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County Board endorses broadband expansion

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Jefferson County is poised for a major leap forward in making broadband Internet access available for all its population.

The County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized the forging of a public-private pact with Hilbert / Bug Tussel Wireless of Green Bay and other providers to deliver wireless and fiber-optic line service in underserved parts of the county.

The project, estimated to cost $11 million to $15 million, would be part of a larger regional effort coordinated by a government coalition led by Fond du Lac County.

Working with Jefferson County, Hilbert / Bug Tussel would seek grants from the state Public Service Commission to help finance the work. Hilbert / Bug Tussel would be the primary borrower for the remainder, with the county being the final guarantor for the debt.

A pact is expected to be finalized by July, with service becoming available by the beginning of 2024.

If Hilbert / Bug Tussel were to default on its debt, “we would become the owners of the entire system,” County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said in response to a board member’s query. The county is performing “due diligence” to make sure Hilbert and its partners are financially sound, he said.

“Broadband” is defined as service that provides download speeds exceeding 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second. It is delivered through cable modems, fiber-optic line and fixed wireless service.

Jefferson County’s comprehensive plan adopted in 2021 says broadband is “essential for economic competitiveness,” allowing residents to “run a business, work from home, or attend virtual school sessions.”

In Jefferson County, maps available online from the Public Service Commission show gaps in broadband service in rural areas northeast and southeast of the City of Jefferson. Areas outside Waterloo and Lake Mills and southwest of the City of Jefferson, toward Lake Koshkonong, also are lagging.

Curiously, maps newly provided to county officials by the PSC show that the county is adequately served and does not need more state assistance, said Supervisor Amy Rinard of Ixonia, chair of the County Board’s Broadband Working Group. The county disputes that assessment, she said.

Regardless of whether more state funding is available, the PSC “should know that we’re not waiting around anymore, because the people of Jefferson County need broadband,” Rinard said.

Established in 2019, the Broadband Working Group has had some success in expanding broadband access in the county.

Bertram Internet of Random Lake and Netwurx Internet have worked with the county to build four towers delivering fixed wireless Internet in a northern stretch of the county from Watertown to Ixonia.

Along with state grants, federal spending amid the Covid pandemic has helped accelerate broadband expansion in Jefferson County. The Bertram deal was financed in part by $1.1 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020. In addition, the county has set aside more than $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for future broadband partnerships.

Budget update

County government has weathered the Covid pandemic better than expected, and the budget is in good shape as a result, Wehmeier told supervisors Tuesday.

The board approved resolutions closing out the books on 2021. Surplus cash will allow the county to jump-start some projects and pay off debt this year, Wehmeier said.

He cited the county’s one-half-percent sales tax as a key indicator. The sales tax brought in nearly $8 million last year. The county’s estimate for this year is a more conservative $7.3 million.

A boom in home sales brought in more transfer taxes and fees for land records in 2021.

The county might use its extra cash to pay off the debt on the Highway Department shop before the bond issuer can raise interest rates, Wehmeier suggested. The debt is now about $2 million.

One trouble spot in the changing economy is that county government, like other employers, is struggling to attract good workers as employees retire or take other jobs, Wehmeier said.

“Many employers are making direct calls to our staff, trying to recruit them,” he said. The county needs to consider using private-sector tactics such as offering sign-on bonuses, he added. Supervisors will consider adding a position for a recruiting specialist.

Interurban trail

Also on Tuesday, the County Board approved contracts for the completion of Phases I and II of the Interurban Trail, a paved recreation path being built on the right-of-way for the former Interurban Rail Line. The trail will now run from Watertown to the outskirts of Ixonia.

The contracts for Wolf Paving Co. and Janke General Contractors Inc. will total about $1.8 million, with most of that being covered by state and federal grants. Carryover funds from the 2021 budget will account for the remainder.

Supervisors also approved a $39,331 contract with KL Engineering to do a feasibility study for Phase III of the trail, which will stretch from County Highway F in Ixonia to West Second Street in Oconomowoc, a distance of about four miles.

