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LA CROSSE COMMON COUNCIL
Coulee Recovery Center delayed again; alternate-side parking shortened

The vote on a new home for Coulee Council for Addictions was delayed Thursday, and a proposal for the construction of rental properties on 21st Street moved forward after a pair of decisions by the La Crosse Common Council.

The council also voted to shorten alternate-side parking, having it run from Nov. 15 to March 15, rather than Nov. 1 to April 1.

Coulee Council executive director Cheryl Hancock requested a 30-day referral on the question of whether to rezone 923, 927, 929, 935 and 939 Ferry St. to make way for a 13,000-square-foot Coulee Recovery Center building to house the nonprofit’s programs. The delay, which passed the council on a 9-3 vote, is to allow the Coulee Council and the property’s owner, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, the chance to review a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the city. The PILOT is calculated based on the current property tax value of the parcels and is paid each year.

“We appreciate the council’s patience and understanding, allowing us to have this time, and we understand the concern, because it has been a very stressful thing for a number of people,” Hancock said.

Hancock

While Coulee Council is a nonprofit and exempt from paying property taxes, early on in the discussion to transfer the property from the multiple dwelling district to the public and semi-public district, Hancock said, Coulee Council had offered to provide a PILOT to the city.

“We recognize that 50 percent (of properties) in the city are (tax) exempt and that puts a burden on the taxpayer,” Hancock said.

However, the Coulee Council board was surprised to receive the request to sign the agreement, which Hancock received late Wednesday afternoon, prior to Thursday’s Common Council meeting.

“It’s a 10-page legal document, and our biggest concern is that we haven’t had the chance to review it and the property owner hasn’t had the chance to review it,” Hancock said.

Council member Patrick Brever objected to another delay after an error in posting the legal notice of public hearing delayed the discussion last month.

Brever

“I don’t think we can keep this neighborhood in limbo for another month,” Brever said. “I don’t think any opinions will change for another month.”

Council member Jaqueline Marcou also objected, saying the council had an obligation to vote Thursday.

The proposal for the building, which would replace Coulee Council’s 6,000-square-foot facility at the corner of West Avenue and Jackson Street, has proven contentious as people in the Washburn neighborhood object to a facility designed to serve people recovering from alcohol and drug addictions on a block slated for residential development in the city’s plans. Neighbors have raised questions over whether the new facility will impede the work done by the city and La Crosse Promise to revitalize the Washburn neighborhood.

Proponents of the project say it will serve a growing need in the area to assist people voluntarily seeking sobriety.

Hancock doesn’t expect the delay to affect the project’s timeline, which calls for them to move to the new building late next spring, provided the city approves the rezoning and design. Coulee Council has also requested a waiver to lower the number of parking spaces required in response to neighbors’ request to keep Hillview Urban Agricultural Center’s vermicompost facility and garden, located across the alley from the proposed parking lot.

“That waiver has to go through the October cycle as well, so really they would go through October cycle together, so it really doesn’t affect our timeline,” Hancock said. “We had already adjusted our plans for the late October start and this will be in line with that.”

21st Street development

A proposal to rezone 225-227 and 231 21st St. from single-family residential to traditional neighborhood development passed with an 8-3 vote, allowing David and Elaine Olson to move forward with the development of rental properties in the Grandview Emerson neighborhood.

Council members Barb Janssen, Scott Neumeister and Gary Padesky spoke in favor of the Olsons’ proposal, with Janssen saying the Olsons deserve a chance to present something that fits in with the neighborhood.

“It’s something we’ll be able to keep an eye on as it’s going forward,” Padesky added.

Alternate-side parking

The council also approved a measure to shorten alternate-side parking over the objection of La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer.

Padesky introduced the change, which he says will provide relief from parking tickets during times of little snowfall; however, Tischer was concerned that the change would cost the city $35,000.

Tischer

Last winter the city brought in $35,000 during the four weeks proposed to be cut.

“With the debt we incurred with the new parking ramp, the equipment and salaries, we can’t afford to lose $35,000,” Tischer said.

The measure passed on a 10-2 vote, with council members Phillip Ostrem and Douglas Happel voting no.


Hancock


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FSPA sister invokes Franciscan values to back DACA, immigrants

Invoking Franciscan values of compassion and peace, almost 100 people gathered Thursday in the chapel at Viterbo University to pray and offer support for nearly 800,000 young immigrants who could face deportation under President Donald Trump’s action to shut down the federal program that lets “Dreamers” stay in the U.S.

