The city of La Crosse is looking to pause and reroute funding from a reconstruction of its North Side fire station after concerns have mounted from community members and historical groups over preserving the existing 1940 building.
In a video from La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam sent to council members Wednesday that was obtained by the Tribune, plans were revealed to move the $2.4 million budgeted this year for Station No. 4 to instead begin work on Station No. 2, which was not budgeted for until 2022.
The change comes after historians and community members urged the city to reconsider its plans to demolish Station No. 4 this year and replace it with a modern facility, which officials said they had deemed to costly. An online petition had garnered more than 350 signatures as of Thursday.
"I'm going to take the money that was earmarked for Station 4, I'm going to respectfully request the council support prioritizing Station 2 with those funds and to give us time on Station 4 for dialogue on the historical preservation, potentially incorporating that building into other needs of the city, and give us a little bit better timeline to discuss the fate of the North Side fire station," Gilliam said in the video.
Gilliam said he is preparing a resolution to shift the funding that will be on Mayor Tim Kabat's desk by the end of this week to short circuit it to April's council cycle. He will also discuss the change with the Heritage Preservation Commission Thursday night, Gilliam said.
"Hopefully that will give them time to research and do what they need to do to determine what they want to do with the old building, or what they can do with the old building," Gilliam said.
Some council members showed early disapproval of the switch.
"I am very upset if Station 4 gets lost in the shuffle. We may lose out on funding as the current plans are. There is no guarantee the funding will be there next year," North Side council member Andrea Richmond told the Tribune in a text. "Which would be very disappointing for everyone on the North Side.
"I realize we need to wait two months until the Heritage Preservation Commission makes their decision. But to change now is not the right path going forward," she said.
"We bonded for those dollars that allowed for completion of the project to address emergency response needs in that area of the city," Richmond said.
In his video, Gilliam said the discussion over Station 4's future has turned sour, saying he received an open records request from an unnamed council member that was off-putting.
"How I interpret that is just that I'm not being trusted," Gilliam said, noting that other council members had also been trying to bypass him and get information and from "allies" with his staff on the matter.
"I keep my staff fully in the loop," Gilliam said. "They likewise let me know of things going on as well, and essentially I can see where this thing's just getting to a point of frustration for a lot of people, and I don't want to operate in an environment like that.
"I've been accused of not being transparent and I've been accused of not listening to the citizens of La Crosse, and I think that those of you that have gotten to know me over the years that I've been here know that I'm transparent to a fault," he said. "I don't play politics very well, and I'm just trying to get something very important done for the city."
Station No. 4, which sits at 906 Gillette St., was identified as the highest priority for the city in its plan to modernize and improve its fire stations, with Station No. 2 to follow, both identified as needing to be demolished and rebuilt.
Gilliam told the council members that the plan to reroute funds had already been advised by the city's finance department, Kabat, council president Martin Gaul and the architects, who have been advised to stop all work on Station No. 4 work.
The plans will be short circuited for April because "time is of the essence," Gilliam said, as construction and retail markets continue to fluctuate amid the pandemic.
The city will have enough money to complete the rehabilitation of fire Station No. 1 and begin the work on No. 2 this year, Gilliam said, despite the changes.
The last remaining lot of old Goosetown Park near La Crosse Street and West Avenue and just west of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Coate Hall has been identified to build the new Station No. 2, Gilliam said, with full support from the La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and the university.
The current Station 2 is currently near Monitor and Caledonia Streets, and the move will better serve the city's response time goals, Gilliam noted.
The project is in early stages, though if supported, architects are expected to begin immediately, and Gilliam said there is a potential to incorporate housing or other tax-base above the new station.
If plans can begin next week on Station No. 2, it can still be started on the same timeline as No. 4, with bids to construction crews going out this summer and a groundbreaking later this year.
WINONA — A number of closed landfills across the state, including in Winona County, have been revealed to have an excessive amount of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), surpassing the Minnesota Department of Health’s guidance values for drinking water.
The Environmental Protection Agency describes PFAS as being a group of man-made chemicals that don’t break down in the human body and can accumulate over time, causing a variety of adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression or even cancer.
More specifically, PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the world, it states on the EPA’s website, and can be found in food, commercial household products, the workplace, drinking water and living organisms.
