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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo Will Look Again At BPM Inc. Sewer Rates

Issue Date: January 9, 2020

The Peshtigo City Council will be taking another look at the impact its decisions in regard to wastewater treatment fees for BPM Inc and the impact that losing the paper mill as a wastewater treatment plant customer would have on on sewer bills of city residents.

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7 Mayor Cathi Malke announced that in response to concerns expressed by city residents she has arranged for the Council and members of the city's Water and Sewer Committee to hold a joint meeting in closed executive session immediately following the Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

Malke expressed sympathy for city residents concerned concerned about the possible impact on their water and sewer bills, and in a prepared statement explained that back in September of 2019 BPM Inc. had sent all utility users a brochure showing the city's current rates and what the estimated rates would be if the paper mill followed through with plans to build its own water resource recovery facility.

She said as mayor she has confidence that the Water and Sewer Committee has done due diligence on the issue, and added, "I have attended all their meetings, both open and closed, which affords me the opportunity of understanding both sides that they are looking after the citizens' best interests."

However, she said BPM Inc and its predecessor company, Badger Paper Mills, has been one of the city's leading employers for almost 100 years, and generations of families have worked at the mill while raising their families and making the city what it is today.

"BPM, Inc. is very supportive of city projects," Malke said, adding, "It is not commonly known how generous they truly are." One example is the Peshtigo Food Pantry, which leases its space from BPM. Inc. for $5 a year. BPM pays all utilities, provides upkeep for the building and does all the snow plowing in winter.

"As mayor it is heart wrenching talking with families about the unknown, wondering what the future will bring," Malke concluded, adding that some who who talked to her said if the new rates go into effect they could no longer afford to live in their homes, and there is not enough space for them in low-rent apartments in the city.

All aldermen were present for the meeting and none expressed objections to Malke's plan for the special joint meeting with the Water and Sewer Committee in regard to options for the wastewater treatment rates. She said she had talked with Water and Sewer Committee members Tom Gryzwa, Fred Meintz and Dan Seymour before making plans for the February meeting and at least two of them will be able to attend.

During time for public comment at the start of this month's Council meeting Andrea Rich addressed the Council on the dangers of PFAS and urged them to pass a resolution in the near future supporting the "Clean Act" being proposed by the Town of Peshtigo PFAS advisory group. She spoke of being "terrified" of the effects of PFAS contamination and recommended that people read a book on the subject written by Atty. Rob Bilott who handled a suit against DuPont some years ago for PFAS pollution from Teflon manufacture. She said most of the millions of dollars won in the suit went to pay for a study on health impacts of PFAS.

Rich charged State Representatives John Nygren and Jeff Mursau with not being supportive and said she believes they and State Sen. Dave Hansen are not really working with her group to abate the PFAS problems here and elsewhere in the state, but are only trying to make it look like they do.

Sharon Schounard called on the Council to have better communication with residents. She expressed disappointment with recent Council decisions on recycling and garbage pickup and with the wastewater issue with Badger. She suggested before acting on controversial issues Aldermen and/or the mayor should get input from a dozen or so constituents.

In regard to the sewer bill issue, Schounard declared, "Peshtigo is elderly and we have lot of poverty." She said 55 people use the food pantry every month, and if the city raises the water bills by 85 percent "you will be pushing older people out of their homes."

In regard to the new recycling bins for automated pickup, Malke said after the meeting that the existing contact was ending Jan. 1 and there had been no bids from any companies that would handle recycling collections as it had been done. Alderman Jillian Schutte commented the only other alternative would have been to make residents deliver their on recyclable to a collection center, since recycling is mandated by the state.

Public Works Director George Cowell reported his department had been busy in the past month distributing the new carts. He said people must have them out by 6 a.m. on pickup day, and they should be in a shoveled-out area behind the curb, not in the roadway, with no material outside the bins. He said the cart wheels should face the home and lids should face the street. Old bins can either be used inside the home or returned to the city.

Cowell thanked MJB for allowing use of their facilities to assemble the bins and Tom Joy Trucking for providing use of their loading docks for the bin delivery.

He said the replacing sewer line crossing the Peshtigo River will be expensive but has to be done because the DNR will not allow the spills to continue. The project will eventually result in higher sewer rtes, he said.

Council approved tentative plans for an ordinance allowing ATV use in the city in accord with guidelines worked out by the Judiciary Committee and with input from the Police chief and school administrator. In response to a caller, Malke said there will be opportunities for additional input from residents before an ATV ordinance is adopted.

Several vacation carry overs and fund transfers were approved as recommended by the appropriate committees.

Council approved resignation of Public Works employee Jed Buechler effective Monday, Jan. 13, and advertising for a full time person to replace him. Malke expressed thanks to him for the work he has done for the city over the years.

As recommended by the Personnel Committee following a closed session discussion on Monday, Dec. 30, Council approved hiring Kameron Hood as a firefighter for the city's volunteer fire department.

Transfer of a police department vehicle to the Parks and Recreation Department for use by Director Shawn Northrop was approved. The old car being used by Northrop will be advertised for sale, as will a Public Works pickup truck that is being replaced.

Bids had been opened Tuesday afternoon for the new City Hall computer system, and Camera Corner had the low bid at $48,707.20 with installation included.Behnke noted the price is below the $50,000 budgeted.

Police Chief Rick Badgley said "Spillman" upgrades for his department's computer/communications system were being done that day, as were those of all other law enforcement agencies in the county.


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