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Riverfront trail paving nears

A patchwork path that is concrete in some places, but crumbling asphalt and granite gravel in others, borders the Chippewa River in downtown Eau Claire.

The city’s longstanding goal to turn this quarter-mile stretch into a concrete path is coming closer to reality.

“It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time,” Councilwoman Kate Beaton said.

On Tuesday evening the council will vote on a contract to hire Haas Sons of Thorp to do the paving project for about $465,800.

The trail will span from Pablo Center at the Confluence to the Lake Street bridge, but completing the work this year will largely depend on the weather.

“We’re definitely going to get it started this year,” city engineer David Solberg said. “If the weather holds, we’d like to get the whole thing wrapped up.”

But if Eau Claire sees cold, wet weather in autumn — similar to conditions last year that caused delays for Haymarket Plaza — Solberg said part of the trail may be postponed until spring.

At the least, he’s hopeful the section of the trail from the downtown arts center to the Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge will be done before the snow flies.

In addition to the weather, Solberg said timing of late season projects also are determined by when contractors are able to complete other jobs they began earlier this year. The time frame for completing the riverfront trail hasn’t yet been set, Solberg said, and would be set at a meeting with the contractor after the contract is awarded.

The new riverfront trail will vary between 8-feet and 12-feet wide, according to bid documents. The width depends on how much land behind Graham Avenue buildings the city owns or has easements for a trail, Solberg said.

The contract also calls for metal railings along the trail and light poles.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann, who represents a district that includes Eau Claire’s downtown, said the new paved trail will improve public access to the city’s waterfront.

“One of the things it does is helps us continue to embrace our rivers and waterways,” he said.

Both Werthmann and Beaton said the new trail is just one piece of Eau Claire’s large trail network that residents use for recreation and transportation.

“This is one small project out of a larger project that adds a lot of value to our community,” Beaton said.

Racine Public Library adds part-time social worker

RACINE (AP) — Libraries aren’t just for books anymore; librarians have been called on to be more than just experts on the Dewey Decimal System. They have to do a lot more, taking on roles they didn’t expect to when they took the job.

Darcy Mohr, Racine Public Library’s head of adult and youth services, said RPL’s librarians “had been identifying needs in the community that they weren’t really trained to answer and to help people with: things like poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental illness. These are things that we were never trained for, in library school, to help people with.”

As libraries nationwide contend with patrons seeking refuge in the stacks because of poverty, drug addiction or mental illness, a growing number of institutions have social workers on staff.

Last month, the RPL added a part-time temporary social worker to the staff. If the trial run shows that the social worker, Carol Pagan, makes a positive difference in how the library provides services to the public, RPL may be added to the list of libraries with a full-time social worker.

Other regional libraries that employ full-time social workers include St. Paul the Addison and Evanston public libraries in suburban Chicago and at least two libraries in the city of Chicago.

According to the Whole Person Librarianship organization, an estimated 40-plus library systems nationwide are staffing full-time social workers. Dozens of other systems staff social workers part-time. These social workers are trained to help people experiencing a crisis, usually related to mental health issues, alcohol or drug abuse, and some medical emergencies.

These situations can overwhelm the RPL staff, which sometimes has a thousand visitors on a single weekday.

“Once in a while, we will have situations where someone will be in ‘crisis mode’ and the staff won’t necessarily have the training to know how to respond,” Mohr told The Journal Times of Racine. “As we meet monthly, they (the librarians) identify these things and say: ‘How do we do this? How do we handle this?’ And as I researched it, I realized that this was the direction libraries were going: Bringing social workers into the library.”

Firsthand knowledge

Pagan, 58, is a remote master’s student at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, and this internship is one of the final steps she has to complete before getting her degree in December. She will work 24 hours a week, primarily on evenings and weekends, until the end of the internship in February.

Despite only recently starting the internship, Pagan already has firsthand expertise in her field.

She moved here from Arizona in summer 2017, and has since worked with (and gotten help from) some of Racine’s leading charitable organizations, including Racine Vocational Ministries, the HOPES Center, the Hospitality Center, Ascension Health and the Women’s Resource Center.

Pagan said she is a survivor of domestic abuse and a recovering alcoholic. She says that her experiences will help her help others who may be experiencing crises similar to the ones she faced. She still lives at Bethany Apartments, which was founded by the Racine Dominicans and provides housing for women and children who survived domestic violence.

“I’ve had a rough life and I’ve overcome so much,” Pagan said of her goals while working at the library. “I can understand and relate to where a lot of individuals in Racine ... are coming from. It’s OK to need help and we can ask for help.”

