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Mellen is selling a parcel of land for at least $1 million to Enbridge Energy as the pipeline company searches for a new route for its controversial line 5.
The city in October voted not even to allow an Enbridge survey crew access to city-owned land. But it now has reversed course to sell 5.6 acres in the town of Morse.
If Enbridge oil ever flows through a pipeline on the land, the city of about 700 people, with an annual budget of about $871,000, will get an additional $3.25 million.
Enbridge is seeking to reroute its line 5 around the Bad River Indian Reservation, which has refused to extend an expired Enbridge lease across tribal property and has filed a lawsuit to force Enbridge off the reservation. Enbridge officials say the 66-year-old line 5 ships up to 540,000 barrels of petroleum products a day from Superior to Sarnia, Canada north of Detroit.
Though the company already is buying land for more than $1 million, Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said Friday that Enbridge has not established a firm plan for the rerouting of line five around the Bad River Reservation.
"The setting of a route requires input from multiple sources. It's not just a line on a map," she said.
If Enbridge never uses the Morse land for a pipeline, it will revert to Mellen — which will be allowed to keep the $1 million.
"That demonstrates that we have no route blocked out," Kellner said.
When asked what routes Enbridge is considering to move the pipeline south in Ashland County, Kellner declined to offer any specifics.
"We are still considering all of our potential routes within the corridor. It is pretty early in the process. Eventually we will file a preferred route, but we are still evaluating additional routes," she said.
The parcel Mellen is selling is on the northern edge of the city along Highway 169, the road that leads from Mellen to Copper Falls State Park. Mellen has owned the land for many years, Mayor Joe Barabe said.
Barabe, who cast the tiebreaking vote to deny Enbridge surveyors on city-owned land, urged approval of the land sale because it will encourage Enbridge to select a northerly route that would keep the pipeline out of Mellen.
"That was my goal, to keep the pipeline out of the city of Mellen for public safety reasons," he said.
Barabe also said the city needs the $1 million to offset a coming budget "tsunami." Utility customers have seen a 73 percent spike in rates because of a newly constructed wastewater treatment lagoon, and in 2022, the city will
spend an estimated $1.2 million to replace century-old utilities running from one end of Main Street to the other. That project will include replacement of the bridge on Tyler Avenue, with the city's share of expenses more than $120,000, Barabe said.
"All 350 of our homes, all our mills, our school, the nursing home and all of our businesses will be financially crushed," he said.
Barabe that if oil ever does flow across the Morse land, the $4.25 million would not only bail the city out but also would allow Mellen to contribute $50,000 to the city's museum, $100,000 to the Mellen School, and another $100,000 to the fire and emergency medical departments. If the northern route is adopted, the school would also receive an additional $150,000 and the fire and EMT department would get an additional $400,000. The balance would be used by the city to meet its obligations.
But even that largesse does not please Susan Turney, chief executive officer of Marshfield Clinic Health System, who is a Mellen native. She and her husband Peter Turney own property not far from the Morse land and Susan Turney and called on the council to reject the sale.
The Turneys, through Madison attorney Erik Olsen, said the meeting at which the sale was approved violated Wisconsin's open-meetings law because the city did not explain which cityowned parcel the city was considering selling, the terms of the sale or what uses Embridge was proposing for the property.
"This information would, however, be of the utmost interest to the public, particularly if the proposed use of the parcel is for the potential rerouting of line 5 or if the land is near the city," the letter said.
Contacted Thursday, Olsen said he had not heard of the vote to sell the property.
He said he would need to get in touch with the Turneys and obtain details of the action. He could not say if the Turneys would take legal action to halt the sale.
"My clients want to maintain a good relationship with all of the stakeholders," he said. "The last thing they want to do is to fight with the other stakeholders. We are going to get the facts and details and speak with the other stakeholders," he said.
Voting to sell the property were council members Barbara Jusula, Jim Marke, Joseph Ricker and Jessica Jokinen. Opposed were Angela Nimmer. Abstaining was Nathanial Delegan.
Ernie Spangle didn't have to join the military.
In 1943, World War II had already been blazing for more than a year and Spangle was immune from the draft — what was called a protected worker because his skills as an electrician at Allis-Chalmers corporation in Milwaukee were more valuable to the war effort than his service would have been as a soldier or sailor. And with war production ramping up, there was plenty of well-paying overtime work available.
