EagleHerald staff writer
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article represents the second story in a two-part series concerning the endeavor to establish the Bay of Green Bay as a National Estuarine Research Reserve. Part one can be found in Friday’s (April 14) print edition or by following this link: NERR
MARINETTE—Where the rivers meet the deep blue waters exists a fruitful and diverse world upon which countless lifeforms rely—including human (see “Estuary inventory”).
As such, a regional push is underway, spearheaded by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay through a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) and many coastal community members, leaders and businesses—including several in the Marinette/Peshtigo areas—to establish the bay the Green Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GB-NERR). It would place the region into a nationwide network of NERRS and open up many benefits.
According to NOAA, estuaries are critical, funneling billions of dollars annually into the economic centers for coastal U.S. populations. They provide habitat for over 75 percent of the U.S. commercial fish catch, “and an even greater percentage of the recreational fish catch.”
“It will bring in resources, make grant money available and I think it will be a real boon for the are,” said Keith West, Associate Professor of Geo-science at UWGB-Marinette Campus. “This is going to be a big thing for this community and it is going to greatly increase our understanding of the remarkable resource that we are right next door.”
NERR ECONOMY OF SCALING, LOCALLY
Establishing the bay as a “non-regulatory” research reserve holds far-reaching benefits from improving the understanding of the bay’s estuary environments (such as Peshtigo River estuary, see photos), to resource management, innovative educational opportunities, training and further development of coastal ecosystems. Together these benefits can safeguard the tangible assets estuaries provide to local communities
Moreover, if local educators, leaders and other interested entities are successful in their efforts to make the Peshtigo/Marinette region the focal point of the GB-NERR, it could bring the development of an innovative and technologically advanced research/visitor center to the area.
“I would love for the actual center to be located here. But even if it is not I think we will actually benefit,” said West.
President of the Peshtigo Area Chamber of Commerce, Tony O’Neill, resides among the community leaders intrigued by what a NERR and its associated research/visitor center might offer.
After more than 20 years in law enforcement covering much of the approximately 1,400 square miles of Marinette County, O’Neill spent a lot of time traveling throughout its communities.
“After retiring, just getting out to all these different locations … and taking in what I probably missed a lot of overall those years (on the job), gave me that interest,” O’Neill said. “And more so, I gained a better understanding and appreciation for what we have here … Once you see those things, you understand a lot more.”
Now, as president of the Peshtigo Chamber, he also envisions what the NERR designation might do, not only for the environment and recreation but also for business.
“It’s an economy booster,” O’Neill said. “(NERR) will bring forth education, professionals (to address) environmental concerns and add more jobs; and it will give (the area) more opportunity for grants. From manufacturing and business point of view, it brings forth a lot of interests globally.”
SCIENCE THAT MATTERS IN SAFEGUARDING ENVIRONMENT
When it comes to the environmental benefits imparted by NERR research and awareness, one word fits the bill: “monitoring.”
Many waterfront communities face coastal management challenges: Harmful algal blooms, lake level variability, emerging toxic chemicals and others. Addressing those challenges, requires “science and stewardship that matters,” according to NOAA literature.
Closer to home, “water issues surrounding Northeast Wisconsin in recent years make a project like the NERR even more significant for area waterways,” stated a recent UWGB press release. Establishing a GB-NERR can help address human-related environmental stressors and other climate change processes issues.
Emily Tyner, UWGB Director of Freshwater Strategy emphasized that a NERR is a “non-regulatory” reserve, meaning no additional regulatory restrictions will be placed on the activities in which people already engage in coastal communities, like fishing, hunting and etc. However, the close scientific and educational monitoring systems and research that results from NERR designation, can serve as a litmus test for human activities adversely affecting estuarine environments. It might also point to subsequent preventions.
“It will bring in an environmental monitoring system that (our area) would probably never have until it was more of a reactive type thing rather than proactive,” O’Neill said. “I think having that proactive (aspect) will at least provide us with the knowledge about what exactly is in our water systems and what we can do to improve them.”
