PARK FALLS — The Park Falls Planning Commission told a crypto-mining company that its in-house information on sound mitigation and other engineering will need to be confirmed by a third-party contractor for due diligence and liability issues, according to discussion at a special meeting on Aug. 4.
The commission denied the initial SOS Limited request from a July 21 meeting where the crypto mining company sought to expand operations from inside buildings of the former Park Falls Paper Mill with two additional data service modules for bitcoin mining outside the facility.
The committee had withheld a decision on July 27 to allow the SOS applicants to supplement its application with its comprehensive plan to include measures for noise abatement, fire suppression, proof of state and federal permitting and relative supplemental information from similar data mining sites and the impact of operating in urban areas.
SOS Park Falls Site Supervisor Ming Luo, who was present to speak to the application at the meeting, said the operation is currently running at 5 megawatts of power. In order to reach a phase II goal to increase processing capacity to 24 megawatts it was preferable to eventually have seven processing containers operating outdoors, he said.
Luo presented plans for abating sound, the path of power line ditches from transformers to containers and other mitigation efforts required of the permitting process.
The committee said they did not question whether Mr. Luo’s plans were adequate. However, the commission is accustomed to having contracted engineering services or other relevant experts for sound mitigation to approve the plans.
“You put together a lot in a short amount of time,” said Mayor Michael Bablick to Luo. “But this is new for us in that we are used to seeing engineering firms put this together for us.”
For the city to have the confidence that what is being proposed is what will most likely occur, there needs to be a licensed professional present to confirm the plans, he said. An electrical engineer was present at the July 21 meeting and satisfied the commission on matters with the SOS application. Contractor approvals provide confidence for the city because there are consequences when what is promised does not match the reality, he said.
Luo said his plans were in house in that the company hired professionals to do similar work at other facilities in China and abroad. He produced a decibel measuring device that he used for his own investigation into applying the techniques to the Park Falls site which borders business and residential properties with some trees, buildings and river buffers.
High pitched frequencies are easier to mitigate, and with the help of buffers, sound decibels decrease exponentially with every 10 feet of distance, he said. The commission responded that this testimony was exactly why the members wanted a third party expert to confirm the plans.
“This design comes from professional designers, and is not my opinion,” said Luo, noting the company has experience with mitigating the effects of operations in China and around the world. “We have plenty of experience and know how to design to deal with the problem.”
Commissioner Victor Ambrose said his concern is that if the noise turns out to be uncomfortably loud or intense then it is more difficult for the commission to do anything after the fact. Luo’s own report stated that the decibel levels near the machines were from 85 to 96, and around 70 decibels a little further away.
Those types of noises are on the level of lawn mowers and loud motorcycles, which are basically temporary, Ambrose said. The crypto mining noise will be constant and there needs to be certainty that it won’t be a problem because that level of noise can increase anxiety and compete with conversation level speaking.
“That’s what concerns me,” Ambrose said. “...From my perspective, I am trying to think like a citizen and am asking the same questions. That’s not a passing noise.”
The commission included a statement that the action was not final and that SOS could resubmit its application with full engineering specifications. The commission recommended that the application include contractor approved plans.
PARK FALLS — It was three full days of entertainment, shopping and activities and then some — and it was all over in a flash. The 2022 Flambeau Rama brought the annual event back from the pandemic in style with thousands of people enjoying a weekend of fun.
Three were several performances from the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show downtown over two days. The Beckstead family of Web, Amber, Jason and Danial, are from Oregon, but work with the Florida based show as one of four crews that perform around the country. The family just came from shows in Virginia and North Dakota and are heading next to Milwaukee next and then to the Maryland State Fair.
Wisconsin is one of the few states who are still true to logging roots, said Jason Beckstead. Virginia is another, and he said Oregon used to be like that times change and people change.
“Wisconsin thankfully is one of the few states, along with Minnesota also, Michigan, the Midwest mainly,” he said.
Web, who is the father, started performing while he was in high school. Jason started just a year and a half ago when he turned 2021.
“But, I’ve been around it my whole life,” he said.
Jason and Danial perform log spinning with a variety of stunts from juggling hatchets to jump roping on a wet cedar log. Cedar floats higher in the water than other types of wood, according to Web. Amber is a specialist with cross-cutting saws.
Steven Scherwinski, of Park Falls, brought his family and said they loved the show. The show was perfect and his kids loved it, he said. But as a logger himself he liked that the show portrayed the roots of logging that many people don’t realize is a heavily mechanized industry today.