He had another good reason to stay out of the fight: He had a girl.
Lois Gustafson, who worked at the Ashland County courthouse and whom he had met at a policeman's ball at the Bohemian Hall, was his steady. The two planned to get married, and going off to fight in the war was a prospect that neither really wanted to think about.
Yet, like many of his generation — those who fought World War II and who American journalist and author Tom Brokaw named The Greatest Generation — Spangle had strong feelings of patriotism.
"He told me that with so many others going into military service, including his brother, he felt that he should be signing up too," said his son, Randy Spangle.
So Ernie did what his what his heart told him was right.
He left his draft-proof job and enlisted in the United States Navy.
That was the first step in a process that landed Spangle aboard one of the most battle-tested ships in the Navy — and that today makes him Ashland County's oldest surviving World War II veteran.
Going to sea
Spangle was 21 when he entered service on June 13, 1943, and was assigned to the light cruiser U.S.S. Birmingham. During the course of World War II the Birmingham earned a well-deserved reputation for being the "fightingest ship in the Navy."
The Birmingham was the first of a new class of cruisers that were relatively lightly armed but fast and well-armored, intended to be able to slug it out with just about anything except a battleship.
Christened in 1943, the same year Spangle enlisted, she took part in raids on Tarawa and Wake Island, emerging unscathed from both battles.
Spangle was aboard her on Nov. 9, 1943 when she took part in the battle of Empress Augusta Gulf in the Solomon Islands, and was hit by two bombs and a torpedo in a Japanese aerial attack.
"We knocked down seven planes before they got us," said Spangle, who served the same role on the ship as he did in civilian life — an electrician.
He was below decks during that battle when a torpedo, dropped by a Japanese plane, struck.
"The water rushing in was like Old Faithful — whoosh!" he said.
Spangle said he had only bits of memory of the attack.
"It all happened so fast," he said.
Spangle, like the rest of the crew, battled to save their ship, and thanks to her robust construction, the Birmingham didn't sink. Her crew was able to return to to Pearl Harbor for more work before sailing to Mare Island San Francisco for permanent repairs. A photograph of the ship in dry dock shows the enormity of the battle damage; a 30-foot hole blown in the side of the ship. Still, the watertight construction of the ship saved her and she lived to fight again.
The Birmingham would go on to take part in other battles, and was seriously damaged twice more, at the Battle of Leyte Gulf and at Iwo Jima.
Hundreds of men would die in those battles, and Spangle recalls the losses.
"A burial at sea is something you never forget," he said.
But Spangle would not finish the war on the Birmingham. He was transferred to the newly built destroyer Harlan R. Dickson, constructed in Hackensack, N.J. With the Dickson being completed in the New York City area, he married his wife, Lois on July 31, 1945, while on leave.
Lois had never been out of Ashland County before, but at Ernie's invitation, she got on a train by herself and traveled straight to New York City to get married, meeting her husband-to-be in Grand Central Station. They married at "the little church around the corner," otherwise known as the Church of the Transfiguration, a popular location for wartime weddings.
Less than a week later, on Aug. 5, the Dickson began to sail for the Pacific, her crew preparing for what was predicted to be the bloodiest battle of the entire war — the invasion of mainland Japan.
But while they were at sea, word reached the Dickson of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The war was over. The Dickson was ordered to turn around and return to America.
Spangle never saw combat again. He was discharged on Nov. 12, 1945.
Since the end of the war, Spangle has lived in northern Wisconsin, working for 35 years at the Fort James paper mill's maintenance department. He and Lois raised four children and eventually retired in 1987 to Lake Delta in Bayfield County. They later moved back to Ashland.
Ernie Spangle has been a long-time member of the Ashland Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and Lois Spangle was also active in the VFW Auxiliary. The couple enjoyed 73 years of marriage before Lois died in January of this year.
Ernie Spangle's memory of the war now is fading — he can recall some events in great detail, but can't remember others at all. He now lives at Ashland Health Services, a nursing and rehabilitation center, where he turned 97 on Oct. 16.
"We had a big party for him. We joked about him being the last man standing," Randy Spangle said.
