arrival at the jail, he was met in the jail booking interview room where the conversation was recorded (video and audio). The deputy read Tourville his rights but he would not answer the deputy when asked if he understood his rights or if he would waive his rights. He would not speak with the deputy and then the interview was ended. Tourville was then turned over to the Polk County Corrections Officers.
Larson was transported to the St. Croix Regional Medical Center for medical clearance. Once cleared, he was arrested and charged with possession of meth with intent to deliver, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of drug paraphernalia, and a felony probation warrant.
Tourville, was arrested for causing great bodily harm by intoxicated use of vehicle, possession of meth with intent to deliver, felon in possession of firearm, hit and run attended vehicle involving great bodily harm, possession of drug paraphernalia, a Wisconsin Department of Corrections Probation and Parole felony warrant, and going armed while impaired on meth.
June 4, 2020
County continues to study CAFOs
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the County Board meeting on Tuesday night, the board heard from Environmental Services Director Bob Kazmierski.
Kazmierski went before the board to share a report compiled regarding the impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). A previous resolution directed the Environmental Services Department to report on the impacts of a CAFO, specifically on surface water, ground water, air quality and environmental impact. This was the scope of the report as set out by the Polk County Board of Supervisors.
The 139-page report is a comprehensive examination of the impacts large scale livestock facilities would have, (in particular, swine). It not only has input from research based journals, but representatives from a number of county departments have also been able to weigh in. Employees with Environmental Services, Zoning, Public Health, Land and Water, and Planning have all weighed in. The report is available on the main page of the county website.
At least one supervisor asked why health and human services hadn't been able to weigh in.
It was noted that that the Health and Human Services Board only recently became involved in the process and there will be an opportunity to come together and discuss the report and share their input.
Polk County currently has a moratorium against CAFOs while research is being done, it ends in October with the option to extend it.
The issue may seem simple to most people. Nobody in particular would want a swimming pool sized lagoon of pig manure anywhere near their home, and the environmental impacts it would have seem obvious, it then calls into question the private property rights of land owners.
With all the lakes and rivers in Polk County, about 48 percent of property is affected by shoreline ordinance regulations that would not allow for CAFOs.
Then there are Conditional Use Permits that would be allowed under Ag 20, which requires a minimum of 20 acres. CAFOs are also regulated by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
However, some towns in Polk County are not covered by the umbrella regulatory protection. The Towns of Eureka, Sterling, Georgetown, Lorain, and Clam Falls are among them. In some cases they are developing their own plans on how to deal with the issues presented by large animal feeding operations and livestock facilities. The reasons usually track back to the concept of individual rights of the property owners.
Concerned parties can share their input on the CAFO issue at two different times. On July 1 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., people can go to the Polk County Government Center where they can make a statement that will be recorded for viewing at the July 8 public hearing. This will allow for better social distancing while assuring that everyone can weigh in on the matter.
June 18, 2020
Fireworks a go at Balsam Lake
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
This Fourth of July weekend is going to be like none other. The coronavirus pandemic has essentially canceled Summer 2020, in so far that a majority of town and villages throughout the area have chosen to cancel their seasonal festivals.
One of the last villages to declare their cancellation of events was Balsam Lake. If things were “normal” this weekend would have been the Freedom Festival. People from all around would have descended on Balsam Lake to partake in the annual celebration. Some people would have enjoyed the book sale, or the craft fair, others the hot rods or car show. And who can forget the fireworks? They are a big draw for kids and adults alike.
While many were upset by the fact that the Freedom Festival was canceled, they were even more up in arms about the fireworks when the village announced that they would not be hosting/putting on a fireworks display.
Even up until last week people were fighting for the event to take place. There had been some discussion about the Balsam Lake Homeowner's Association taking over, and that is where it was left hanging last week at presstime.
Then ones hopes were raised and then dashed when an announcement was posted on Facebook stating that the Homeowners Association would host the fireworks, and within a short period of time they dialed it back, stating that they were trying to make things happen, but desire wasn't enough and they had to meet with their insurance company and legal counsel to make sure that they could host it.
The good news came yesterday evening when the Homeowner's Association posted that the fireworks were indeed on. The statement from the Homeowner's Association reads as follows:
“The Balsam Lake Homeowners Association is excited to announce that the fireworks display for 2020 will be held on Friday, July 3 at dusk – expected to be around 10 p.m.