Schedlo

“We are all Dreamers,” said Sister Antona Schedlo, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration who is director of Centro Latino in La Crosse. “We all want a better place.”

The issue arose Sept. 5 when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, fulfilling one of Trump’s campaign promises to control immigration.

President Barack Obama instituted DACA in 2012 to allow children who came into the United States illegally to remain without fear of deportation as long as they meet certain criteria.

Those protected under DACA are often called “Dreamers” an expansion of the acronym for “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act,” which was introduced in Congress in 2001 but later derailed. Obama issued DACA in lieu of the DREAM Act.

Since their arrival, the Dreamers have been educated in U.S. schools, become involved in sports and other activities, obtained jobs and lived in this country without fear, said Schedlo, who also is a member of the FSPAs’ Immigration Task Force.

“They have helped strengthen our economy,” she said, noting that DACA recipients pay income taxes and that their status is not a path to citizenship.

“Out of our Franciscan values, show Dreamers they are valued, as are all immigrants. … All are welcomed by God,” Schedlo said during the service in Viterbo’s San Damiano Chapel.

Also during the service, Viterbo student ministry director Emilio Alvarez quoted from the statement the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued in response to Sessions’ declaration, saying, in part, “The church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: ‘Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

The bishops’ statement decried the action as “reprehensible” and said, “DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.”

The bishops urged Congress to work toward a legislative solution, adding, “We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.”

Centro Latino is a nonprofit organization that offers support and resources to Hispanics, although Schedlo said during an interview after the service that she has not met anyone she specifically knows is a Dreamer.

People who go to Centro Latino are invited to register, but they balk out of fear that federal officials will obtain information about them, and they could be deported, Schedlo said.

“They are afraid, and not very many are coming,” she said.

The DACA imbroglio has deepened since Sessions’ declaration, with Trump saying the next day that Congress should take action within six months — or he might.

During the campaign, Trump insisted repeatedly that all DACA designees and their families should be deported. He said recently that he loves Dreamers and they should be protected.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., emerged from a dinner with Trump at the White House saying that Trump had agreed to work on legislation to protect Dreamers and increase border security without building the border wall between the United States and Mexico, another cornerstone of his campaign.

On Thursday, Trump disputed that version, sending an email to his base saying, “Let me set the record straight in the simplest language possible … WE WILL BUILD A WALL (NOT A FENCE) ALONG THE SOUTHERN BORDER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO HELP STOP ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AND KEEP AMERICA SAFE.”

The wall is non-negotiable, his email said.

Asked what she thinks of the current status, Schedlo said, “We don’t know what he’ll do. What I don’t want is for him to connect (DACA) and building the wall.

“This bill (DACA) has to be all by itself,” she said.


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Wisconsin Legislature approves $3B incentive for Foxconn

MADISON — The Wisconsin Assembly sent a $3 billion incentive package for Taiwan-based Foxconn to Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday, signing off on a deal to lure the electronics giant to the state with the biggest subsidy to a foreign company in U.S. history.

The bill approved on a bipartisan 64-31 vote would make $2.85 billion available to Foxconn Technology Group in cash payments if it invests $10 billion and hires 13,000 workers. The Senate approved the proposal Tuesday.

The Republican governor was in South Korea on a trade mission at the time of the vote but pledged to sign the incentives package into law soon.

Walker, who negotiated the deal and is its lead champion, joined President Donald Trump in announcing Foxconn’s plans to build in Wisconsin at a White House event in July, heralding it as a game-changer for American manufacturing.

Assembly Democrats, who didn’t have the votes to stop it, slammed the proposal Thursday as being unfairly rigged to benefit Foxconn at the expense of taxpayers. But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defended it as an unprecedented opportunity for the state and country.

“What’s rigged is the deal for the taxpayer, the workers, the families and ultimately those of us who have the good foresight to realize when a good deal is put in front of you,” Vos said.

Foxconn is the largest contract manufacturer of electronics, best known for making iPhones, but with a long list of customers including Sony Corp., Dell Inc. and BlackBerry Ltd. The Wisconsin plant would construct liquid crystal display panels for televisions, computers and other uses.

The total incentive package is 10 times larger than anything ever approved in Wisconsin and would be the biggest state subsidy to a foreign company in the United States.

Foxconn issued an unsigned statement thanking Wisconsin, saying the incentives “will help us move forward with our plans to build the state-of-the-art advanced display manufacturing campus.” It also pledged to make extensive use of the supply chain in the state to make Wisconsin “a center of worldwide high-tech manufacturing.”

