WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: DOT finds cause of Green Bay bridge buckle
GREEN BAY - The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says it knows what caused the Leo Frigo Bridge in Green Bay to sag last week. An investigation found pilings on the bridge buckled due to corrosion.
A spokesman for the department says a combination of soil composition to the rise and fall of the water table caused the corrosion. Further inspections determined additional pilings could be affected by corrosion, but the bridge itself is “sound” and in no danger of collapsing. An investigation is expected to wrap-up next week. The bridge has been closed since last Wednesday, causing some congestion issues around Green Bay.
The Federal Highway Administration has approved emergency funding to fix the sagging Leo Frigo Interstate bridge over the Fox River in Green Bay. State DOT officials announced a preliminary cost estimate today of $50-million. Meanwhile, the support pier that sank about two-feet last week dropped another half-inch yesterday. The pier is of one of more than 50 which hold up the high-rise I-43 bridge. Officials said water corroded around the pier in question, and it appears to be the reason it sank. DOT spokesman Kim Rudat called the problem a "geo-technical issue," and officials do not believe the bridge is at risk of collapsing. Federal highway division administrator George Poirier said there was nothing the state could have done to prevent the damage -- and the bridge appeared to be in good shape before it sagged. It's been closed since the day the problem was discovered -- and it will stay closed until it's fixed.
Closure of the Leo Frigo Bridge in Green Bay is expected to slow down traffic for Sunday’s Packers game against the Detroit Lions. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says around 31,000 drivers use the bridge on game day. The bridge has been closed since September 25, investigators say corrosion on one of the pilings caused it to buckle and sag the bridge. WisDOT says Packers fans will need to take alternate routes. It’s also recommended to take extra time getting to and from the game.
World Dairy Expo is in its final two days in Madison. By the time the doors close tomorrow night, 72,000 people from 95 nations will have attended. Board president Mike Holschbach has been to all 47 annual expos. It started as a dairy-and-food show -- but as the years went on, the focus moved toward the dairy industry. Commercial exhibits were later added. Holschbach says an expansion of the show's Exhibition Hall put World Dairy Expo on the map. Two new pavilions will replace older dairy barns by the time next year's show rolls around. He says the international flavor depends on the world economy and other factors that are not in the expo's control. Holschbach says many foreign visitors spend the weeks before-and-after show visiting other dairy operations around Wisconsin and the U.S. Holschbach said the expo has received lots of help from the state and Dane County in its growth. He says they're all working together to make it better because quote, "If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward."
Wisconsin's dairy exports jumped by 22-percent last year, compared to 2011. State agriculture officials said producers sold $282-million in dairy-related items to other countries a year ago. A number of state-and-dairy leaders attending this week's World Dairy Expo in Madison say exports should keep rising, as international trade gets a higher profile. Mark Stephensen of the U-W Center for Dairy Profitability said it wasn't until 2007 that the dairy industry began to recognize its exporting possibilities. He tells the Wisconsin State Journal quote, "We're still learning." Jen Pino-Gallagher of the state ag department says Wisconsin cannot compete with coastal states like California, due to higher transportation costs from the Midwest. However, John Umhoefer of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association says Wisconsin can still compete by selling higher-quality specialty cheeses. The state Agriculture Department has fostered a growth in dairy exports by adding five positions to the agency's international trade team over the past couple of years.
A utility company is proposing a three-billion dollar plan to update power lines in Wisconsin. The American Transmission Company says the 10-year plan is based on engineering studies of the current system, finding potential performance problems in the future. The plan includes new high-voltage power lines and replacing older power poles throughout the eastern half of the state. State regulators will have to authorize the proposal. More information on the assessment can be found at www.atc10yearplan.com.
The federal government shutdown has forced the Wisconsin National Guard to postpone its monthly training for over ten-thousand soldiers and airmen across the state. Spokesman Major Paul Rickert says the training will be rescheduled once funding appropriations are approved in Washington D.C. The National Guard says while it’s unfortunate that federal funds covers a lot of what they do, they’re still available to respond in the event of a state of emergency. Over a thousand federal technicians with the National Guard have reportedly been furloughed during the shutdown.
