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In this undated photo provided by the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Dummerstorf, Germany in September 2021, a calf enters an astroturf-covered pen nicknamed "MooLoo” to urinate. The scientists, mimicking the process of putting a toddler on the potty until he or she has to go, put the cows in and waited until they urinated and then gave them a reward: a super sweet liquid of mostly molasses. (Thomas Häntzschel/FBN via AP)


Fort_atkinson
Fort council OKs Banker Road neighborhood plan concepts

A planned new neighborhood on the City of Fort Atkinson’s northwest side has taken another step forward.

The Banker Road Neighborhood Plan set of concepts was approved unanimously by the Fort Atkinson City Council last Tuesday, and staff were authorized to develop and issue a request for proposals for interested developers.

City Manager Rebecca Houseman LeMire said that in April, the city contracted with Vandewalle & Associates, Inc., Madison, to create a concept neighborhood plan for the city-owned parcels along Banker Road, located east of the high school and south of Hoard Road.

At that time, council members approved funding of not-to-exceed $28,870 through the city’s contingency fund account to pay for the services.

The City of Fort Atkinson owns three parcels of land — previously located in the Town of Koshkonong and annexed into the city earlier this year — totaling about 75 acres of land.

“The city purchased this land in 2018 with the intent of developing it for residential purposes,” LeMire said.

When the land was purchased, she said, the city also purchased a set of engineering and subdivision plans from the previous developer, whose development fell through.

Since that time, the city engaged Vandewalle & Associates to assist in creating a new comprehensive land use plan in 2019 and a new zoning ordinance the following year.

This past April, she said, the firm was hired to work with staff to create concept plans for a new and diverse neighborhood along Banker Road.

“We extended an invitation to the city’s management team, asking anyone interested to serve on an ad-hoc planning team to support the process,” LeMire said.

The following individuals, she said, volunteered to work with Vandewalle to develop the concept neighborhood plans: Rebecca LeMire, city manager; Andy Selle, city engineer; Brian Juarez, building inspector/zoning administrator; Merrilee Lee, Hoard Historical Museum director; Brooke Franseen, Parks & Recreation director; Tim Hayden, Water Utility supervisor; and Tom Williamson, Public Works superintendent.

“The group represents a cross-section of the management team and brings a diversity of professional experiences and personal perspectives to the planning process,” LeMire said. “Elona Bartnick and Brian Munson from Vandewalle met with members of this planning team several times throughout the summer to gather input and data.

“We met on site in Fort Atkinson and toured a planned neighborhood in Madison to understand what this type of neighborhood may look like when it is built out,” she added. “Vandewalle staff provided draft concepts, which were reviewed by the planning team with feedback given.”

The city’s plan commission then reviewed and approved the neighborhood concept plan documents at its Aug. 24 meeting, and the public also was able to view and comment on them. Commission members and the public had questions relating to water utility infrastructure, storm water management, and the trail corridor.

The city manager said the city will not act as the developer for these parcels. Following Tuesday’s council’s approval, city staff will now distribute the plans widely to local, regional and statewide developers.

“This future land use category (“planned neighborhood”) is intended to provide for a variety of housing choices and a carefully planned mix of non-residential uses consistent with the mainly residential character of the area,” LeMire said. “Overall, the composition, appearance, and pattern of development should promote neighborhoods that instill a sense of community with their design.”

The concept plan set, she said, is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan for this area.

The types of housing

The demand for a variety of housing types and styles in the city and across Southern Wisconsin has increased substantially, LeMire said, adding that the interest in residential development of this area by community groups and the public also has risen.

“The previous engineering and subdivision plans included large single-family lots, wide public rights-of-way and some multi-family residential buildings,” she said. “City staff (now) has been working with representatives from Vandewalle to review how these parcels can be developed efficiently, effectively, sustainably, and in an aesthetically-pleasing manner.”

The plans feature the following opportunities: Reconstruction and realignment of the current “Banker Road” right of way; the current Banker Road corridor will be reconstructed as a multi-use trail connecting the neighborhood and providing access to parkland and greenspace; wetlands and storm water areas used as water features, providing visual appeal; and a wide range of housing styles and types including single-family residences, duplexes, townhomes, traditional ally-style homes, and multi-family residential buildings.

Last Tuesday, Brian Munson, principal designer/neighborhood design project facilitator with Vandewalle, gave a presentation on the concept plans for the Banker Road parcels.

