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Planning Higley's future
  • Updated

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—A centrally located realm, on a patch of land that spans approximately 8.7 acres in the City of Marinette, offers area residents just about everything required to fill a day with abundant recreational pursuits and fun.

They call it Higley Park, and efforts to develop a long-term plan to maintain, upgrade and modernize the park are underway among officials with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Committee.

Since February, Executive Director for the Park and Recreation Department Gavin Scray and Recreation Superintendent Adrienne Lacy have continued discussions with the landscape design and architecture firm Rettler Corp., Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Those discussions focused on hammering out various concept designs that they hope will serve as a comprehensive plan, drawing out a roadmap for the future of Higley Park.

“We haven’t secured any funding to make the improvements happen,” Scray said. “And there is no concrete plan. This is all, more or less, a master plan to say: this is where we want to get and this is what is it going to take to get there … so, in the future, if we do come up with the funding to make improvements for that park, (the plan) will pretty much be laid out.”

He emphasized that such a roadmap allows the committee to address Higley’s future as finances and annual budgets permit.


Monday, Rettler Corp. President John Kneer, presented two early-stage versions of park designs, seeking feedback from the Parks and Rec Committee.

The city retained Rettler as a consultant to help it take a fresh look at the options for Higley Park’s future development. Those options included improved parking, modernized playground, addressing aging park structures and other ideas based on current trends in parks and recreation.

During the initial and subsequent meetings between Scray and Rettler, a list of high-level needs for the park materialized. A primary concern on that list involves the structure that sits next to the playground equipment at the north end of Higley Park.

Known as the Tot Lot building, the department abandoned its primary use long ago. Presently, the building continues to deteriorate. It has also become a more frequent target for nefarious-minded miscreants, thus creating a nuisance and safety issue for the city. Prior to 2009, the structure housed the Tot Lot program, which offered pre-school programming.

“We are kind of in a scenario where we need to address (the building), whether that means tearing it down, boarding it up, or doing something else with it,” Scray said. “Because, not only is it an eyesore, but it is consistently being vandalized.”

After performing an analysis of the building, the Rettler Corp. designs suggested removing the structure and replacing it with parking or new facilities such as concessions or restrooms.

“The best thing (for that building), in our recommendation, would be to start anew, with new facilities,” Kneer said Monday. “Opening up that part of the site gives us an opportunity to include additional parking.”

Beyond the Tot Lot revisions, the concept plans offer several other tantalizing visions of park possibilities. Similar in scope and amenities, each design revealed potential additions and improvements for the playground, parking, ball diamonds, pavilion, concessions, the skateboard park. Those items and other broad-scale applications, if they reach fruition, will essentially give the aging park a facelift. One design also included a 2,700 sq. ft. plaza structure centered between reconfigured ball diamonds. The plaza would house concessions and restrooms.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” Kneer stated, during the April Parks & Rec Committee meeting. “I think there is a tremendous opportunity to open up the park—to remove some fencing and have greater connectivity to better implement access to the park from cars and pedestrians … We had a lot of great ideas that spurred conceptual developments.”

Kneer delved further into the need for a better distribution of parking to facilitate improved pedestrian safety and more streamlined access and convenience for parkgoers. He also discussed improvements to the tennis courts and softball fields and addressed upgrades to the park’s heavily used play spaces. Finally, he addressed the feasibility and for a long-lingering item on the Marinette communities wish list, a splash pad.

“A splash pad is something the community has been asking for forever,” said Committee Chairperson Dorothy Kowalski. “I think (the) splash pad, if we can do it, is important to the community.”


The Higley Park Comprehensive Plan serves primarily as a playbook of possibilities. Thus, when it comes to the financial component, Scray described any potential and far-reaching changes to the park would likely follow a phased process and not occur all at once. Instead, Rettler and the Parks and Recreation Committee would address various improvements to the park in a step-wise process, treating each improvement or upgrade as a separate project as money became available.

“Basically, (we would) put a dollar amount on each one of the separate components of the (Comprehensive Plan),” Scray said.

Kneer added that presenting two concept design ideas to the committee serves as a way to stimulate ideas, feedback and other input from committee members. That feedback will provide further direction towards a preferred concept design, which would include cost estimates of each component. Eventually, those concepts would be refined into the master plan.

Kneer echoed Scray’s emphasis that the Comprehensive Plan would possess a high “phase-ability,” allowing the city to address each component or project of the overall plan one at a time, effectively distributing cost.

“There is no one domino that going to knock them all down,” Kneer said regarding potential development options. “They are very ‘phase-able’ in bites, we can prioritize ... we can look at each segment (of the Comprehensive Plan) and tackle it one ballfield at a time (or) a building and a plaza at a time.”


While the development of a Higley Park Comprehensive Plan focuses primarily on Higley, both Scray and Kneer also identified the potential of developing a better transition area between Higley and the 40 acres of forest immediately to the west that comprises City Park. Kneer explained in addressing possible advancements to Higley, Rettler officials remain cognizant of the potential for improved connectivity between the two parks.