Critics have warned that there aren’t enough protections for taxpayers to recover payments to Foxconn if it automates production and fires workers. They’ve also said more needs to be done to guarantee that Wisconsin workers and businesses get preference during the construction phase of the plant, and once it’s up and running. Foxconn has said it hopes to open the plant in 2020 with 3,000 workers, but that the workforce could grow to 13,000.

The Assembly passed the bill with all Republicans and four Democrats in support. Two Republicans joined all other Democrats against.

Opponents objected to a provision that would allow the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take appeals of certain lawsuits related to Foxconn, skipping the appeals court. No other business in the state is provided such an expedited route to the Supreme Court.

Under the bill, the company would have 15 years to access the maximum $2.85 billion in cash payments tied to meeting the investment and hiring numbers. They can also receive $150 million in sales tax exemptions on construction equipment.

The Walker administration is charged with negotiating minimum hiring numbers to trigger the payments in the contract with Foxconn which has not been finalized. Foxconn has also not selected the exact location for the plant, but it has focused on property in Racine County in between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Democrats have also raised alarms about exemptions under the bill that waive requirements for Foxconn to first develop an environmental impact statement before constructing what could be a 20-million-square-foot campus. Foxconn would also be allowed to build in wetland and waterways.

The total incentive package is 10 times larger than anything ever approved in Wisconsin and would be the biggest state subsidy to a foreign company in the United States.

UW-La Crosse coach Ken Koelbl, shown her coaching a game against Viterbo last year, stunned a number of people by announcing his resignation Thursday after 14 seasons with the Eagles.


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Jackson County landowners appeal effort to block frac mine

A group of Jackson County landowners are appealing the dismissal of their unusual legal effort to block a proposed frac sand operation.

In July, La Crosse County Circuit Judge Scott Horne dismissed the case brought by three families who sued to stop AllEnergy Sand of Des Moines from building the $130 million project in the town of Hixton on the grounds it would be a nuisance.

Horne

Greg Krueger and his co-plaintiffs claimed the 750-acre mine, processing plant and rail terminal would generate air, water, noise and light pollution, destroy the landscape, deplete groundwater supplies and unreasonably interfere with their right to peaceful enjoyment of their land.

One of two such cases filed on behalf of Jackson County residents, it is the first effort in Wisconsin to apply the idea of private nuisance — that landowners can’t use their lands in a way that harms neighboring property owners — to the industry, which began rapidly expanding in western Wisconsin during the past decade to supply fine-grained sand for use in oil and gas wells.

In support of their case the plaintiffs filed affidavits of a dozen people living near existing sand mining operations who complained of dust that causes chronic coughs and prevents them from opening windows, light, noise and vibration that keeps them up at night, cracked walls and fouled well water — in spite of existing development agreements outlining terms of operations.

Acknowledging the case hinges on inherent tensions in land-use decisions, Horne said that while it possible the proposed mine will result in the feared harms, the plaintiffs failed to show the mine would cause “substantial harm” and that a local ordinance and developer’s agreement will be insufficient.

If an actual nuisance arises, Horne said, he would have the authority to order damages or a modification to the operating regulations.

Attorney Tim Jacobson notified the court this week that he intends to ask an appeals court to determine if Horne erred in his conclusion and in setting too high a bar for evidence at an early stage in the legal process.

Jacobson

“The judge is not allowed to make credibility determinations at this stage,” Jacobson said. “That’s what a trial is for.”

Meanwhile the attorney for AllEnergy is asking that the plaintiffs be required to post a $35 million bond while the case is pending appeal, which could take more than a year.

Dean Sukowatey, president and CEO of AllEnergy Sand, said that would cover the $10 million he’s invested so far and $25 million in lost revenue. While there is no legal injunction stopping the project, Sukowatey said his investors will not move forward with the “dark cloud” of a pending court case.

Sukowatey accused the plaintiffs of attempting to “run out the clock” and said they are exposing themselves to damage counter-claims.

“That’s a fight for another day,” he said. “Right now we just want to build a plant, and we can’t build this plant with an overhang.”

Horne has yet to rule whether a similar case can proceed in which another group of landowners are attempting to stop a 945-acre mine, processing and loading facility proposed by OmniTrax about six miles to the east between Black River Falls and Alma Center.

In light of his ruling in the AllEnergy case, Jacobson is in the process of filing additional affidavits by people alleging harm from neighboring sand mines. The OmniTrax facility would straddle a town line, though only one towns has a developer’s agreement with the company.

“We believe that the facts in the OmniTrax case are substantially different than the AllEnergy case,” he said. “The citizens in the adjacent community had no local officials negotiating on their behalf.”


Horne