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Middle Inlet property owners still assessing storm damage
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

TOWN OF MIDDLE INLET—Eric Kreckler drove up from Milwaukee Friday to help clear fallen trees and assess the damage to his mother-in-law’s property on Quarry Road in the Town of Middle Inlet from last Wednesday’s tornado.

He estimated about 8,000 to 10,000 trees on 300 acres his mother-in-law owns were downed in the storm, but he hadn’t been able to get to another portion of the land, where 40,000 to 50,000 trees have been growing.

“It definitely did some damage,” he said. “It just leveled it. Everything is laying down.” The National Weather Service reported the storm was a category 1 tornado. 

To survey part of the property on Quarry Road, Kreckler, who owns a construction company in Milwaukee, had to clear a path to the forest. “We took a dirt bike and put a chain saw in a backpack,” he said. The pine forest area isn’t insured, he said. “Some of it was going to be harvested this fall.”

The home on the property was spared the worst of the storm, but a deck was damaged, he said.

Determining the extent of the damage won’t be easy in Marinette County because dense forests often block the view of property from the road. With the number of recreational homes in the county, many private property might have sustained tree damage that hasn’t yet been assessed.

“A lot of people don’t report it. They take care of it themselves and it’s done. I like to say we’re a very self-sufficient people up here. Most everybody owns their own chainsaw, especially if you have woods,” said Kathy Frank, Marinette County Emergency Management Coordinator.

The state emergency management office said the storm’s damage extended from Monroe and Juneau counties in the west central portion of the state to Fox Valley and into northeast Wisconsin. It “resulted in damage to homes, businesses, government buildings, trees being brought down and power outages,” said Andrew Beckett, public information officer at Wisconsin Emergency Management.

Wisconsin Power Service hired subcontractors from Chicago to help restore power to parts of Marinette County Friday and Saturday, including on Quarry Road, after toppled trees brought down lines, the utility said. All but a few homes had power on Monday, a spokeswoman said.

Workers from Meade Electric Co. in the Chicago area were installing new utility poles on Quarry Road in the Town of Middle Inlet Saturday after trees fell in the storm.

“Meade brought four of us crews up here. We arrived yesterday and today started over here,” Mike Zalinski, foreman, said Saturday. “We arrived about 3:30 (Friday) and were able to get a good amount of work done,” he said. They assessed the damage and picked up materials.

Safety rep Mark Hauch said the crews restored lines in Chicago from storm damage there Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then headed up to Wisconsin. The storm’s path in the Town of Middle Inlet was haphazard, Hauch said. “It skipped some. It’s weird which trees it took out and which trees it didn’t take out,” he said.

Wisconsin Public Service spokeswoman Alison Trouy said, “Because the storm damage was so widespread, we requested mutual assistance from contractors across the Midwest in order to restore power as quickly and as safely as possible to all customers. This is a common practice in the utility industry, and in turn, when other parts of the Midwest experience extreme storm damage, we can send our crews to assist as needed.”

The storm knocked out power in areas from southeast Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. “We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) restored power to more than 175,000 customers across our service territories after tornados and high winds knocked out power late last week,” Trouy said.

All but a few customers impacted by the storms have had their power restored, she said. “We know it is frustrating to be without power and we appreciate our customers’ patience.”

The tornadoes and severe storms that downed thousands of threes and damaged some homes and municipal buildings Wednesday in Marinette County carved three different paths of destruction in Silver Cliff, Middle Inlet-Wausaukee and Pembine, authorities said.

“These are miles long and it’s a very wooded area, so it’s probably going to take a long time to clean that up, too,” Frank said.

For tree cleanup on roads, towns can apply for reimbursement from the Wisconsin Disaster Fund. It provides a 70%-30% split for reimbursable expenses, with the local area contributing 30%, Frank said. “The towns have to track those expenses. There’s a grant application they coordinate with me. They have to tell me what kinds of damages they sustained.”

The Wisconsin Emergency Management confirmed funds from the Wisconsin Disaster Fund might be available for eligible expenses. Counties and tribes have 30 days to notify the state by listing the potential applicants that meet or exceed the damage threshold of $4.10 per person, based on population from the 2020 Census, Beckett said. The applicants have 60 days from the end of the incident to submit an application and damage assessments for the areas where they are seeking reimbursement, he said.

“Wisconsin is a home rule state. It basically means all disaster (assistance) starts and end at the local level. It starts with the municipality or county office identifying issues out there that is in the power of local government to respond to and assist with. They immediately work on the recovery,” Beckett said. “If they determine an issue is beyond their means to respond, they will contact the state to see what assistance might be available.”

