Federal Funding Earmarked for Granary Project, Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Department

A $1.7 trillion Congressional spending package was on its way to Pres. Joe Biden’s desk Friday and in it contains $3.3 million for the Door County Granary project and $900,000 for the Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Department for a new pumper truck.

Nicole Matson, Door County Granary project manager, and Chris Hecht, Sister Bay-Liberty Grove fire chief, both used the same three words in different interviews to describe their reaction to the funding – “This is huge”.

“We’re so excited to keep revitalizing the West Waterfront,” said Matson, a member of the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation team that’s working to convert the 1901 Teweles and Brandeis grain elevator on Sturgeon Bay’s West Waterfront into a public cultural center and agricultural museum.

“This changes the whole outlook for multiple years for Sister Bay, Liberty Grove and our fire department,” said Hecht about the new pumper tanker the department will purchase to replace its existing 22-year-old rig.

The 4,155-page Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2023 passed the Senate Thursday, Dec. 22 with a 68-29 vote, and the House on Friday, Dec. 23, 225-201.

The legislation funds the federal government through most of 2023, includes $47 billion in new military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, money for natural disaster victims and a series of unrelated policies ranging from retirement savings incentives to driftnet fishing regulations, as reported by the Washington Post and Roll Call.

Then there’s the $255.7 million in congressionally directed spending for Wisconsin projects, and among those, the $4.2 million for the two projects in Door County. Baldwin, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, solicited input for the Wisconsin appropriations requests from public and nonprofit entities across the state. 

“I’m thrilled to have worked in a bipartisan way to deliver direct support from Washington to Wisconsin for projects that will make a real impact in Door County and across the state,” Baldwin said in an email to the Pulse. “This investment [in the Granary] for the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society will help revitalize a historic landmark so Wisconsinites and visitors alike can enjoy the space and learn about its rich history. I’m also proud to have delivered funding for the Sister Bay and Liberty Grove Fire Departments, to support our brave volunteer firefighters and keep the Door County community safer.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, voted against the bill, calling it “an abomination” in a statement following his Thursday vote.

“There is no way anyone had time to read all 4,155 pages, much less comprehend how the massive deficit spending and major policy element will negatively impact Americans,” he said.

All parts of Wisconsin received funding for projects. The Granary project received the largest allocation in Northeast Wisconsin.

This rendering shows what the Door County Granary will look like from the outside upon completion of the restoration into a public cultural center and agricultural museum. File rendering.

Matson said the Granary project’s executive director, Beth Renstrom, had applied with Baldwin’s office to be included in the spending bill by the time Matson joined the team in June. 

“It was kind of like a pipe dream at the time,” Matson said.

The $3.3 million will enable the completion of Phase I of the Granary project by next year, which would open to the public the first floor and a new addition (they have a contractual deadline with the City of Sturgeon Bay to do so by April 30, 2023). The final Phase II to follow would open the second floor and headhouse. Both phases are estimated at $6.3 million total, and fundraising efforts will continue, Matson said.

“We’ve had so many generous donors, raising almost $2 million to get us this far,” Matson said. “We’re so grateful for this help from the federal government and Sen. Baldwin’s office.” 

Hecht, too, expressed his gratitude for the funding, having applied for it with Baldwin’s office after Sister Bay’s former interim administrator, Diane Wessel, alerted him to the opportunity. He said the award saves the village and town from having to take on a large amount of debt – the total cost for the pumper will be about $1.1 million, he said – to buy a vital piece of equipment.

“It’s the first-out vehicle for pretty much anything that’s burning,” he said. “It’s our primary response vehicle.”

Northeast Wisconsin Projects Funded

Statewide, the bill gives $5 million to Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and $3.1 million to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, while also funding projects in all parts of Wisconsin.

The following projects are contained within the bill for Northeast Wisconsin:

  • Sturgeon Bay Historical Society: $3,300,000 for an agricultural museum and community gathering space at the Door County Granary. A rehabilitated Granary will further transform Sturgeon Bay’s waterfront.
  • Town of Peshtigo: $1,667,000 in funding to support installation of a new water line to provide residents living with PFAS contamination safe drinking water.
  • College of Menominee Nation: $1,425,000 for purchase, renovation, and service re-design of an administrative office building in the Neopit community on the Menominee Indian Reservation. This project is essential to begin to bring more direct educational services, economic and entrepreneurial support, workforce development, and other community outreach services to an underserved area of the reservation.
  • Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin: $1,326,000 to construct a new Menominee Tribal Clinic, as health needs of the community have outgrown capacity of the current facility.
  • Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh: $1 million towards reconstruction of a new community center, which will include additional classrooms and outside green space for the use of over 1,000 children each year for the county’s largest non-profit youth serving agency. The new construction will address the economic impact for the county at large by bringing as many low-income serving agencies together to work in the same facility to improve the upward mobility for low-income people. By combining services in one location, we will work to help those in poverty to increase their self-sufficiency.
  • Sister Bay & Liberty Grove Fire Department: $900,000 for a new fire apparatus for this volunteer fire department.
  • Army Corps of Engineers (Menominee River Deepening): $600,000 to continue a feasibility study of infrastructure improvements to Menominee Harbor in Marinette. This project will evaluate potential improvements important to the economic future of the region. The infrastructure improvements will benefit multiple harbor users.
  • Lakes Country Public Library: $500,000 to expand the library in Lakewood and upgrade technology to allow patrons access to fast, reliable, free broadband service.
  • Brown County: $100,000 in funding to support mental health outreach by creating additional staffing capacity to help underserved populations within the county access behavioral health services.

What Are Earmarks?

When the U.S. Senate passed the $1.7 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Act on Dec. 22, it had beaten back an attempt by conservatives during the amendment process to strip $9.8 billion in so-called earmarks – nearly all of it headed to states and localities. 

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced the amendment that would have eliminated all the earmarks – including the $255.7 million that had been included in the bill by Wisconsin’s other senator, Tammy Baldwin (D). Johnson was not successful; Baldwin was.

While arguing for his eventually failed amendment, Johnson said there were thousands of individual projects from both Democrats and Republicans.

“It is interesting to note on the Republican side, we actually have a conference resolution that we don’t support earmarks,” Johnson said, as reported by WisPolitics. “Well, we’re supporting over 4 billion dollars’ worth. Democrats are getting 5.4 billion dollars’ worth of earmarks. This is the gateway drug to the massive deficit spending, to the mortgaging of our children’s futures.”  

Those earmarks are considered Community Project Funding in the House and Congressionally Directed Spending in the Senate, and this is only the second year when Senate Appropriations Committee chair Patrick Leahy has restored the practice of Congressionally Directed Spending, according to the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations.

“Congressionally Directed Spending is an important and valuable way for each member to communicate their federal budget priorities for the fiscal year and advocate for programs that are important to their constituents and benefit their states,” according to the Senate Appropriations Committee website.

There are regulations, however, and this year, reforms are in place for the practice that include heightened transparency rules. For-profit entities are not eligible for funding, and members of the House and Senate must publish their requests on their website as well as submit financial disclosures that they do not have any financial interest in the items requested. 

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, whose district includes Door County, did not have any requests, and neither did U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has derided the earmarks as wasteful spending.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s list was long, and not nearly all of the requests were funded. You can find Baldwin’s Congressionally Directed Spending Requests for Fiscal Year 2023 at

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