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Judge consolidates lawsuits into one big-bucks case

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Lawyers representing the various marijuana retailers competing to open in Menominee already are poking holes in each other’s legal filings as they attempt to persuade the 41st Circuit Court to decide in their favor.

They’re in a battle over who should receive the precious two adult-use recreational marijuana retail licenses in the city of Menominee.

By limiting the number of recreational marijuana stores, the city has upped the stakes involved. Whoever wins the coveted licenses stands to ring up big sales because of the lack of competition here.

Several companies that didn’t receive a recreational-marijuana retail license are trying to invalidate the process to receive another chance at a license. Some also are attempting to block the two awarded recreational-use retail licenses, Rize and The Fire Station Cannabis Co., from opening until the cases are resolved.

In Motions to Intervene, Rize and The Fire Station said their due process rights are at stake if the court decides the other cases without considering their positions. They want to be allowed to proceed with their plans to open marijuana stores here.

Attorneys for several suing companies will likely end up arguing against the city in one large, consolidated case to save time and money, while Rize and The Fire Station could argue in the city’s favor to keep their licenses.

In hearings Tuesday, Judge Mary Brouillette Barglind listened to attorneys for various suing companies before deciding most of the cases will be consolidated into one. She set Dec. 13 at 1:30 p.m. as the date for a consolidated hearing, where she could decide to issue a preliminary injunction.

If there was ever a case to be made for consolidation, this is the case, Barglind said.

Only one attorney at the hearing disagreed with consolidation. “I think there are reasons that would militant against consolidation,” said Attorney Kevin Blair of Honigman LLP, who is representing Attitude Wellness/Lume, which received a retail license for a medical marijuana store but not for a recreational marijuana store. It is expected to take over the La Cabana restaurant property unless the court issues an injunction.

Blair said Lume filed its lawsuit before the others and its case is sufficiently different to be heard separately, but the judge disagreed.

If the court were to issue an injunction, the licenses awarded to all players could be voided and the City of Menominee could be told to start the application review process over. The city awarded a total of eight licenses, including two recreational-use marijuana retail licenses, two medical marijuana retail licenses, three grow permits and a processing center license.

NU Group’s attorney Chris Royce of the Pollicella PLLC law firm in Howell appeared before Barglind at 1 p.m. Tuesday in a phone call before the 2 p.m. pre-trial conference with the other companies. The merits of consolidating the cases was raised and NU Group agreed to the Dec. 13 date.

Two other suing companies weren’t at Tuesday’s hearing, held in Menominee Courtroom B and on Zoom, and Barglind said she will hear what attorneys representing Highwire Farms have to say before deciding whether Highwire will be added to the consolidated case.

Attorneys for OI Holdings and Higher Love, which also has filed a lawsuit against the City of Menominee because the company was denied a retail license, have requested a jury trial. It’s unclear whether this case also will be merged with the others.

At least four companies denied retail licenses are suing the City of Menominee over the way it scored applications, made recommendations and approved licenses, with most saying the city violated the Open Meetings Act and Michigan’s marijuana act. Besides seeking another opportunity to be awarded a retail license, some are seeking monetary compensation for the dollars they’ve invested in what they say was a flawed application process.

Rize and The Fire Station Cannabis Co. are objecting to these lawsuits. Because they’ve already been awarded retail licenses, they’re on the side of the City of Menominee, which will defend its process. Attorney Matt Cross of Plunkett Cooney is expected to defend the city in most if not all of these cases.

“Lume’s problem isn’t the city’s process because they got a medical marijuana license. They only object to the fact that they didn’t get an adult-use license,” said attorney Mike Cox of The Cox Law firm, which is representing Rize. Rize wants to keep its adult-use license because it has already paid $900,000 in cash to purchase property at 3213 10th St. and has started to demolish the inside of the former Stang Sales & Service building.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) “issued us a permit to demolish the site. We’re demolishing the entire interior. We have a demolishing crew out there right now,” Cox said.

Rize aims to keep the construction on track to open within 180 days from the date it received the retail license. “Once you have a license, we have a protected interest and it may not be revoked without due process,” Cox said.


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Kids dress up to recreate first Thanksgiving

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders at Trinity Lutheran School had fun Tuesday recreating the first Thanksgiving.

Preschoolers dressed as pilgrims and kindergarten and first graders dressed as Native Americans. The kids wore paper bonnets, capotains, vests and headbands decorated with neon-colored feathers. On the headbands were written their made-up Native American names; The Boy Who Is Fast Like a Kitty, The Girl Who Runs Like a Horse, The Boy Who Runs Like a Cheetah, She Who Loves Gymnastics.

The Thanksgiving feast, served on orange construction paper placemats and paper plates, consisted of popcorn, mini carrots and Ranch dressing (“They definitely ate this back then,” kindergarten and first-grade teacher Jennifer Schmiege said, laughing as she deposited dollops of Ranch on the kids’ plates).

John Helfert, who teaches Native American history at the Menominee Chappee-Webber Learning Center came to the feast dressed in traditional Native American clothing to teach the kids some words in indigenous languages and tell them the story of the first Thanksgiving.

“I say to all of you posoh! Can you all say that?” Helfert asked. The kids repeated the word after him. “The Menominee Indians who lived here many many years ago, right where your schoolhouse is right here, they greeted one another with ‘posoh.’ The Potawatomi, they say, ‘bozho,’ and the Cherokee, they would say ‘osiyo.’”

