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Bonjean updates HHS Board on COVID numbers, vaccines
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EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—The Marinette County COVID-19 numbers, just like the State of Wisconsin statistics, are looking better every day, but it’s no time for residents to let down their guard.

That was one of the messages delivered by Public Health Officer Molly Bonjean Wednesday in her monthly report to the Health and Human Services Board.

She mentioned that spring break is approaching, along with holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day.

“It’s really nice to see the state (numbers) coming down,” Bonjean said. “We are certainly not out of the woods yet. We don’t want to get complacent, but it is improving.”

Bonjean referred to statistics on the Department of Health Services website that shows Wisconsin is now in the high category for disease activity and Marinette County is in the low category.

About two months ago, the state was in the very high to critically high categories, she said.

Here are some statistics:

• Marinette County has 4,377 positive cases since the pandemic started, but only 60 cases in the last 30 days. The county has recorded 66 deaths attributed to the disease.

• Wisconsin has had 567,850 positive cases and 6,524 deaths.

• The state has 77% of hospital beds in use, 73% of ICU beds in use and 13% of ventilators in use.

Bonjean also told the board about the opening of the Prevea COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic last month at the Max E. Peterson Field House on the UW Green Bay, Marinette Campus.

“We are very excited to get things off the ground,” she said. “Things are running smoothly out there.”

She said the clinic is below maximum capacity of 1,500 to 1,600 doses per week because of limited allocation.

“As we get more (doses) we can get more shots in arms at that location,” she said, adding that information on the clinic, including how to sign up, is available on the county’s website.

Marinette has a population of about 40,350 people and so far 18.5% of residents (7,446) have received one dose and 10.5% of residents (4,240) are fully vaccinated.

Those numbers are in line with the state’s totals of 19.1% of residents receiving one dose and about 11% being fully vaccinated.

Bonjean ensured that whatever doses of vaccine the county receives they will be used.

“No vaccine will be wasted,” she said. “If there is a no show (for an appointment) we will find an arm for it.”

At the meeting, Bonjean said it was anticipated that the next group of people eligible for the vaccine would be announced soon.

“Keep in mind, first they will announce who is eligible in that group and then they will tell us when they can get the vaccine,” she said. “So just because they are eligible tomorrow, doesn’t mean they can get the vaccination tomorrow.”

On Thursday, the DHS released that people age 16 and older with certain medical conditions will become eligible to receive the vaccine on March 29.

Bonjean also said talks continue with Prevea on how to get the vaccine to citizens in the northern part of the county.

“I don’t have a solution right now, but the conversations are ongoing,” she said.


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Informational meeting exposes PFAS settlement concerns
  • Updated

EagleHerald staff writer

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part article relating to topics presented at Wednesday’s informational meeting.

TOWN OF PESHTIGO ― A well-attended special informational meeting, organized by Town of Peshtigo (TOP) concerned residents Wednesday night at Little River Country Club, centered on discussion and clarification of a few key points, regarding a large class action lawsuit settlement involving many residents in the TOP (See THE SETTLEMENT—BRIEF HISTORY).

More specifically, the intent of the meeting aimed to provide attendees with knowledge and timelines related to the large environmental contamination lawsuit recently settled in the United States District Court. The suite centered a large portion of TOP residents residing in a specific area known as the “Class Area” and whose private potable water wells received alleged contamination from a local industry by substances generally known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

“The very clear intent of tonight’s meeting is to alert class members (those in the settlement area) to some critical variables (which are time sensitive) that they may not be paying attention to,” said Town of Peshtigo resident and member of both Save Our Water (SOH{sub}2{/sub}O) the TOP Citizens Advisory Committee Cindy Boyle. “And by alerting them, the purpose is for them to begin to advocating for themselves.”

Both the CAC and SOH2O focus on public awareness and education of PFAS contamination in the area.