That preliminary work will be paid for with carryover funds and with donations from the Oconomowoc Rotary Club.

“When this project is through, you’ll be able to ride your bike from Watertown all the way to Lake Michigan,” Rinard said. “We won’t be the missing link anymore.”

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Council member has a bee in his bonnet

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Whitewater Common Council member James Allen tried Tuesday to light a fire beneath his colleagues, urging them to act on several issues that he believes have been minimized or ignored in recent months.

Allen, the council’s unofficial gadfly, said he was “a little bit agitated” that items he had asked to be considered weren’t added to the council agenda in a timely fashion. To discuss the items Tuesday, the council first had to waive its transparency ordinance, which requires agenda items to be posted 72 hours in advance.

The state open meetings law, by contrast, requires items to be listed just 24 hours in advance. City staff members scrambled Monday to include Allen’s agenda items in time to meet that restriction.

In the end, the council did not discuss any of the items at great length, but Allen’s pique with his fellow lawmakers and city staff was more than clear. The tension ran both ways, as votes to waive the transparency ordinance for each item were not always unanimous.

Allen said he would not “publicly shame anyone by name.” He also said he would save his complaints about City Manager Cameron Clapper for a job performance evaluation in a closed meeting at the end of the night.

Specifically, Allen called the council’s attention to:

  • Enforcement of zoning codes by the Neighborhood Services Department. Allen wants an update on training of neighborhood service officers, who inspect properties and issue citations for unmowed lawns, junk vehicles and other violations of the zoning codes. The NSOs are unsworn officers, typically college students in law enforcement majors. Clapper promised to put the item on the council agenda for March 1.
  • The need for special equipment from Charter Communications (Spectrum) to allow the city to stream its meetings live on cable TV. Allen said numerous communities have complained of not getting the equipment as required under public-access TV laws. The council voted to direct city staff to draft a letter to Charter that could be used by Whitewater and other communities to get the necessary technology.
  •  The transparency ordinance itself. “We have a transparency ordinance that we are violating more often than not” because city staff does not get items posted to the council agenda in time, Allen said. Clapper acknowledged some “miscommunication” on postings and promised to study possible improvements.
  • The YouthBuild apprenticeship program, under which high school students in vocational training build houses. At present, YouthBuild enrolls at-risk students from the Elkhorn Area School District, who take classes in the morning and report to a job site in the afternoon. Allen and others, including Whitewater developer Larry Kachel, applauded the program but cautioned that they did not want Whitewater students to have to transfer to the Elkhorn district to join the program. Clapper agreed, saying, “We don’t want to be encouraging our students to be leaving our district.”
  • A 36-unit apartment complex under construction on the west side of North Tratt Street at Walton Drive. Aimed at UW-Whitewater students, the complex will offer apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms. Fall occupancy is expected. “I want this item to be discussed in public” because some contractors have complained about unequal treatment by the city, Allen said.

Clapper’s report

In his regular update to the council, Clapper noted that dredging at Cravath and Trippe Lakes has been delayed somewhat by warmer weather. Crews are working at night, when colder temperatures allow them to drive heavy equipment onto the lake beds without sinking into the muck.

Clapper also updated council members on construction of a new city water tower near the Highway 12 bypass. Sections of the tower base are being welded into place, and periodic photos will show progress on the tower on the city website,

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Agreed to waive a contract provision requiring Tyr Energy Inc. to provide an updated estimate of costs for decommissioning the LS Power cogeneration plant. Decommissioning would involve shutting down the power plant, removing the buildings and equipment, and cleaning up the site. City Attorney Wallace McDonell said a sale of the plant for $72 million is pending, so the value of the plant far exceeds the potential decommissioning cost of about $2.8 million, which must be covered by a bond from the owner. Powered by natural gas, the plant generates 280 megawatts of electricity and provides steam to an adjacent greenhouse and the UW-Whitewater campus. The plant paid about $350,000 to the city in 2021 under the state utility tax.
  • Postponed approval of an agreement for replacement of the roof at the wastewater treatment plant digester building. The city received two proposals but must open the process to competitive bidding. 
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Jefferson County Board OKs solar project

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

A new crop of solar-energy panels may begin sprouting on farmland in the Town of Jefferson as soon as this summer after the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved development of a 500-acre photovoltaic project by Crawfish River Solar LLC.

