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Coulee Council on Addictions gets $74,000 grant to field recovery coaches

The Coulee Council on Addictions in La Crosse is recruiting people to be trained to coach people who suffer drug overdoses and go to hospitals’ emergency departments for treatment.

Coulee Council is one of 11 programs statewide in the Wisconsin Voices for Recovery initiative, with recovery coach training funded under a one-year grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

With the Coulee Council’s grant of just over $74,000, the agency aims to recruit and train 15 coaches, who will become patients’ advocates, connect them with treatment resources and follow up with them.

Wehrs

Coaches must have been in recovery for at least a year, said Scott Wehrs of Bangor, a Coulee Council board member who has been in recovery himself for 13 years and will be one of the coaches. The coaching role is akin to the anonymous sponsorship typical of other recovery programs, he said.

“People are dying left and right,” he said. “It’s crazy. We won’t be able to save them all, but we’ll try to help as many as we can. We’ll love them until they can love themselves.”

The council’s ability to provide the coaching is timely, with council’s new $2.9 million Coulee Recovery Center rising at 921 Ferry St. in La Crosse, said Wehrs, who was on the fundraising committee, which recently surpassed its $3.1 million goal by $400,000.

“The new building is exciting, and we want to help as many people as we can,” he said.

Drug-related deaths have ballooned in La Crosse County in recent years — rising from nine in 2014 to 12 in 2015, 25 in 2016 and almost 30 last year, according to statistics from the La Crosse County Medical Examiners Office.

Dr. Chris Eberlein, an emergency room physician at Gundersen Health System who has studied the explosion in overdoses from opioids and other prescription and illegal drugs.

“The local and national opioid epidemic cannot be solved by one group or organization,” Eberlein said. “Community resources, Gundersen and many others must work together to care for and support those living with addiction.

“This effort with Coulee Council on Addictions makes social and fiscal sense and helps us more directly make a difference,” Eberlein said.

The program requires the coaches, who will attend training sessions on March 10-11 and 17-18 and receive stipends for their work, to be in recovery based on the theory that someone who has grappled with addiction can help patients navigate issues, Wehrs said.

Applicants will have to pass a background check, he said, adding, “Just because they want to be a coach doesn’t mean they’ll be in. It takes people who will do the work.”

In his own case, he said, “I really feel that giving back will help me, too. I could relapse at any time.”

Other requirements for applicants include:

  • Wanting to make a difference in the lives of people and families seeking recovery
  • Compassion for others who are working through their recovery
  • The ability to inspire confidence in the ability to change
  • Dependability and good organizational skills
  • Willingness to be on call, with the possibility of responding on evenings and weekends.

The Wisconsin Voices for Recovery initiative is a peer-run network headquartered at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies.

Resumes can be sent to the Coulee Council on Addictions, 921 West Ave. S., La Crosse, WI 54601. More information is available on the council’s web page.


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Holmen shoppers greeted by the original spokesnut

In a nutshell, the Planters Nutmobile is indeed all it’s cracked up to be.

Measuring 26 feet in length, the Isuzu Series NPR truck is fully encased in a ridged shell, the texture created with swimming pool noodles, and painted in a lightly roasted shade of tan. Blue and yellow seats, embroidered with the Planters logo and images of Mr. Peanut, line the interior, with a special seat reserved for the preeminent peanut himself.

Embarking on a 365-day, nationwide adventure, Mr. Peanut, along with “Peanutter” copilots Elise Grover and Liam Sullivan, pulled into the Holmen Festival Foods parking lot Friday afternoon, one of four local stops on the fifth annual Nutmobile Tour, concluding in June.

“We’re on a full-time quest from east to west,” said Grover, a Houston, Texas, native. “It’s awesome to meet people and make people smile.”

As Sullivan passed out samples, coupons and “shout for nuts” megaphones, Grover gave tours of the Nutmobile, featuring eco-friendly elements including recycled steel, reused glass, rooftop solar panels and interior LED lighting. The flooring is recycled from a 1840s-era barn from Pennsylvania. The original Nutmobile, fashioned in 1935, was used to peddle peanuts on the street.

Inside the newest incarnation of the iconic car, complete with “nutdash” and snack closet, renditions of Mr. Peanut through the decades adorn the ceiling. The finely aged groundnut is modeled after a 1916 drawing by a young boy in Suffix, Va., who designed the iconic character for a contest.

Now 102, Mr. Peanut has seen some minor adjustments to his figure and wardrobe over the years, undergoing 11 makeovers from 1919 to 2010. Along with a reduction of texture on his shell, he has seen his girth expand and top hat shortened, his monocle temporarily disappearing in 1927. Commercial contact lenses were not invented until three years later, so Mr. Peanut likely stumbled through the next two decades with less than stellar vision, until his eyepiece returned in 1948. That was also the year he debuted in color, a golden shade of sunflower yellow that later morphed into a dandelion hue.