“It’s all mechanized,” he said. “I work with harvesters and forwarders and do a little bit of chainsaw work when it’s required. But mostly it’s mechanized. We don’t do hardly any hand cutting anymore.”
It also portrays the purpose of logging and the many uses of wood. People think of homes but it’s also about mills that make paper for your magazine or toilet paper for the bathroom, he said.
“There is a lot more to it than people think,” he said.
The Pooch Pageant event drew crowds to see which dogs had the talent and behavior to win ribbons. The event also raised $95 for Catkins Animal Rescue, according to Catkins manager Tanya Belanger.
The best in talent was Karma, a Czech German Shepherd that was shown by Addison Kovarik, she said.
Prince, a Chihuahua that was shown by Beau Stahnke, won for both costume and obedience, she said.
Teddy, a Pom Chi Terrier that was shown by Cally Tourtillott, won for best in show.
The Flambeau Rama car show was a marvel of cars, motorcycles and trucks dating back to the 1920s. There was everything from a vintage 1940s pickup to a 1960s Shelby.
Benjamin Fox, a Park Falls native who now lives in Menomonie, said he has brought a Ford Model T to the car show in the past. This was the first time he brought a Ford Model T that he recently acquired. It is in such good shape that he actually drove it up from Menomonie.
“It’s got like 40 horsepower but it’s got a lot of torque,” Fox said of the Model A.
Scott Richey, of the Tomahawk and Nokomis area, said he enjoys the Flambeau Rama car show for the quantity, quality and diversity of vehicles. There are antique machines, fully restored vintage automobiles, hotrods and a few of the concept cars where the owner went beyond the traditional restoration and added his or her own design work.
“It’s got a little bit of everything and that’s what you want in a car show,” Richey said. “That way it doesn’t all look the same.
The real fun of a car show going out to them and talking with the people, he said. People have these vehicles in storage and they want to get them out and drive them.
Richey brought a 1966 Ford Fairlane. It was his wife’s car and she died six years ago.
Driving the car to the area car shows is a nice way to reminisce and a way to get the car out now and then, he said. Going to car shows in a convoy of several classic cars makes it even more fun with honking at the waving people along the way.
“If I couldn’t drive it, I wouldn’t want it,” Richey said.
The softball tournament spanned four days from Thursday evening all the way to Sunday evening. The results weren’t in as of Monday evening.
The teams came from all over, such as the Auburndale team that called themselves the Junior Varsity. The team is playing its second Flambeau Rama and likes to compete in tournaments around the state, according to team member Paul Kollross.
“It’s just a bunch of buddies playing for fun,” he said. “We didn’t do too good last year but it’s a lot of fun.”
Auburndale’s first game was against the Dutchess team from Marenisco, Michigan. Team member Eric Lane said this was the team’s second time playing the Flambeau Rama tournament as well.
PHILLIPS — The Phillips Police Department responded to a 911 call reporting that a car had struck a pedestrian along South Worcester Road at Evergreen Lane on Aug. 6.
The woman was reportedly jogging on the road when she was struck by a vehicle at around 9:06 a.m., according to various law enforcement reports. The call was outside of the city jurisdiction but the PPD was called to assist as Price County Sheriff’s Office deputies were handling an incident in northern Price County and were unable to respond.
The Phillips Police Department handled the entire investigation for this incident and the Sheriff’s Office was not involved, according to Sheriff Brian Schmidt.
Central Price County Ambulance Service responded and transported the woman via ambulance to Marshfield Medical Center in Park Falls. The driver involved in the incident received numerous citations, according to the report. A state accident report was completed.
PARK FALLS — After a seven year hiatus the Miss Flambeau Rama pageant is back as three young women participated in a whirlwind of activity over a weekend of events for the 2022 title.
“This year we really wanted to honor some young ladies for their outstanding work in the community and for their leadership skills and outstanding character,” said Terry Wilson, executive director of the Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, during his introductions at the Park Falls Recreation Arena on Aug. 6.
The Miss Flambeau Rama pageant hasn’t been held since 2015, and Missy Negri restored the pageant by securing seven judges, and by finding a sole sponsor, Patchouli Garden LLC, to provide the pageant with a $1,000 scholarship.
“So no one has to sponsor a girl and anyone can just nominate deserving girls between 13 and 18 who live in the Chequamegon School District,” Negri said to the crowd on hand to witness the crowning between rock bands.