Supervisors approved the plan on a unanimous voice vote. Crawfish River Solar will build the facility and sell it to Alliant Energy Corp. of Madison, which will operate the site for its expected life of 30 years.

The 75-megawatt project will produce enough electricity to power 10,000 homes. It will consist of solar cells that will tilt to follow the sun during the day. Rows of solar panels about as high as cornstalks will be spaced far enough apart to allow pickup trucks and other maintenance vehicles to drive through.

The area will be planted with native grasses, and the leased farmland will be restored to its original condition when the project is decommissioned.

The project site is located south of state Highway 18 in an area bordered by county Highways G, J and Q. It is about two miles west of the City of Jefferson.

The facility will provide financial benefits to the county and the town. As with all power plants in the state, the Crawfish River project will pay state utility taxes, and those revenues will be shared with local governments. Jefferson County will receive about $175,000 per year, and the Town of Jefferson will get about $125,000 per year.

The area is home to a similar, larger proposed project also being developed by parent company Ranger Power. The 1,200-acre Badger State Solar project is on hold until 2023 while developers complete an environmental impact statement to qualify for federal financing. The Badger State facility, whose sites would be north and south of Highway 18, would produce electricity for the Dairyland Power Cooperative.

Courthouse renovations

In other action Tuesday, supervisors approved a $150,000 extension of a contract with consultant Potter Lawson & Partners to look at possible upgrades for the 60-year-old Jefferson County Courthouse.

Electrical, plumbing and heating / air conditioning systems in the courthouse are at the end of their useful life and are needing more maintenance. Renovations to courtrooms, the Sheriff’s Department and jail also are being weighed. Any new construction would have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act to provide handicap access.

Absent a clear plan, no specific price has been put on the project, but an estimate last fall put the cost at $33 million, including $17 million for the new mechanical systems.

Supervisor Jim Braughler of Watertown expressed concerns about the project cost, saying he would vote against it in the long run if the price tag were not brought down. “We need to trim,” Braughler said.

Also on Tuesday:

  • The County Board heard from two circuit judges in support of the county’s Alcohol Treatment Court, which allows repeat drunken-driving offenders to avoid jail time by agreeing to undergo treatment, monitoring and counseling. Judge Ben Brantmeier expressed hope that the alcohol court could be integrated with Family Court, because many family-law cases stem from alcohol abuse. Judge Robert Dehring noted that the alcohol court reduced costs to the county and improved public safety. Once the offenders are “in and enrolled, it’s likely that they won’t reoffend,” Dehring said.
  • The board denied a claim by John Ebbott of Helenville for replacement of a mailbox destroyed by snowplowing operations. Ebbott spoke during the public comment period to suggest that snowplow operators be trained so they “don’t come along and wipe out mailboxes.” Highway Department officials said Ebbott’s mailbox was not hit by a snowplow, but rather was destroyed when a wall of snow hit it during plowing operations.
  • The board approved a proclamation congratulating the Lake Mills High School girls basketball team on winning the Division 3 state basketball championship.
  • Supervisors approved a resolution proclaiming April 2021 as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.
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Council douses ban on smoking

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

No one argues that smoking and vaping are good for health, but the Whitewater Common Council proved unwilling again Tuesday to ban the nasty habits in city parks.

After considerable discussion via a remote Zoom meeting, the council declined to vote on a smoking ban proposed by member Matthew Schulgit. The proposed ordinance was similar to one that Schulgit’s brother, James, urged when he served on the council two years ago. The earlier plan failed on a 5-2 vote.

Councilmember James Allen said he would vote against the plan because it was unenforceable, adding: “We beat this horse to death two years ago.” By the end of Tuesday’s debate, Allen said the council had “beaten it to death again.”