Vandewalle, he said, has been working with city staff throughout the summer and identifying opportunities to develop the property in support of the city’s goals.

“This is kind of a unique opportunity for the community to look at the site and understand how housing could be brought and developed on the site that both responds to the characteristics of the site as well as the market and community character around it,” Munson said.

Looking at the development potential for the Banker Road site, he said the wooded characteristic of the eastern portion and the slope of the property really dictate the street grid and housing outcomes.

“So there’s some opportunities to vary both type of housing that could be incorporated into the project as well as the intensity of the housing that could be incorporated into the project,” Munson said.

The east side, he said, has a significant amount of slope.

“Previous tree surveys did identify a few of the oak trees, but we know that within that woods there are many more oak trees that are potentially worthy of incorporating into the lots and preserving,” Munson pointed out.

And given that storm water management is a component of any development, he said roughly 8% of the site will be dedicated to ensuring that storm water is treated appropriately before it leaves the site.

The designer said there are two concepts within the final proposal.

“Going east to west, Banker Road becomes the divide down the middle,” Munson said. “And since we’re going to have to extend utilities into that road corridor and upgrade it to urban standards — widening it — we see that as an opportunity, potentially, to realign it and preserve more of the existing trees on site.”

He continued, “Preserve that character of the overhead canopy in the road, but return it as a trail, or part of a park space, so that it continues to have a public presence … but move the new road to the west where there’s an opportunity, then, to develop a grid of compatible housing with different housing types embedded within what’s kind of the flatter side of the site.”

A road grid on the west side, he said, will run north to south, offering housing opportunities spanning from mid-size single-family, some attached twin home products and town home multi-family dwellings closer to the high school.

“The eastern side, the street grid is much more constrained by the topography,” Munson said. “And so, again, you have some opportunities for not necessarily larger lots to facilitate larger houses, but larger lots that could facilitate more tree preservation in concert with potential development into housing opportunities.”

The goal of the project, he said, is to offer a variety of different housing types for people regardless of their immediate housing needs.

“Finding housing within the community continues to be a critical role within the community, and this site could deliver options that could be both entry level — move up, move down — rental, and owner-occupied housing,” Munson indicated, “all knit together in the fabric of a cohesive neighborhood.”

The final concept, he said, incorporates opportunities to explore some additional single-family formats.

“These would be served by a carriage lane or an alley, would be higher density detached single-family product, but again an opportunity to offer housing that doesn’t exist within the community and broaden housing opportunities within the community,” Munson said.

The principal then presented slides from the central southern Wisconsin market showing examples of the ways the architecture of houses helps knit the character of a neighborhood together.

“The type of architecture can be designed such that you can have different types of single-family homes, different price-points of single-family homes, interspersed with attached product and multi-family product in ways that create diverse neighborhoods with people of diverse backgrounds, but really continue to hold their value into the future,” Munson stated. “And the way to do that is to look at both the design of the neighborhood but also the design of the architecture down the line.”

In conversations with developers as the project progresses, he said the types of housing styles might shift slightly in either direction based on input.

“But we wanted to make sure and illustrate the full spectrum of housing options because it (concepts) is intended to be a guide,” Munson concluded. “The final design is intended to be a little bit flexible. We know the street grid would be more of a strong recommendation, but the lot size and the configuration and number of lots will flex a little bit as you move into that implementation stage.”


4 will circle Earth on 1st SpaceX private flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For the first time in 60 years of human spaceflight, a rocket is poised to blast into orbit with no professional astronauts on board, only four tourists.

SpaceX’s first private flight will be led by a 38-year-old entrepreneur who’s bankrolling the entire trip. He’s taking two sweepstakes winners with him on the three-day, round-the-world trip, along with a health care worker who survived childhood cancer.

They’ll ride alone in a fully automated Dragon capsule, the same kind that SpaceX uses to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA. But the chartered flight won’t be going there.

Set to launch Wednesday night from Kennedy Space Center, the two men and two women will soar 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the space station, aiming for an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers), just above the current position of the Hubble Space Telescope.

By contrast, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos briefly skimmed space during their short rides in July — Branson reached 53 miles (86 kilometers) while Bezos hit 66 miles up (106 kilometers).

As the private flight’s benefactor, Jared Isaacman, sees it: “This is the first step toward a world where everyday people can go and venture among the stars.”