Miss Flambeau Rama is not a beauty pageant in the vein of spray tans and artificially whitened teeth, Negri said. A panel of seven judges review the responses to a question and answer interview where the girls are allowed to express themselves.
“We want to make them comfortable with who they are,” Negri said.
Miss Flambeau Rama 2015 Karissa Matis was present to present the tiara and sashes.
This year’s Miss Flambeau Rama, Alexis Grawvunder, 16, and the two runner ups, Sydney Button, 14, and Olivia Negri, 15, all of Park Falls — persevered the gowns, hair and makeup as temperatures and humidity soared, remaining composed and cheerful. Following a Friday question and answer event the competition culminated with a big event at the arena.
“The biggest thing I felt was gratefulness. I was so thankful,” Grawvunder said. “I think any of the girls would have been a perfect fit. But I was really thankful that the Chamber of Commerce gave me the opportunity to be a face for Park falls.”
Grawvunder will be a junior at Chequamegon High School this coming fall. She participated in a couple of pageants while living in North Carolina, but said she concentrates on figure skating and kayaking in Park Falls.
“Honestly, anytime I can be around the water, I love the lakes and rivers and the ocean,” said Grawvunder, who is considering biology with interest in marine biology in college. “I also love my friends and especially my family.”
Alexis has three grown siblings. She is the only sibling still in high school.
When her parents’ David and Melissa Grawvunder nominated her, Alexis said she liked that the pageant was about showing “you’re a part of the community and support your community, and want to give a helping hand and be willing to try new things for the good of your community.”
“I just wanted to play a larger role in my community and help out,” Grawvunder said. “I wanted to just do everything I could.”
Grawvunder isn’t sure what she will have to do in an official capacity throughout the year but will make herself available for various events that will likely be coordinated through the Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
The scholarship is a real plus and Grawvunder said she is thankful. As for the competition, she did practice her poise and stage presence, annunciation and prepared for questions that might be asked of her by the judges.
“My speaking voice and just mentally preparing myself for the event entirely,” she said.
She recalls the most challenging question was “what is the greatest issue facing her generation?”
She replied that many of her generation lack confidence and self esteem. There is a need for role models and leadership and she wants to step up.
The pageant was part of that effort as a way to help improve public speaking by getting in front of people in a high pressure situation to gain confidence, she said.
PARK FALLS — The city of Park Falls will receive $3.75 million for investment in water distribution infrastructure, according to an Aug. 4 press release from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. The funds are to help the city afford fixes that support water conservation and safe drinking water efforts for the city.
This investment comes in light of growing concerns over the city’s outdated water infrastructure, according to the press release. The closure of the Park Falls Paper Mill in 2021 has put a strain on operating costs and the existing infrastructure.
Prior to its closure, the paper mill accounted for 50% to 75% of the water use in Park Falls. Without the additional water flow generated by the paper mill in the winter, the town’s 100 year old water lines are susceptible to freezing, according to Park Falls Mayor Michael Bablick. The grant will allow the city to upgrade their water infrastructure and ensure reliable and affordable water service to the city’s residents.
“City staff and I have been working very hard to find solutions to deal with the aftermath of the permanent Mill shutdown,” Bablick said. “We are very thankful to Governor Evers and his staff for working so hard to help us in our time of need. These funds will go a long way in solving our infrastructure needs in the utility, protecting future ratepayers”
The city of Park Falls has faced changing community needs, higher costs, and limitations of older infrastructure for years, Evers said. The investment through the American Rescue Plan Act will make necessary improvements to the city’s aging water utility system, and make sure that residents have access to clean, safe, and reliable water, he said.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Mayor Bablick and his administration to address the imminent needs of the Park Fall’s community and greater area, and to help ensure folks and families aren’t stuck footing the bill for this upgraded infrastructure,” Evers said.
Rep. Beth Meyers, D-Bayfield, commended Evers for working with Bablick and city staff to find an effective solution to updating the city’s water utility system and without placing the financial burden on residents.
“The closure of the Park Falls Paper Mill has had devastating ripple effects throughout northern Wisconsin, but I am glad that safe and affordable water will continue to remain accessible to the residents of Park Falls thanks to the joint efforts of Gov. Evers and Mayor Bablick,” Meyers said.
Construction on Park Fall’s water infrastructure is expected to start next summer and finish by the fall months of 2024.