Others on the council were not as blunt, but they also expressed doubts that the ordinance could be enforced fairly. Member Carol McCormick said the ordinance could be viewed as “government overreach” in a time already full of political tension.

Council President Lynn Binnie noted that only three Wisconsin cities – Oshkosh, La Crosse and Wisconsin Dells – currently ban smoking in city parks. He said more specific laws, perhaps banning smoking within 20 feet of children’s playgrounds, might be more appropriate.

Schulgit promised to revisit the ordinance to look at less restrictive versions. He said a smoking ban was timely because of the current spate of respiratory illnesses surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Scooter plan

On another issue, motorized rental scooters might soon be zipping around the streets of Whitewater, but not before city staffers and the Common Council take a closer look at the possibility.

City Manager Cameron Clapper withdrew a proposed memorandum of understanding with Bird Rides Inc., saying city staff needed more time to study all aspects of the plan before presenting it to the council.

The proposed agreement calls for Bird Rides to supply at least 100 electric scooters in the city. Users could access the scooters via a smartphone app that would bill their credit cards. Scooters could be ridden on streets and bike paths, but not on sidewalks.

Bird Rides would collect the scooters, maintain and recharge them, and redistribute them at sites around the city each night.

Based in Santa Monica, California, Bird Rides has deployed scooter fleets to more than 100 cities around the world.

Proponents say the scooters provide eco-friendly transportation for college students and others. Opponents cite safety concerns and annoyance to pedestrians.

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting:

  • Members heard a presentation from the Whitewater Arts Alliance, which is providing socially distanced arts exhibitions and participatory events during the pandemic. Alliance Board President Kristen Burton and Vice President Megan Matthews updated the council on virtual and limited in-person arts shows. More information, including video interviews with artists, is at The alliance operates out of the former Carnegie Library next to the Birge Fountain on Main Street.
  • The council voted to pay off just over $2 million in tax-incremental financing bonds eight years early, a move that will save the city more than $60,000 in interest. The bonds helped finance construction of housing, and the tax district had raised sufficient cash from property taxes to retire the debt.
  • Citizens and stakeholders can learn the latest on the lake drawdown project via a Zoom meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. Clapper told the council that revised timetables and progress reports for the project would be presented at the meeting. The dam near Main Street has been opened to draw down Cravath and Trippe Lakes, which will be dredged and refilled to improve water quality and aquatic habitat. More information is on the city Web site,
  • Council members agreed to continue holding meetings via Zoom given the pandemic. Binnie noted that overall Covid cases had dropped markedly in recent weeks, but he expressed concern about emerging variants that could bring a surge of new infections.
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Whitewater’s urban forester is honored

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Whitewater’s retired streets and parks superintendent was honored Tuesday for another role that added to the city’s attractiveness – that of urban forester.

Chuck Nass, who held the forestry position along with his streets and parks job, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council during a meeting of the Whitewater Common Council.

“Chuck was instrumental in a number of projects,” including saving trees from the emerald ash borer and recruiting volunteers for beautification efforts, City Manager Cameron Clapper told the council.

Jeff Roe, urban forestry team leader for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said Nass’ work had helped draw attention to the often-overlooked role of trees in everyday settings.

“Trees are everywhere,” Roe said. “If you look around your city, they make better places to live. They bring in oxygen, beauty, economic value, stormwater mitigation – but mostly we just like them. They help give us a sense of place.”

Dwayne Sperber, a member of the Urban Forestry Council, said Nass had helped expand the definition of urban forestry by, for example, helping street crews use trees to beautify routes that Whitewater citizens travel every day.

Nass “has demonstrated true leadership,” Sperber said. “It was a very easy nomination to make. He’s leaving quite a legacy.”

Library report

In other business Tuesday, the council heard the annual report from Irvin L. Young Memorial Library Director Stacey Lunsford.

The city library had more than 66,000 visitors last year, Lunsford told the council. It has 3,771 registered resident users and 2,941 nonresident users. In 2019, it was a net lender of interlibrary loan items, “which speaks to the quality of our collections,” she said.