While in his official Planters bio Mr. Peanut tops out at 2.87 inches with hat, the Mr. Peanut who greeted shoppers stood a towering 7 feet — “About 100 peanuts high,” Sullivan noted — looking particularly dapper in tailored gray slacks and matching suit coat, delicate white gloves and polished shoes.

“The first time I met Mr. Peanut it was so awesome,” Grover enthused. “He’s so classy. ... I was starstruck.”

Jennie Kolek of Holmen and daughter Alison, 18, were similarly enamored with nutterly charming fellow, who is perhaps salty in taste but not in disposition. Despite boasting a smiling mouth, Mr. Peanut is mute, choosing to express himself through waves, thumbs up, and some gentle shuffling of his feet reminiscent of a tap dance. Though presumably attached to his head, the ever polite Mr. Peanut lightly tips his hat in greeting.

“Mr Peanut!” exclaimed Jennie, who made a special trip to the grocery store for a photo. “I’m so excited you’re here. Has anyone asked to wear your monocle yet? It’s a little bigger than I imagined.”

A celebrity for generations, Mr. Peanut is in-nut-dated with photo requests wherever he goes, and Sullivan, who hails from Derry, N.H., often volunteers to capture the prized shots, many which are shared on the Nutmobile Instagram page.

“There’s a couple of nutty buddies right there,” Sullivan said, snapping a few pictures for a middle aged man. “Mr. Peanut has fans that are age 8 to 88.”

Sullivan is a nut lover himself, helping himself to pack of roasted nuts at least once a day, noting, “They’re good, they’re right here ... you’d be nuts not to.”

Secluded in a vehicle for months on end with hungry nut eaters, one wonders whether Mr. Peanut ever fears his own safety. Grover ensures the delicious fellow is well protected, with his companions on constant watch for his nemesis, Richard the Nutcracker, a nefarious foe from the Planters commercials.

Grover and Sullivan never imagined they’d spend their first years post college befriending and chauffeuring a giant peanut, while in a peanut, but have found the experience endlessly enjoyable and entertaining. The two have an “infi-nut” number of puns in their arsenal, from “Nut-thing better” to “Cashew later,” which they pull out effortlessly in every conversation. For Sullivan, it’s a dream job, and he’s savoring every minute.

“I have my whole life to sit behind a desk,” Sullivan said. “I only have one year I can drive a giant peanut.”

Mr. Peanut will greet fans again today from 1 to 5 p.m. at Onalaska Festival Foods, 1260 Crossing Meadows Drive, and 1 to 5 p.m Sunday at La Crosse Festival Foods, 2500 State Road. Follow his adventure on Instagram.


Pyeongchang Olympics open with a show of fire, ice and unity, with calls for harmony during the Winter Games

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (TNS) — The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the first Games held in South Korea in 30 years, officially opened on Friday with fireworks, song and symbolism featured amid celebrations of light, peace, and harmony.

With nods to the country’s landmarks and ancient culture as well as its potential to lead the world in future technological innovations, the opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium featured athletes from 91 countries, including a delegation from North Korea that marched into Olympic Stadium with athletes from South Korea. Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un; U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were among the powerful political and sports figures who attended the extravaganza on a chilly night.

The two Koreas marched in behind a white flag that was emblazoned with a map of the Korean peninsula depicted in blue. North Korean women’s hockey player Hwang Chung-gum and South Korean bobsleigh pilot Won Yun-jong both clutched the flag pole in a noteworthy display of unity. The two nations have marched together at an Olympics but this time have taken the extraordinary step of combining on the composition of the women’s hockey team.

The two Koreas marched in behind a white flag that was emblazoned with a map of the Korean peninsula depicted in blue. North Korean women’s hockey player Hwang Chung-gum and South Korean bobsleigh pilot Won Yun-jong both clutched the flag pole in a noteworthy display of unity. The two nations have marched together at an Olympics but this time have taken the extraordinary step of combining on the composition of the women’s hockey team.

Through the eyes of five local children, organizers presented a journey through the country’s past and future, showcasing the mythical White Tiger, Blue Dragon, Vermilion Bird and Black Tortoise. The show was designed to emphasize the connection between people and nature and the need for peace in the world and was replete with dancers and wonderfully crafted oversized animals.

A handful of sports had previously begun qualifying rounds or actual competition, but the Opening Ceremony serves as an occasion for athletes to gather and celebrate their similarities, rather than their differences and rivalries.

The athletes entered the stadium according to their names as rendered in Korean with the exception of Greece, whose athletes, by tradition, enter first in tribute to the nation that held the Olympic Games in ancient times and revived them for modern times in 1896. The U.S. delegation numbers 244 but not all athletes participated because of their training or competition schedules. The red, white, and blue-clad group was led into the stadium by flag bearer Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., a 2014 luge bronze medalist. With Russia banned from the Games because of its past systematic, state-led doping operations, athletes from that Olympic power marched under the name of Olympic Athletes from Russia and were preceded by a flag emblazoned with the Olympic rings.

And the well-oiled, shirtless Tongan flag bearer from the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Pita Taufatofua, again delighted the crowd by marching shirtless and well-oiled in temperatures that didn’t much exceed 20 degrees. He competed in taekwando at the Rio Olympics and will compete in cross-country skiing here as his country’s only representative.