“What we are doing and what we discussed in (earlier) meetings, is to look at all of the uses of City Park,” Kneer explained. “We want to make sure that if there is a connection opportunity to City Park that we don’t miss (it). Because there are many elements (of City Park) that we don’t want to duplicate, but that we want to provide connections to.”

He listed a few examples that included the possibility of various kiosks or signage in Higley Park that notified park users that an additional 40 acres complete with camping, Frisbee Golf, trails and other amenities await exploration and recreation just beyond the tree line at the western edge of Higley. To accommodate the new system of trails and achieve a more centrally open area between both parks, Kneer strongly suggested the removal of much of the fencing at Higley. It would not only provide better access routes within Higley, but also a better connection to City Park.

“Having that fence really provides a barrier, both a physical and visual barrier,” Kneer said. “So removing that and opening those court spaces up would really improve connectivity ... and allow for freeflow through (the) park uses.”

Scray hopes that improvements to that connectivity between the parks would allow park-goers to better utilize the valuable asset that drops more than a 48-acre swathe of land dedicated to fun and the social, mental and physical health of the entire Marinette community.

“With our campground being in City Park, they wanted to create some trails and different ways for people to walk from one park to the other and better utilize all the amenities that we have to offer,” he said. “There is really a lot to offer there, between those two parks.”

'Legally Blonde' returns to Blesch
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—It’s been more than a year since Menominee High School students took the stage at Blesch Auditorium for their production of “Legally Blonde.” The show was expected to be a big hit, and was also going to be the final show directed by Jon Nutter, who has been directing high school musicals in Menominee for 30 years and will be retiring from teaching at the end of this school year.

Opening night concluded as it normally would, but then COVID-19 made it to the United States. The cast and crew went home, leaving their sets and props and costumes in place for the next night’s performance. And there they sat, untouched, for 14 long months.

But as they say, the show must go on, and “Legally Blonde” will be returning to Blesch Auditorium for seven more performances in just under a month. “Our talented students rose to the occasion in 2020, and we’re going to do it again in 2021,” Nutter said.

This doesn’t come without a pretty substantial cost, however. Musicals at Menominee High School are produced with many set pieces built by students and adult volunteers, but also require many rental items such as backdrops, sound equipment, lighting and more. Nutter held onto as much of the rental equipment as possible for as long as he was allowed to, but it all ultimately had to be returned. On top of that, there is a sizable cost associated with obtaining the rights to perform a show at all, particularly with a relatively newer musical such as “Legally Blonde.”

“To bring the show back, the equipment all has to be re-rented and the rights needed to be re-obtained, which is roughly a $15,000 endeavor with these and all other aspects taken into consideration. “Sound equipment has changed, and as the years have gone by the price has drastically gone up. It’s really starting to price us out of being able to do this,” he said.

Nutter said the musicals are not fully school-funded activities. All of the musicals at Menominee High School have operated like a club, and are funded predominantly through ticket sales and donations. “So for this show, we spent about $40,000; I had about $31,000 before I started, so that put us at about a $10,000 deficit. Normally with ticket sales and donations, I’d crawl back out of that hole. We borrow from the future to do these shows, and I spent more money on this show because I knew I wasn’t going to do another one, so I didn’t want to let the money sit in an account,” he said.

Getting the equipment back isn’t the only hurdle to get over. There’s also the matter of “getting the band back together,” including last year’s seniors, who have now graduated and gone on to other things. Nutter was able to bring back all of the cast’s original members with very few exceptions. “All of my leads, including last year’s seniors, are all coming back. I do have maybe one or two in smaller parts (that aren’t returning). I feel so fortunate; this is our last chance, they’ve got a chance to do this before the rest of life moves on. I’m very excited that the original cast is pretty much all back,” he said.

But not every member of the cast and crew will be returning, as there have been a few losses since the first performance. One of the cast members, a bulldog named Patches, died recently. Another long-time assistant to the shows who had popped popcorn for the concessions also died in the last year.

Nutter said with the current COVID restrictions in Michigan, the house is limited to an audience of 300, which is why the show will be performed seven more times rather than the conventional four. “I’m hoping that before the show they’ll up it another 100, but right now I printed exactly 300 tickets for each show.”

He said tickets went on sale Monday. Last week those who kept their old tickets for last year’s show had the opportunity to swap their ticket for a new one. Starting this week, if people still have older tickets there is no guarantee that they’ll be able to trade their tickets for new ones for the show they want to attend. “We sold a little over 1,100 tickets for last year’s show, and I gave away about 400 free tickets, so there could be a whole pile out there,” he said.

Nutter also said ticket purchases cannot be refunded, since Nutter isn’t in a financial position to be able to refund any of the sales.