PFAS constitutes a vital component in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which due to the intrinsic properties imbued by the PFAS molecule, serves as a highly effective firefighting suppression method on liquid fire. Since the 1950s, various industries used PFAS in several consumer product for their unique properties such as high heat tolerance and water resistance. Some of those products included Teflon and non-stick kitchen ware.

However, after intensive research throughout the 2000s, scientific finding revealed strong identifying probable links between PFAS exposure and several adverse human health effects such as thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension

Organizers of the meeting raised two main concerns. The first resulted from the sluggish way in which information disseminated to the public, specifically to those involved in the settlement. The second stems from what many TOP residents perceive as a lack of clarity regarding long-term solutions to clean safe drinking water.

ABSENCE OF AWARENESS—MARCH 29 DEADLINE

Currently, residents have until March 29 to make claims in the settlement, object to the settlement or ‘opt’ out of the settlement; and each process involves various steps that are outlined on the settlement website, Firefighting Foam Settlement: www.firefightingfoamsettlement.com/faqs/.

Additionally, a statement to the EagleHerald from Tyco emphasized the availability of settlement information and directed residents to the Firefighting Foam Settlement.

“We understand that some area residents met to discuss questions about the Settlement,” the statement begins. “The attorneys for the Class (plaintiffs) are the best resource to answer any questions about the settlement and can be contacted at 1-800-240-2988 or via www.firefightingfoamsettlement.com.

But according to several affected TOP residents at Wednesday’s meeting, knowledge and awareness regarding the settlement flowed in a slow trickle.

Ruth Kowalski, TOP resident and one organizer of Wednesday’s informational meeting, worried about residents who might not access the internet or read the newspaper and how they might miss vital and timely information regarding the settlement. That lack of information represented a major concern and served as a driving force behind the meeting.

“My husband and I recently visited our elderly neighbor,” Kowalski said. “She is in her mid-80s and I am not even sure she gets the (newspaper). So, she really (would have had) no idea about this suit unless we would have talked to her about it. That is not right. They should have been sending a hard copy to these people.”

According Boyle, Kowalski and other organizers, residents received no email or other mailing notification. Boyle explained that the settlement website simply went live. According to some, notices also went out over social media, but depending on your newsfeed settings they may have been overlooked by many.

Brian and Melissa Freeman, husband and wife attendees at the meeting and who live in in the settlement area, said they did not learn until two weeks ago that they lived within the designated boundaries. They voiced criticism for the slowness in the release of that information.

“We were aware of the original (PFAS contamination plume in TOP) but weren’t aware that we were in any part of the settlement,” Melissa said. “So we are just trying to hurry up and catch up on information because we have to make a decision by March 29 … we did not find out until I saw in the (TOP Facebook) discussion group (a couple weeks ago) … we never received any notification.”

The Freemans also pointed out that because they initially saw settlement notification on social media, they just scrolled passed, believing it to an advertisement.

“I just thought it was other attorney firms trying to get in on the business,” Melissa said.

Kayla Furton, another meeting organizer, pointed out that such “lack of notification and information” can lead to various issues for residents.

Furton is a TOP resident. She is also active in SOH2O and the CAC and in her capacity working with both organizations, she carries a sense about the level of knowledge individuals possess about the settlement.

“I think there is a lot of confusion,” she said. “There is a huge lack of awareness.”

She said that people do not realize that if they live in the settlement area they are, by default, included in the settlement. There is no opting “into” the settlement. Therefore, if a resident in the defined settlement area takes no action, which includes making a claim, opting out or objecting to the settlement, he or she will automatically be included under the legal delineations spelled out in the agreement documents.

Those documents define a settlement member as any current or former resident, or current or former property owner, whose property utilized a private drinking water well within the specified area, designated the “class area” or settlement area, which lies inside the Town of Peshtigo. Additionally, the settlement includes those individuals who resided at that location for at least one year between January of 1965 and December of 2020—which Kowalski points out, is potentially a large number of people who have since moved away and know nothing of the settlement.

The boundaries of the settlement area encompass a section of land just south of the City of Marinette that is bounded by University Avenue on the north, Heath Lane on the south, Roosevelt Road to the west and the Bay of Green Bay to the east.