The blame game's still in overtime in the nation's capital, as a congressional stand-off over health care keeps much of the federal government shut down. Today, the Labor Department said it could not release its highly-anticipated jobs report for September because its offices have been closed for four days. The national figures are generally a harbinger of what Wisconsin's unemployment picture will look like when it's announced later in the month. President Obama blames GOP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio for the shutdown, saying he's blocking a vote on a spending package without delays for Obama's Affordable Care Act. Boehner pointed at the president's people for quote, "steamrolling ahead" on Obamacare. U.S. House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse said his colleagues are being pressured by their leaders not to stray from their party lines. He's among almost 20 lawmakers of both parties calling for bi-partisan talks to end the standoff. Obama says no to that. In his words, "You don't get to demand some ransom in exchange for keeping the economy running."
Milwaukee's Hunger Task Force says hundreds-of-thousands of Wisconsinites could lose their food stamps next month, if the federal government shutdown drags on. In a statement, task force director Sherri Tussler said that 85,00 Food-Share recipients would not have their benefit cards swiped for November, if the shutdown is continuing on October 17th. If the government is closed on the 18th, 85,000 more Wisconsinites will not have their cards swiped for next month -- and so on. If the shutdown drags on all month, Tussler says 859,000 low-income people in the state would be frozen out of their Food-Share benefits. The program is funded by Washington but it's run by the state. State officials have not commented on Tussler's observation. She said the overall economy would also be hurt if food stamp recipients are cut off. That's because Wisconsin grocers get over $178-million a year in Food-Share purchases.
U.S. House Republican Sean Duffy of Weston was grabbed and screamed at by a stranger last night, as he was walking to the Capitol building to vote on legislation. He was not hurt. Duffy's office said today that he reported the incident to police, as required by House security. He did not want further action, and his office said he would not comment further. Duffy has been vocal about delaying the Affordable Care Act. He voted for a delay as part of a bill to keep the federal government. The Democrat-controlled Senate rejected the delay, so the new funding package was not approved and the federal government went into a partial shutdown on Tuesday. Duffy's office did not say whether the grabbing incident was related to the shutdown. He's a former prosecutor, lumberjack, and "Real World" reality TV star who's in his second term in the House.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse ROTC program is being forced to close, amid Army restructuring. The program is reportedly one of 13 across the nation that will close. Army and school officials say the closures are not related to budget cuts, but a “reduction in resources”. The Eagle Battalion serves over 50 students at UW-La Crosse and other regional Universities… the program is scheduled to close at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. School officials say they are devastated with the decision and will look to overturn the Army’s decision.
Wisconsin's latest Honor Flight forged on today, despite the government shutdown in Washington. Eight veterans of World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam boarded a plane in Milwaukee and headed to the nation's capital to see their respective national memorials. Nobody was on the grounds to answer their questions, but the sites remained open to veterans -- including the dwindling number of Wisconsinites who fought in World War Two. The Honor Flights take place at several locations around the Badger State, with the help of donations. They offer one-day round trips to the nation's capital, so our nation's older service personnel can see the national memorials and reflect on their experiences before they die. The veterans get rousing airport sendoffs on both ends of their trips. About 100 people were on hand for today's sendoff at Milwaukee's Mitchell International.
Wisconsin's largest nursing home would shut down, if the state grants permission. Kindred Transitional Care-and-Rehabilitation is located in the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield. In a statement, the company decided that the facility's size, design, and age is quote, "no longer consistent with the current consumer preferences and needs for today's health care delivery system." Kindred and its landlord both agreed that the nursing home needs to close. It has a license for 473 beds -- more than 200 more than any other Wisconsin nursing facility. The state must approve a relocation plan, and Kindred would then have to wait 120 additional days before getting the okay to shut down. The firm says it will work with state Health Services officials in creating a plan to move residents to other facilities with as little disruption as possible. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Kindred's Greenfield home had 37 violations of federal standards last year -- plus 44 more in 2011. The home also had 28 federal building safety violations. The statewide average is five.
Former State Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbostford resigned today from a high-paying bureaucratic job that he accepted only a month ago -- and another GOP lawmaker was named to take Suder's place. Governor Scott Walker appointed Representative Jeff Stone of Greendale to become the new Water Compliance and Consumer Affairs Administrator for the state Public Service Commission. Stone will leave the Legislature on October 14th after 15 years in office. Suder decided to leave state government to take a job with the private Wisconsin Paper Council. He took the job September third at a salary of $94,000 -- almost twice his former legislative salary. Suder has been under a cloud of controversy for a couple months. That's after it was learned that he convinced his GOP colleagues to budget a half-million dollars which was awarded in August to a politically-connected sportsmen's group. Walker threw out the grant after questions were raised about the United Sportsmen's tax status.
