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McDonell seniors Abby Opsal (left), Grace Mrozinski (middle) and Megan Baier (right) led the way for the Macks this fall with standout seasons to cap their decorated careers. Their efforts have earned them tri-Player of the Year honors in Chippewa County.

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Three finalists selected for Chippewa County Administrator

The county administrator in Sawyer County, an administrative coordinator from Merrill and the administrator of a mental health and substance abuse program in Chippewa Falls are the finalists for the Chippewa County administrator’s job.

The finalists include: Jill Chaffee of Chippewa Falls; Thomas R. Hoff of Hayward; and Randy Scholz of Merrill.

Current administrator Frank Pascarella will be leaving as county administrator in December 2017. Pascarella chose not to renew his contract with the county.

The county’s Executive Committee narrowed the field of applicants at meetings Nov. 13, 14 and 16.

Toni M. Hohlfelder, director of the Chippewa County Human Resources department, said the finalists will be interviewed Thursday, Dec. 14, and Friday, Dec. 15. “The process will include panel interviews with department heads and elected officials, an evening ‘meet and greet’ with county board supervisors and will conclude with an interview with the (county’s) Executive Committee,” she said.

The “meet and greet” event will be at Horizon’s Lounge and Banquet Center in Tilden.

Jill Chaffee

Chaffee has worked as mental health and substance abuse for the Western Region Recovery and Wellness Consortium since January 2013.

She leads the nine-county Comprehensive Community Services program, that brings services to more than 300 people. Her resume said she leads a three-county consortium for mental health and substance abuse services.

She said she’s been working with the Chippewa County Department of Human Services’ fiscal staff to come up with a fiscal process that meets the requirements of Medicaid, administrative code and the Office of the Inspector General.

“The WRRWC design of our rate setting structure was featured during a state-wide Division of Care and Treatment Services training session. I presented the structure at the request of the state of Wisconsin-Division of Care and Treatment Services. Many counties have adopted our rate setting process,” she wrote on her resume.

She said while being an advocate for her agency, she continues having a positive working relationship with other counties, state employees and others in her field.

She served as regional director and executive director of the Northwest Counseling and Guidance Clinic in Frederic from December 1999-January 2013. She was a mental health therapist for Marshfield Clinic in Chippewa Falls from September 1998 to December 1999, and before that worked in the Manitowoc County Human Services Department from January 1996 to August 1998.

She is a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and received her master’s of social work degree from the same university.

Thomas R. Hoff

Hoff has been the Sawyer County administrator since 2015.

“As the county’s first administrator, (I’ve) led the county through the transition of changing the form of government from county coordinator to county administrator. (I) also perform the duties of the county’s Human Resource director,” Hoff writes in his resume.

He previously served as manager of financial services for the city of Eau Claire from 1990-2015. There, he said his duties including designing “financial systems and reports, develop budgets, and implement processes and controls to ensure regulatory compliance and operational efficiency/accuracy.”

He also worked as a customer service representative for Marten Transport in Mondovi from 1987-90 and as an office manager for Arbor Freight Service in Eau Claire from 1984-87.

He has a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1984 and a master’s degree in business administration from UW-Eau Claire in 2000.

Randy Scholz

Scholz has been the administrative coordinator in Lincoln County since 2010.

“I am currently responsible for a $50 million budget and 450 employees. I have conducted a county-wide Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) audit and ... implements a county wide wage study,” he wrote on his resume submitted to Chippewa County.

Scholz said he also started a county health wellness program that decreased Lincoln County’s health claims by $1.7 million.

During his time with Lincoln County, Scholz said he’s filled in as the county’s maintenance director, highway commissioner, county clerk and social services director.

He served as Lincoln County’s highway commissioner from 2004-2010 and was a highway worker for Lincoln County from 1997-2004.

He is a 1992 graduate in criminal justice from UW-Eau Claire. He had a marketing major-minor in management from Mount Senario College from 1986-89. That college has since gone out of existence.

