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Law enforcement: Chi-Hi threats may be 'inspired' by Eau Claire school threat

Threats found in bathrooms of Chippewa Falls Senior High School Monday may be related to threats found several days ago at Eau Claire Memorial High School, according to law enforcement.

“I’d say they were inspired,” Chippewa Falls Police Chief Matt Kelm said at a Monday afternoon press conference held at the Korger-Chestnut building. “There was no indication the suspects from (the Eau Claire Memorial High School) incident and these suspects are in any way related, but (we believe) it was inspired by that event.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a threat was found written on a bathroom stall of Eau Claire Memorial High School. In that case, students were released after a partial day of classes. A 15-year-old has been referred to juvenile authorities in the Eau Claire Memorial case.

Two suspects, a male and a female, both 16-year-old students, have been identified in the investigation at Chi-Hi, Kelm said.

“The investigation is still somewhat ongoing. We believe we’ve identified the two primary people, and it’s unlikely, although possible, there were other people involved,” Kelm said.

A student found a threat in a Chi-Hi bathroom around 8:45 a.m., said Michelle Golden, the district’s executive director of public relations. After the administration contacted the police department, three more threats were found in both boys’ and girls’ bathrooms.

The threats specifically mentioned bombs and loaded weapons, threatening harm if the school was evacuated, according to an email from the school district sent to parents Monday afternoon.

Two of the threats were written on bathroom stalls; two were notes found in a bathroom.

The school was immediately sent into a hold status, Golden said, and the building was searched by both staff and the Chippewa Falls Police Department.

“We also notified Hillcrest Elementary, as well as Chippewa Falls Middle School, to not release students outside, as well as the (McDonell Area Catholic Schools) across the street,” Golden said.

Two students, one boy and one girl, were identified as suspects by law enforcement. Camera footage outside the bathrooms may have helped identify the suspects.

“Luckily we got a break on the investigative end of the case, then it was a matter of returning the school to normalcy,” Kelm said.

A search of the suspects’ homes and property was carried out Monday afternoon, Kelm said. No bombs or guns found on school grounds.

The hold keeping students in their classrooms at Chi-Hi was lifted Monday afternoon. Students were able to attend their last classes, Golden said, and they were released from classes at their normal time, 3:45 p.m. Hillcrest Elementary students were released at 2:30 p.m.

The high school’s food service delivered food to each classroom despite the hold, Golden said. “(Lunch) did take much longer than anticipated, but we felt that by releasing students to a lunchroom...we weren’t 100 percent confident we had identified the subjects.”

Golden and Kelm thanked parents for their cooperation, and asked them to talk to their children about alerting school administration to future potential threats.

“The fear that goes through every student and their parents, if they have kids at these schools, this is never something to just joke about. The penalties are also very severe,” Kelm said.

Members of the Chippewa Falls Police Department and Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department responded to the threat situation, along with school administrators.

“Thank you very much for your patience, cooperation, and understanding as we worked to ensure our schools are safe for our students. We are fortunate to have a strong relationship with our law enforcement, who responded swiftly and with all available resources to support us in this situation,” school district superintendent Dr. Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos wrote in an email to parents.

School will be in session tomorrow with no change, Golden said.

The Chippewa Falls School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Administration Building, 1130 Miles Street, where it is likely Monday’s incident will be discussed.


This undated photo shows the frac sand drying facility at Superior Silica Sands facility in Barron County.

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Sand mines rising above downturn

COLFAX — After a disappointing 2015 and 2016, the frac sand industry in Wisconsin is moving forward at a record rate. That was the message delivered by Rick Shearer, president and CEO of Superior Sands, to members of the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on Thursday, Nov. 9, at Little Slice of Italy restaurant in Colfax.

When Superior Sands started operations in 2010 in western Wisconsin, it was “all good,” Shearer said. Production went up and up from 2011 to 2014, he said. But February 2015 saw the beginning of about a 50 percent drop in demand.

OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, was the reason for the slide.

“We began to be a thorn in their side,” Shearer said, about the fracking industry as a whole. OPEC decided to drive the oil price down to drive out companies doing fracking, thus cutting the demand for sand. The consequences were sudden and dramatic. Superior Sands lost 53 percent of its workforce. The company’s revenues dropped $50 million in 2016.

Better ways

The resulting crisis drove a lot of changes in the industry.

