Bielanski joins UNG staff

Jacob Bielanski has joined the staff of Unified Newspaper Group.

The Wisconsin native comes to UNG from New Orleans, where he reported for the St. Charles Herald-Guide weekly and The Times-Picayune.

Bielanski’s position is a new one for UNG, created to add to our coverage of Fitchburg for our year-old Fitchburg Star publication. He will fill a variety of roles in our newsroom and will assist with the reporting and production for all of UNG’s publications – the Star, Oregon Observer, Verona Press and Stoughton Courier Hub.

Prior to moving to Louisiana, Bielanski, a 2012 University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, operated as a freelance journalist, reporting for BRAVA and Madison magazines, among others. He will be moving back to Madison with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, where he hopes to rekindle his love for brewing beer. 

Bielanski said tentative plans have been made to keep chickens.


Observer wins six WNA awards

The Oregon Observer won six awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s convention last week, including four first-place honors.

The Observer took both first and third place in the highly competitive feature category, with Scott Girard’s story about a gay couple’s marriage during the change in law, while Anthony Iozzo took first place in sports page design and Iozzo and Jeremy Jones won the sports pages category. Bill Livick’s business coverage took first place. 

Scott De Laruelle also took second in reporting on local education. He was also second in a different circulation category for the Stoughton Courier Hub, a sister publication within Unified Newspaper Group. 


TIF sought for N. Main project

Two prominent local businessmen asked the Village Board for $80,000 in taxpayer assistance Monday to help them build a new two-story structure on a vacant lot in downtown Oregon.

Jeff Groenier and Mark Mortensen recently purchased the lot at 120 N. Main St. next to the Firefly Coffeehouse. They hope to construct a 4,000-square-foot building with 2,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground level and two 1,000-square-foot apartments above.

They made a formal request Monday for the tax-increment financing, and the board later discussed it in a closed session. TIF is a form of taxpayer assistance that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects. It combines revenues from all taxing jurisdictions on projects that would not exist “but for” the use of the TIF.

The business would be located in an existing downtown TIF district that can remain open until 2032. 


Street work cost: half of estimate

Significant street repairs scheduled to take place this summer on the village’s northwest side will cost about half as much as village officials had anticipated.

The Village Board on Monday awarded a contract to Payne and Dolan for street work on West Netherwood, West Richards, and Braun roads and Market Street. The board accepted the company’s bid of $218,659 for the project – barely more than half the estimate of $431,892.

The money to pay for the work is mostly coming from the village’s tax-increment financing district, TID 2. It also includes the $117,205 cost to repair West Netherwood Road, which is not in the TIF district but will be covered by Lycon Inc.

TIF gathers property taxes from all overlying jurisdictions, including schools, to facilitate development that would not have otherwise occurred.


Two homes damaged in separate fires

Two homes in the Town of Oregon were damaged recently in separate fires.

No injuries were reported in either fire, which happened Jan. 28 and Feb. 3.

The first fire was reported in the afternoon by a neighbor along Sugar Hill Road, according to a news release from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.

“The 911 call originated from a concerned neighbor who  noticed smoke and flames emanating from the residence,” Sgt. Ira Simpson said in the news release. “The fire is believed to have originated in the rear of the home, and is not believed to be suspicious at this time.”

None of the residents were home at the time, however, several pets were killed in the fire. The home was considered a total loss with a damage estimate of around $225,000.

Oregon, Stoughton, Verona, McFarland and Belleville Fire Departments responded to the fire.


Commission approves pump house improvements

Rendering by Lundgren Sign Service. The pump house will get a new sign advertising the Oregon Welcome Center.

The restoration and improvement of the Oregon Pump House will continue after several additions to the property were approved last week by the Village of Oregon Plan Commission.

The commission approved plans to install outdoor lights on the building, as well as a new sign.

Energy-efficient gooseneck style lighting will be installed on the building’s roof and will illuminate the front of the building. The gooseneck-style lights are similar to other buildings downtown, including Peaceful Heart books and gifts and Firefly Coffeehouse. The lights will be either red or black, village documents show.

The building will also get a new sign advertising the Oregon Welcome Center. The two-sided, 3-foot-by-5-foot sign will be installed along Janesville Street. The sign is designed by Lundgren Sign Service and will be surrounded by decorative plantings.


Officer hurt in struggle with woman

An Oregon police officer checking on the welfare of a 22-year-old Oregon woman ended up with a cut hand after a Feb. 3 struggle at her home.

The woman, Danielle Rago, has been charged with felony resisting an officer causing substantial bodily harm to officer and attempted battery of an officer and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

The officer first responded to Rago’s home after finding a car in a ditch at the corner of Market and Braun Roads, according to a criminal complaint filed Feb. 6 in Dane County Circuit Court. While investigating the incident, he contacted Rago’s father, who told the officer the vehicle was owned by his daughter and registered to her boyfriend, according to the complaint.

The officer went to the woman’s residence, where he found her asleep and attempted to wake her up, the complaint said. 


Police appoint temporary lieutenant

Police Chief Dale Burke informed the Village Board Monday that he appointed Sgt. Dave Elsner to serve as acting lieutenant until a permanent replacement for the late Lt. Karey Clark is chosen.

Clark had been the Oregon Police Department’s second-in-command and died suddenly and unexpectedly Friday, Jan. 9.

Burke also told the board Monday that he would create a process for selecting a new lieutenant quickly so that the department has stability. He said that process has not yet been determined, but he hopes to have it in place by the end of the month and make the promotion by about the third week of March.

He told the Observer on Tuesday that four sergeants from within the department will seek the position: Dave Elsner, Brian Lehmann, Matt Wagner and Jennifer Pagenkopf.

Burke feels all are well qualified and said he has no reason to seek outside candidates.


Eastern snowmobile trails open

Map courtesy Dane County parks department. The eastern half of Dane County snowmobile trails opened Monday following the first major snowstorm of the winter this weekend. For a full larger map, visit

The eastern half of Dane County snowmobile trails opened Monday following the first major snowstorm of the winter this weekend.

The Dane County parks department announced the opening Monday, and said the western half of the county could open as early as Wednesday. “Spotty conditions” on the western trails led officials to keep the trails closed, but the snowfall that was forecasted Tuesday might have been enough to open them. The southwest quadrant was slated to open Feb. 4, but the northwest area remained closed.

The snowmobile trails in the Southeast and Northeast quadrants were opened, as well as Glacial Drumlin State Trail. The northeast section is bordered by Hwy. 51 on the west, while the southeast quadrant runs from Hwy. 14 east to the county line. The quadrants are bisected by Interstate 94. 


Two contested races in Town of Oregon spring election

Town of Oregon voters will have two contested local elections to vote on in April.

Incumbent Town Board Chairman Darryl Weber will face Town Sup. Wayne Ace to win his seat back. Two years ago, Weber won a coin toss to retain his seat after he and challenger Chris Johnson tied in the election.

Tom Wiedenbeck and Andy Blomstrom will both run for the Town Assessor position, as well. Blomstrom is the incumbent in that race.

Ace and Fred Clark, Jr., will also both run again for their supervisor seats unopposed and incumbent Gary Wackett will run again for the Constable position.

Others were nominated for town supervisor positions at the Jan. 17 town caucus, but refused the nomination.

The election will be April 7.