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CFAUSD referendum construction nearing the finish line

The finish line for a local building project is almost in sight.

Construction on the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District (CFAUSD) building project referendum is coming along quickly and is lessening its impact on the daily routine of school faculty and students.

Phase seven of the project at Chippewa Falls Middle School has been turned over to the school for use, punch list corrections are underway and the final bathrooms are being remodeled and are nearing completion. An issue arose, however, with materials and labor, as three chilled beams of the wrong size were delivered. Installation of the proper chilled beams will be coordinated with the school this summer.

“The projects at the Chippewa Falls High School, Middle School and New Stillson Elementary haven’t experienced a lost time injury to date,” business manager Chad Trowbridge said.

Construction at Chippewa Falls Senior High School is nearing completion as well. Fire suppression continues in the 1997 building area and in the auditorium, balancing of the HVAC system is underway and work on the locker room area has been underway for the past several weeks.

Completion of the final two areas is planned to be completed by the end of the summer.

In early 2018, voters approved a $65 million referendum, with 53% of voters giving their OK to build a new home for Stillson Elementary School students and to make additions and improvements to the middle and high schools.

The Stillson building project included a new 36-acre site in the town of Lafayette, a drastic increase from the current six-acre site. The 30-acre increase features a larger space for parking, a playground and athletic fields.

The middle school is using the funding to remodel areas of the building, improve technology, and make various improvements and repairs. The high school got a new science lab, improved technology and other improvements.

Another referendum building project construction update will be available at next month’s CFAUSD board meeting.

Photo Gallery: Chi-Hi Class of 2020 parade

Harris touts research during first Wisconsin trip

MADISON — Vice President Kamala Harris toured clean energy laboratories on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus Tuesday and touted President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan during her first visit to Wisconsin since taking office.

Wisconsin Republicans said Harris’ time would have been better spent at the U.S. border dealing with the increase of migrants trying to cross from Mexico.

Harris also participated in a roundtable discussion about the investments in research and development proposed in Biden’s infrastructure jobs plan, which would rebuild roads and bridges, boost broadband access and make other improvements. Harris was joined by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, university and business leaders, researchers, teachers and others on the visit.

Harris has been touting Biden’s plan, unveiled in March, at stops across the country. In Milwaukee, she emphasized the $180 billion in proposed funding for research and development. Speaking at the roundtable, Harris said that would be the largest amount spent on research and development, other than in the military, in the history of the United States.

Harris said the U.S. has fallen behind in recent years and that it must be able to compete — with universities playing a big role — to pursue innovation that will improve the lives of American families.

The labs Harris toured focused on wind tunnel and wind turbine research, and sustainable energy research on microgrids and batteries. Harris was told about one research project at UW-Milwaukee aiming to reduce the time to recharge an electric vehicle battery to just 15 minutes.

Gov. Tony Evers and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett greeted Harris in Milwaukee. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul, all Democrats, watched the roundtable discussion.

Republicans used the Harris trip to renew their criticism of Biden’s infrastructure plan as too costly.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, in a statement Tuesday, called Biden’s plan a “boondoggle” and said he was interested to see how Harris justifies the spending.

“Instead of creating more opportunities, it will kill people’s jobs, increase their taxes, and further implement radical leftists’ agenda,” Johnson said. “Happy to have her visit Milwaukee, but she really ought to inspect the crisis President Biden created at the border.”

Early Tuesday, two Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders who recently visited the U.S. border in Texas sent Harris a letter criticizing her for not visiting southern border states. Biden has put her in charge of diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of migration to the U.S.

“We appreciate the visit to Wisconsin; but, respectfully, you have much bigger problems to deal with right now,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August wrote. “As the person who is supposed to be the most qualified to address this issue, we implore you to start taking action now to help our southern border.”

The lawmakers also called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to do more to help secure the border, including sending aid. Texas has not asked for National Guard troops from Wisconsin, but in 2018 then-Gov. Scott Walker sent dozens to assist at the border. Evers withdrew Guard troops from the region shortly after taking office in 2019.

No taxpayer money was used for the border trip, which Steineke said was paid for in part with campaign donations. August said they were invited by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

They called immigration at the border a “humanitarian crisis” that would affect Wisconsin and the entire country because people trying to enter there spread out nationwide. Steineke and August said local officials, including a Democratic county sheriff, said they are desperate for help.

“This should not fall on the backs of southern border states themselves,” Steineke said. “It’s just as much about our security as theirs.”

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 vaccination program, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

McDonell's Sydney Flanagan competes at the Western Cloverbelt Conference championships on May 14, 2019 in Cadott.

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14 new COVID-19 cases announced in Chippewa County

Chippewa County announced 14 new active cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the total positive cases to 7,339 countywide to date (less than 75 currently active). No new coronavirus-related deaths were announced Tuesday, leaving the Chippewa County COVID-19 death toll at 94 lives lost.

There have now been 30,365 negative coronavirus tests and 256 total COVID-19 induced hospitalizations (no individuals currently hospitalized) in Chippewa County to date. Chippewa County’s risk level for the spread of coronavirus is currently classified as “high.”

