When James Churchill sees snowfalls like the kind Rock County’s had this winter, it makes him glad his trucking company no longer plows parking lots, side streets and driveways.
But his company, Churchill & Sons Trucking, is still in the winter game.
They’re the guys you only see when snowfall after snowfall has been plowed and raked in piles so high they begin to obscure large buildings and makes local parking lots start to look like the snow fjords of Rock County.
It’s then when Churchill’s trucking crews—one of several local contractors who handle snow removal—show up.
It’s a feat that’s different from the fleets of city trucks and pickups that are seen plowing snow and pushing it into piles during and right after snowfalls.
During some especially snowy winters, Churchill’s company tackles the job of scooping up those huge snow piles and loading them into trucks. It takes gravel trucks with plastic-lined beds and workers who are handy moving big end loader tractors around the often tight quarters of small parking lots.
This winter, the nearly 35 inches of snowfall Janesville has seen since December ranks in the top 10 snowfalls in recent record. And very little of it has melted so far.
That’s made the accumulated snow piles Churchill’s crews have come up against more formidable than normal. Some piles have become 15-foot monsters.
Some of those hills of white have partially frozen under their own weight and melt, only to be added to in girth and height by another deluge of several inches of snow that plow truck drivers scrape up and add on top while they’re tackling their own, seemingly never-ending job this winter.
Late last week, Churchill’s snow-removal team was mostly caught up with contracts it has with local businesses.
He was glad for that as he watched big snowdrifts shift in the wind like desert sands in the farm fields outside his family’s rural home Friday afternoon.
His drivers are balancing their work on snow patrol with another seemingly endless job—hauling loads of road salt on trips that this year have taken Churchill’s crews to load up in ports in Chicago and Milwaukee.
“I’m really hoping that’s a quiet week coming up with very little new snow. Because when there’s 20-below weather coming in, well, let’s just say that I want to be all caught up with this,” Churchill said.
Churchill said this winter has been a memorable one for snow, both because of the volume and the fact it’s all come in just a matter of four or five weeks.
The last winter that’s brought such a demand for snow removal work was 2011—a winter that packed an 18-inch snowfall in a single 24-hour period in early February.
In one big industrial lot Churchill’s snow crew tackled recently, the angular, 22-acre Morgan Corp. property off Highway 26 on the city’s far north end, it took the better part of two days and dozens of truckloads to clear the mountains of snow.
On a job like that, Churchill’s team has to break out a big gun: an 824K end loader with a 7-cubic-yard bucket normally used for scooping huge piles of gravel in a quarry.
Churchill said his company’s regular gravel dump trucks work fine to load out snow to other locations that are out of the way of local businesses. Actually, he said, there’s no snow he’s encountered that’s heavy enough to bog down a gravel truck.
But in the past, Churchill said he’s tangled with some jobs that pit several snow removal contractors at once against snows that cover huge, industrial lots that dominate big parts of the city’s south side.
Janesville’s General Motors plant is one job that stands out in Churchill’s mind. When the plant was still in operation, big snowfalls would heap across the massive lots and need to be plowed. That would generate piles nearly four stories tall, Churchill said.
“It was nothing for us to work down there at GM, hauling snow right around the clock for three and four days. I mean, it’d be our trucks, their trucks, farm trucks. Everybody’s trucks would haul all that down there. Snow piles 30 feet or 35 feet high,” Churchill said.
To Churchill, the child’s winter game of “king of the hill” doesn’t seem as popular as it once did. He doesn’t as often see children plying big winter snow piles raked up in commercial lots near residential neighborhoods.
But in the 1970s and 1980s, Churchill said he would often come across snow piles he was hired to remove to find networks of tunnels children had dug to make snow forts. Back then, he got in a habit of circling around the hills beforehand to make sure no kids were around.
“That was a big worry that you always had to check on,” he said.
This winter has brought an unusual windfall in snow removal work; it’s one contractors like Churchill can’t count on every year. Many years, it simply doesn’t snow enough or stick around long enough to create the same demand for removal.
