TUE AM News: Paper Council-led coalition is finalist in U.S. EDA challenge; Case numbers continue to surge, straining hospital capacity in Wisconsin

— A coalition of industry, academic and government organizations led by the Wisconsin Paper Council is one of 60 finalists in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. 

Each of the selected finalists will receive a $500,000 grant to continue developing their projects. According to a release from the federal agency, the contest’s next phase will provide up to $100 million per grantee to up to 30 regional coalitions to implement projects. 

The Paper Council-led coalition has submitted a proposal titled “A Wisconsin Forest Products Cluster: A Catalyst for Sustainable, Enduring Transformation” for a 35-county region in northern Wisconsin. The proposal includes projects such as building a research and development facility for paper and other forest products, creating new markets for maple wood and developing industry-specific training programs. 

The R&D facility is envisioned as the “convening institute for industry-innovation efforts,” including meeting spaces, equipment and staff conducting research on packaging, new markets for fiber, industry benchmarking and improving recycling. If this and the other projects laid out in the proposal are set in motion, the coalition estimates 2,500 new jobs and $2 billion in new economic output will be generated over the next decade. 

“Our region has the natural, physical, and human assets to outcompete rival regions globally and to shape and grow our share of the future forest products industry reinvention of a forest economy centered on environmental sustainability and equity,” the coalition wrote in its application. “To do so, our industry needs to pivot from a laser-focus on the efficient production of goods to innovate and invest in new products, processes, and capabilities.” 

Other partners include the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Mid-state Technical College, the Sustainable Resources Institute, UW-Stevens Point, the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. 

The coalition’s proposal document highlights potential sources of matching funding, including $5 million from private industry, $10 million from a Wisconsin Innovation Grant for which an application is in progress, $275,000 in land donation and $250,000 from the City of Stevens Point. 

The 60 finalists were chosen from 529 initial applicants. The deadline for the second phase of the contest is March 15, 2022. 

See the Wisconsin coalition’s application: https://eda.gov/files/arpa/build-back-better/finalists/concept-proposal-narrative/Wisconsin%20Paper%20Council.pdf 

See the EDA release announcing the finalists: https://eda.gov/news/press-releases/2021/12/13/build-back-better-regional-challenge-finalists.htm 

— Wisconsin’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases has risen to 3,457 cases per day, the Department of Health Services site shows. 

Driven by the dominant delta variant, the surge in cases is still ongoing, though the seven-day average remains below the recent peak of 3,825 cases per day on Dec. 3. The average had fallen to 3,050 cases per day on Dec. 8 before rebounding to its current level. 

At the same time, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 deaths has held at a higher level since the start of December, reaching 21 deaths per day at latest count. At least 9,381 people in the state have died from the virus, the DHS site shows. 

Rising case numbers continue to strain Wisconsin hospitals, with 72.6 percent of hospitals in the state with ICUs at peak capacity and 56.1 percent at overall peak capacity. The DHS site shows 93.2 percent of hospital beds and 96.7 percent of ICU beds were occupied as of Dec. 7, the latest date for which these figures are available. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association site shows 1,714 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 443 ICU patients. Both of those numbers have largely been rising since early November, with a particularly steep increase seen in the number of overall COVID-19 patients. 

Just 57 of the state’s 1,331 total ICU beds and 18 of Wisconsin’s 778 intermediate care beds are immediately available, the WHA dashboard shows. 

See the latest case numbers: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/cases.htm 

See the WHA site: https://www.wha.org/Covid-19Update 

— The La Crosse Lighthouse, the sixth peer-run respite in Wisconsin funded by DHS, is now open to those with mental health or substance abuse problems. 

These facilities connect individuals struggling with these challenges with advisors who have similar life experiences, to help them through times of increased stress or symptoms and avoid hospitalizations. 

