State News: High-Nitrate-Level Wells,Volunteer Firefighters, ETMs, Bart Starr Dies

Bill Would Offer Grants for High-Nitrate-Level Wells

Private wells account for about 25 percent of the drinking water for Wisconsin residents, and contamination of those water sources has been of growing concern for some time now. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) estimates that at least 10 percent of private wells in Wisconsin are contaminated with nitrate levels above the 10 parts per million recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nitrates typically enter groundwater from fertilizers and animal and human waste; high levels of nitrates have been tied to proximity to agricultural fields and depth to bedrock. Nitrates can disrupt the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and have been linked to “blue baby syndrome” in infants.

Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) introduced a bill to deal with nitrate-contaminated nitrates.

“We know it’s a huge problem,” Testin said. “Certain areas of the state are more susceptible … so districts like mine that are concentrated primarily in the Central Sands region where those wells are more susceptible to nitrate contamination just because of heavy ag use and other uses as well.”

The bill would create a $10 million pilot program housed within DHS that would give eligible homeowners up to $2,500 in grants for well testing, installing a filtration system or paying to repair or replace an existing well.

State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, co-sponsored the bill.

New Bill Would Boost Volunteer Firefighters, EMTs

A new bill would give a boost to volunteer firefighters and emergency responders across Wisconsin. More than 90 percent of Wisconsin’s fire departments are staffed mostly or entirely by volunteers, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. But as rural populations decline, that can leave some departments dangerously short-handed.

The problem is even more acute for emergency medical personnel, said Marc Cohen, executive director of the Wisconsin EMS Association.

In some rural parts of the state, Cohen said, communities can’t always guarantee a “legal crew” – two emergency medical technicians plus a driver – who are all ready to go when an emergency call comes in.

State Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) is one of the authors of a new bill that would offer tax credits to volunteer firefighters and emergency services personnel. The legislators unveiled the proposal, called the BRAVE Act, on May 21 in Madison.

“These are men and women who give up time with their families to be on call 24/7,” Testin said.

The bill would give volunteer firefighters and those providing emergency medical services a $300 tax credit in their first five years, and $600 per year for those who have volunteered for five years or more. Two additional tax credits would add as much as $900 toward the cost of training and equipment.

Honey Producers See Third Year of Declining Production

Wisconsin honey production fell for the third year in a row in 2018. The state produced 2.3 million pounds of honey last year, according to a report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s 23 percent less than in 2017.

Kent Pegorsch, president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association, said weather was the main reason honey production fell in 2018, starting with the snowstorm that hit many parts of the state in April.

“All of the plants were set back. And then when we did get weather, we either got too warm of weather and not enough rain, or too cool of weather and too much rain,” said Pegorsch, who owns Dancing Bear Honey in Waupaca. He said rain washes the nectar out of flowers, and it can take several days for plants to build up enough for bees to collect it.

Pegorsch said the tough weather conditions were consistent across most of the state, leading to the significant decline in honey production, but he said changes in agricultural practices have also had an impact on the industry over time. Increased pesticide use and a shift to larger fields with fewer fence rows have affected habitat for pollinators.

‘Ice Bowl’ Hero Bart Starr Dies

Legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr died May 26 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was 85 years old. Starr, who played for the Packers from 1956 to 1971, was the first quarterback in history to win five NFL championships. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

In a statement on the team website, Green Bay Packers historian Cliff Christl wrote that Starr was “maybe the most popular player in Packers history.”

Starr is known widely for one particular performance: in the NFL championship game that many call the most storied Packers victory.

It was New Year’s Eve 1967, and the temperature was 15 below; thus, the game was called the Ice Bowl. The Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys. With 16 seconds left, the Packers were down by three, and the ball was at the one-yard line.

Starr, who had not run a quarterback sneak all season, suggested to Packers Coach Vince Lombardi that it was time for one. So Starr ran across the end zone for a game-winning touchdown – and as Christl wrote, he will forever be remembered “for that frozen-in-time moment where he was lying face down under a pile of bodies in the south end zone of Lambeau Field, the hero of the Ice Bowl.”

Starr is one of only six Packers to have a jersey retired by the team.

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