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Birkie dissolves Enbridge Energy sponsorship

Over the weekend, the American Birkibeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) announced on its website that the foundation has chosen to "dissolve our agreement" with the Superior office of Enbridge Energy as a Birkie sponsor.

The statement did not disclose the amount of money at stake, but did say the decision was influenced by the foundation's Birkie Green initiatives, an effort to curb the impact of climate change.

"In hindsight, we realize that this association was perhaps not a clear pathway to engaging conversation in support of education, future change and ultimately our greater Birkie Green initiatives, nor was it in alignment with our American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) mission. For that, we are sorry. We never intended to cause concern within the Birkie community," the statement said.

Enbridge Communications Director Julie Kellner said the energy company sponsorship of the Birkie and its Birkie Green initiative was "aligned with Enbridge's investment in energy transition and work towards a goal of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050; with an interim target to reduce GHG emission intensity 35% by 2030."

The ABSF noted in its statement that the foundation had a "mutual engagement" with Enbridge to "foster thoughtful discussion about the environment and climate change."

The foundation's web page states its Birkie Green initiative is "designed to inspire and implement solutions to address changing climates; to implement sustainability practices wherever feasible; to create solutions to support the environment and use of the land; and to consciously choose like-minded partners who demonstrate a commitment to supporting green and sustainability issues, whenever possible."

When asked how the decision came about, ABSF Executive Director Ben Popp said the staff and foundation board have been hearing concern about how the Birkie Green initiatives did not align with its relationship with Enbridge.

Popp said the relationship with Enbridge began with the intent of helping the energy corporation move in the direction of green initiatives, but said the timing was not right, given concerns about climate change with the majority of the Birkie skiers.

He also addressed criticism he's heard that those who participate in Birkie events, especially the Birkie's premier cross-country ski event in February, consume carbon fuels to just make it to events.

"We obviously know the Birkie events create a large carbon footprint," he said. "We realized that people drive their cars here and that takes carbon, but the Birkie Green initiative is all about looking at what we as an organization can do to reduce that footprint."

Popp said the decision to end the sponsorship was in no way intended to upset the community. He said the organization supports the community and spends considerable dollars in the community, as do those who participate in ABSF events here.

Popp said that in the future there might be a better time to pursue the relationship with Enbridge.

"Sadly, the Birkie has chosen to end our sponsorship, dissolve our agreement and return our sponsorship money," Kellner said. "Enbridge plans to donate the money to a different non-profit organization serving the Hayward area, in keeping with our tradition of community investment."

Enbridge Energy is currently building pipeline Line 3 across northern Minnesota to bring Canadian crude oil to Superior. It's a replacement for an existing line that will result in more oil being sent to Superior.

Line 3 has faced stiff opposition in Minnesota from environmental and Native American groups, but after years of legal wrangling and procedural decisions, Line 3 was permitted by the Minnesota environmental agency.

Locally, Enbridge has four pipelines that run through Sawyer County: three take crude oil to a refinery to the south and one returns to the north a chemical added to the crude oil to make it easier to be pumped in the lines.

In 2017, the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Tribe signed an easement agreement with Enbridge that eventually could exceed $60 million over 20-plus years for two pipelines that cross a short section of the reservation.

Comments

Paul Thompson, a Birkie Birchlegger and board member of the American Birkebeiner Bichleggings Club, also is a climate change activist. He is president of Cool Planet Skiers and a regional director of Citizens Climate Lobby, and he supports the ABSF decision.

"The Birkie has done the correct thing to remove Enbridge as a supporting sponsor," he told the Record. "It's our job (the Birkie community) to urge Enbridge to alter their business plan to shift attention from fossil fuel production and distribution to investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Without collaboration and respectful dialog we will continue to be ineffective in finding lasting solutions."

Nancy Knutson, director of marketing and communication for the Birkie, pointed out that Thompson was speaking for the broad community and not for the ABSF.