This winter’s snow has been something of a godsend, though, as Churchill’s company has battled through the economic vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside so many other businesses.
“It’s been good to have this work. It’s been a good extra moneymaker this time. I think of it as just like putting the whipped cream and the cherry on top of the ice cream,” Churchill said.
Indeed. And as ice cream goes, it’s been a very, very large pile.
Ronald James Barta
Beverly Jeanne Benash-Gibson
Judy Ann Damson
Robert A. Dye Jr.
Raymond C. “Ray” Ellis
Gerald D. Gowman
June L. Jacobs
Randy “Pop Pop” Johnson
Margaret “Meg” Jung
Mark A. Mowbray
Jane (Chadwick) Nelson
David K. Robers
Joseph E. Stranglen
Clarence V. Tiffany
Gov. Tony Evers will propose legalizing recreational marijuana as part of the state budget he introduces this month—a plan that could generate $166 million in revenue that would be used to help fund rural schools and programs for marginalized communities.
The proposal from the Democratic governor is all but certain to be blocked by Republicans who control the state Legislature. But it is possible they will pursue a narrower path and allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Wisconsin is in a minority of states that have not legalized marijuana use in some form despite recent state polling showing more than half surveyed supported the idea. Thirty-six states have medical marijuana programs, including states bordering Wisconsin.
In 2018, 16 counties and two cities voted to support medical or recreational marijuana in referendums.
“Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin—just like we do already with alcohol—ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state,” Evers said in a statement.
Evers anticipates his plan would generate more than $165 million in the fiscal year that starts in the summer of 2022. About $70 million of that would be used to help rural schools and programs for communities that have been disproportionately affected by past marijuana enforcement and underserved groups of people like communities of color, women and veterans, according to the governor’s office.
Evers is latching onto a trend that has been growing across the country. Fifteen states have legalized recreational marijuana in recent years, including Illinois and Michigan. Overall, 36 states have legalized marijuana for some purpose.
As envisioned, Evers’ plan has virtually no chance of getting through the Legislature. Two years ago, he proposed allowing medical marijuana and decriminalizing recreational marijuana, but Republican lawmakers rejected those ideas.
But there are signs that support is growing for a medical marijuana program and a key roadblock to the idea—former Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald—has since left the Legislature for a seat in Congress.
Republican Sens. Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Kathy Bernier of Chippewa Falls in 2019 proposed a medical marijuana program that would license dispensaries of marijuana for anyone with a serious medical condition, like cancer, AIDS or post-traumatic stress disorder. Fitzgerald immediately rejected the idea.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester also is open to the idea. Vos recently said during a forum sponsored by WisPolitics.com that he supported legalizing medical marijuana but not recreational marijuana. He added that he wanted the issue to be addressed separately from the state budget, however.
A 2019 Marquette University Law School poll found 59% of Wisconsin voters supported legalizing recreational marijuana. Far more—83%—backed legalizing medical marijuana.
Evers will introduce his budget Feb. 16. Lawmakers will spend the next few months rewriting it before returning it to Evers for final approval. Evers has broad powers to veto portions of what they give him.
Under Evers’ plan, marijuana retailers and distributors would need to obtain permits from the state Department of Revenue. Marijuana producers and processors would need to get permits from both the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The agencies would test their products for potency and contaminants, including mold and pesticides. Marijuana businesses with 20 or more employees would be required to have labor agreements with unions.
Individuals would have to be 21 or older to purchase the drug for recreational purposes. They could buy it for medical purposes if they were 18 or older.
Wisconsinites could possess at most 2 ounces and six plants for personal use. Out-of-state residents could possess 0.25 ounces at most.
The criminal code for marijuana-related offenses would be changed because of legalization. Those convicted of past nonviolent offenses could attempt to revoke or reduce sentences under Evers’ plan. Driving under the influence of THC, the substance that causes marijuana’s high, would remain illegal.
