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Eau Claire City Council votes against $6 million bridge rehab project
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EAU CLAIRE — A historic 90-year-old downtown Eau Claire bridge is now on a course for full replacement in its future instead of undergoing an expensive rehabilitation project.

The City Council voted 9-2 against proceeding with a $6 million project this year to replace the deck and make significant repairs to arches on the Dewey Street bridge.

“As much as I would like to keep this bridge viable, it doesn’t make sense at this time,” Councilman David Klinkhammer said during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting.

The rehabilitation project would be expected to extend the bridge’s life by 40 to 50 years, according to interim City Manager David Solberg, who heads the city’s Engineering Division. A new bridge in its place would be expected to last 75 to 100 years.

“The existing bridge would have half the lifespan of a new bridge, but it would have the charming, elegant look of what’s been there since 1931,” Solberg said.

However, he then looked at the financial implications of a rehabilitation project that is close to the estimated cost to build an entirely new bridge.

“I think the economically responsible option is to replace it with a new bridge, although that historic bridge is one of a kind,” he said.

Costs of the rehabilitation project escalated significantly since the city received an estimate in mid-2015 that it would only cost a total of $2 million. When the city put the project out for bid recently it came back at $6 million, an increase Solberg attributed mostly to high inflation in the construction industry and complexity of the project.

On Tuesday the city was voting on whether it wanted to budget $3.46 million of its own funds for the bridge’s rehabilitation. The rest of the costs would be paid by a state Department of Transportation grant and $523,000 in bridge aid from Eau Claire County.

Voting against the city’s budget measure signaled to Solberg that he is now directed to begin planning to replace the bridge, he said.

Based on the time it would take to get a new grant from the state Department of Transportation for a bridge replacement project, he expects the earliest a new Dewey Street bridge would be built is 2026.

Estimating that construction costs will continue escalating at the same pace they have been, Solberg said a basic bridge would cost about $6.5 million in five years. Adding architectural features to make it look similar to what’s there now would add about $1 million to the project.

The city’s share of a new bridge’s cost is expected to be $3 million for a basic model or $4 million for the more elaborate version.

Councilman Jeremy Gragert sought more time to see if historic preservationists would want to weigh in with ideas on whether the current bridge should be rehabilitated.

“I do really like the idea of going ahead and saving this bridge,” he said.

He attempted to postpone a decision on Tuesday, but failed to get support from the majority of the council for a two-week delay.

A May 2015 report on the Dewey Street bridge classified it as “structurally deficient,” which means while it is still safe to use it is in need of significant repairs.

Other business

Also during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting:

• Satisfied with COVID-19 precautions the Eau Claire Marathon is putting in place for its new Bridge2Bridge races planned for May 1 and 2, the council voted 11-0 to grant a permit that lets the event use Phoenix Park, sidewalks and city trails.

• Ten residential alleyway improvement projects were approved by the council, scheduling them for construction this year. Another project — an alley south of Walnut Street, between Ninth and 11th streets — was unanimously voted down by the council in favor of repairing the surface currently there.

• Designs to create a roundabout at the intersection of North Oxford Avenue and Platt Street will undergo revisions and return for a public hearing on Feb. 8 before a vote the following day. The council decided to postpone a decision on that project, but approved other roadwork planned this summer in the Cannery District.

• Voters who live in wards 31 and 32, which are in a section of downtown and the East Side Hill neighborhood, will have a different polling place for next month’s primary election. Due to construction at the usual polling place, Spirit Lutheran Church, 1310 Main St., those voters will instead cast ballots at the Masonic Temple, 616 Graham Ave., on Feb. 16.

Teachers, grocery workers, inmates next in line for vaccine
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EAU CLAIRE — After announcing last week that people 65 and older are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the state health department said Tuesday that teachers, grocery store workers, some essential workers and other groups will be able to get the vaccine, tentatively starting March 1.

“These are difficult decisions and we do not take this decision lightly,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, of the state’s much-watched decision of which state residents next to prioritize.

After seniors, next in line will be about 600,000 Wisconsin residents. They are teachers and child care workers, people in Medicaid long-term programs, some public-facing essential workers, non-front-line health care workers, and residents and staff of congregate living settings.