For example, locally it might help advance research that addressing emerging issues like PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and other shoreline stressors.
Kristen Edgar, Town of Peshtigo (TOP) supervisor—also involved in the GB-NERR discussions—feels that with NERR designation, the area could become eligible for competitive grants focused on research addressing those issues, like shoreline erosion.
Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Detroit District show that in about 2014, water levels on Lake Michigan began experiencing a sharp increase, rising over 580 feet, which exceeds the long-term average (tracked since 1918). Current seasonal projections put additional increases of 2 to 7 inches for all (the Great Lakes) over the next month as spring sweeps in. And according to the DNR, those increases raise the potential for shoreline erosion and bluff failure, a growing issue in some areas along Great Lakes’ coastal regions.
“The NERR will allow access to grant opportunities such as grants for shoreline erosion,” Edgar said. “I hear about this concern regularly as a Town supervisor, as the shoreline is continuing to erode.”
Additionally, as a TOP resident, Edgar remains all too familiar with the plume of PFAS-contaminated groundwater beneath a large portion of TOP.
“I also see the potential of the NERR for studying emerging contaminants such as PFAS,” she said. “This (NERR) initiative could open a vast pool of resources such as national experts to help navigate the PFAS issues this community is facing.”
SURROUNDED BY EDUCATION POTENTIAL
Another research reserve, the Lake Superior NERR (LS-NERR) established in 2010 and encompassing 16,697 acres in the northwestern corner of Wisconsin demonstrates the value of NERRs as immersive learning ecosystems.
Research data collected on the LS-NERR provides firsthand experience for students in the amazing environmental conditions and science that occur along coastal regions. Field trips offer young minds (and the public) life-changing experiences through immersive natural laboratories where students utilize all five senses to learn. It gives a more intimate idea of what makes estuaries such intriguing and necessary ecosystems. And what holds true for the LS-NERR and education will likely translate to students at the UWGB-Marinette campus and also to the local elementary and high schools.
“How could (a GB-NERR designation) not enhance the curriculum for the UWGB-Marinette campus to be a little more diversified as far as marine science goes?” O’Neill said. “If we are selected will bring a lot of attention ... it will bring in professionals doing laboratory research … it will definitely improve what we will see in the curriculums being taught.”
And West, who possesses firsthand experience teaching geoscience to young minds at UWGB-Marinette Campus—a curriculum that often overlaps with marine sciences—whole-heartedly agreed.
“I think (O’Neill) is spot on,” West said. “And that is my hope, too. I see this (NERR) as having incredible potential as far as enhancing our ability to focus not only on the bay but on all the waters that flow into it.”
Out among the community, some area residents carry similar opinions. On a brisk, sunny morning, somewhere between the Peshtigo and Marinette River, walking her three dogs, Remmy, Rosco and Reggie along the bay shore, TOP resident Emily Boettcher first heard about the push for a NERR designation on the bay. As one who enjoys the recreation offered by the bay and its coastline, and as someone who attended Marinette High School, she can appreciate the unique opportunities that NERR might bring to area schools and colleges.
“It would be beneficial for environmental studies for the high school kids,” she said. “And while I don’t know what sort of environmental courses they offer at the UWGB-Marinette Campus, the (GB-NERR designation) couldn’t hurt them.”
As for Remmy, Rosco and Reggie, perhaps the simple joy of a wide-open recreational space with clean air, safe water and diverse wildlife—which occasionally offers the canine mind a playful chase—offers all the necessary estuary benefits into a single morning stroll. Aside from a few invigorated “yelps” and “barks,” they mostly remained contentedly preoccupied … and mum on the topic.
EagleHerald staff writer
PESHTIGO—Under rainy skies, Wednesday evening, educators, parents, and other interested parties plodded into the Peshtigo Elementary Learning Center from the chilled and somber April air to convene the Peshtigo School District Board of Education meeting after a failed attempt to gain community support for significant district improvements.
