It’s customary around the New Year’s holiday for journalists to review the previous 52 weeks and remind people of the stories that made headlines during the year that’s coming to an end. Far be it for the Kewaunee County Comet to defy journalistic tradition.
Often these reviews take the form of a “Top 10,” but I found more than 10 significant stories while perusing the stories that I reported during the course of 2017. I chose not to rank them. Although the order in which I decided to present them probably implies a ranking of sorts, I don’t mean to say that any of these stories is more or less important than the others – that’s for you, and eventually history, to judge. And no doubt there are significant stories that I missed, because, well, every journalist does that from time to time.
So, from this first full year of this particular “first rough draft of history”:
Farm Technology Days: The annual statewide agricultural expo July 11-13 is credited with bringing thousands of visitors to the Ebert Enterprises farm in the town of Pierce, giving the area a much-needed economic boost that brought, among other statistics, More than $100,000 in revenue for local nonprofit organizations.
Borchardt-Muldoon study: A presentation June 7 by scientists Mark Borchardt and Maurren Muldoon gave the public the results of a study of well contamination in Kewaunee County seems to show relationships between depth of soil and the likelihood of contaminated groundwater, especially when manure is applied to farm fields during periods when the water table is recharging. The data is likely to inform voluntary and regulatory efforts to protect local groundwater for years to come.
CAFO expansion: One result of that study was a growing call for the state Department of Natural Resources not to allow further expansion of dairy herds in Kewaunee County as it certifies Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for concentrated animal feeding operations. The county Land and Water Conservation Committee added herd expansion to the agenda of its January 2018 meeting.
Culture of Health award: Thanks to the efforts of the Live Algoma initiative, the community is one of eight chosen for a Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It comes with a $25,000 gift that the community can do with as it sees fit, and also the notoriety and recognition that comes from a national prize,” Claire Thompson of UW-Extension told the County Board in September.
Officer-involved shooting: In early October District Attorney Andrew Naze announced that he would not file criminal charges against the police officers involved in the confrontation with Tyler Whitmire on a rural highway, including sheriff’s deputy Jamie Tlachac, who on Aug. 21 shot and killed Whitmire as the 21-year-old Luxemburg man charged at another deputy holding a knife over his head.
Dominion settlement: The town of Carlton and owners of the decommissioned Kewaunee Power Station reached a settlement in January regarding the lawsuits over the nuclear plant’s assessed value, setting that value at $15 million. The resulting 18 percent drop in the equalized value of real estate and personal property in Kewaunee County caused a rise in property tax bills in the county, just as the $457 million assessment had caused a dip in 2015 and 2016, as the impact was felt across all property owners.
Kewaunee Harbor lighthouse and seawall reconstruction: Work on the Kewaunee Harbor seawall and upgrades to Harbor Park were completed with the help of a major state grant awarded in 2016; meanwhile Friends Of The Kewaunee Pier Head Lighthouse ran a successful $30,000 fundraising campaign to complete window restoration at the historic lighthouse.
Ahnapee Regional Technical Academy: A charter was formally signed in April establishing opportunities for students at Algoma, Kewaunee and Luxemburg-Casco high schools to earn college credits by taking courses at any of the three schools through a partnership with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp.
Kewaunee All-Inclusive Playground opens: Just before the school year opened, the ribbon was officially cut on Kewaunee Elementary School’s brand-new, all-inclusive playground after a two-year fundraising effort.
Biodigester project: The state Public Service Commission in September awarded $15 million to “Green Pastures Bio Energy Center” to build an integrated anaerobic digester in southeast Brown County, converting manure into energy. The decision ended months of anxious speculation as Kewaunee County officials expressed concern that the PSC was moving ahead with the project with little input from or information shared with local officials.
Those are 10 stories. Are they the top 10? It depends. Should the list have included any stories among these? It has been a busy news year in Kewaunee County.
+ The state Legislature authorizes a total maximum daily load (TDML) study of impaired waterways in Kewaunee, Door, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties.
+ The Dairy Business Association files, and then settles, a lawsuit against the DNR over regulation of CAFOs.
+ A Green Bay area lawmaker is championing a proposal to close the Green Bay Correctional Institution and build a new, modern prison in Brown or an adjoining county, possibly Kewaunee County.
+ Fred Schnook is hired as Kewaunee city administrator after a long search.
+ St. John’s Lutheran Church in Rankin celebrates its 150th anniversary with events all year.
+ A local attorney moves to purchase the former Kewaunee Enterprise building with the idea to convert it into a small business incubator.
+ The city of Kewaunee makes progress toward razing the long-vacant and deteriorating Marquette School building.
+ At least 30 drug-related arrests are made after an eight-month investigation by the Door-Kewaunee Drug Task Force, including nine in Kewaunee County.
+ A “Magic Carpet” is installed at Winter Park, replacing a rudimentary tow rope for tubing and snowboarding.
+ Last but perhaps not least, the Kewaunee County Comet is launched to provide a local, independent inline news sources for a county increasingly underserved as area news outlets consolidate and reduce their commitments to smaller communities. A growing number of readers support the effort by spreading the word and investing regular small amounts toward a “voluntary subscription” to this otherwise free service.
What will 2018 bring? My plan is to continue reporting news of Kewaunee County and expand as investments in the enterprise allow. Thank you for your support from the bottom of my heart.
— Warren Bluhm, editor-publisher