The Record also asked its Facebook friends their response to ABSF's decision. There were those who support it, such as Libby Snelson, who wrote, "Thank you, ABSF. Align with supporters of a cleaner environment."

"Well done," said Jeannie Buckholtz. "Furthermore, this is how we all begin the process and conversation for a cleaner tomorrow. It has to start somewhere. Fossil fuels are not renewable and we should all be looking for renewable resources for everything."

But the majority of the 60 comments received questioned the decision and pointed out that participants to Birkie events use petroleum products just to arrive via ground and air transportation.

"(Are) you going to start grooming by hand with volunteers?" asked Gail Abernathy Dickrell.

"Even the damned wax made for the skis is made of petroleum," said Scott Allen. "Are they going to drop Slix Wax (a ski brand), too?

Dustin Johnson added comments that address the new Line 3 being built in Minnesota. "Every one of the contestants, spectators and volunteers use petroleum products all day, every day. Just like every citizen in the country, they are hopeful that a pipeline won't rupture, but then they are against maintaining it and replacing it for a safer, more modern version."

The statement says the decision was influenced by the foundation's Birkie Green initiatives, an effort to curb the impact of climate change.


SKIING WITHOUT POLES

County's small businesses receive over $1 million of COVID relief

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers on Jan. 8 announced almost 55,000 state small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic received approximately $240 million last year through the "We're All In" grants program — the largest direct-aid program for small businesses in Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) history.

In Sawyer County, the state awarded 287 grants totaling $1,111,900. (See separate story in this edition.)

"Wisconsin's small businesses have exemplified remarkable resilience throughout this pandemic, finding new, innovative ways to keep the doors open and the lights on," Evers said. "But it wasn't easy, and I am glad we were able to provide this critically needed support. We aren't out of the woods just yet, and it is vital that we continue to support our local businesses and their employees to help them get through these tough times."

Funded by the federal CARES Act, the We're All In grants were awarded to Wisconsin small businesses in three phases throughout first year of the pandemic. Starting in the summer, Phase 1 distributed $65 million to more than 26,000 businesses around the state. The grants were administered by WEDC, with each receiving a $2,500 grant. About half of WEDC's staff shifted from normal operations to processing the grants to get the funds out to businesses.

In the fall, Phase 2 provided $130 million to more than 26,000 businesses. The program was created by WEDC but received technical and customer service assistance from the Department of Revenue (DOR). Due to greater demand and limited resources, Phase 2 grants were targeted toward industries hit hardest by the pandemic, as well as diverse businesses and businesses that had not received Phase 1 grants. These were $5,000 awards. Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 grants were aimed at businesses with less than $1 million in annual revenue, regardless of industry.

In the late fall, Phase 3, We're All in For Restaurants, was specifically targeted at food, beverage and amusement businesses with annual revenues between $1 million and $7 million, with each qualified business receiving $20,000. More than 2,000 grants were awarded.

"The intent for all of the We're All In grants was to get help to as many small businesses as we could, as quickly as we could," said Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO. "I'm pleased WEDC was able to work with DOR to help us identify many of the businesses that were struggling the most."

"We have seen economic impacts from COVID-19 that are very uneven," said DOR Secretary Peter Barca. "Some businesses are suffering a great deal while others have seen less impact."

Information

The DOR and the WEDC have posted a searchable online database of recipients and the amounts they received, at https://www.revenue. wi.gov/Pages/OnlineServices/WAI-Search.aspx

Additionally, there is an online interactive data visualization map of the state of Wisconsin which highlights where businesses are located, and what industries received the grants.

The interactive data are available at public. tableau.com/profile/research.policy#!/vizhome/WereAllInGrants/Story1


Candidates file for local offices in spring election

The ballot for the April 6 spring election has been set, as candidates have filed nomination papers for local school board, city, village and town offices, and Sawyer County elected positions.

Incumbent Sawyer County Circuit Judge John M. Yackel has filed for re-election to a six-year term. He is unopposed.