According to information provided at Wednesday’s meeting and in legal documents: residents in the class area who do not opt out, or who do nothing, essentially release the defendants rom any claims that may arise in the future regarding the PFAS contamination. Documents state that such residents “fully release and forever discharge the Tyco Fire Products LP, Chemguard Inc., and ChemDesign Products Inc. … from any and all past, present or future claims, demands, obligations, causes of action, rights, damages, costs, attorneys’ fees, loss of services, earnings or consortium, future medical expenses and compensation of any nature whatsoever …” and the list goes on.

“You are automatically included in this settlement,” Furton said. “If you do nothing you release liability and you get nothing … you release all of that liability for yourself and your children if you do not take action on their behalf.”

Organizers of Wednesday’s meeting hoped to provide individual TOP residents with the tools and insight to make well-informed decisions regarding their participation in the settlement or not.

“Whatever people decide, whatever is in their best interest … we think people need to make an informed decision,” Furton said. “And (because of) the lack in the way information has been presented, I don’t know that people feel they can make an informed decision … about whether or not it is a good settlement for them.”

Leveling further criticism about the slow release of settlement information Boyle, said that it would have been “incredibly easy for” the notification official and attorneys to obtain the mailing address of residents who resided in the settlement area to mail notifications. Through her own efforts, Boyle herself was able to obtain such records.

“My point is, if I as a lay person am able to put in put public records requests in and get all of those mailing addresses with relative ease (then) it is certainly reasonable that we would all see (notification) in the mail 17 days before the deadline (to file a claim).”


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Principal outlines plans for senior events

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Marinette High School Principal Justine Braatz shared the high school’s plans for several major upcoming events with the Board of Education Tuesday.

Braatz told the board about the plans for prom, graduation, senior scholarship night and senior sports awards. Starting with prom, she said there will not be a traditional prom this year, but will have a different event as a replacement. “We’re not having a traditional prom because of the dance and the closeness of everything, so we are holding a tournament event that we’re calling the ‘prom-lympics,’” she said.

Braatz said the idea came from the junior and senior student advisors and officers. This event will be held April 17. “We’re hoping and praying for warm weather because we want to have competitions between student teams both indoors and outdoors; we’ll have something to eat, we’ll have t-shirts and face coverings and try to follow the mitigating practices as best as we can,” she said.

This event will be exclusively for juniors and seniors with no guests from outside. “All of the events will be either outside on the soccer field or the football field, or in the gym with small, small group events,” said student representative Brea Leow.

She said the April 17 date falls on a day right between sports seasons, so there wouldn’t be any games on that day that would prevent athletes from coming or needing to rush from a game to make it. “Some of the school districts are going later, but because their spring sports are starting later, there are doubleheaders after doubleheaders, so it’s kind of a perfect date for it,” she said.

Leow said there is a possibility of having another dance on that day, which is still something that is in discussion.

“I really appreciate that they’re trying to do something,” said Superintendent Corry Lambie. “Our juniors and seniors didn’t have a prom last year, so putting their heads together and coming up with some way to give the kids some social experiences, I think, is commendable, and I appreciate trying to get back to some normalcy.”

Braatz said the senior scholarship night this year will feature about 40 presenters and will take place May 12. “We’ve had quite a few presenters express concerns about being up onstage and being close, so what we are going to do is the same as what we did last year with pre-recorded video. We’re asking the presenters to video themselves giving the award,” she said.

A hybrid idea is also being talked about for the scholarship night, which could include some pre-recorded scholarship awards and some done in-person. “Right now it’s just going to be the pre-recorded, but we’ll see what happens. Maybe we can have the pre-recorded video with the parents coming in with their senior in the auditorium, and maybe they can watch it together when the award comes up and the senior goes to pick up the certificate, but we’re waiting to see what happens,” she said.

Similarly, the senior sports awards will feature pre-recorded videos of coaches presenting awards and giving their speeches, which will take place the Wednesday following the senior scholarship night.