A look at the spaceflight, dubbed Inspiration4:

BILLIONAIRE’S QUEST

Isaacman’s idea of fun is flying fighter jets and keeping up with the Air Force Thunderbirds. He quit high school and started his own payment-processing company, Shift4 Payments in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He segued into aviation, founding Draken International for tactical aircraft training. While he won’t divulge what he’s paying for the flight, Isaacman acknowledges the “worthwhile debates” over whether the wealthy should spend their fortunes fixing problems on Earth, versus sightseeing in space. But he contends investing in space now will lower costs in the future. “Because it’s so expensive, space has been the exclusive domain of world superpowers and the elite that they select,” he told The Associated Press last week. “It just shouldn’t stay that way.” When he announced the flight in February, he pledged $100 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and aims to raise another $100 million in donations.

LUCK OF THE DRAW

Isaacman offered one of the four capsule seats to St. Jude, which offered it to physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, a former patient who now works at the Memphis, Tennessee, hospital. Now 29, Arceneaux was 10 when diagnosed with bone cancer, and had much of her left thigh bone replaced with a titanium rod. She’ll be the first person in space with a prosthesis, proud to pave the way for “those who aren’t physically perfect.” She’ll also be the youngest American in space, beating the late Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space in 1983 at age 32. Contest winners claimed the final two seats. Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Arizona, and former geology instructor, beat out 200 other Shift4 Payments clients with her space-themed artwork business. Also a pilot, she was a NASA astronaut finalist more than a decade ago. Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer and former Air Force missileman from Everett, Washington, entered an open lottery by donating to St. Jude. He didn’t win, but a friend from his college days did and gave him the slot.

TRAINING LIKE ASTRONAUTS

It’s been a whirlwind since all four came together in March. They hiked up Washington’s Mount Rainier in the snow, sampled brief bursts of weightlessness aboard modified aircraft and took intense, rapid spins in fighter jets and centrifuges. “I know that my prosthesis can now handle 8 G’s of force,” Arceneaux told the AP. Her only compromise: SpaceX had to adjust her capsule seat to relieve pain in that knee. Although the capsule is fully automated, the four spent time in the SpaceX capsule simulator rehearsing launch, reentry and other critical operations. “We definitely had some Apollo 13-like simulation rides home where virtually everything was broken, and everybody made it back. So I think we passed all the tests,” Isaacson said. While acknowledging the risks, the four are impressed with SpaceX’s focus on safety and reusability. But Sembroski said his wife, a schoolteacher, will hold off celebrating until splashdown.

PRIVATE VERSUS NASA MISSION

This is SpaceX’s first private flight and the company is running the show — NASA isn’t involved. So SpaceX is providing its own facilities for private passengers to sleep, eat and hang out before launch, and to get into their white-with-black-trim flight suits. The leased launch pad used by SpaceX is the same one used by Apollo moonwalkers, shuttle astronauts and all three previous NASA crews. And at mission’s end, they’ll splash down off the Florida coast just like their predecessors. The pandemic is again limiting spectators: St. Jude is scaling back its launch delegation, with actor Marlo Thomas, whose father Danny Thomas, founded St. Jude, canceling her trip to Florida with husband, talk show host Phil Donahue.

THREE DAYS ALOFT

Isaacman and SpaceX settled on three days as the sweet spot for orbiting the Earth. It gives him and his fellow passengers plenty of time to take in the views through a custom bubble-shaped window, take blood samples and conduct other medical research, and drum up interest for auction items to benefit the hospital. While roomy for a capsule, the Dragon offers virtually no privacy; only a curtain shields the toilet. Unlike the space station and NASA’s old shuttles, there is no galley or sleeping compartments, or even separate work areas. As for food, they’ll chow down on cold pizza following liftoff. They’re also packing ready-to-eat, astronaut-style fare.

SPACE TOURISM ON THE RISE

Space tourism has never been hotter. Branson and Bezos rode their companies’ rockets into space to fulfill lifelong dreams but also advance ticket sales. Too busy to launch himself, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has two tourist flights to the space station coming up in the next year — the first as early as January — and also a private moonshot in the works. The businessmen shelling out $55 million apiece to fly SpaceX to the space station won’t be the first to pay their own way there.