During the shows, attendees will be seated in every other row with a gap between families, and those who attend must have a face covering to enter. Since the show will be in June, Nutter said intermission will be extended to outside of the auditorium, and portable toilets will be set up. He said the bathrooms inside the building will be handicap only during the performances. “As far as selling food and concessions, most everything has to be pre-packaged so we’ll do that,” he said.

As soon as possible, Nutter said the students will be tested for COVID. This would allow any student who may have theoretically contracted the virus to quarantine for an appropriate amount of time and still be able to perform. “A handful of the kids have already been vaccinated, so that helps a lot. We can perform onstage without wearing masks, but we have to wear masks backstage or when we’re out in the audience. So we are making up special pink ‘Legally Blonde’ masks, so there’s one scene where they’re all out in the audience, so they’ll all slap on their pink masks while we’re out in the audience,” he said.

Performances of “Legally Blonde” begin June 10 at 7 p.m. with performances June 11-13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Aquila Resources withdraws wetland permit appeal
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EagleHerald editor

Aquila Resources has withdrawn its appeal of the January decision by an administrative law judge to deny the prior issuance of a wetlands permit. The Toronto-based company now is working with consultants to develop a new plan that would consist of an underground mine and reduce the size of the 750-foot open pit mine.

In January, Administrative Law Judge Daniel L. Pulter, of the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rulings, issued his decision denying the prior issuance of a wetland/stream/floodplain permit for Aquila’s Back Forty Project in Lake Township. At that time, supporters of the Menominee River called it a “significant” victory for those against the Back Forty mine. They also hailed the most recent news as a victory.

In a statement last week, Aquila Resources stated that it has altered its plans and a feasibility team is focused on a design seeking to avoid direct impacts to wetlands.

“Even if a Wetlands Permit is required, Aquila expects that it will be able to secure a re-issued permit from EGLE (the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, formerly the Department of Environmental Quality) based on the fieldwork already completed under the existing Wetlands Permit and progress on the groundwater modeling that would be used to support any estimates of indirect wetland impacts,” the company statement reads.

Aquila has engaged Montreal-based Osisko Technical Services (OTS) to lead the feasibility study.

Aquila states that by incorporating the underground mine plan in the feasibility study and modifying the project footprint, the company expects to demonstrate substantially reduced surface impact, including wetland impacts, and a longer mine life for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Subject to securing additional funding, the company’s objective is to complete the feasibility study in the fourth quarter of this year.

Guy Le Bel, president and CEO of Aquila, said, “We are committed to advancing the Back Forty Project with a collaborative approach that integrates feedback from the community. Our goal is to design, build and operate a 21st Century mine in sync with American values of safety, quality work, leading-edge technology and environmentally responsible mineral extraction. The resulting mine will cover over a decade of net benefits to local and regional communities while being protective of the environment.

Aquila said it’smaintaining its Air Permit and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit in good standing and will proceed with timely renewals of these permits, as required.

Tom Boerner—a petitioner in the wetlands case along with the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River—said in an email that Aquila withdrawing from the wetland permit review panel and finally admitting what they have told everyone but EGLE for 10 years is proof that they want an underground mine.

In his email, Boerner wrote, “In a nutshell I believe what is contained in this document proves Aquila misled the EPA, the SOM (State of Michigan) and has withheld and or manipulated data that proves a mine site would cause significant negative consequences to the environment including the Menominee River, the areas aquifer, Shakey Lakes, Shakey Creek, multiple area streams, multiple wetlands, the areas groundwater, Shakey Lakes County Park and a significant portion of Marinette County that is within feet of the mine site as by treaty Marinette County ends at the ordinary high water mark of the Michigan side of the Menominee River in this area.

He continued, “Now is not the time to stop or rest. Now is the time to make sure we tell the world that the SOM was manipulated and thanks to a small handful of people at one group within EGLE thankfully integrity found its way into the permitting process and going forward a standard for truth has been set.”

Boerner, a former local resident, now lives in Kohler, Wisconsin. He owns 400 acres adjacent to the proposed mine site. He has been one of the leaders in the fight against the proposed mine.

Dale Burie, president of The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, also commented. He said that organization is pleased that the decision of the Administrative law judge will stand and the organization’s hard work and efforts have contributed to the protection of the Menominee River and the surrounding wetlands from the detrimental effects of the proposed Back Forty mine. While we expected to prevail before the review panel, it is a welcome development.

“However, as is always the case, the fight goes on,” Burie wrote. “Aquila indicated in its request to abandon its appeal of Judge Pulter’s decision, that it will be submitting a new mine application, later this year, that will for the first time include underground mining. Of course, we always expected going underground to be part of Aquila’s long-term plan. While Aquila will try to spin this as a new strategy to avoid or minimize wetlands impacts, we intend to remain diligent in our efforts and have significant concerns that extensive underground mining and the corresponding groundwater drawdown will have as much or even more impacts on the watershed and could be an even greater threat to the health of the Menominee River.

“Our Coalition and our partners remain steadfast in our resolve and will continue to fight to protect the Menominee River for all to enjoy.”