“The senior dinner dance is another popular event for the seniors,” Braatz said. “Many other schools are doing dinner but not the dance, so we’d like to offer a nice dinner; they can dress up, maybe have some games. It’s usually held at Little River, so we’d like to do something special for our seniors,” she said.

Graduation this year will be a traditional outdoor graduation ceremony at Higley Field June 5 at 1 p.m. Braatz said students will be given four tickets or possibly more, as both sides of the stadium will be open for guest seating. “When the graduates come up for their diploma, they will come up and face the side that their family is sitting on,” she said.

Braatz said there is a current rain date of June 6. If it looks like rain on that day, graduation will be held indoors. Graduating students will be given a smaller amount of different colored tickets for the indoor ceremony should graduation need to move indoors.


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Citizens bring experiences with health department to county board

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Local business owner, Ray Schebel and his wife Pam spoke in front of the Menominee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday to discuss their experience with the Public Health Department Delta & Menominee Counties.

The Schebels own the Cedar River Plaza in Cedar River and were looking for property near their workplace that they could purchase and build a home on. Ray Schebel said they had been renting for the past several years.

After purchasing a property next to the Cedar River Plaza, the Schebels applied to Health Department to build mound septic on the property. However, Schebel had removed the dwelling—a trailer—from the property before submitting his application.

Because the property did not have a home, the Schebels were not granted the permit needed to build the septic system.

“When I worked with the Health Department, they did their assessment, the property did not pass because it’s water logged,” Ray Schebel said.

He explained that if the property had a dwelling, it would have been approved for the project but because it no longer had one, it was not approved.

The Schebels began the appeals process to hopefully obtain the needed permit because a dwelling had been on the property for several years, a fact that Schebel proved with Google Maps.

He said the surrounding properties all have the same type of mound septic tank he was asking to build and are all about the same elevation as his property.

“They didn’t take any of that into consideration, the Health Department came back with a presentation that must have taken five to six hours to put together,” Schebel said.

He said the Health Department did answer his questions but refused to offer any sort of variation on their code, even though there had been a home on the property before he applied for the permit.

“What difference does it make that a building is no longer there? It doesn’t change the science of the land,” Schebel said.

Schebel explained that the Environmental Health Director, Ian Nelson, told the Schebels that if they perused the process to request a code variation, it would be also denied.

Currently, the Schebels are looking into tapping into the Cedar River Plaza septic as a work around, but they said if they did not own that property, they would not have any options.

“Our concern is, when someone comes to the Health Department, they’re supposed to help you get things done. To me, a little bit of common sense here, or even a ‘hey, we can bend the rules a little bit, given the circumstances would have helped the community more,” Schebel said.

He explained that if it was another family looking to move to this parcel of land and had not been able to build the septic for the same reason, Menominee County would lose a taxed residence. “This is a property that has had people living on it,” Schebel said.

“This property still has a fire plate, it still has a mailbox, it has a two-car garage, they were just getting the site ready for construction (when the Schebels removed the house from the property),” Commissioner David Prestin said.

Commissioner Steve Gromala, who serves on the City of Menominee board of appeals, said, “I know the variance process and I don’t know why the board of appeals didn’t take those things into consideration. Is it possible that our commissioners can go before them and once again ask for this variance?”

“The biggest issue that I have is the discretion. The appeals process, according to Ian, is void of discretion, a common-sense discretion,” Prestin said.

Prestin is the former-owner of the Cedar River Plaza. He said that he too had issues with the Health Department back in 2007 when he was opening the gas station up for business. He had obtained his food establishment license but the health department inspector told him he would not be able to open a restaurant.

“I said, ‘well, I already have my food establishment license from the Department of Ag., they’re the governing body here, not the Health Department,” Prestin said. “She (the inspector) went out of her way and called the Department of Ag.; long story short: I had get two professional engineers, a lawyer and a soil remediation guy involved and threaten to go to court.”

