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Ashland's charter schools have "been a real lifesaver" for Jenny Mahan's 10th grader, a student of the district's Lake Superior High School charter school.
"Charter school is the reason we are still part of the Ashland public school district," she said at Monday's school board meeting. "We would not be here right now; he wouldn't be a student of the Ashland public schools if it were not for the charter school."
Mahan was among about 15 parents and charter school students who pleaded with school board members for for more than an hour, sometimes tearfully, asking them to reconsider a unanimous May 20 vote to eliminate the charter schools.
The board voted in May — in what later was determined by Ashland County District Attorney David Meany to be an illegal meeting — in favor of an in-district "school within a school" arrangement that would bring the programs under direct board control.
Charter school committee member Ed Monroe said eliminating the schools amounted to "administrative expediency."
He said the charter school concept was "a real opportunity for our district to be a really exceptional educational body."
"I really urge the board to step up and support it, not look at how they can squeeze out a couple of extra dollars or positions out of it," he said.
The board was considering the matter for a second time Monday after it rescinding the May 20 vote that violated state open meetings laws.
School Board President Jessica Pergolski apologized for the closed-session vote that listed only "contract negotiations" as its topic — with nothing about closing charter schools — saying that the board needed to be more open in its actions.
"We let you down and we apologize," she said.
Pergolski later said the perception of a division between the school board and the charter school committee had been exploited on social media and elsewhere.
"The news media itself has tried to spin this as a controversial issue," she said. "I see the charter council and our council as full partners for the seven years that we have worked on this," she said.
School Board member Ann Bochler said that moving forward, the district would not be starting from scratch. She said the district fully supported the concept of project-based learning, which engages students through the inquiry process and includes collaborative teacher-guided student projects, that would continue in the school.
"We support the model," Bochler said. "I believe that we can better support it long term in doing a different administrative structure for it. I think we can make it a more integral part of the district when there is more clarity on the rules and responsibilities."
That was not enough of a guarantee that the unique programming in the charter schools would not simply disappear, said one parent.
"A vague statement on administrative efficiency is not sufficient reason to take a school that has had this kind of performance and change it," said John Mahan.
Parent Matt Hudson said he "could not wrap my head around why this decision was made."
"There just doesn't seem to be the evidence there that this is going to provide a cost savings to the district, or that this is really going to provide a value to us in some way," he said. "If it's not helping out our kids, I don't see how this could be a good decision."
The vote was nearly identical to the May 20 ballot, with Shelly Viater the only member to vote against the closures. She said she wanted some guarantees that the unique project-school structure would be kept intact in the proposed replacement for the charter schools.
The board did agree to continue the Lake Superior Learning Center, the charter school for elementary school students. The learning center still has four years left to run on its contract and is not affected by the changes
The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians could sue the controversial Enbridge pipeline company if it refuses to remove one of its lines from Bad River reservation land.
Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. told participants of a Friday Bad River community meeting about the pipeline that the tribe may have to go to court to force the Canadian firm to move the line.
"We are going to use every option to protect our waters," he said. "We are looking at legal action options that are open to us.
In addition, Wiggins said the tribe would look at "ceremonial activities."
"One of the ways we always we always view this place is being a powerful place of our ancestral homeland and the way we pray and do ceremonies matters. We're going to
proactively get rid of this threat to our water," he said.
About 30 residents of Ashland and the reservation, fearful about the safety a 65-year-old petroleum pipeline that crosses the Bad River land, turned out for the meeting.
The line begins in western Canada and transports a half million barrels of oil a day across the Northwoods and to eastern Canada. It was built in 1953 and recently has generated debate as Enbridge and Michigan agreed to build a new tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house the line.
Enbridge lines have ruptured several times, including in 2010 when a 40-foot section of line dumped heavy crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup costs totaled almost $1.5 billion, and the federal government fined Enbridge $3.7 million for safety violations.
The recent agreement for the Straits of Mackinac prompted renewed concerns about the line leaking into the Great Lakes.
"We need to save the water," Ashland resident Sally Lacev said at the Friday Bad River meeting. "It's just the right thing to do. If the water dies, we are all dead."
Tribal member Aurora Conlev said the community meeting was important because people wanted to hear what the tribe might do about the line running across its reservation.
"We are hoping to have more of these in the future," she said. "The pipeline does run through their land and there is need for community in-put, and this meeting is an opportunity to voice that."
Tribal council member Dylan Jennings said he and other tribal members are continually worried that a leak like the 2010 rupture in Michigan could destroy their reservation.
"It is a factor that causes a lot of anxiety for our community, because of the uncertainties. A lot of us who live around here know the way that our river flows and the climate change; all the impacts that we have been seeing in the area, and all the variables that can lead to a catastrophic issue with the pipeline. It's a constant thing that is always in the back of our minds," he said. "For a lot of our people, we firmly believe it is what will happen if we allow this line to stay where it is, crossing our community."