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Eagle Point fighting road closure request from railroad

The town of Eagle Point is putting up a fight to prevent 95th Avenue from closing. The town’s insistence on a traffic analysis before signing a road closure agreement means the issue may face a public hearing in 2018.

95th Avenue is just short of a mile long, running from east to west and connecting Highways 178 and 124. A railroad crossing bisects it, though the road only has a simple railroad sign, instead of an active, flashing sign.

However, this road also sits on an opportunity: land that could accommodate railroad tracks.

The Wisconsin Northern Railroad (WNR), a division of Progressive Rail, moved quickly in September. It filed a request with the state’s railroad commissioner to close the road so it could build more tracks over 95th Avenue — new tracks that would let railroad workers assemble trains without having to close down crossings and block traffic on Highway S, WNR is arguing.

95th Avenue is “redundant,” WNR said, since there are similar east-west roads within a mile north and south of 95th.

However, the town’s government is concerned. This isn’t the first time WNR and the town have had a run-in. The railroad requested Eagle Point close the road in 2015, and agreed to conduct a traffic analysis on 95th Avenue before moving forward.

WNR began the analysis but eventually abandoned it. Two years later, WNR is appealing to a higher power: the state’s Commissioner of Railroads.

The railroad did not notify the town before it filed the petition, Eagle Point town chairman Dennis Ferstenou said.

WNR eventually offered the town a proposal: It would give Eagle Point $7,500 — which would be matched with another $7,500 by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, its proposal said — to compensate for the road’s closure.

WNR met with the town on Nov. 14. Ferstenou said he expected the railroad to offer a better incentive at the meeting, but that hope was dashed.

“$15,000 doesn’t meet our expenses for (closing the road),” he said. “We came out of that meeting that we felt the traffic analysis was required. (The railroad) didn’t want to go with that. They wanted to have us sign the voluntary closure agreement.”

Eagle Point has the support of the city of Chippewa Falls, Chippewa County and the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Ferstenou said. “You can’t just close the road and walk away from it. That only benefits Progressive Rail. … It doesn’t address emergency issues, traffic flow.”

In response to Eagle Point’s refusal, the railroad brought forth a crossing closure study on 95th Avenue, done in July for WNR. Motorists and emergency vehicles might be delayed by the road’s closing, the study said, but alternate routes were available via Highways 124 or 178.

Ultimately, the study concluded, the road “could be safely eliminated.”

Ferstenou has his doubts. “They claim by (closing 95th), they’d release the number of blockages on County S. We haven’t verified that. We have our doubts if it’d prevent blockages on County S for a great length of time,” he said.

The railroad gave up their plans in 2015 due to a downturn in the frac sand business, Ferstenou said. He’s heard concerns that it could happen again.

“With 105th Avenue, there’s a major campground, there’s several subdivisions that access 105th; the road has curves and elevation changes. To put more traffic on that road would be a great safety risk,” he said. “The (traffic analysis) would analyze all of this and recommend the best solution. … We’d hoped they would agree to that.”

The railroad does not agree to the analysis, records show; it only agreed to the analysis in 2015 because then, it was planning to acquire land on which to build new track. “The current closing would allow for connecting existing track,” said Jason Culotta, the railroad’s director of public affairs, in testimony filed with the Commissioner’s office.

At a Monday, Nov. 20, Eagle Point town board meeting, the board decided to stay firm on asking for a traffic analysis.

The problem is gaining county-wide attention. Ann Z. Schell, director of the Chippewa-Eau Claire Metropolitan Planning organization, filed testimony on Oct. 31, calling the PGR’s decision to move forward without a TIA “irresponsible.”

Eagle Point and Chippewa County have until Dec. 11 to file rebuttal testimony, Ferstenou said. The railroad will have eight days after that to file additional rebuttal; finally, a public hearing will be held at a future date, most likely after Jan. 1, 2018.

Eagle Point must have a space for public comment on the day of the hearing.

This story will be updated with comments from Wisconsin Northwestern Railroad on Monday, Nov. 27.