Mystery has always surrounded the military service of a rural Bayfield farmer who fought in World War II. And the plot thickened even further on Father's Day, when a woman in France contacted Ronald J. Barningham's daughter Pam Barningham to say she had found his dog tags in Normandy.
"We didn't even know he was in Normandy," Pam Barningham said.
The family knew Barningham was a marksman in the U.S. Marine Corps during the worldwide conflict, but he shared few
details of his service and they have no clue as to how he could possibly have lost his dog tags in Normandy, where the Allies invaded France in their long march toward Berlin and Adolf Hitler's headquarters.
Further confusing matters: The Marines never fought on mainland Europe. They spent World War II hopping their way across islands in the Pacific — though a handful of Marines did operate as members of the CIA's precursor, conducting covert operations behind enemy lines.
To add to the enigma, the dog tag was found crimped in the middle as if it had been placed between a dead soldier's jaws to keep it in place for later identification of the body.
Ronald Barningham decidedly didn't die in France, and his family still is trying to unravel the mystery of how the man they knew as a Marine came to be in Normandy, maybe on D-Day.
Army vs. Marines
Ronald Barningham was born on Christmas Eve, 1912, in Bayfield. Lying about his age, he enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 17, Pam Barningham said.
Little is known about his duties; he withheld details about his service in his weekly messages home, comprising three or four mostly illegible sentences to his mother. But according to family lore, he never failed to mail money to her — except once. She promptly wrote a letter to the president of the United States, demanding to know what was wrong.
Word reached Barningham about the oversight, and he quickly mailed the money, said his 68-year-old daughter, Peggy Boyd.
After that, Barningham's history gets even foggier. His family believes he was in the service continually after enlisting. How he ended up in going from the Army to the Marine Corps is anyone's guess.
In fact, his obituary said he was first in the Marines and then the Army, but family lore says otherwise.
According to surviving military separation documents, he was inducted into the Marines on May 8, 1942, which would have made him 29 years old, as a private first class. He left the service on Nov. 9, 1945, returned home, and — according to Pam and Peggy's aunts — retired to a rocking chair upstairs in the family farmhouse and didn't speak for the next two years.
But Barningham did finally emerge from his stupor to marry, have four children and take up farming vegetables, fruits and berries at Valley View Orchard, the farm he bought from his father, in the hills above Bayfield.
Gradually, Barningham started to reveal some of the more pleasant aspects of his service, said 59-year-old Pam, who is the baby of the family. He had been especially proud to play the bugle in the service.
"That was one of the things he did talk a lot about — playing Taps," she said. "That was a happy thing for him"
Pam also recalled her father's love of animals. He refused to kill any animals at all, not even to spare his crops from the ravages of deer, and regretted having to abandon a horse he had gotten from a German soldier during his service.
Although Barningham had begun to open up, his years in the military continued to take their toll in the days before post-traumatic stress disorder was recognized as a diagnosable condition.
Pam remembers well the fear she and her siblings felt when they heard her father cry out in night terrors.
"Sometimes he'd wake up bloody from hitting the end table or something," she said. "That's when you knew he was in battle."
But where exactly did he fight the battles of World War II? All he said was he had traveled the world, Pam said.
Link to France
Isabelle Busnel's discovery of Barningham's dog tag in 2014 shed some light on his travels, even if it stirred up more questions about his service.
Busnel, who lives in Carneville next to Cherbourg in Normandy, discovered the tag with a metal detector in Maupertus-sur-Mer.
In the midst of a job change, the 42-year-old didn't have time to track down information about Barningham right away, but she identified him from his service number on the dog tag and finally found Pam on Facebook. After sending Pam a message, Busnel said she waited for weeks to hear word back.
Pam said she typically never responds to messages from strangers on Facebook, but for some reason she opened Busnel's on Father's Day.
"Out came this picture of my dad's dog tag," she said.
Busnel learned to her delight that the soldier had survived the war and had created a "beautiful and happy family." Within two weeks she got Barningham's dog tags in his family's hands.
Barningham, who died of Alzheimer's in 1999 when he was 86, can no longer provide answers to the mystery, but with his dog tags in hand, Pam and Peggy are busy filing paper work to get the decorations he earned, including a Good Conduct Medal.
However nothing compares to the delight the family felt after receiving their patriarch's dog tags.
"We were blessed," Pam said. "We felt very blessed. Dad came home."