For storm damage to qualify for federal assistance, it has to meet a per-capital threshold, Frank said. “I’m told that dollar amount is somewhere just over $10 million. Now that does not include insured property,” which typically will cover storm damage.

The cleanup could take years, not months, for some downed trees in wooded areas. Tree damage from a 2018 storm in the county still hasn’t been cleared, Frank said.

“When you look back to that big blowdown in 2018, you still see trees laying down. It’s still not been cleaned up. That was a wide area of damage, just like we’re seeing here,” she said.

Most damage to private residences should be covered by homeowner’s insurance. For uninsured property, such as forested areas, there might not be relief. “There is no good program. That is up to them to find a logging company or something,” she said.

For private residents with no insurance, “There is no good help. The expectation is that is your choice, not to take insurance. You understand the risk when you don’t insure,” Frank said.

Team Rubicon, a nonprofit founded to provide storm damage assistance, was helping residents in central Wisconsin remove downed trees and debris from the storm this week. The organization was still assessing the need for its assistance in northeast Wisconsin, said Kevin Ryan, communications administrator for State of Wisconsin.

Many of the group’s volunteers are military veterans, he said. “We have deployed 20 to 30 people each day for the next seven days in New Lisbon,” where tornadoes struck last week, Ryan said. When Team Rubicon is in an area, “We’ll assist anybody whose insurance doesn’t cover tree damage to their property.”

This story was updated to reflect new information from the National Weather Service. 

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Menominee council elevates captain Hofer to police chief
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—In line with City of Menominee Mayor Jean Stegeman’s statement earlier this year that the council runs the city like a business, the council approved a 21% hike in water rates and agreed to fill the open police chief position without advertising it to the public.

New water and wastewater utility rates, which take effect July 1, will boost the meter charge for water delivered with a 5/8-inch line to $119 per quarter from $98 for residents outside the city, while the rate for residents within the city limits is scheduled to rise to $59.39 per quarter from $49.08. The commodity charge per 100 cubic feet is scheduled to increase 7% to $5.03 from $4.70 outside the city and to $2.51 from $2.35 within city limits.

Meter charges for wastewater are set to rise 14.5% to $107.17 per quarter from $93.60 outside the city and to $53.59 per quarter from $46.80 within city limits. The commodity charge per 100 cubic feet will increase to $6.40 from $5.98 outside the city and to $3.20 from $2.99 within city limits.

The council considered several personnel items. Interim Police Chief Justin Hofer was promoted to the position of police chief at an annual salary of $79,144.

The Menominee police chief positions was posted for five days internally, while many other municipalities post open positions publicly to invite interested candidates to apply. For example, the Town of Peshtigo posted the job description for the town treasurer on its website and in a local newspaper earlier this month after Treasurer Kelsey Lossett said she would leave her post at the end of August. Applications were due June 17, said Town Clerk Clarence Coble. The town board’s personnel committee is expected to review candidate applications and appoint a part-time treasurer.

Whether a municipality should publicly advertise an open position was discussed when the City of Menominee considered how to fill the open city manager position. It appointed Brett Botbyl, the former police chief who served as interim city manager, without posting the position externally or considering other applicants.

As city manager, Botbyl will receive a Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) defined benefit pension, the council agreed Monday, just a few months after the council voted to stop offering defined benefit pensions to new hires at the Menominee Housing Authority. New housing authority employees will be offered defined contribution plans instead.

A five-year agreement with Menominee County to share a building inspector means the county will contribute $23,000 to the inspector’s salary. Botbyl said he has a candidate in mind, and the inspector will work primarily from City Hall.

At the Menominee County Board meeting last week, County Administrator Jason Carviou said the inspector also will be given a work space at the Menominee County Annex building, along with a part-time administrative assistant. According to the contract, which takes effect Oct. 1,

“There shall be no minimum or maximum amount of time that the building code inspector must delegate to either the city or the county. The expectation is that the building code will delegate their time where needed and when needed to provide adequate coverage and service to both the city and the county.” The contract can be terminated with 90 days of notice.

Council member Dennis Klitkze asked Botybl, “Do you feel confident a part-time person can do the work that needs to be done?”

Botbyl responded, “Mike is still going to be here. We’re technically hiring him full time, but the county is reimbursing us.” Mike Scholle is the code enforcement officer for the city,

The city council approved the job description for the director of public works position, which previously was combined with the city engineer position. The approval will allow the city manager to seek applicants for the position.