While once opposed to space tourism, NASA is rooting for these newcomers. “I can’t wait for them to fly and fly safely and fly often,” said NASA’s commercial spaceflight director, Phil McAlister.


FDA experts among group opposing US booster shot plan

The average person doesn’t need a COVID-19 booster yet, an international group of scientists — including two top U.S. regulators — wrote Monday in a scientific journal.

The experts reviewed studies of the vaccines’ performance and concluded the shots are working well despite the extra-contagious delta variant, especially against severe disease.

“Even in populations with fairly high vaccination rates, the unvaccinated are still the major drivers of transmission” at this stage of the pandemic, they concluded.

The opinion piece, published in The Lancet, illustrates the intense scientific debate about who needs booster doses and when, a decision the U.S. and other countries are grappling with.

After revelations of political meddling in the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, President Joe Biden has promised to “follow the science.” But the review raises the question of whether his administration is moving faster than the experts.

The authors include two leading vaccine reviewers at the Food and Drug Administration, Drs. Phil Krause and Marion Gruber, who recently announced they will be stepping down this fall. Among the other 16 authors are leading vaccine researchers in the U.S., Britain, France, South Africa and India, plus scientists with the World Health Organization, which already has urged a moratorium on boosters until poor countries are better vaccinated.

In the U.S., the White House has begun planning for boosters later this month, if both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. Advisers to the FDA will weigh evidence about an extra Pfizer shot Friday at a key public meeting.

Georgetown University’s Larry Gostin said the paper “throws gasoline on the fire” in the debate about whether most Americans truly need boosters and whether the White House got ahead of scientists.

“It’s always a fundamental error of process to make a scientific announcement before the public health agencies have acted and that’s exactly what happened here,” said Gostin, a lawyer and public health specialist.

The FDA did not respond to requests for comment Monday morning.

The U.S. already offers an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to people with severely weakened immune systems.

For the general population, the debate is boiling down to whether boosters should be given even though the vaccines are still offering high protection against severe disease — possibly in hopes of blocking milder “breakthrough” infections among the fully vaccinated.

Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new data showed that as delta surged, the unvaccinated were 4.5 times more likely than the fully vaccinated to get infected, over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die. Still, government scientists are also weighing hints that protection is waning among older adults who were vaccinated early last winter.

The writers of Monday’s commentary reported reviewing worldwide studies since delta began surging, mostly of U.S. and European vaccines. The team concluded “none of these studies has provided credible evidence of substantially declining protection against severe disease.”

Because the body builds layers of immunity, gradual drops in antibody levels don’t necessarily mean overall effectiveness is dropping “and reductions in vaccine efficacy against mild disease do not necessarily predict reductions in the (typically higher) efficacy against severe disease,” they wrote.

The more the virus spreads, the more opportunity it has to evolve into strains that could escape current vaccines. The Lancet reviewers suggest there could be bigger gains from creating booster doses that better match circulating variants, much like flu vaccine is regularly updated, than from just giving extra doses of the original vaccine.

“There is an opportunity now to study variant-based boosters before there is widespread need for them,” the scientists wrote.


Jefferson_county_area
Tax rate may decrease as county finance committee tackles budget

JEFFERSON — It’s early in the ballgame, but as it was proposed on the first day of finance committee budget hearings in Jefferson County for 2022 Monday, it appears that taxpayers could see a 21-cent decrease in their tax rate per $1,000 of equalized valuation from the current year.

In November of 2020, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a countywide tax levy of $29,051,683 for 2021, which brought with it a tax rate of $3.73. In 2020, the countywide levy was $28,045,222 with a general operations tax rate of $3.80. The levy as it is proposed for 2022 would be $29,292,371, an increase of $240,688.

Among the major reasons for the proposed decrease in the tax rate has been an increase in the equalized valuation of property in the county.

Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier reminded finance committee members that this is the ninth budgeting process he has been involved with in his almost decade-long tenure with the county. Wehmeier said it was hard for him to believe it’s been that long.

One thing county department heads and others in the budgeting process for the county have working in their favor that past administrations may not have had, is they get started earlier in the year. They are also known for negotiating and trying hard to cooperate, and this has led to less controversial and abrasive budgeting hearings each September, because most sticking points have been worked out earlier.

In providing his annual overview of the coming year’s budget Monday morning, Wehmeier began by offering his thoughts on how the county might view its budget development and what factors enter into it.