Just over one week earlier, Peshtigo School District voters cast their decision during the spring election to deny Referendum 2021. It promised much-needed infrastructure upgrades and renovations to the district’s aging Middle/High School building. That denial came at a slim margin of only 13 votes—less than 1% of the 1,801 residents comprised by the towns of Peshtigo and Grover and City of Peshtigo who cast a decision on the referendum, tabulated from election results on the Marinette County website.
After such a narrow loss, one might expect that somber April day to follow closely behind those board members, parents, teachers and other interested parties who arrived for Wednesday’s meeting. And while merited tones of disappointment did linger, the underlying ambiance was of one of constructive optimism that used the referendum’s failure as a precipice for learning and looking to the future, rather than something to dwell on bitterly.
“Our needs for educational programing space and our needs for infrastructure improvements in that building are not fixed,” said District Superintendent Patrick Rau. “We have a wealth of information already, generated from this referendum … There is momentum here. I want to build off that momentum ...so it is not a matter of if there will be another referendum; it’s a matter of when.”
During the public comment period, which also included the reading of various submitted comments, a majority of people shared a similar objective and hopeful tone with Rau.
“We are not giving up this fight, we’ve got more people behind it, we’ve got more ideas,” said Rachel Raygo, a parent and part of a coalition of other district parents that lent their support behind a “yes” vote on Referendum 2021. “We know what the school district needs, we know what the city needs. We know what our children need. I commend you to look for (a solution) and look for the future. It’s another hurdle to get over but we will get through it.”
FLOURISHING ON THE CONSTRUCTIVE
During the meeting, Rau took a moment to put the loss in perspective, reminiscing on his coaching days.
“I’d rather get beat by 30 than lose by two,” he said. “It’s always tougher to lose one that is close.”
However, like any good coach and/or educator, Rau immediately turned the loss into a learning experience, one that seeks a path to a better future for students, teachers, parents and, ultimately, the entire Peshtigo community. He cited an adage that, as educators, the board and the teachers preach continually to the students—and to themselves.
“We failed. We have to learn from it,” he said to the board and community members present at the meeting.
Moving forward, Rau explained that developing a new solution would require time and further research. But he reiterated the wealth of information already gained from the district’s efforts thus far.
“Going forward we need to ask a lot of questions about why people supported (the referendum) and why they did not support it,” Rau said. “We have to listen. And listen closely. We have to reflect. And we have to learn.”
For Rau, building on the positives remains and keeping an open dialogue with the community and the board to engage what needs to “be an honest and frank conversation,” remain priorities for moving ahead.
He pointed out that despite the referendum’s loss, its proponents managed to cultivate one of the strongest foundations of support for a school referendum of any previous effort. As an example, he cited the most recent 2018 attempt to pass a district referendum for Middle/High School improvements. That year it lost by a much wider margin of 200 votes. Voters also rejected referendums in 2015 and 2016 due in part to their cost impact on levy rates and objection to the construction of an entirely new Middle/High School building, losing much of the original structure’s rich history.
In contrast, last week’s spring election garnered an increase in approval among district voters which included, primarily, residents in the towns of Peshtigo and Grover and in the City of Peshtigo. In the Town of Peshtigo (TOP), referendum approval gained an additional 5% of the votes over 2018. In Grover, support grew by 9% while the in city, it rose 3%. For many, those gains balanced against the minuscule 13-vote difference offered a juxtaposed emotional tug that was simultaneously one of frustration over the narrow loss and also one of an optimistic outlook after the gains in public support from prior years.
“That is definitely a positive,” Rau said. “I believe the support for the referendum was fantastic … we have many parents here to express and advocate that we continue to move on and to find the solutions for the betterment of the school and the betterment for the experience of the children that use that building.”
Officials with Performances Services, Inc. (PSI), a company that specializes in the K-12 market and which advised and guided the district on its path to developing the spring referendum, offered a strategic approach as the district continues its search for a solution that a majority of the community can back.
“One of the positives that I took away (from the election outcome) was that we really did hear quite a bit from a number of different resources and venues,” said Business Development Manager of Performances Services, Inc. (PSI), Lauren Wanner. “It’s our job to take that information and then come back to you so that we can continue to be better and listen and learn.”