“We spent the dark days of the downturn reinventing ourselves,” Shearer said. “Engineers found better ways to drill.”

Drillers started using more sand per well, doubling the amount used and requiring higher quality sand — like the kind found in western Wisconsin — to produce much more hydrocarbon.

Superior Sands itself worked to reduce costs, broaden its customer base, develop new technology, including a plant in Barron to coat the sand to reduce dust at the well site and improve logistics with 17 storage terminals. The company purchased a mine in south Texas, where the sand “isn’t as good,” Shearer said. But the location meant the cost to deliver sand to the well site was not as great.

After the downturn and industry improvements, the economics of drilling and mining changed. Before 2015, companies needed to see oil at $50 a barrel to make fracking profitable. Now it is $30 a barrel, Shearer said.

OPEC has responded by giving up on the effort to eliminate fracking and started moving oil prices back up.

“Northern white sand is not dead,” Shearer said, about the kind of sand produced in western Wisconsin. “We are not throttling back.”

Superior Sands is actually shipping Wisconsin sand to countries around the world, as fracking picks up globally.

“We are here for the quality of the sand, the crush factor and the coarseness,” Shearer said. “This is very unique geology here. Maybe the best frac sand on the planet is right here in West Central Wisconsin.”

The market for sand has rebounded, Shearer said. Company profit this year should be $40 million and next year is projected at $150 million.

“This is a cyclical business,” Shearer said. “There is no denying it. But when it’s good, it’s very good.”

Quote “This is very unique geology here. Maybe the best frac sand on the planet is right here in West Central Wisconsin.”

Lake Hallie commission votes against transfer station permit

The Lake Hallie Plan Commission on Monday denied on a 5-1 vote a controversial conditional-use permit to allow ProVyro Transfer, LLC of Eau Claire to set up a waste transfer facility on 130th Street, near the Highway 53 and Highway 29 interchange.

The commission’s vote is advisory. Next, the proposal is scheduled will go back to the Lake Hallie Village Board on Nov. 20. The Village Board will also decide if two parcels will be rezoned from agricultural and residential to industrial. The village board pushed off a decision on that rezoning at its Oct. 16 meeting.

Chippewa County Zoning Director Doug Clary recommended denying the conditional-use permit.

“While you can place a generic restriction that an independent business ... shall be contracted with to control rodents and insects, it would be difficult to monitor. And, once again, the issue is how we do we know that the increase is directly associated with this particular facility. One can surmise, but to prove it would be quite difficult,” Clary wrote to the commission.

One commission member said people in the area of another waste transfer station in Lake Hallie were concerned about that facility’s smell and rodents attracted to the facility. “I have some big concerns (ProVyro) about being in a neighborhood.” she said. A ProVyro spokesman said the number of rodents to where the company wants the transfer station would not be a problem.

Commission member Rusty Volk said: “We do need some kind of transfer station.” But he said his concern about the location was the smell from the waste station. Volk said his concern is how community defines what is good and bad smell. “I don’t know how we’re going to enforce that,” Volk said.

“Can you guarantee there will not be a negative impact on my property values? ... Are we going to lose money?” asked Lake Hallie resident Rick Collins. A ProVyro spokesman said there were no guarantee on that, but it didn’t seem a facility has an impact on nearby property values.

One woman who did not give her name said since the property is zoned agriculture, someone could place a hog farm there, and zoning would have no authority over the smell nor whether the farm attracted rodents.

Andrew Holland, who co-owns ProVyro with Joe Craven, last month said most of the complaints about a waste transfer site were about the facility’s smell. He said the facility would be designed while keeping in mind the region’s typical wind direction to keep the odor to a minimum.

Trash is dropped off at the waste transfer site, compacted and then placed in trucks to be taken to a disposal facility, such as a landfill.

“The waste transfer facility, at maximum capacity, will be able to accommodate approximately 300 tons of garbage per day. We are asking for initial approval for up to 150 tons per day,” according to literature ProVyro had available at the meeting. The facility is 90-by-70 feet with a 40-by-20-foot bumpout.

The land ProVyro proposed using is owned by village board member Mark Perry. Perry and Village Board President Wayne Walkoviak have said they will abstain from voting on the matter. Perry donated a kidney to Walkoviak in 2003.

Monday’s meeting drew over 25 people. Plan Commission members include Randy Larson, Bradley Berg, Pat Spilde, Eloise Rowan, Rusty Volk and Mauhar.