The tribal council in 2017 declined to renew some portions of the Enbridge easement across their land due to those fears.
We recognize that the resources that we have to us in this region, and the work that our ancestors did to create permanent homelands for us — that is invaluable to us," he said. 'There is no amount of money or negotiation that is going to deter us from executing what we set out to do."
Enbridge representative Becky Haase declined to answer questions about the pipeline, but she did issue a statement outlining Enbridge's position. In it she said the company was currently "in mediation" with the tribe over an easement renewal for part of the pipeline that expired in 2013.
"Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline has been safely operating through the Bad River Reservation since 1953 providing a vital link to propane and other energy supplies for northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula," the statement said. "Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil, and natural gas liquids, which are refined into propane. These products heat homes and businesses, fuel vehicles, and power industry"
The release also said that the majority of En-bridge's leases within the reservation remain current, some through 2043 and others have no end date.
Wiggins said those mediation efforts Enbridge referred to bore little fruit and the tribe now has consulted experts who detailed the damage that could be caused by a leak on tribal land.
In fact, in one area where the pipeline and the Bad River rub elbows, a massive storm or even age could cause the pipe to fail within five years, he said.
"Those independent experts have spoken and based on the information we have gathered during the mediation, we understand more clearly than ever that this pipe and the oil spill threat is real and present and we can't continue to move forward under that imminent threat and the stress of being at the mercy of an old, outdated pipe," he said.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bayfield County sheriff's office also are gearing up to manage thousands of people coming to the weeklong Rainbow Family Gathering Fourth of July celebration.
The Forest Service's National Incident Management Team is taking point to patrol the influx of visitors to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Canthook Lake, said Hilary Markin, public affairs officer.
This is the first time the Rainbows have brought their national event to Wisconsin, Markin said, and in the past gatherings in the Midwest have brought as many as 10,000 people together on public land.
The anticipated arrival of so many travelers has spurred concern among local residents over safety issues and the impact on the land — concerns they expect officials to address.
The Forest Service and sheriff's office will work in tandem to patrol the Rainbow area, ensuring all federal, state and local laws are enforced.
Sheriff Paul Susienka said he has increased patrols in Delta, Iron River and other areas near the gathering but is not drawing resources from other areas of the county — they will be patrolled as usual so safety isn't compromised.
Instead, sheriff's deputies are putting in overtime, which will be covered by the Forest Service.
A couple of deputies had made requests — which were approved — for time off around the Fourth of July a long time ago and their vacations will be honored, Susienka said. However, deputies who had not yet submitted vacation requests for the time the Rainbows will gather have been asked to remain on the active duty roster.
Patrol duty isn't falling solely on the shoulders of the sheriff's office. The Forest Service has brought in its National Incident Management Team to take responsibility for safety and law enforcement on forest land.
Forest Service vehicles frequently are sighted driving back and forth between the National Forest and Ashland where team members have set up their own base camp at Cobblestone Inn & Suites.
The Forest Service can act on behalf of the sheriff's office, Susienka said. But it primarily it focuses on enforcing federal regulations.
The Forest Service can issue federal citations, and anyone who receives one must address it in federal court, Markin said. A federal judge will temporarily work out of the Bayfield County Courthouse so that Rainbows who receive a federal citation don't have to drive to Madison.
However, law enforcement is only one part of ensuring the Rainbow Family Gathering runs smoothly for Rainbows and local residents. Protecting the land is high on the Forest Service's to-do list as well.
Last weekend, the Forest Service estimated 1,000 Rainbows already were at the site, possibly because it was the summer solstice, although their numbers dropped to about 850 by Monday. With so many already here and thousands more expected, many people worry about their impact upon the land.
Although the Forest Service requires permits when 75 or more people hold an event on public land, the Rainbow group refuses to obtain one, saying it has no leaders and therefore no one can sign on its behalf.
The Forest Service gets a lot of "pushback" from the public over the Rainbows' lack of a permit, Markin said. The Forest Service writes up a resource protection plan to protect the land, and health and safety.
As the event unfolds, members of the Forest Service meet regularly with Rainbows to discuss questions or concerns surrounding the resource protection plan. Afterward, when cleanup begins, the Washburn Ranger Station will work with the Rainbows to restore the land to pre-gathering conditions.
Until then, officers will keep a pulse on the community's safety.
So far, Susienka said, he has not seen an uptick in the number of criminal complaints in the county, and Markin said the Forest Service has not experienced any problems worth mentioning.
And as more Rainbows flow into the area for their Fourth of July celebration of peace, they hope the peaceful co-existence among all parties continue.