Rau agreed, stating that in the next few weeks district officials will commence meeting with PSI to begin building a strategic “roadmap” before the school year closes, one that maintains the momentum and captive referendum audience, already gained.
BIG EFFORT, SHORTFALL, BUT POSITIVE
For more than a year and with the assistance of PSI, referendum proponents exerted much energy in their campaign to communicate to the community the critical infrastructure and safety code upgrades needed at the building. They worked tirelessly, juggling several potential options, weighing various factors such as levy hikes to find what best meets the needs of the students while remaining financially responsible and preserving the legacy of the current building.
“I felt like we came to an excellent compromise, for this referendum,” said School Board President Mariel Carter. “We (the board) had to make a really tough call. I still think we made the best call that we could under the circumstances.”
Tricia Kleikamp, who served on a referendum facility committee and remains active in the various other district committees as a mother of four children, submitted a statement to the board that aligned with Carter’s thoughts. Kleikamp recognized the give and take that went into creating a referendum that would serve the interests of everyone. She also expressed her realization of the need to continue an open dialogue with the community to bridge those remaining gaps through continued compromise.
“I for one know of the many concessions in the 2021 referendum to scale back the costs,” Kleikamp said. “I recognize Peshtigo may not get everything we need but ai can settle for the most important of the needs being met and still feel confident in good education and preparedness for our student’s future. I am ready to keep trying and move forward.”
The finished draft of that solution, which failed, would have included a $33.2 million renovation of various instructional spaces at the Middle/High School, expanding several programming opportunities to better meet students’ needs. A second referendum question, which also failed, concerned a $1.825 million option for the development of a large area of land west of elementary school to support athletic programs and other activities as well as providing a green space for the public.
Despite the loss, members of the board and the community were able to harvest an abundance of encouraging developments from their long effort, a wealth of support not easily lost or subdued.
“I really appreciate everyone that talked with their neighbors and found ways to help deliver factual information and encourage others to vote,” Carter said. “I think the growth and the closeness speak volumes. We need to think positive and we need to move forward.”
Second NERR “kick-off” meeting set for Monday
The UWGB in conjunction with NOAA will host its second virtual NERR “kick-off” meeting Monday at 4 p.m.
To join the live event visit the GB-NERR website at www.uwgb.edu/national-estuarine-research-reserves/
EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—As the end of the school year approaches, graduation is on the minds of Menominee’s seniors as well as the members of the Menominee Area Public Schools Board of Education. During Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the board members discussed changing the date of graduation due to several conflicts with extracurriculars.
“Thursday, May 27, is GNCs (Great Northern Conference playoffs) in Marquette,” said Superintendent John Mans, “so we would have seniors who would have to choose, ‘Do I go participate in my sport or do I go to my graduation?’ One of the thoughts is moving it to Wednesday (May 26) where there isn’t a conflict with another graduation with Peshtigo or Marinette.”
Mans said graduation is a board exercise, so he can’t change the date to May 26 on his own.
Graduation is traditionally held in Menominee on a Thursday. Superintendent Assistant Julie Krah said graduation was not included in this year’s school calendar, as last year’s graduation had to be rescheduled several times, ending up taking place in July. “So we thought, ‘We’d better not put it on,’” she said.
“Personally, I’m fine with Wednesday,” said Board President Derek Butler, “I know there’s going to be cost, I know there’s going to be time, and the guidance office has a lot of stuff to re-arrange, but they need an answer. If it’s going to lessen the impact of seniors being able to attend, it’s a no-brainer to switch it to Wednesday.”
“Do the kids have their graduation announcements already, with the ceremony date and time on them?” Board Secretary Becky Thoune asked.
“They do, but with (online announcements), there’s maybe one or two kids that order the actual name plates. I actually just sent in graduation stuff saying it was going to be on Wednesday hoping it was going to be Wednesday,” said Guidance Coordinator Nikki Mathieu.
There was consensus among board members to move the graduation date to May 26, however a change could not be approved in the committee meeting. The matter will be on the agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting.