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Area emergency management preparing for possible flooding

This time of year — after nearly five feet of snow has fallen over the winter, temperatures are rising into the mid 30s to 40s, and rain is in the forecast — it's natural to think about flooding.

On Tuesday, March 12 Sawyer County Emergency Manager Patricia Sanchez gathered others together to discuss preparatory actions.

Joining Sanchez were Sawyer County Highway Commissioner Gary Gedart, Highway Patrol Superintendent Brad Beise, Sheriff Doug Mrotek, City of Hayward Public Works Director John McCue, Hayward City Aldermen Mike Swan and Jim Miller (who is also Congressman Sean Duffy's area representative) and Town of Hayward Fire Chief Don Hamblin.

Anticipating flooding, Sanchez said, she had ordered and received 10,000 extra sandbags.

Gedart said the highway shop would pre-stage four to five truckloads of sand at the Town of Hayward for those sandbags.

Sanchez expressed concern for the Hayward area because all the paved and asphalt areas will attract runoff.

"The big thing is if we see the water rising and we can't get people to sandbag, we need to

get the people out," Sanchez said.

Using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds resulting from the 2016 flooding of Smith Creek, McCue said, the city had purchased three of the homes in the floodplain. Two have been demolished and the third is scheduled for demolition in April.

Hamblin said he been keeping an eye on upstream river flow and ice dams. The river rise, he said, might be a predictor of other problems to come.

McCue said his workers are opening catch basins and storm water drains for water to flow. Where there are no drains he is moving the snow back from the curbs to allow water to flow off onto flat ground.

Gedart said a highway worker found 30 areas of water ponding on county roads between Radisson and Stone Lake when typically there are just a couple.

Beise said highway crews then opened up the ponding to drain.

Gedart also said he noticed water ponding north of Highway 27, east of the city near the former Hayward National Golf Course.

Based on their experience, Sanchez asked the others if they had concerns over spring flooding.

McCue said this season looks like the winter/spring of 2014, but he wasn't fearing flooding unless there was a rain event of over five or six inches.

However, Sheriff Mrotek noted that one foot of snow amounts to roughly one inch of water, and if the snow melts quickly that represents a lot of water.

But Mrotek also pointed out that when the City of Hayward had flooding issues in 2014 and 2016 it was during the summer and not spring.

Miller expressed concerns of roofs collapsing from a combined weight of existing snow with the addition of rain. There was a dairy barn the previous week outside the Village of Exeland that collapsed from snow.

However, a roofer who talked with the Record said most newer homes are built to bear the weight of snow, but he recommends removal of snow over 10 inches to prevent ice dams that can cause further damage. (See article: "Roofer says ice dams are a concern.")

Miller said FEMA had sent out an alert advising those who might experience flooding to remove valuable items from basements

All said they had to monitor culverts that might be clogged with ice backing up draining water.

"Hopefully we are prepared for the worst and hope for the best," said the sheriff.

Gedart said the extended forecast for next week is for 47-49 degrees on March 22-23.

All agreed they would have to monitor water levels and stay in touch with each other.

Bids sought for Winter Depot project

The restoration of the 1905 Winter railroad depot is one step closer to reality following a Sawyer County committee's agreement to advertise for bids on the project.

The Friends of Tuscobia Trail (FOTT) have been pursuing the restoration of the historic depot in Winter since 2008. The goal is to turn the facility into a trailhead resource for the Tuscobia Trail, a welcoming center for the Winter Chamber of Commerce, a site for historical displays and the FOTT headquarters.

In 2009 the project received a $302,000 transportation enhancement grant, federal dollars managed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. It also received other grant funds from the Department of Natural Resources and support from the county and donations to the friends organization.

Bids for the project were first let in August 2014, but the one bid returned came in at $100,000 over the estimated project cost. The contractor claimed he bid high because the project specs were unspecific. Later the project was redesigned to be more specific and to include alternatives to lower the overall cost.

On Monday, March 11, Ron Petit, president of the Friends of Tuscobia, along with Dan Yankowiak, DNR property superintendent, and Bill Zimmer of the Northwest Office of the DOT appeared before the Sawyer County Economic Development and UW-Extension Committee asking the county to sign a landuse agreement originated by the DNR because the depot sits on DNR property. Petit said the land-use agreement had to be signed before bids could be pursued.

Yankowiak said the agreement had just been prepared the Friday before and was the standard agreement the DNR uses. He said Sawyer County is being asked to sign the agreement because the county is the fiscal agent for the transportation grant and it manages the Tuscobia Trail.

Supervisor James Schlender, a lawyer and tribal judge, said the agreement didn't identify the county's authority or obligation, possibly putting the county on the hook if the FOTT fails to meet the agreement. He advised the county's corporation counsel to review the agreement before it was signed.

Zimmer said there is some urgency in going forward because on June 30 the project is coming to the end of a 10-year deadline.

Asked about the current estimated project cost, Petit said the architect estimated $395,000, but that amount included approximately 10 percent for overages. He said roughly $200,000 of the original grant was available, but with DNR grant funds and the option of approximately $110,000 of the project being dropped if the overall bid was too high, there should be enough funding.

Sawyer County Administrator Tom Hoff suggested the committee take no action until the corporate counsel reviewed the agreement, but allow the advertisement of bids.

Zimmer said bids could be advertised but final approval would not be given until the land-use agreement had been signed.

Zimmer said he would like the bids approved by the end of May.

Tom Duffy Sr., chair of the committee, said he would like to see all documents related to the project, including the county's fiscal agent agreement.

Supervisor Troy Morgan said corporate counsel could review the agreement and the next board of supervisors meeting on March 21 could consider it.

Economic development update

Lynn Fitch, president of the Sawyer County/Lac Courte Oreilles Economic Development Corporation (SC/LCOEDC), gave an update on the organization.

She said it is continuing to still restructure committees of volunteers and is still studying issues of housing and creating greater collaboration with other parts of the county, including the towns.

Fitch said there would be another attempt in April to present a business improvement district (BID) proposal to the Hayward Planning Commission, then to bring it before the city council in May to consider for passage. She said there appeared to be more support for the revised plan than existed for the first BID proposal that failed in 2018.

The first place-making meeting for the City of Hayward, she said, would be held this week and an exercise would be run in April with results produced in May. Place-making considers ways of making specific areas more attractive for people. The concept is the more there is available in an area the longer people stay as they develop greater affinity and the desire to return.

Fitch also announced that Ann Kozak had been hired as a parttime director who was available to meet with those interested in economic development in the county.

Schlender reminded Fitch that the county government is starting its budget cycle and the SC/LCOEDC should be preparing a written report on its accomplishments if it wants to secure future funding.

Schlender also requested the SC/LCOEDC consider leading an effort to raise funds from businesses to acknowledge the good work that snow plow drivers have done this winter to clear roads of snow.

Kohl recipient inspires love of learning by fostering relationships, explaining 'why'

"Teacher Fellowship recipients are educators who have been chosen for their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, their ability to motivate others and their leadership and service within and outside the classroom."

—From the 2019 press release announcing the Herb Kohl Foundation Excellence Scholarship, Initiative Scholarship, Fellowship and Leadership Award Recipients.

Hayward kindergarten teacher Charlene Van Etten couldn't believe what primary school principal Wade Reier told her after class on Monday, March 4 — she was one of 100 teachers in the state selected as 2019 Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship recipients.

"It took a few seconds to process it," she said. "I'm still a little bit in shock."

Soon followed a flood of congratulations from the superintendent, colleagues, parents and others.

For Van Etten, the award is truly icing on the cake be cause she loves her job.

"Every day I get to do something that makes my heart sing," she said. "That's how passionate I am about what I do, and to have that acknowledged and to have my peers look at that and to have them also affirm I'm doing a good job and that I'm advocating for my job and what I do in the classroom is worthy of being talked about is just encouraging, very encouraging."

In 1990 Herb Kohl, philanthropist, businessman and former U.S. Senator, established the Kohl Foundation Scholarship and Fellowship program. Over the years, the program has awarded $17.8 million in scholarships to educators, principals, students and schools.

For being selected, Van

Etten's class will receive $6,000 and the school will receive $6,000.

"She's all about student engagement, getting to know the kids, getting to know the families, caring about the kids — just a genuine, nice person all the way around," said Reier. "There is never 'impossible' in her eyes. She will make whatever it is happen. Whether the student comes in and doesn't know any of the letters or sounds, Char is going to work her tail off so that student learns in her classroom."

Kelly Ryder, director of curriculum and programs, nominated Van Etten for the scholarship after Van Etten impressed Ryder with her leadership while implementing the character education program for the primary and intermediate schools.

"We are all so proud of her," Ryder said. "She's a super teacher, a great mentor to new teachers and she does everything with a whole heart. She demonstrates leadership by seeing a need and addressing it. She's all about making education better."

The award represents the first time a Hayward primary teacher has received it and the fourth for the district, with previous winners in the high school and middle and intermediate schools.

This is Van Etten's ninth year of teaching, all at Hayward. She feels very supported by the administration and happy to be in the position she has.

"It's exhilarating," she said of teaching. "You are taking these young kids and you are watching them, and to know that they are learning their letters and then putting them together and to write and to read and watching the awe washing over them, I can't think of too many things that are more exhilarating to watch them ignite in the love of what they are learning."