In a press call last week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced it was taking concerted steps in an effort to fight the contamination, with one major step being the request of additional funds from the Closed Landfill Investment Fund, which provides assistance for this very kind of issue.
Without greater access to this funding, the MPCA is limited in what it can do.
“Without more flexibility and greater access, the MPCA will be forced to wait until the legislature is in session and agrees to fund responses to an urgent or emergency situation,” MPCA commissioner Laura Bishop said. “This existing structure really impedes our ability to act quickly and use discretion in addressing the most pressing needs at each site.”
Here in Winona, the contamination at the closed landfill is not the worst in the state, but it is 10 times over the health-based guidance values the MDH advises.
While the Winona contamination could be worse—like the closed landfill near Fairmont, which has PFAS contamination that are 100 times the health-based values — it is still a problem that needs regular supervision.
In a way, Winona serves as an example of how to monitor and contain contamination before it reaches levels that are comparable to a site like the one near Fairmont.
Kirk Koudelka, MPCA assistant commissioner, said the way the agency has been able to keep the contamination in Winona from growing is by sending contaminated leachate to a waste-water treatment plant before it ever gets to the ground.
“This is having a good benefit to the groundwater in the surrounding area,” Koudelka said.
That being said, the amount of PFAS in the leachate is still high, and the MPCA admits they need to conduct further studies to determine the best way to remove PFAS from leachate at the Winona site and others like it across the state.
Bishop said that while much work has been done to detect PFAS in landfills across the state, there is still even more work that needs to be done.
“While the MPCA has addressed where we have found it in a few drinking water wells, we do not have a complete picture of the reach and impact of the contamination,” she said. “More robust monitoring needs to be done to determine its extent and magnitude, and we need to address the contamination before it becomes a larger problem.”
A restraining order was filed against a candidate running for La Crosse Common Council in 2014, a records search by the Tribune revealed.
The restraining order was filed against Chris Woodard, who is running officially unopposed to represent La Crosse’s District 9 in the upcoming April 6 election.
In an interview with the Tribune, Woodard said that the restraining order, which was intact from 2014-18, was a “long time ago” and that it does not reflect his character today.
“That was a really long time ago. It was a former girlfriend,” he said, adding he wanted to keep details private for the sake of all involved.
“It was seven years ago and we don’t need to rake through the past. There was no crime or misdemeanor committed. The restraining order was granted,” he said. “I don’t believe that this has any bearing on the present or future for me.
“It’s something that, you don’t want to relive an unpleasant moment in your life,” Woodard said. “We don’t think that it impairs or impedes my integrity by any means.”
The Tribune obtained a copy of the restraining order, and is not including it in this story or details of the others involved to protect their privacy. Woodard said he never violated the terms of the order.
“This is a really long time ago and it’s something that I’m not proud about, but it’s definitely something that I’ve grown from. Definitely learned and grown. And it’s really not a stain on my character by any means,” he said.
For records purposes the court lists any weapons an individual might be in possession of when a restraining order is filed. Woodard was recorded to be in possession of two guns, but told the Tribune they were not involved in the incident.
“Not at all. There was no violence, there was nothing,” he said. “Both parties moved on. There was never any violation of that order by any party.”
Woodard is running officially unopposed on the ballot, the only uncontested race for La Crosse Common Council this spring. But a write-in candidate, K.C. Cayo, has gained some traction.
In response to questions about the restraining order, Woodard brought up Cayo’s past arrests for protesting in Washington D.C., saying, “I think that’s also concerning.”
It’s standard practice for the Tribune to check criminal and public records for those running for public office.
Between September-October of 2018, Cayo was arrested in D.C. and given five tickets for matters such as obstructing or disrupting a gathering, records show.
Cayo told the Tribune they were arrested and ticketed while an organizer during protests against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“In my activist work, I have engaged in nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as a way to bring real change in our country. I have been arrested a number of times while telling my story as a survivor and while uplifting the stories of other crusaders during the Kavanaugh protests,” Cayo said.
“Men who hurt women cannot keep being placed in positions of power, and sometimes, when our representatives are not listening, we need to get loud,” they said. “I had the privilege to put my body on the line while advocating for positive, transformative change and justice.”
The race for District 9 — which encompasses parts of the Washburn and Powell-Poage-Hamilton Neighborhoods just south of Downtown — and other Common Council races will be on the April 6 ballot.
For voting information, visit MyVote.wi.gov.