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Cassian Adolescent Recovery and Wellness Center faces opposition

At Monday’s Cassian town hall meeting, the town board announced that the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council submitted their conditional use permit for their Adolescent Recovery and Wellness Center.

The center has become the center of controversy.

Between 2014 and 2021, there were 591 fatal drug overdoses in the northern region of Wisconsin.

While there are clinics that provide drug rehabilitation therapies, for many in the Northwoods the nearest in-patient center is in Wausau.

There are few facilities available, and even fewer for teenagers.

If you’re an Indigenous teen, getting culturally appropriate therapy was even harder.

That was, until the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council stepped in.

This is Bryan Bainbridge, President of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, or GLITC.

“You know, we're having to ship our kids you know, sometimes more than five hours away, because there's really no facility up really in the northern part of Wisconsin for our kids,” he explained.

Bainbridge says their new Adolescent Recovery and Wellness Center is actually 20 years in the making.

“Not only in Indian country, or the state of Wisconsin, opioid use, and methamphetamines have really gone rampant, you know, across the country. And it's affected our communities here, locally, in Wisconsin as well,” said Bainbridge.

The center will be a 36-bed residential facility designed to support Native American youth ages 13-17. It’s meant to treat children and teens who have substance use disorders or any co-occurring mental health conditions.

Services will be available to both Natives and non-Natives, although Native youth will be prioritized.

When her husband originally told her about the center, Angie Higgins Koch, a neighbor, was against it and she distributed flyers advertising the town board’s special meeting on the center.

A week before the meeting, she ran into Bryan Bainbridge, CEO of GLITC, on the property and had an hour-long conversation with him, discussing all her concerns.

“Brian was really, really gracious and very, very, very generous with his time,” she said.

She was particularly concerned about youth safety in rural areas, especially after two teens passed away after getting accidentally stranded in extreme cold last April.

“He was able to give me information that really made me feel better. So you know, at the state, I didn't really have any concerns about it,” said Higgins Koch.

In September, Cassian passed a resolutionopposing the construction of the center, and recently, neighboring Little Rice followed suit.

GLITC released a letter responding to the resolution.

Patty Francoeur is the town board chairperson for Cassian.

“And it has nothing to do with race. Can I say, people are not… I can’t control what people say, but from the town's perspective, this is entirely about what is right for the town of Cassian, the location and the transparency that has not been given back to the town as things have progressed,” said Francoeur.

She brought up concerns that property could transfer into sovereign tribal control.

“So any permitting that they approve, before they do building or anything, if they move it into tribal land, we have no authority over anything. They can then do whatever they want. Which I'm not saying yea or nay,” she said.

Bainbridge said that their plans are clearly laid out in the conditional use permit.

“If it was discussed yesterday at the meeting, and someone still has that question, they obviously didn't read the document, or they didn't take the time to read it and review it,” said Bainbridge.

“The zoning administrator has even been on the record to say, ‘everything that is within the permit that was submitted, there is no reason why this cannot be approved. Because it follows all the rules, follows the law,’” he said.

Francoeur was frustrated by the ground blessing of the property.

“I guess more of the shock is the fact that they had a ground blessing going on with the governor attending and you know, without the town having any idea that this is how far it was already gone,” said Francoeur.

Bainbridge and town board members had numerous email correspondence beginning June 15, and Francoeur was invited to the ground blessing.

Another major concern is the center’s location. The town wants it along Highway 51 like other businesses for the sake of emergency response times.

Bainbridge says the center shouldn’t be off a major highway, because that’s not conducive to healing.

“There's 40 acres of land that we can develop this project on. And, you know, leaving the rest and maintain the integrity of the land, for the purpose of recovery and wellness? That's at the top of the list,” said Bainbridge.

Francoeur was concerned about the load limits on the roads near the center, but said that if it became a problem, cargo could be transported using multiple smaller vehicles as opposed to one large semi-truck.

In the town's resolution, they referenced a study that said that recovery centers drop property values, but GLITC pointed to other research that suggested there would be no change.

At Monday’s town hall meeting, Cassian residents expressed much opposition towards the project.

One resident said he was concerned that the first responder infrastructure in the area couldn’t handle the facility.

“So you take one big catastrophe, you take all of our local resources. Now, if there was another situation, I think we'd all be in trouble,” he said.

The Cassian Fire Department Chief was in attendance and responded, explaining that there was a system in place currently that mobilized multiple departments in a crisis and that people were protected.

GLITC and the town are planning a special town hall in a neutral location, but the time and date haven’t been determined yet.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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