“Why do we do the work we do and why don’t we do certain work?” He asked. “Who do we serve? How do we serve? What has changed? What are trends? What are the outcomes we wish to achieve and who do we want to be?”

He said these are important policy questions that allow the county to build a business plan.

Wehmeier said the county has many stakeholders with whom it deals and each program serves somebody.

“And it’s important to remember who (the stakeholders) are,” Wehmeier said, adding it is important for budget-makers to find areas in which they can “flex and change” to keep abreast of trends that come to the county — especially in the age of COVID-19. He added that the needs of the human services department and its programming are ever-changing and require much flexibility on the part of managers and, in turn, budget makers.

As Wehmeier called the version of one year ago, the county budget as it is proposed for 2022 is, “a budget in transition.” He said there are great opportunities out there for the county economically, but also many challenges to keep things “sustainable.”

“We need to remain COVID-19 vigilant. We have to have an ongoing recovery. How do we prepare for recovery operations?” He said.

Getting into the nuts and bolts of the budget, Wehmeier said state shared revenues to the county will again remain at status-quo. He said he did not believe they have increased in the nine years he has been working on the Jefferson County budget.

The county’s interest on property taxes it is owed continues to shrink, but Wehmeier said that is good in the big scheme of things.

“It means that people can afford to pay their taxes,” he said.

Contingency plans and insurances look sufficient, according to county officials, as the unknowns of the pandemic and increased threat to cyber security rear their heads.

Wehmeier said local governments are being increasingly viewed as prime targets for hackers and the county is continually working to shore up defenses against these threats. Finance Director Marc DeVries added local governments are viewed as softer targets for cyber hackers than are private sector businesses.

“Governments are perceived to have deeper pockets,” he said as the discussion turned to how the county and other governments might have to pay substantially in the future for insurance against cyber attacks.

“We hire people to try to get into our systems,” Wehmeier said, addressing testing the county performs. “I’m not afraid of saying that.”

Amy Rinard of the finance committee pointed out that it is difficult to quantify just how devastating a cyber attack on the county would be and Wehmeier said it is getting more expensive every day to find protection against these potentially devastating intrusions.

Discussing county investments, DeVries said the county is investing more in short-term options with lower yields, but this keeps finances more available for when the market opens up to better investment opportunities.

One of the proposed budget items that could draw the public’s attention is one to substantially increase compensation for county board members.

The executive committee made a recommendation for increases in board members’ monthly salaries from $55 to $110. Per diems could increase from $55 to $65. The impact of this for 2022 would be about $25,000, with an annual total increase of $34,000. These changes, if approved, would have to take effect after elections.

Conor Nelan of the finance committee and county board, and Rinard, said these are all reasonable increases in compensation and would more fairly pay future supervisors. Finance committee members said that no one serves on the board for the money. They made it clear that it is a job they do because they care about the communities of Jefferson County and their constituents.

Discussing countywide personnel adjustments, Wehmeier said labor markets are shifting quickly and the county is not immune. He said it is impacted by this at every level and attention is being paid to staff retention and recruitment.

There is a 9.9% increase in insurance proposed for employees, with staffers paying an additional 1% of premium, a slight reduction in HSA contribution and other growing challenges.

Small staffing additions are planned in departments including the treatment courts. Proposed is the creation of a facilities director position for all buildings, addition of a legal assistant and Assistant District Attorney for one year with funding, addition of an intern in economic development, a management information systems “help desk” staff member, parks staff, a sheriff’s dispatcher, UW-Extension intern, veteran’s service officer benefits specialist and zoning department intern.

In the health department, a few key positions are expected to be changing hands with retirements and the county is keeping an eye on how those people might be replaced. There could be the addition of LPNs, as well. Changes are slated for the human services department in terms of its staffing.

Operational capital for the highway department will include trucks and plow equipment costing $2.075 million, specialty trucks at $350,000, support equipment at $250,000 and small trucks at $250,000. Sheriff’s department vehicles could cost $327,220.

In 2022, County Highway A is scheduled for rehabilitation work from State Highway 106 to Lake Mills. County Highway S is also scheduled for work from County Highway A to Highway B. The cost of the Highway A project is $3.2 million and the work on Highway S is budgeted at $1 million. Work on both includes resurfacing.

Following board study and a public hearing in October, the Jefferson County budget is traditionally approved in November each year.


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