The state of Wisconsin has now seen 662,000 cases of coronavirus (a one-day increase of 391 cases) and 7,567 individuals have passed away due to complications with COVID-19 statewide to date (no individuals have passed away in the past 24 hours). 214 of the deceased died from other causes, according to their death certificates.

Report: Wisconsin air quality better, except for 6 counties

MADISON — Most of Wisconsin has breathed cleaner air over the last several years, according to the American Lung Association. But, the group gave failing grades to six counties along Lake Michigan over smog pollution as part of its annual national report card on the state of air quality.

Overall, Wisconsin is seeing fewer days with high ozone levels. But, the report gave a failing grade to Kenosha, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine and Sheboygan counties for the highest number of days with poor air quality due to smog. That’s down from eight counties in the group’s 2018 air quality report. The areas that aren’t experiencing any high ozone pollution include Ashland, Forest, La Crosse, Marathon, Taylor and Vilas counties.

Smog, or ozone pollution, typically occurs when air pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds interact with heat and sunlight during the summer. Those pollutants generally stem from industry, power plant and vehicle emissions, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The scores are based on a rolling average of the number of days when ozone levels exceeded certain targets from 2017 to 2019. It did not include air quality readings during the pandemic.

“The number of days have gone down, but there’s still a lot of people that are affected by ozone, especially the elderly, the young,” said Angela Tin, national senior director of the American Lung Association. “And, also now because of the pandemic, we need some healthy lungs to fight against the air pollution, and we need healthy lungs to fight against the pandemic.”

Ozone pollution can create short-term and long-term respiratory problems. Tin said the pollution can worsen asthma and increase the risk of chronic health issues like emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

The report found cities like Sheboygan and Milwaukee were among the top 25 most polluted cities for smog nationwide, although they experienced nine and 13.7 fewer days, respectively, with high ozone levels since 1996. The cleanest cities in Wisconsin for ozone pollution were Wausau, Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids.

The number of bad air days dropped in the nation’s 25 most ozone-polluted cities, noting the years represented were somewhat cooler than those covered in its last report. But, it highlighted that 2017, 2018 and 2019 were still among the six hottest years on record across the globe. As climate change drives temperatures higher, warmer weather makes it more likely for ozone pollution to form.

The counties with the greatest number of days on average that had high ozone concentrations included Kenosha County at 9.2 days, Sheboygan County at nine days and Racine County at eight days.

Southeastern Wisconsin has struggled over time to meet standards for ground-level ozone pollution. In 2015, the Obama administration created a stricter standard for ozone pollution at 70 parts per billion — a slight decrease from an earlier standard of 75 parts per billion that was implemented following a review launched in 2008.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said the grades given by the American Lung Association are not based on compliance with those federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards, according to public information specialist Craig Czarnecki. While the report uses official monitoring data, the group’s methodology differs from what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency measures to determine whether health objectives are being met. The EPA considers the impact of exposure and other factors in determining whether those areas meet federal standards.

Czarnecki said high concentrations can occur for short periods of time, but they’re typically not harmful to human health.

“Some Wisconsin counties that are in attainment of the (National Ambient Air Quality Standards) — and thereby meeting all federal air quality standards — are consistently given low or failing grades,” Czarnecki said in an email.

Milwaukee County, for example, received a failing grade, but Czarnecki said the county is currently meeting the 2015 standard for ozone. As for the five other counties that received a failing grade, he said only parts of those counties are not meeting the federal standard.

“It’s actually really only a very small, few miles of a band along those lakeshores that are seeing those higher ozone concentrations,” said Czarnecki. “That wouldn’t be those entire counties.”

A DNR report released last fall found the state’s air quality improved along the Lake Michigan shoreline with ozone pollution dropping 25 percent on average since 2001. The report also found 95 percent of Wisconsinites live in an area that meets federal air standards.

In 2018, the EPA narrowed a list of areas that need to reduce smog levels under the standard, which included lakeshore areas of Kenosha, Door, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, northern Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties. The decision excluded Waukesha, Washington and Racine counties, which had originally been included as part of areas that weren’t meeting the tougher standards.

Business groups and the DNR have argued that the region is being affected by smog that’s coming from Illinois and Indiana. Clean Wisconsin filed a lawsuit against the EPA in 2018, saying the pared down list failed to protect people from high ozone levels.

“As long as Wisconsin sources are contributing to emissions that are making people sick, those sources should be responsible for reducing air pollution, too,” said Katie Nekola, general counsel for Clean Wisconsin.

Last July, a federal appeals court ruled the EPA must provide further explanation and review for its designations. Nekola said she’s confident that President Joe Biden’s administration will “do what’s necessary to protect people’s health.”

Tin, with the American Lung Association, hopes people use public transport, work from home or purchase electric vehicles to cut back the amount of ozone pollution.

The association also measured particle pollution, commonly referred to as soot. Milwaukee, Kenosha and Ozaukee counties all earned an “A” for lower levels of that pollutant. Tin said particulate matter raises concerns because it can become embedded in the lungs and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Since the early 2000s, fine particulate matter concentrations have decreased more than 35 percent statewide, according to the DNR.