Athletes smiled and waved and, of course, took selfies as they paraded around the stadium and to their seats in the stands. “You will inspire us,” Bach said, adding that competing as clean athletes would be imperative for athletes to respect their sports and each other. He also praised the Koreans’ cooperation at the Games. “We all join and support you in your message of peace,” he said.

After Bach’s remarks, Moon Jae-in, the president of the Republic of Korea, declared the Games open. His words touched off a show of colorful lights and fireworks, and exultant music. The Olympic flag was carried into the stadium by eight Korean athletes of varying age, all wearing traditional costumes, and the Olympic oath was administered. Ending a 101-day torch relay that involved 7,500 torchbearers, the Olympic flame entered the stadium and the Olympic cauldron was ignited by Korean figure skater Yuna Kim, the 2010 Olympic women’s figure skating champion and 2014 silver medalist. The flame will burn throughout the Games.


Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Central High School's Noah Parcher takes a shot in front of Logan's Floyd Thomas in the first half of Friday night's MVC game at Mark Sutton Memorial Gymnasium. Parcher scored 15 points in the Red Raiders' 82-53 win.


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Tax change to save Xcel $33 million a year in Wisconsin; utility favors delaying refunds

New federal tax rates could save Xcel Energy up to $33 million a year in Wisconsin, but customers may not see that savings for another two years.

Alltogether, Wisconsin’s investor-owned utilities expect to see savings of more than $150 million a year under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, according to documents filed Friday with state regulators.

Passed in December, the bill lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, which will result in lower costs for investor-owned utilities such as Xcel. Because utility rates are based on expenses, including taxes, those savings should result in lower rates.

Xcel’s Wisconsin subsidiary, NSPW, estimates the new rates will save $25 million to $30 million next year for its 247,500 electricity customers and about $2 million to $3 million for 113,000 natural gas customers.

In addition, the utility anticipates one-time savings of $20 million to $22 million associated with the cleanup of a former gas plant in Ashland, Wis., as well as a one-time additional expense of $2 million to $3 million.

Utilities expect to see additional savings once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules on how to apply tax savings for electric transmission and natural gas pipeline charges.

“We’re really excited about the fact that customers could see savings, given where Wisconsin’s energy price competitiveness has trended,” said Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which represents the interests of residential and small business customers.

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Xcel proposes applying the savings to its next rate case, which is scheduled to be filed in the spring of 2019 and will affect bills starting in 2020, arguing it will take time to accurately calculate customer impacts and consider other implications of the bill, the first major change to tax law in more than 30 years.

The tax bill was signed into law the day after the PSC approved Xcel’s combined electric and natural gas revenue increases of $19.3 million for 2018.

“I don’t have complete guidance on the return of those funds and how exactly the law will impact revenue requirements,” said Karl Hoesly, manager of regulatory affairs for NSPW. “To interpret it quickly and make haste is probably not the best course of action for the utilities or the customers.”

Hoesley notes that the tax law will also have negative consequences for utilities: with lower cash flows, their cost of borrowing will likely increase. An analysis by The Brattle Group notes that Moody’s has already put “negative outlooks” on debt ratings for 24 utilities because of these effects.

The WEC Energy group estimates savings of $67 million for the 1.1 million customers of WE Energies and $34 million for almost 466,000 customers of Wisconsin Public Service. The parent company proposes using the savings to pay down debt and argues that an immediate refund could result in larger rate increases in 2020.

Wisconsin Power and Light reported Tuesday that it expects the tax changes will result in savings of $40 million to $50 million for its customers. WPL proposed refunding part of the money in a 2018 bill credit and applying the rest to future rates.

Madison Gas & Electric estimates its customers should save $8 million to $12 million, about three quarters of which would apply to its 150,000 electric customers. MG&E suggests using that money to invest in capital improvements, including renewable generation, paying down debt, and offering customers a bill credit this year.

It will ultimately be up to the three-member PSC to determine how customers of the state’s investor-owned utilities reap the benefits. (Customers of municipal and cooperative utilities won’t see a similar savings as those utilities operate as non-profit companies.)

The commission hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the issue, but an agency spokesman said it would be taken up “in the not too distant future.”

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is also looking at how to distribute the savings and has given utilities until March 2 to submit comments.

Consumer advocacy groups have pushed for the savings to be returned to rate payers as quickly and smoothly as practical.

Todd Stuart, executive director of Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, said he will poll his members, who are the state’s largest energy users, though he expects they will not want to wait.

“As a general rule, large customers almost always want money back as soon as possible,” Stuart said.

Content said he appreciates the complexity of the law but notes utilities in some states were proposing to refund millions of dollars in the first week of January.

“Sooner than later is always the preference,” he said. “It’s not as if every dollar has to be returned on day one.”

Note: This story was updated on Feb. 13, 2018, to include savings estimates for Wisconsin Power & Light, which did not initially make those numbers publicly available.


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