Hayward School Board

Only incumbents filed for election to the Hayward Community School District Board of Education. They are Linda Plante, Derek Hand and Stacey Hessel.

Hayward City Council

Incumbent Mayor Charlie Munich has filed for re-election. Filing for the city council alderperson positions are: District 1, Harold Johnson Sr. (incumbent); District 2, Gary Gillis (incumbent); District 3, Ward Williamson (incumbent); and Ward 4, Linda Hand. The Ward 4 incumbent, Al Voight, is not seeking re-election.

Those who have filed for election as town officers in Sawyer County are as follows:

Town of Bass Lake (Sawyer County) The incumbents have filed for the open positions. They are: Chairperson, Justin Hall; Supervisors, Bob Hammond and Marshall Savitski; and Treasurer, Kari Aderman.

Town of Hayward

Gary Gedart, who is currently a town supervisor, has filed for election as chairperson. The incumbent, Jeff Homuth, is not running.

Three persons are running for two supervisor positions: Ron Siemers, Andrea Wittwer and Henry Bearhart. Incumbent Dan Cousins Sr. is not running.

Town of Hunter

Only incumbents filed for election. They are Laura Rusk for chairperson, Kay Ryan and Jim Dier for supervisor, Patty Swaffield for clerk and Cindy Gutsch for treasurer.

Town of Lenroot

Only incumbents filed for election. They are: Gordon Christians for chairperson, Jack Sjostrom and Mike Bandow for supervisor, Carol Stone for clerk and Rebecca Brunner-Stroede for treasurer.

Town of Meteor

The town caucus was held Monday, Jan. 11. Those who were nominated are: For chairperson, Dale Olson (incumbent); for supervisors, Ellyn Welling (incumbent) and Zachary White; for clerk, Clarence Frey, incumbent; and for treasurer, Ann Kormann, incumbent.

Town of Round Lake

For chairperson, incumbent Rolfe Hanson is running unopposed. For supervisor, with two positions open, the candidates are incumbents Kay Wilson and Ginny Chabek and challenger James Strandlund. The incumbent clerk, Kathy McCoy, and incumbent treasurer, Vicki Palya, are running unopposed.

Town of Sand Lake

The town caucus was held Monday, Jan. 11. Those who were nominated are: Chairman, Robert Langham; Supervisor 1, Edgar Gregory; Supervisor 2, George Shedivy; clerk, Elaine Nyberg; and treasurer, Joan Rainville.

There were no other nominations.

Town of Spider Lake

Information was unavailable prior to the press deadline.

Washburn County

Running for town officer positions in Washburn County are:

Stinnett: The town caucus was held Saturday, Jan. 9, and the incumbents were nominated for the April 6 ballot. They are: Bill Groat for chairman, Donald Plante and Gary Elliott for supervisors, Katie Parks for clerk and Sandy Johnson for treasurer.

Stone Lake: Only incumbents were nominated at the town caucus held Monday, Jan. 11. They are: Ted Crandell for chairman, Jack Coddington for Supervisor 1, Dan Buchman for Supervisor 2 and Michelle Drabek for clerk-treasurer.

Appeals judge

The incumbent Wisconsin District Three Court of Appeals judge, Mark Seidl, has filed a notification of noncandidacy. This district covers the northern part of the state.

Two persons have filed their papers for election to this position: Outagamie County Circuit Judge Greg Gill Jr. of Appleton and attorney Rick Cveykus of Wausau.

The nomination papers of two other persons are awaiting approval.

State superintendent

Seven persons have filed for election as state superintendent of public instruction.

They are incumbent Carolyn Stanford Taylor of Madison, Shandowlyon S. Hendricks-Williams of Milwaukee, Troy Gunderson of West Salem, Sheila Briggs of Deforest, Deborah Kerr of Caledonia, Joe Fenrick of Fond du Lac and Steve Krull of Milwaukee.

A primary election will be held Feb. 16, from which the top two vote recipients will advance to the April 6 election.


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