With the opening of the La Crosse site, the state now has five peer-run respites that are open to any state residents. These include Iris Place in Appleton, Monarch House in Menomonie, Parachute House in Milwaukee and Solstice House in Madison. The R&R House in Pewaukee is exclusively for veterans. 

Since 2015, these facilities have been offering free stays to residents, including both one-on-one and group discussions and support. The respites also help connect people with relevant community resources. Guests aren’t required to do anything in particular, and are free to leave and return at will during their stay. 

According to a release, the La Crosse Lighthouse has space for four people to stay up to seven days each. Guests are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis and must arrange a stay ahead of time.

“These centers connect people with similar experiences and examples of successful recovery to one another, inspiring hope that people experiencing mental health and substance use concerns can and do recover,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

See more on Wisconsin’s peer-run respites: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/peer-services/peer-run-respites.htm 

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/dept-of-health-services-la-crosse-lighthouse-peer-run-respite-opens/ 

— The Port of Green Bay is on track to reach its annual target of moving 2 million tons of commodities. 

A release from Brown County Port & Resources Recovery shows cargo shipments for the port reached nearly 220,000 tons in November, boosting the year-to-date total to just under 1.8 million tons. That’s 9 percent higher than the total at this point last year. 

The increase was driven by “a strong month” for petroleum product imports, the release shows, as well as a large shipment of wood pulp. Dean Haen, Port of Green Bay director, says the 9,000-ton wood pulp shipment to KK Logistics was the largest of the shipping season. 

“That’s good to see along with the continuing good import numbers for limestone, foreign petroleum products and cement. We’ve also seen an increase in newer commodities,” Haen said in the release, pointing to ash and other carbon-based products as examples. 

The release shows domestic limestone imports so far this year are 18 percent higher than at the same point in 2020, while cement imports are up 3 percent over the same timeframe. The biggest increase by percentage was seen in imports of foreign petroleum products, with an increase of nearly 3,000 percent over last year’s comparable number. For this shipping season so far, 161 ships have visited the port, compared to 143 ships during the same period of last year. 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/brown-county-port-resources-recovery-port-of-green-bay-shipping-heads-into-final-weeks/ 

— The latest annual report on the Milwaukee River Basin shows the health of the region’s main waterways improved between 2019 and 2020 due to less runoff. 

Due to disruptions to spring monitoring because of last year’s stay-at-home orders, fewer data were collected in 2020. But the information that was collected shows less rainfall last year following two “record-breaking wet years.” 

“2020 was significantly drier than the previous two years, which both broke rainfall records in southeast Wisconsin,” said Cheryl Nenn, chair of the organizing committee for Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the organization that produces these reports. “Less rain means less runoff into area rivers, and water quality improved in every part of the Milwaukee River Basin except for the North Branch of the Milwaukee River.” 

While the group’s metrics for waterway health show improvement over the year, the report also highlights continuing challenges in three major areas: phosphorus, bacteria and conductivity. 

Phosphorus in waterways largely comes from fertilizers, sewage, manure, industrial sources and from “corrosion inhibitors” in drinking water meant to reduce leaching from lead pipes. Meanwhile, bacteria can come from some of the same sources, as well as others including wildlife and dogs. Conductivity relates to the concentration of charged particles such as nitrates and phosphates present in the water, which come from sewage, manure, fertilizer as well as road soalt and other de-icing materials used in the winter. 

Milwaukee Riverkeeper tracks pollutants like these through a network of volunteers that conduct water quality testing on a monthly basis, though its annual report also draws information from the Department of Natural Resources, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Ozaukee County and other sources. 

“Our rivers connect to Lake Michigan and form the lifeblood of our community,” Executive Director Jennifer Bolger Breceda said in the release. “These beautiful and critical waterways run throughout the greater Milwaukee area and provide drinking water to millions of people, recreational opportunities improving our quality of life, and economic benefits.” 

See the full report here: https://milwaukeeriverkeeper.org/2020-milwaukee-river-basin-report-card/ 

See the release: 


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<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

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