Former Milwaukee County Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch has asked a state appeals court to seal her records connected with a long-running John Doe investigation. Rindfleisch is appealing her misconduct conviction for illegally doing campaign work on taxpayers' time. Appellate Judge Patricia Curley has ordered Rindfleisch to submit e-mails and other documents, so the judge can rule on the matter. Before she can do that, though, a question must be answered as to whether the documents will be made public. The John Doe investigation has been ruled closed, after Rindfleisch and five other former aides and associates to Walker were convicted of offenses during Walker's days as the Milwaukee County executive. Her attorney said the e-mails included personal and family messages to-and-from Rindfleisch -- and they should not be considered fair game for public view. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has said it would file a request to disclose the documents if an effort was made to keep them secret. The paper says the public has a right to know what was investigated, now that the probe is closed.
Two state legislative committees heard eight hours of testimony today on whether Wisconsin should dump the Common Core academic standards it adopted three years ago. The Badger State was among the first to approve the voluntary national standards, which are designed to push for higher reading-and-math performance. Tea Party conservatives have asked for an investigation into the standards. The Wisconsin State Legislature responded by creating study committees in each house -- and they're held a joint hearing on the matter today at the Capitol. Those who favor scrapping the Common Core standards say the federal government is trying to take away local control and students' personal information. Some lawmakers said the Common Core requirements did not get much scrutiny when they were first approved. State public school superintendent Tony Evers has strongly defended the standards, and said it would be wrong to "pull the rug out" from students. To reinforce his points, Evers plans a news conference just before today's hearing with members of the School Administrators' Alliance.
A state committee was starting to hear testimony this afternoon on a bill to make it much harder to force schools to drop Indian nicknames and logos. The Assembly Government Operations and State Licensing Committee opened a public hearing during the noon hour. GOP Assemblymen Steve Nass of Whitewater and Dave Craig of Big Bend are sponsoring the new measure, along with Senate Republican Mary Lazich of New Berlin, all three from southeast Wisconsin. Schools would no longer have to approve that their Indian names don't discriminate. The bill leaves that up to the people who complain about those monikers. Also, petitions with the equivalent of 10-percent of a school's student population would have to be submitted for the state to consider making schools drop nicknames. Under the present 2009 law from Democrats, a complaint from just one person sets the process in motion. Also, the administration department would hear the complaints instead of the education agency. Schools that have been ordered to drop their Indian names would no longer have to do so if they still have them. Mukwonago recently defied a state order to drop its name, the "Indians." Representative Nass wanted to do away with the 2009 law altogether -- but he apparently couldn't get the votes for it, so he's backing the new measure.
A state legislative leader who has talked about his daughter's addiction to heroin is proposing four new bills to help fight a growing problem with the drug in Wisconsin. Republican Assembly Finance co-chairman John Nygren of Marinette wants more emergency personnel to have access to Narcan, the drug that can counter a heroin overdose. He also wants to make it easier to drop off narcotics in local disposal programs, and grant limited immunity for those who call 911 to report overdoses. Nygren's other bill would require those picking up narcotic prescriptions at pharmacies to show ID's. The lawmaker told reporters near Green Bay today that none of the four bills are "silver bullets." He says more measures are on the way -- including more treatment alternatives in rural areas. Recently, state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen began a statewide campaign to make people more aware of the growing use of heroin -- and its dangers. Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve said law enforcement cannot quote, "arrest its way out of the problem," and communities as a whole need to address the heroin problem with multi-faceted approaches.
A west-central Wisconsin man is due back in court October 14th, after he was charged with killing his father and burying the body outside the home where they lived. 20-year-old Lars Helgeson of Hixton is being held without bail in Jackson County on charges of first-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse, and vehicle theft. Prosecutors quoted Helgeson as saying he was the victim of physical and emotional distress by his father -- and he killed 57-year-old Brian Helgeson because he was quote, "just sick of all of it." According to prosecutors, the defendant followed his dad outside their house September 16th or 17th, shot him, then burned his body before burying it. A relative reported Brian Helgeson missing on September 23rd. Sheriff's officials said a tip led officers to a stolen vehicle near the Helgeson house -- and they reportedly saw Lars run away as they approached. He was taken into custody without incident.