After Helfert finished telling his story, he showed the kids a mandala and asked a preschooler sitting near him with her father to draw a name out of a can to see who it would go home with. Milan Rodriguez Hernandez (The Boy Who Is Fast Like a Kitty) was the winner, and he crossed the room, approaching Helfert with some trepidation, to accept the mandala. “You can hang this in your room and it will bring you good luck,” Helfert said to him.

The feast concluded with a song that the kids dressed as Native Americans taught to the kids dressed as pilgrims.


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Truck driver shortage fuels bonuses

EagleHerald Staff Writer

Tom Drees of Drees Transportation in Peshtigo said he can’t hire enough drivers.

“I’d hire 50 if I could get them,” said Drees, owner of the company that has about 15 truckers. “I’ve been trying to hire for five years,” he said.

Demand for drivers exceeds supply in part because of demographic trends. Older drivers are retiring, while the number of young adults is declining nationally as the baby boomlet gets older.

Transportation experts say the effects of the pandemic hit the trucking industry hard, prompting truck driver retirements at a time when most state Department of Motor Vehicles were closed, making it difficult for new drivers to obtain licenses.

At the same time, more people were purchasing goods online, pushing up demand for trucks and drivers, according to research from the American Trucking Associations in Arlington, Virginia.

The trucker shortage could exceed 80,000 drivers this year and grow to 160,000 or more by 2030, the ATA said. The shortage is expected to slow the delivery of goods this holiday season, but it’s spurring higher wages, better benefits and wait lists at driver training programs.

Locally, Kim Hubbard at the Menominee Holiday convenience store, said about eight trucks deliver goods to the store each week, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Most have been running on time, she said, but it depends on the week and what our orders are.”

A worker for Grupo Bimbo’s Sara Lee division, who was parked at the Holiday, said he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media. Grupo Bimbo, which claims to be the world’s largest bakery, apparently employs its own drivers.

Speedy delivery is important to large retailers, such as Walmart, and their customers. “That’s why we offer fast same-day delivery to millions of customers around the world,” Walmart’s Chief Executive Douglas McMillon said in a third-quarter conference call.

“The pandemic caused shifts in how customers and members shopped and what they purchased,” he said. He thanked the truck drivers and other employees that move inventory. “They’re working together creatively and quickly,” he said.

Large companies often have first-dibs on new drivers because they can pay more. Walmart, which advertises to recruit drivers with Drive4Walmart.com signs on the back of its semi-tractor-trailers along with other kinds of advertising, is offering sign-on bonuses of $8,000 in some parts of Wisconsin and Michigan. One job ad for CDL-A licensed drivers for Walmart said it paid an average of $87,500 in the first year, or 89 cents per mile.

Drees said not enough young people are pursuing careers in trucking. “I don’t think there’s many younger people going into the trucking industry. Most don’t want to work anyway,” he said. “Nobody wants to work.”

At Michigan Works in Menominee, funds for career-switchers who need training in higher-skilled occupations are available from MI LEAP, the Michigan Learning and Education Advancement program, said Jeanne Albert, talent specialist in Menominee. “We fund a lot of truck drivers,” she said.

Drees said candidates must have their commercial driver’s license before he will talk to them about a position. The process of obtaining a commercial driver’s license involves passing a series of specialized written, motor and driving tests, and it can take months of training.

Large transportation companies may offer their own training, but Drees said his company is too small to offer it.

Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton offers an eight-week technical diploma program for those interested in driving semis and other trucks with trailers and a four-week certificate program for driving smaller trucks, such as milk trucks and garbage trucks, said Rob Behnke, director of truck driving at the college in Appleton.

While demand for the truck-driving programs waned during COVID, Behnke said it has picked up and the school has a waitlist. It’s hiring teachers and offering training at satellite locations. Tuition ranges from $1,050 to $1,830. “That’s a small price to pay for really good education, for an incredible career where someone can make some significant money,” he said.

Graduates of the programs typically get offers paying $50,000 to $80,000 per year, Behnke said, but he’s heard of higher salaries.

Albert said her husband is a truck driver. “Truck driving is one (career) where you really have to want to do it because you’re away from your family all the time,” she said. “It’s tough being away from family.”

But Behnke said many companies are offering better work schedules to recruit and retain drivers. “There’s a stereotype it’s a tough job. You work a lot of hours. You’re away. And you don’t make a lot of money. None of that in my opinion is true,” Behnke said. “We have graduates that are making really good money and are home every night,” he said.

Strong demand for drivers has spurred improved benefits and pay. Many graduates of Fox Valley Technical College’s training can earn $50,000 to $80,000 per year.

“There’s this continued discussion about a shortage of drivers. I think it’s more a churning of drivers, drivers leaving companies and going to others. There’s a lot of drivers who have retired, and through COVID, people have changed their career pathways. There’s more churning we have to worry about than a shortage,” he said. People aren’t staying at their jobs for a long time like they used to, he said.

But the industry is responding with higher pay, sign-on bonuses and promises of more home time and newer equipment. “There’s a lot of things the industry is doing to combat that churning,” he said. “They’re doing a good job, and people need to know about it.”


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