The city’s purchase of an 80-acre parcel has closed and a wetlands study is set to begin next week to determine the amount of buildable property.

Menominee Business Development Corp. director Nancy Douglas announced the former K-Mart building, empty since December 2017, is expected to be demolished as plans for a new extended-stay hotel advance. “The developer can and probably will be moving ahead with demolition,” she said.

In October, the Menominee County Brownfield Authority heard about plans for an extended stay hotel at the Kmart site, which would be aimed at business consultants for Fincantieri Marinette Marine or other businesses as well as families traveling to Menominee for sports, he said. The Brownfield project is a joint endeavor between Menominee County and the City of Menominee.

The Menominee Business Development Corp. also is assisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a planned study of the Menominee River, Douglas said. The Army Corps announced this week it has extended the comment period on the planned study for an additional 30 days. Comments can be submitted until July 20 at

We have elected to extend the comment period for the public notice an additional 30 days. Details on the study and information on how to submit comments are in the attached public notice.

In a report on Spies Public Library, library director Blair Nelson said Rethinking Libraries has been selected as a consultant for the library’s strategic plan. Its summer reading program is underway with 111 children participating. The library will offer the digital platform Kanopy, offering digital movies, music and documentaries to patrons. A new art exhibit at the library has opened, and it will welcome authors Elizabeth Rice and Pat Commins Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss their book, “Irish immigrants in Michigan: A history in stories.”

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Marijuana talks take place behind closed doors

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—With Menominee City Council members being asked to provide information to attorneys for marijuana companies suing the city over what they call a flawed retail licensing process, the Menominee City Council went into a closed session during its regular meeting Monday to discuss the litigation.

The session was held about two-and-a-half weeks after the last court hearing on June 2, where marijuana companies alleging the city violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act requested “relief,” or monetary compensation for the costs involved with the lawsuits.

41st Circuit Court Judge Mary Barglind declined to provide an order at the end of the hearing but said she would file one with the court subsequently.

Barglind apparently is still reviewing the hundreds of pages of court filings in the case. As of Tuesday morning, the Menominee County Courthouse hadn’t received an order. The EagleHerald reported on the hearing June 2.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the five marijuana companies suing the city continue to request more information from city council members and city employees as they prepare for a trial. The five companies suing the city are Attitude Wellness/Lume, Highwire Farms, NU Group, OI Holdings/Higher Love and Rocky North/GreenPharm.

The two companies for which the city council approved adult-use recreational marijuana licenses in September—Rize and The Fire Station Cannabis Co—filed motions to intervene in the consolidated case and are providing counter arguments as they defend their licenses.

City council members and city employees who served on the Marijuana Selection Committee have been asked to provide more information on how decisions were made in selecting companies for retail licenses.

Information obtained Tuesday indicates former City Council Member Heather Nelson, current City Council Member Frank Pohlmann and former City Engineer Tricia Alwin, among others, have responded to requests to produce documents, but their responses weren’t available.

As the months roll on and the companies continue to be barred from opening stores, some of the legal documents filed have become more aggressive.

In response to Attitude Wellness’s questions about the score Rize received on its application for a retail license, Rize denied receiving a final score of 48/50.

Rize said the city’s first selection committee, when Tony Graff was city manager, awarded Rize a perfect score of 50/50. Rize also states, “On August 21, 2021, the selection committee gave Rize a score of 48/50. But then one of its members, the city manager, stated that the 48/50 score was the result of an administrative error, i.e., the August 26 score should have been 50/50.”

Attitude Wellness asked Rize to admit the company failed to receive two points for the category, “all employees not above 200% Federal Poverty Level.”

In response, Rize denied this and said, “One of the selection committee members, the city manager, stated that the failure to score that two points—after it had been scored in May—was the result of an administrative error.”

Information about an administrative error hasn’t been publicly disclosed or confirmed. Previous reports and documents contained in various legal filings indicate the city awarded Rize a score of 48/50. The EagleHerald has published numerous articles with Rize’s score of 48/50 without receiving a complaint or request for correction.

In response to Attitude Wellness’s question about the City of Menominee’s licensing ordinance and making false statements, Rize admitted the ordinance states, “A license applied for or issued under the ordinance may be denied or revoked on any of the following basis…City Clerk finding of fraud, misrepresentation or the making of a false statement by the applicant or any stakeholder of the applicant while engaging in any activity for which this ordinance requires a license or in connection with the application for license or request to renew a license.”