Delegates prep for grassroots effortThe agenda is set and ready for the printer. Plans are well underway for the 23rd annual Superior Days slated for Feb. 26-27.
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
The agenda is set and ready for the printer.
Plans are well underway for the 23rd annual Superior Days slated for Feb. 26-27.
And a variety of issues ranging from a study for a potential expansion of U.S. Highway 2 to seeking open-mindedness as Murphy Oil U.S.A. contemplates a nearly seven-fold expansion of its Superior Refinery are high on the list of priorities.
Hundreds gathered Thursday night at the University of Wisconsin-Superior to learn more about the issues the delegation plans to present to state legislators and agencies during the two-day citizens lobbying effort in Madison. More than 215 people are expected to participate in the annual effort this year.
“What we do with Superior Days is often difficult to have agreement,” said Fariba Pendleton, community educator with UW-Extension and coordinator of the annual grassroots lobbying effort. Identifying the issues started in October when delegates tossed out of flurry of issues. A committee then met to determine what issues should be presented to state agencies, which should be dropped and which warrant the attention of the legislature.
When delegates head to Madison later this month, they will ask legislators to consider adopting Assembly Bill 566, more commonly known as “Leah’s Law.” The bill, named for Leah Gustafson, a Superior woman murdered in her home by a neighbor with a long history of violence, was introduced earlier this year. If adopted by the legislature, the law would mandate a violent offender registry similar to the state’s sex offender registry. Gustafson’s friends and family have worked for most of the two years since her death to create a registry in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Also on this year’s agenda is a plan to seek a stronger law concerning the transport and launching of a boat or other waterborne equipment that could carry aquatic invasive species. While the state currently has a law on the books, it only applies to very specific species and circumstances, said Tim Kane of UW-Extension.
New on the agenda this year — although talked about often with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in recent years — is a proposal that would make U.S. Highway 2 a four-lane highway across the northern Wisconsin. In the northernmost region of the state, U.S. Highway 53, which runs from Eau Claire to Superior, is the only four-lane highway. For the sake of safety and economic development, delegates are hoping to convince the state to conduct a study that could double the travels lanes between Superior and Ironwood, Mich.
Bayfield County Administrator Mark Abeles-Allison pointed out the parallels between U.S. Highway 2 proposal and the project that launched Superior Days 23 years ago, Highway 53. He said the goal right now the goals is a study that looks at the highway now and projects travel into 2030.
The proposal that prompted the most questions from delegates, however, is the potential expansion of Murphy Oil’s refinery in Superior. The proposal is still in the early stages as company officials work on an environmental impact statement. Completion is not anticipated for several months.
The proposed $6 billion expansion would be the largest private economic investment in Wisconsin’s history.
Refinery Manager Dave Podratz said the company isn’t looking for financing from the state — just open-mindedness as Murphy Oil develops its plans and seeks necessary permits. The goal of the effort is to inform legislators about the project, he said.
Currently, the company employs 154 people in the region, and spends $170 million on payroll and local services annually. The expansion could create up to 400 additional refinery jobs, and up to 4,000 construction jobs during the build out of the larger facility.
“There’s a lot of preliminary work that has to get done at this point,” Podratz said. “… This is just a potential project and I would like to stress that. I know there was a news report on TV earlier this week that perhaps led folks to believe that it was a little further along than it is. It is just a potential project.”
In addition, delegates plan to take the time to thank legislators for their support for the UWS academic building, slated to begin construction next year. After a few years of pitching the idea, it was one of several success stories from last year’s agenda. Others included increased funding for the State of Wisconsin Harbor Assistance Program, creating a coalition for Eco-Industrial Development and the elimination of a proposed 2.5 percent fee on gross receipts for petroleum sales from the state’s biennial budget.
“Senator Jauch, at the very beginning, said our goal is to raise awareness,” Abeles-Allison said. “It’s to make people in Madison aware of the challenges we have in Northern Wisconsin. We’re 335-plus miles away. It’s a different environment; it’s a different area … it’s very important that we stress the needs of our communities.”
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.