The family of a woman who hanged herself in an Ozaukee County jail cell has filed a lawsuit, citing negligence in her case. Authorities found Sonia Mojican hanging in her cell on June 16, she died five days later at a local hospital. During her arrest, Mojican’s husband says he told the arresting officer that she attempted suicide three weeks earlier and she was in a state of “mental health crisis”. The suit, filed in Ozaukee County, was filed on behalf of her husband and child, seeking over 100-thousand dollars in damage. The suit is reportedly filed against Ozaukee County and Port Washington police.
A northeast Wisconsin couple is scheduled to enter pleas October 29th to almost two dozen felony charges for abusing and neglecting the man's young daughters. 33-year-old Shawn Paholke and 31-year-old Jennifer Fendryk, both of Suring, have been ordered to stand trial after they waived preliminary hearings. Oconto County prosecutors said the alleged abuse came to light when a social worker noticed that Paholke's five-year-old daughter was severely under-weight. The girl told investigators that she was locked in a dark bedroom, and was let out only to use the bathroom, exercise, and scrub a floor. Her seven-year-old sister said her father used zip-ties to hook her to a pole and discipline her. Paholke is charged with a dozen felony counts that include false imprisonment, reckless injury, causing mental harm, and abuse-and-neglect. Fendryk faces 11 similar counts.
A former Milwaukee police officer was sentenced today to 20 days in jail for his role in a series of strip-searches, in which fellow officers checked body cavities for drug evidence. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner said he was punishing Jacob Knight for quote, "not stepping up" when his colleagues performed the illegal searches. Knight resigned while his case was going through the courts. He avoided a felony record by striking a plea deal. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of illegally entering a body cavity. A felony misconduct charge was dropped. The judge also fined Knight 300-dollars, and told him to perform 60 hours of community service. The main instigator of the illegal searches, former officer Michael Vagnini, was sentenced to 26 months in prison, and was fired by Milwaukee Police. Over a dozen strip-search victims have filed civil rights' lawsuits against the city and a number of its police officers.
Health officials confirmed two new cases today of crypto-sporidiosis in Milwaukee's North Shore suburbs. That brings to 17 the number of confirmed cases since the outbreak was first reported last Friday. The main cause appears to be exposure to swimming pool water in Whitefish Bay. Health officials say they also expect an increase in cases from person-to-person contact. Authorities stress that drinking water supplies have had nothing to do with the current outbreak. Crypto remains a touchy subject in the Milwaukee area, 20 years after the parasite got into the city's water, killing 100 people and causing 400-thousand others to get sick. The U-S Centers for Disease Control says symptoms will generally last a week-or-two after exposure. The crypto-sporidium parasite is often spread by water or food. Officials say it can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, and dehydration.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra lost one-point-eight million dollars in its last fiscal year. Now, the group is looking for ways to sell more tickets and cut costs. Orchestra president Mark Niehaus tells the Journal Sentinel that deficits were avoided the past two years because the symphony was given large donations near the end of those terms. Niehaus says the organization is quote, "overly reliant on annual contributed income." He says the orchestra will not reduce its numbers of classical concerts -- and they're not looking at reducing musicians' contracts. One concern is that the symphony cannot book a lot of dates in December at the Marcus Center, because it's also used by Broadway touring shows, the Florentine Opera, and the Milwaukee Ballet. As a result, the orchestra goes to smaller capacity churches to perform its "Messiah" concerts around the holidays.
A rare October wave of thunderstorms will push through Wisconsin later today and tomorrow, as part of an unusually-intense system in the Midwest. No storm watches or warnings were posted in the Badger State as of mid-day. The National Weather Service says there's a slight chance for severe weather in southern Wisconsin with hail, high winds, pounding rains, and potential flooding. Forecasters say the biggest possibilities for severe weather is in the southwest third of the state, south of Mosinee and west of Orfordville and Pardeeville. Rain totals for today could range from three-fourths-of-an-inch in the Kenosha area to two-and-a-half inches in west central Wisconsin, the driest part of the state. One-to-two inches are possible elsewhere. Rain and storms are projected to continue tomorrow into Sunday, with high temperatures in the 60's today and tomorrow, dropping to the 50's on Sunday with blustery winds. Nebraska has already seen a tornado from the same storm system. Dangerous thunderstorms are being forecast as far south as Oklahoma. The storm dumped a foot of snow this morning in the Black Hills in western South Dakota.