The state detailed who will be eligible within those categories:

  • Teachers and child care workers: All staff in child care, public and private schools, virtual learning support and community learning center programs; all staff in Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs; all staff in preschool and Head Start through K-12 settings; and faculty and staff in higher education who have direct contact with students.
  • Some public-facing essential workers: Grocery store, gas station and convenience store workers; 911 operators; utility and communications infrastructure workers; public transit workers; food supply chain workers (including farm owners and other farm employees); food production workers; and people working in hunger relief.
  • Non-front-line health care workers: Essential health care workers who aren’t involved in direct patient care, but are essential for health system infrastructure, according to the state, including workers in public health, emergency management, cyber security, health care critical supply chain functions and support roles.
  • Residents and staff of congregate living settings: Incarcerated people in jails, prisons and mental health institutes; residents of employer-based housing; residents of housing for the elderly or people with disabilities; shelter residents; and transitional housing residents.
  • People in Medicaid long-term programs: Members of Family Care and Family Care Partnership and participants in IRIS will be eligible. Participants in Wisconsin’s Children’s Long-Term Support Waiver and Katie Beckett programs are also eligible if they meet age requirements for the vaccine (16 and older).

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said Tuesday that they’re putting teachers and the other groups next in line “due to an increased risk of exposure or vulnerability to COVID-19.”

State officials: We need more doses

The state is getting about 70,000 doses per week from the federal government. To get 80% of the state’s population vaccinated by the end of June, Wisconsin will need three times what it’s getting weekly now, Van Dijk said Tuesday in a call with reporters.

State officials have repeatedly said over the last month that Wisconsin needs more doses to speed up its distribution.

The state has been allocated about 846,000 doses, and has administered about 362,000 of those doses as of Tuesday.

In response to criticism about the discrepancy between those two numbers, Van Dijk has pointed to roughly 160,000 of the state’s doses that have been allocated to a federal program involving CVS and Walgreens. Another 168,000 doses are in transit to vaccinators around the state, according to DHS.

As of Tuesday, CVS and Walgreens facilities in Wisconsin have only distributed less than half — about 41,000 — of the doses they’ve been allocated, Van Dijk said; the pharmacies couldn’t begin vaccinating assisted living facilities until they had saved up enough doses in late January, she added.

The state is taking back some assisted living facilities from the pharmacy program, and will ask independent pharmacies and health departments to vaccinate them instead, Van Dijk said.

“To give a sense of our vaccinator capacity, last week … our vaccinators requested over double what we were able to give them,” Van Dijk said.

As of this week, front-line health care workers; people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; EMS, fire and police workers; and people 65 and older are able to schedule appointments to get the vaccine.

For the next group that includes teachers and some essential workers, March 1 is a tentative goal. The March time frame depends on vaccine supply from the federal government, according to DHS.

If the federal government ups its shipments of vaccine doses to Wisconsin, those groups may be eligible before March 1, and if shipments decrease, that goal may be moved back.

The state health department is aiming for March 1 because that’s when it expects to have vaccinated about 50% of the state’s 65-plus-year-old population, Van Dijk said.

“We won’t be done with people 65 and older on March 1, but we’ll be far enough along that we feel it would be likely, assuming a steady vaccine supply, to be reasonable to add others into the group,” she said Tuesday.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in a news release urged people to keep wearing masks and limiting gatherings with others.

“We’re going to keep getting shots in arms as quickly as possible and as soon we have vaccines available,” the governor said in a news release.

More details on vaccine eligibility and information on where to get vaccinated can be found at www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-about.htm.

Authorities: Man killed wife in bedroom with shotgun
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ALMA — A Nelson man shot and killed his wife in their bedroom over the weekend, authorities say.

Jonathan P. Medeiros, 38, was charged Tuesday in Buffalo County Court with a felony count of first-degree intentional homicide.

A $500,000 cash bail was set for Medeiros, who returns to court Feb. 5 for a preliminary hearing.

According to the criminal complaint:

Medeiros called Buffalo County sheriff’s dispatchers on Sunday to say that he shot his wife and she was dead.

Deputies arrived at the Medeiros residence and found Jolene Medeiros, 38, lying unresponsive on her right side in a bedroom. A cellphone was on the floor near her arms.

Jolene Medeiros was not breathing and had no pulse. EMTs arrived and determined she was deceased.

There was significant trauma to the lower portion of her face and what appeared to be a large exit wound on the back side of her head.

A hole in the wall near the woman was consistent with the size and shape of a 12-gauge slug.

There was also a significant amount of blood pooling on the floor beneath Jolene Medeiros’ head.

Authorities found a 12-gauge shotgun on the floor of the bedroom. There was still a shell in the chamber of the gun.

Deputies spoke with Jonathan Medeiros, who was at the residence. He was taken into custody after he said he shot his wife.

Deputies transported Medeiros to the Pepin County Jail and asked him what happened.

“I stood up out of bed, grabbed a shotgun, and (expletive) shot once,” Medeiros said. “She was screaming at me, going ape (expletive) screaming at me, and I shot again.”

At one point during the interview, Medeiros told deputies he was aiming at his wife’s chest.

While speaking with Medeiros, deputies could smell the odor of intoxicants coming from his breath.

If convicted, Medeiros could be sentenced to life in prison.