Lunsford said the library was expanding on its efforts to become a community gathering space by hosting the City Market during winter months and by hiring a programming and makerspace librarian. That person will lead efforts in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) for the community.

Lunsford said e-books and audio books continue to gain popularity, but she doesn’t expect print materials to disappear anytime soon.

“There are still a lot of people who like print books, a lot of people who read magazines. We are seeing a trend of people going more to digital, but they’re using it in addition to print. They just like to have all those options.”

Also on Tuesday:

  • Parks and Recreation Director Eric Boettcher told the Common Council that work on the new Cravath Lakefront Park amphitheater is ahead of schedule due to the warmer weather. Completion is targeted for June 13. The facility will be named for the Frawley family, who donated $50,000 for construction along with $30,000 from the Rotary Club.
  • The council approved spending $63,560 for a Wachs valve-turning machine from Jet Vac Environmental. The machine will be used to open stuck water valves during periodic maintenance and in emergencies such as water-main breaks. It includes a torque indicator that will apply pressure to the valves selectively to prevent breaking the valve stems.
  • Council members supported the Police Department’s application for a federal grant that would help fund a second school resource officer to work with the Whitewater Unified School District.
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UWW students flock to the polls

By BRAD ALLEN / Webhawk News

Before a collection of absentee ballots were accounted for and Democratic candidate Tony Evers rode a so-called “Blue Wave” to victory in the Wisconsin 2018 gubernatorial election, students at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater kept their eyes glues to their phones and TV screens to watch the results unfold.

Some students gathered in Timothy J. Hyland Hall in room 1302 to participate in a watch party hosted by the UW-Whitewater College Democrats. When the winning vote was called at 8:03 p.m. for U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic incumbent, several students rose from their seats and cheered as the room erupted with thunderous applause.

Other students were just leaving the polls in the University Center’s Hamilton Room, which closed at 8 p.m.

“It’s a huge issue getting students out to vote,” said junior Megan Martin, chairwoman of the UW-Whitewater College Democrats. “A lot of students I’ve talked to early-voted or absentee voted. There was a huge turnout in early voting this year.”

Senior Isabel Guerrero voted in her second-ever election experience. She said there was no irregular draw to the polls, other than to exercise her right.

The waiting line wasn’t too bad for Isabel, whose voting ward had the shorter of two lines.

“Towards the end, I know they get busy, just ’cause there’s fewer workers,” Guerrero said.

But for sophomore Jack Bolog, the line to enter the polls was much longer.

He encountered “unfortunate odds” of being in the line for Wards 1-9 and persons with last names beginning with letters A through L.

But, he said, “I think that’s outside of their [the poll workers] control.”

“I think it’d be cool to see an independent party win,” Bolog said of his hopes for election results. “I voted for Maggie Turnbull [for governor] because she’s big into upholding the environment and being a good person, and I also like those ideas.”

Bolog said he decided to vote around 7 p.m., just one hour before the polls closed, because a friend teased him into going.

“I didn’t want to be a terrible American, I didn’t want to be an adequate American,” Bolog said. “I’ll settle on being a subpar American.”

Bolog was voter No. 1,077. Guerrero was No. 1,074.

Last year, UW-Whitewater had approximately 12,000 students enrolled who are of legal voting age and citizenship status, according to a 2017 report. Those numbers remain somewhat consistent with this year, with only a slight decrease in student enrollment reported in September.

Junior Casey Seltrecht said it was “pretty easy” for him to register and vote Tuesday. The process took him all of a half-hour.

He also decided to vote about an hour before the polls because “this really, really cute girl told me I should go vote, so I did.”

It was his first time voting.

Seltrecht said he’s usually “very informed” on elections issues, and he didn’t feel his vote was cast without sufficient thought put into candidates’ positions.

“I feel like I would want to see Tony Evers win,” he said, correctly guessing the outcome of the gubernatorial race. “I don’t hate Scott Walker, but it’d just time for somebody new.”