Prestin said that he had further issues a few years later, he wanted to expand the Plaza’s water treatment options by putting in a second septic mound. “I was met with the same resistance. It’s a pattern, it’s a negative pattern. This is something I would expect out of Lansing, not one of ours. Not out of a local governing body. They should be looking for ways to make it happen, not for ways to stop it.”

“I feel very strongly on this, it’s just wrong. This has happened to me twice, it’s happened to them, how many other people in Menominee County has this happened to?” Prestin asked. “How much isn’t being built? How much isn’t happening in this county because of this?”

He said he was also not happy about the appeals process, which was dictated by one person and not the board itself. Prestin said the board of appeals consists of engineers and well-drilling professionals who know what they are doing, but the decision was not made by the board.

“And on top of that, for him (Ray Schebel) to be told preemptively, before we even get to the variance process, that it would be denied,” Prestin said. “How can you deny the variance before it’s even applied for?”

Prior to the meeting, Menominee County Administrator Jason Carviou said he had done his research on this topic. He had read the Health Department codes and reached out to Health Officer Mike Snyder.

“I’ve looked into this, there is a variance process in the code which allows variations to be made if an issue matched three criteria,” Carviou said. “The biggest one is ‘if they allowed this mound system, is it likely to cause an environmental or health hazard?’ Well, there are five mound systems around there., so just on common sense, that’s a good case to consider a variance.

“The code is up to interpretation, based on who is interpreting it. This is not my code, not the county’s code, but my interpretation is, ‘if the variance went through, and the health director denied it, then it can be appealed back to the board of appeals and the board of appeals should the discretion to rule on the issue.”

Carviou said the Health Department appears to be taking a “stringent” take on the rules but “that is contradictory to the process of a variance because a variance literally means you are varying from the code.”

Commissioners Larry Johnson and Larry Schei both sit on the Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties Board, and Carviou suggested they bring it up for further discussion within the health department. Carviou said he had requested documents from the health department for them to review.

In other business, the Menominee County Board of Commissioners also:

  • Approved Reslution2021-08: Resolution to adopt monthly 911 surcharge within Menominee County
  • Appointed Commissioner Bill Cech to the Public Defenders Office Board; removed Cech from the Airport Committee and appointed Commissioner Larry Phelps to the airport committee
  • Appointed Gromala as chairman of the Airport Committee
  • Approved the Menominee County Fair Board to reserve all campsites at Shakey Lakes Park during the week of the fair, July 14-18; Approved of the fair board to charge an additional $5 per during the fair week and approved that the fair board can pay 1/2 price for campsites used directly by the fair.

Articles
THE SETTLEMENT—BRIEF HISTORY.
  • Updated

MARINETTE ― The primary plaintiffs in the case, Town of Peshtigo (TOP) residents Joan and Richard Campbell, entered into the suit on behalf of themselves and other TOP residents similarly affected by PFAS contamination, who lived for at least one year in the town over a span of time from January of 1965 to December of 2020.

The Campbell’s initial claim, filed in the State of Wisconsin Circuit Court, alleges the release of PFAS contaminants into the groundwater from a facility operated by one of the defendants in the case, Tyco Fire Products L.P. (Tyco), which resulted in adverse impacts to property values as well as the negative health effects related to PFAS exposure. Chemguard, Inc., and ChemDesign Products were also included as defendants in the suite. All defendants named in the suite function in various capacities (from production to testing) related to fire suppression chemicals containing PFAS

The settlement is $17.5 million which is further divided into $11 million for loss of real property, $4 million for harm related to PFAS and $2.5 million for to address manifestation of medical conditions related to PFAS.

According to estimates on the settlement website (www.firefightingfoamsettlement.com/faqs/), by filing a claim, a claimant may receive monetary compensation up to $65,000 for property ownership in the settlement area. Additional amounts can be acquired for exposure-related claims and personal injury claims related to PFAS exposure. Each claim must be supported by evidence and the monetary payment levels remain contingent on several factors all explained on the website.


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