“For the first time, the fireworks will be managed by a professional pyrotechnics firm. They will be launching all the fireworks from barges that will be anchored near First Island, just outside of Town Bay. This will allow for everyone on land and water to have a great view and offer more space for social distancing. If you are attending on water, please keep 600 feet (two football fields) between your water craft and the barges.
“We appreciate everyone's patience. The Homeowner's Association, who was given the opportunity to host the fireworks by the Village of Balsam Lake a week ago, had many details to get into place.
“The Balsam Lake Homeowner's Association want that to be an annual event that builds on the strong friendship between the village, the county, the Chamber, the police, the sheriff and most importantly of all, of the people in our shared community.
“We also want to dedicate this year's fireworks in the memory of John Davis, a long time board member and longer time resident of Balsam Lake. John led the partnership between the Homeowner's Association and the village that led to the hiring of the professional fireworks company for this year's celebration. We thank you so much for all you did on behalf of Balsam Lake.
We encourage all who attend both on the water and from land to be safe and practice COVID-19 safe practices by social distancing and wearing masks.”
With this development there will be many happy residents and out of town guests. There are a few other places that people can get their Independence Day fix this holiday weekend.
July 4 at 11 a.m. - The Wanderoos Parade has been “un-canceled.” Anyone with a classic car, ATV, or business sponsored vehicle can meet at 10:30 a.m. on 160th Street, south of 70th Avenue to line up.
July 4 at dusk – Fireworks in Amery at the Amery School grounds.
July 4 at dusk – Fireworks hosted by the Lions at Crooked Lake Park in Siren.
July 4 , 10 a.m to 11 a.m. Flag disposal at the Balsam Lake Pine Park Baseball Field. Sponsored by American Legion Post #278.
July 2, 2020
Stower Seven Lakes Trail plan approved
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
There are probably few things as a controversial or inflame people's passion as much as the status of the Stower Seven Lakes Trail. The debate whether to keep it quiet or allow motorized traffic was the chief debate, however the argument has nuances.
Overtime it has become apparent that not everyone can play nicely together, at least not in the same place at the same time. According to surveys that have been conducted cross country skiers avoid trails where snowmobiling is allowed and in-turn bicyclists and horseback riders avoid trails where they have to share space.
During the public comments portion of Tuesday night's meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, several people spoke for and against changing the status of the trail.
The proposed changes would allow for both equestrian traffic (horses) on the trail as well as snowmobiles.
One of those speaking to the matter was Brook Waalen, President of the Friends of the Stower Seven Lakes Trail.
Waalen stated that the trails are open to anybody and everybody at any time. That may be true for those participating in silent sports like walking, cross country skiing or biking, but not others.
There are some difficulties in sharing the trails, and throughout this process that has lasted for years it became apparent that there are some users that find other groups, intolerable, for lack of a better word.
Waalen wasn't the only one speaking out against accepting horses and snowmobiles, there were others that wanted to see that the trail's status remain as it is now. That includes representatives on the Polk County Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Steve Warndahl spoke out against making the change because he had family members that utilize that trail heavily for family activities, including training for the Birkebeiner. If snowmobiles were allowed, that would be taking that opportunity away.
There were some on the other side of the issue too that spoke out in support of the changes, namely those representing snowmobile clubs.
Doug Johnson of the Amery Snowmobile club spoke during public comments stating, “We are so thankful that this has not been removed, I would like to see you see this issue through and move it on to the DNR.”
Another supervisor cautioned against approving the master plan because of something completely unrelated. The word on the streets, or on the snowmobile trail, in this case, stated that if the county board approved this plan, that farmers were going to close their property to snowmobile trails to gain leverage against CAFO regulations that the county is working to develop.
Discussions got heated, and thanks to a technological glitch, Waalen, who has donated an extensive amount of time and effort in supporting silent sports, left the Polk County Board room, and others listening aghast at exasperated statements, which did include expletives. However, it is unclear whether or not he was aware that his mic was on.
In the end, the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail Master Plan was approved as is by a vote of 9 to 5 in favor of its passage.
The plan will now be sent to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. But as outgoing Supervisor Brian Masters pointed out there is no telling how long it will take the DNR to approve it.
July 23, 2020