A non-traditional student

In the 1980s, Van Etten moved from Minneapolis with her family to the Hayward area. She attended school in Hayward but in her senior year she transferred to Northern Lights Christian Academy to become the only graduate, meaning, she laughs, that she nailed down all the accolades — "valedictorian, class clown and most likely to succeed."

A year out of high school, she was married and then became a mother. When her youngest was still a baby, she decided on being a teacher.

"I loved school and what better thing to get to do than to be with children and to continue to learn myself and instill the love of learning in other people," she said. "That was just the best job, next to being a mom."

For a year and a half she took classes at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College.

"I loved my time there," she said. "They were so supportive and so welcoming as a nontraditional student who had been out of education for a long time and whether I could do this. They were my supporters and I gained the confidence to take on a bigger university to get this done."

She transferred to University of Wisconsin-Stout and commuted from Stone Lake to Menomonie.

Her three children watched mom pursue an education. She believes that sent an important message to them that it is never too late to learn, that lives are not set by any time frame and to take a risk.

Just as her daughter was graduating from Hayward High School in 2010, Van Etten graduated from Stout with honors in early childhood education and a minor in special education.

Later she interviewed for an opening at Hayward and was hired.

Strong relationships

For Van Etten, the key to successful education is having a positive relationship with the students.

"They have to know that you care and not just about what they are learning but what they are feeling," she said, adding, "We need connection. They need to know someone cares or we are going to lose them. One of my biggest strong points is the relationship I build with them, so they can set aside their worries and focus while they are here."

Van Etten says she gained this appreciation while she was a fifth grade student of Hayward reading teacher Shirley Tiffany.

"Every student, it didn't matter what your last name was or how well you did or didn't read, she looked at you like you were the smartest child on the planet and she celebrated everything that you did," she said. "I felt like a genius when I was in her room. I remember very distinctly in fifth grade that I wanted to parent like that and I wanted to be a teacher like that."

Another Hayward teacher who influenced her was high school history teacher Tom Kuziej, who made history "fascinating and fun," but also saw her as a person with struggles, an important reminder that what teachers see in school is just a "snapshot" of students' lives.

"We can get so bogged down in content what we are teaching and we can forget that they are carrying some big, heavy emotions. But when those get addressed, there is just nothing those kids can't do," she said.

For the first 19 minutes of every class day, Van Etten spends that time with her 17 students in what she calls a "soft landing," talking about what is good and not so good in the students' life. She models sharing and students learn what is appropriate. Sometimes the youngsters need a hug or a "time in" where they go away by themselves and process their emotions or just recharge from the rest of the class.

When students tell her that "I need to talk to you," she finds a time and listens.

Somewhere halfway in the year, Van Etten says she sees students replicating her behavior as they care for each other.

She not only nurtures relationships in class but out in the community when attending student sporting events, dance recitals, meeting for donuts and hot chocolate, and during the summer break when scheduling meet-ups at Wilderness Walk.

"I'm always just trying to foster relationships with the ones I have now and the ones I have had," she said.

Explaining the why

Another element of her teaching is the importance of explaining the why.

"If you take the time to explain it, they buy into it," she said. "Take homework, for instance. 'Why do we have to do this math homework?' So how am I going to explain it so they understand it? So I took a sponge and I had two cups of water and I said this is math (water) and this is your brain (sponge) and so I dipped it in the water and it soaked up some because your brain is absorbing some of it, but when you take it and do it again at home (sponge) look at how much more it soaked up. 'Ah, so we'll learn more if we do it in other places.'"

She said 80 percent of her students don't argue with parents over homework because they know why it's a benefit.

"It causes them to take ownership of their learning," she said of explaining the why. "Even a 5-year-old can take ownership of his learning."


Next year Van Etten will be teaching even younger students in 4K that for the first time will be taught inside the school building and not at daycare centers. The district is making this move to address a growing trend of kids not being school-ready, such as being able to hold a conversation, physically handle a book or know the basic letters in their name.

To help youngsters be prepared, Van Etten recommends parents shut off the TV, put away the phones and talk and read to kids.

"You need to talk to them," she said. "Whatever you are doing at Walmart or out in the community, when you are driving down the road and the things that you see, talk to them about it," she said. "Note the colors they are looking at, talk about how many of something they see, have dinner together and conversation about what's going on in the world. They need to be talked to and they need to be read to. If they are not getting that at home — that they matter and time and attention is meant to be spent on them and they deserve that. If they are not experiencing that, they are going to come here and not buy into it (education). They are not going to want to do it, so then we are trying to play catch up."

She recommends parents emulate Shirley Tiffany — make each child feel special.

"They need to be delighted in," she said. "They need to know that they are a gift and that needs to be communicated to them by the parents, the community and by their teachers."

And also very much worth emulating is 2019 Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship recipient Charlene Van Etten.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)