The state would levy a 15% excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales and a 10% excise tax on retail sales. In addition, the existing sales tax would be charged for retail sales. The taxes would generate $165.8 million in the fiscal year that runs from July 2022 to June 2023, according to the governor’s office.
Those who use marijuana for medical purposes could, with a doctor’s approval, get a card from the Department of Revenue that would allow them to avoid the retail taxes.
A portion of the money the state generates—about $80 million in its first year—would be placed in a new fund meant to help rural schools as well as programs to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
In the first year, $35 million from the fund would go toward sparsity aid for small, rural school districts. The remaining $35 million would be given out as grants administered by the Department of Health Services, Department of Administration, Department of Children and Families and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
The program would begin as soon as the budget bill is signed, but the governor’s office expects it would take up to a year to become active.
When asked to describe Milton School District art teacher Devon Calvert, Sarah Stuckey returns to the same word again and again: leader.
“There’s a mark of a strong leader when he could just lead amongst his art department and other art teachers, which he certainly does, but he takes what he knows and he just shines when he’s helping others. He’s just a great teacher and a great leader,” said Stuckey, who is the principal at Consolidated Elementary School.
Calvert’s leadership qualities have gotten national notice. He recently was chosen as the director-elect of the elementary division for the National Art Education Association.
The association is an art teacher organization that provides resources such as grants and scholarships as well as a yearly convention and outreach community to help teach students. All art teachers can be members.
“They’re just kind of like the big figurehead that represents our teachers at the national level,” Calvert said.
Each state has its own art education association, and Calvert currently serves as Wisconsin’s elementary art education director. When he was named the national director for the elementary division, he said it took a minute for him to process.
“I was pretty psyched to say the least,” he said.
Some of his new responsibilities include finding regional directors, organizing the association’s annual convention, and selecting presentations and resources to share with art teachers.
Calvert said his new job is a unique one, and he hopes to be a sounding board for art teachers across the country.
“Most art teachers kind of are on an island within their district,” he said. “They’re the only ones in their buildings; they’re the only ones going through those experiences. Classroom teachers don’t always have the same hurdles that elementary art teachers, music teachers and phys ed teachers have.
“So I kind of view my role as being there to support elementary art educators, and make sure that they’re not alone on their island, and provide them with whatever it is that they need.”
Calvert has wanted to teach since middle school, but he originally pictured himself teaching social studies. After getting hooked on art in his later high school years, that creative side drew him to art education.
In a normal year, Calvert teaches art at both Consolidated and Harmony elementary schools.
This year, he is even busier. He currently teaches all district third-graders virtually, preparing a video lesson for them each week for their teachers to facilitate. But because Consolidated Elementary is smaller than other schools, Calvert teaches in person there, leading art lessons for kindergarten through third grade and also helping out with physical education and music classes.
“I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades this year,” he said.
Stuckey said Calvert’s willingness to wear different hats in an atypical year has set him apart.
”He really adapted beautifully to that new responsibility,” she said. “And really, since the planning kind of came together quickly, he didn’t even have a lot of notice on that. But his ability to be so collaborative and so open-minded has really helped him in that role.”
Stuckey said Calvert also took the lead when the district had to pivot to virtual learning last year amid COVID-19. He helped other teachers use the technology and post video lectures, she said.
“He’s a trailblazer when it comes to technology. I think that we would have been lost without him for both Harmony and Consolidated when it came to the need to switch to virtual learning,” Stuckey said.
She also pointed to Calvert’s ability to bring families into the fold. Calvert posts student artwork and updates to social media so parents can get involved, and he has set up a website that helps parents get their child’s artwork made into memorabilia, such as coffee mugs.
Although his new responsibilities will consume some free time and might open other opportunities, Calvert said he doesn’t plan to leave the district where he has worked for six years.
“That’s what people keep saying is, ‘You’re on to bigger and better things.’ But I love it here. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”