Ben Meyer

Special Topics Correspondent

Ben took the newly-created position of Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR in September of 2019.  He has a specific focus through his grant-funded position: reporting on water and water resources in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Through his on air and online reporting, Ben explores water as a necessity for life and as an identity for the region.

Prior to joining the WXPR team, Ben spent more than seven years serving in several roles at WJFW-TV in Rhinelander.

Originally from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Ben is a graduate of UW-Madison. He lives in Rhinelander with his fiancee, Erika.  Outside of work, Ben is an avid Brewers and Badgers fan.  He enjoys doing outdoor projects, running, and competing in triathlons.  Ben is also a WIAA basketball official and calls play-by-play for Rhinelander Hodags sports.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For Northwoods artists Mary Burns and Debbie Jircik, creating art is sometimes more than putting paint on canvas or throwing clay to be fired.

Instead, it’s pulling on waterproof boots, slogging into Northwoods bogs, and collecting large pails of water.

“We didn’t see anyone doing any of this kind of work, where they were actually going out in the field, collecting water from bogs and lakes, and comparing how…that affects those dyes,” Burns said.

Burns is from Mercer, and Jircik is from Eagle River.

Pixabay

Drivers on southbound Highway 51 near Tomahawk often feel like they’re driving on a washboard.

In the winter, a phenomenon called road tenting leads to a bumpy ride.

But the Wisconsin DOT is planning a major project to reconstruct the highway next year.

Road tenting occurs in the winter, when water seeps into cracks deep in the pavement structure.

Two snowmobile riders from southern Wisconsin died early Sunday morning after going into the water on Lake Nokomis in Oneida County.

The Oneida County’s Sheriff’s Office confirmed Kurtis Shernell, 27, of Hustisford and David Erdman, 31, of Hubertus died on scene.

The sheriff’s office got a 911 call at 3:09 a.m. Sunday morning.  Officers found three snowmobiles and their riders had gone into the water.  Austin Zillmer, 26, of Sussex was able to get out made the 911 call, but the other two riders died.

The riders were off any designated snowmobile trail.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Harry Resch still remembers every play of basketball games from more than 40 years ago.

Resch was Crandon’s boys basketball coach for 15 years in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.  He can still tell you how one of his guards drove into the lane, what kind of defense an opponent played, or his team’s scoring average for a given year.

He remembers packed gyms and conference championships, having won five in a seven-year stretch.

Resch’s teams were high-pressure and hot-shooting, averaging 88 points per game during one title season.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Gary Laguna’s keyring jingles often as he sorts through the right key to the right door.

He has to open them in a variety of places as the lead water operator in Hurley, Pence, and Iron Belt, three communities in Iron County.

With 18 years of experience, Laguna is in charge of ensuring a reliable flow of water to customers’ faucets and doing near-constant water quality testing.

While he plays a critical role in water customers’ lives, Laguna says many people don’t have a clear understanding of the workings of the systems he oversees.

National Audubon Society

A Wisconsin man could face a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for taking a bird in Vilas County, trading it across state lines, then trying to cover it up.

James Kitzman, 69, of Oak Creek pleaded guilty (Monday) in federal court in Madison.

He’s charged with illegally bartering a northern goshawk, a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.

In 2017, Kitzman took the bird from a nest in Vilas County and traded it to Edward Taylor of Michigan for a Finnish goshawk.

The two then agreed to cover up the transaction.

RITALKA

Three years ago, the village of Prentice got terrible news.

The Caterpillar company planned to shut down a forestry equipment plant there, endangering the jobs of about 200 people.

But a Minnesota-based RITALKA stepped in and bought the plant, saving many of the jobs.

“We know that in a rural setting like Prentice, it’s not just the Prentice town.  It’s a 30-, 40-mile, 45-mile radius around Prentice that you draw from,” said CEO Kevin Wald.

The plant is running steadily with about 75 employees.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A Rhinelander High School science class set out to create a PFAS water filter while competing in a national competition.

The class won’t advance in the contest, but it will still keep working on water quality.

Cheryl Esslinger’s Earth and Environmental Systems class was trying to design an effective, affordable filter for water.  Esslinger thought of the project after the contaminant was found in city water supplies this summer.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For part of the year, a gravel road reaches a remote piece of Vilas County land.

But in the winter, a mile-long snowshoe is the only way in.

Snow decorated an evergreen forest as Trisha Moore and Troy Walters reached their destination and greeted Bob Martini, who owns the 31 acres of wilderness northeast of Eagle River.

Forty years ago, he built an eight-sided cabin here by hand.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The City of Rhinelander injected tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater sludge into the ground above where two city wells were later located, according to the former director of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

This year, those wells were shut down after tests showed high levels of PFAS, a contaminant tied to health risks.

From 1988 to 1992, the city took sludge from its wastewater treatment plant and injected it into the ground at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, former airport director Joe Brauer said Friday.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Trig Solberg’s group plans to keep up the fight to pump water for bottling from near a rural lake in Vilas County.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the group’s attorney, John Houlihan, alerted Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal Nielsen that the matter will likely end up in his courtroom again.

“Please be advised that Carlin Club Properties intends to request this Court to again review this decision of the Board,” Houlihan wrote.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

People in Rhinelander and across the Northwoods want to know their water is clean, drinkable, and safe.

But that expectation has been muddied in the past year, with the discovery of elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Rhinelander’s municipal water supply.

The finding of PFAS, which has been linked to risk cancer, thyroid disease, and higher cholesterol, led Rhinelander to shut down two of its five city wells.

That’s left some people confused about where their water is coming from, how much is available, and if it’s safe.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The Wisconsin DNR is calling the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport a “responsible party” in the contamination of Rhinelander city water wells with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The DNR cited the airport’s storage and use of fire-fighting foam, which contains PFAS, in its determination.

Elevated levels of PFAS, which is linked to health risks like cancer, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol, were found in June in the city’s Well 7, which is located on airport property.

Pixabay

A Northwoods cancer survivor hopes to make medical marijuana legal in Wisconsin.

Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) is also a state lawmaker, and this week, she introduced a legalization plan.

“I had asked my oncologist how he felt about medical marijuana.  He basically said, ‘Mary, it’s one more tool in the toolbox.’  It may work for you, it might not work for me, it may work for John, it might not work for Sally.  But for those that it can help, with the conditions that they have, I feel we should let them utilize it,” Felzkowski said.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

On Tuesday, high school junior Mariah Freeman watched water drip through a filter she designed and constructed.

“We’re going to take the filter we’ve made, and we’re going to pour that water through it, and then retest the water in the new bottle,” Freeman explained.

Freeman and her classmates in Cheryl Esslinger’s Earth and Environmental Systems class at Rhinelander High School were simply trying to filter vinegar out of the water and balance its acidity.

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