Junior Darius Sanders voted for the first time Tuesday. He tried voting in the 2016 presidential election in Milwaukee, but was unable to do so because he went to the wrong polling place for his address at the time.

He felt inclined to vote this time around because “being black in America, I’m afraid, and if there’s anything I can do to be less afraid, I think voting is the best way to do that. African Americans’ voices don’t always get heard.”

Sanders said he voted mostly Democratic this election, but he feels even split on party affiliation.

“I just want an actual, honest politician that has a plan that makes sense,” Sanders said. “People’s politics really come from what makes them most comfortable. The super poor always gets the brunt of the stick. … the disbarment of the middle class is a threat to the economy.”

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Ruffians, beware! City may impose bigger fines

By JAMES KATES / Webhawk News

The Whitewater Common Council is poised to bring the hammer down on a variety of misbehavior in the city – or maybe not, and in any case not quite yet.

The council on Tuesday, Oct. 2, voted to table a proposed ordinance that would have set a fine of $1,000 for anyone damaging a designated city landmark. The move followed a decision in September to delay action on raising fines for a host of offenses, from obstructing an officer to using improper identification.

The council acted after member Lynn Binnie said a $1,000 fine for landmarks damage could have “unintended consequences.” Besides highly visible publicly owned properties such as Birge Fountain, city-designated landmarks include about a dozen private homes.

Binnie wondered whether a misguided reveler might end up facing a hefty fine for “knocking over a birdbath” outside a landmark home. City Attorney Wallace McDonell said police have the option of charging only disorderly conduct for a small offense such as that.

Patricia Blackmer, who owns a landmark house at 445 W. Center St., told the council that “We have had significant damage to our property. … This ordinance needs to go forward.”

However, some council members questioned the fairness of higher fines for damage only to certain private homes. Members Jimmy Schulgit and Stephanie Vander Pas voiced doubts over whether such an ordinance would deter vandals.

The current fine for property damage is $450 to $700, plus restitution for repairs, council members said.

Council members agreed to look into what other cities are doing about vandalism issues before moving forward. City Manager Cameron Clapper said the matter probably would be delayed until after approval of the city budget at the end of November.

2019 budget unveiled

As revealed by Clapper on Tuesday, the 2019 city budget proposes general-fund spending of $9,658,650, up about $344,000 from the current year. Clapper said most of that extra money was found by eliminating inefficiencies in city spending.

The total city budget, including services such as sewer and water that are paid for with user charges, would be $26,259,403.

On a home assessed at $150,000, the 2019 budget would impose a city tax of $985.56, an increase of $75, within Walworth County; and $973.83, an increase of $53, within the Jefferson County portion of the city.

Clapper noted that limits on state shared revenue are forcing the city to rely more on the property tax to support local services. The tax levy has risen about 3 percent a year over the last decade, a pace faster than overall spending has gone up.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which is exempt from property taxes, makes a payment to the city each year for municipal services. The payment in 2019 will be $281,417, which covers only about 38 percent of the actual cost of services provided to the university, Clapper said.

Major projects in the works for 2019 include Milwaukee Street reconstruction, drawdown and dredging of Cravath Lake, and street-light repair and updates with energy-efficient LED fixtures.

The board’s Finance Committee will review the budget in open meetings on Oct. 11 and 18 at 6 p.m., and the full Common Council will examine the plan at its meetings Nov. 8 and 20 at 6:30, with final approval scheduled at that last meeting.

In other action Tuesday:

  • Clapper presented organizers of the annual CROP Walk with a proclamation recognizing their efforts. The CROP Walk, to be held Saturday, Oct. 6, raises money to fight hunger in Whitewater and around the world.
  • The council approved an ordinance banning the sale of electronic cigarette “vaping” devices to minors and prohibiting minors from possessing such devices.
  • Council members approved a ban on parking from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. on the west side of Church Street from West Center Street to West Forest Avenue. Area residents have complained of noise and littering in the area after bar time.
  • The council approved a bid of $38,689 from F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing to replace the roof of Building 200 at the wastewater treatment plant.


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After fire, cat shelter near reopening

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