She won’t provide long-term assistance or case management but rather can intervene in crisis scenarios and can connect people who need help with the organizations who can help them.

Pagan continued: “Some people are afraid to even ask the questions, or don’t know the questions to ask, to get the help that they need.”

Doing more

At the Racine Public Library, Mohr said the whole reference staff took a course about bringing social work service into libraries called Whole Person Librarianship, a six-week training that gives librarians some of the core knowledge that social workers (like Pagan) have studied and practiced for years.

“It really just got to the point,” Mohr said, “where the librarians said ‘We need a better way to help people.’ “

The decision to bring in a social worker didn’t happen overnight: The library staff gradually realized how ill-equipped they were to deal with certain situations, particularly those related to homelessness and drug abuse — things of which Pagan has firsthand knowledge.

It’s not just immediate crises that libraries have been called upon to do more than they were designed to do.

Last summer, the library made itself available to help people apply for housing vouchers.

This past spring, it also became an early voting location for the first time.

It’s also become a hub for group conversations about issues ranging from housing inequities to racial justice to retirement planning as community members and community leaders try to identify the causes, effects and potential solutions for problems plaguing the city.

Dorian lashes east Canada at hurricane force most of Sunday

TORONTO — The storm that already walloped the Virgin Islands, Bahamas and North Carolina lashed at far-eastern Canada with hurricane-force winds for much of Sunday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of people before beginning to weaken late in the day.

Dorian hit near the city of Halifax Saturday afternoon, ripping roofs off apartment buildings, toppling a huge construction crane and uprooting trees. There were no reported deaths in Canada, though the storm was blamed for at least 50 elsewhere along its path.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the post-tropical cyclone was centered about 65 miles west-southwest of St. Anthony, Newfoundland, in late afternoon Sunday. Its top sustained winds had slipped to 65 mph, below the 74 mph threshold of hurricane force. It was heading to the northeast, roughly up the St. Lawrence River, at 23 mph.

The track was taking take the storm near or over northwestern Newfoundland or eastern Labrador and then out over the North Atlantic by evening.

Nova Scotia officials asked people in the province to stay off the roads so crews could safety remove trees and debris and restore power.

The government said up to 700 Canadian troops would be fanning out across the Maritimes to help restore electricity, clear roadways and evacuate residents in flooded areas

Nova Scotia Power Inc. chief executive Karen Hutt said over 400,000 Nova Scotia Power customers lost power at the peak of the storm and 50,000 had since been restored. About 80% of Nova Scotia’s homes and businesses were blacked out — the highest in the company’s history. Hutt said some customers could remain without service for days.

On Prince Edward Island, about 75% of homes and businesses had no electricity by Sunday afternoon, according to the province’s Public Safety Department.

Widespread blackouts affecting up to 80,000 NB Power customers were reported in southern New Brunswick.

By far the greatest devastation caused by the storm was in the Bahamas, where Dorian struck a week ago as a Category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds and then hovered just offshore for more than a day and a half, obliterating thousands of homes.

Planes, cruise ships and yachts were evacuating people from the Abaco Islands and officials were trying to reach areas still isolated by flooding and debris.

The country’s National Emergency Management Agency said it was sending in extra staff because operations had been hampered by the storm’s impact on local workers.

The agency said it was setting up shelters or temporary housing for the newly homeless across the islands and appealed for Bahamians to take in storm victims.

Health Minister Duane Sands said Sunday the death toll had risen by one to 44. Dorian was blamed for five deaths in the U.S. Southeast and one in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, floodwaters were receding from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, leaving behind a muddy trail of destruction. The storm’s worst damage in the U.S. appeared to be on Ocracoke Island, which even in good weather is accessible only by boat or air and is popular with tourists for its undeveloped beaches.

Residents who waited out the storm described strong winds followed by a wall of water that flooded the first floors of many homes and forced some to await rescue from their attics.

“We’re used to cleaning up dead limbs and trash that’s floating around,” said Ocracoke business owner Philip Howard said Saturday. “But now it’s everything: picnic tables, doors, lumber that’s been floating around.”

Gov. Roy Cooper said about 800 people had remained on the island to wait out Dorian, which made landfall Friday morning over the Outer Banks as a far weaker storm than the monster that devastated the Bahamas.

The governor said officials were aware of no serious injuries on the Outer Banks from the storm. About 200 people were in shelters and 45,000 without power Saturday, according to the governor’s office. Emergency officials transported fuel trucks, generators, food and water to Okracoke.

Dorian also lashed the eastern tip of Maine with heavy rain, strong winds and high surf as the storm passed offshore. Several hundred homes and businesses lost power.