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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State regulators to decide tomorrow pipeline expansion in western Wisconsin

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

State utility regulators could decide tomorrow whether a new natural gas pipeline can be installed to serve frac-sand mines in western Wisconsin.  The Public Service Commission is scheduled to have the final say on a plan by We Energies to put in a lateral pipeline from Eau Claire to Tomah.  

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Besides frac-sand mining, supporters say the project would help rural residents use the fuel to keep their homes warm in the winter -- as an alternative to propane which had major shortages this past winter.  The new gas pipeline would cost $150-to-170-million.  Presumably, We Energies would pay for it with the help of a proposed natural gas rate increase.  The utility has asked its statewide gas customers to pay 3.3 percent more both next year, and in 2016.  The group Clean Wisconsin says it has environmental concerns about the pipeline. It also says the pipeline might not be needed, because another company already has a pipeline in the region -- and it could be expanded if need be.

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It's a dry day in much of Wisconsin -- but folks up-and-down the state's western border are still sweating out flood warnings.  On the Saint Croix River, boat landing owner Gary Mau said his basement and garage could get flooded if the river crests even three-inches more than predicted.  At 10:15 this morning, the Saint Croix at Stillwater was about four-inches below its 87-foot flood stage.  That river could overflow its banks by midnight and not come down again until Monday morning.  It's enough of a concern for transportation officials to close the Stillwater Lift Bridge north of Hudson, until water levels drop significantly.  Major flood damage is still predicted on the Mississippi River at Hastings, Minnesota near Prescott.  Those waters are almost three-feet above their flood stage, and they won't start falling until Friday night.  The National Weather Service said minor floods are possible downstream on the Mississippi at Buffalo County, La Crosse, and Prairie du Chien.  Forecasters say scattered rain showers are in the statewide forecast through tonight, with a chance of thunderstorms each day at least into the weekend.

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A new state law appears to prevent Wisconsin storm victims from being victimized a second time by unscrupulous fly-by-night repair contractors.  The Wisconsin State Journal said the law was passed with the goal of protecting insurance companies.  But Sandy Chalmers of the state's Consumer Protection division says there are benefits for homeowners as well.  The bill is aimed at so-called "storm chasers" -- workers who descend on storm-damaged areas, promise quality repairs covered by insurance, and then leaving with their money even before they promise to begin their work.  Chalmers says consumers need to check out the reputations and performance records of the contractors they hire.  Under the new law, contractors cannot promise to pay any part of a homeowner's deductible -- and cannot negotiate with an insurer on a homeowner's behalf.  Customers can cancel their contracts within three business days of learning that an insurer has denied all-or-part of the payments for the work -- and contractors must tell consumers about that right.  Chalmers says the new law provides extra protections to both homeowners and their insurers.  

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A 12-year-old Waukesha girl is getting a lot better, after she was stabbed 19 times last month, allegedly by two friends who wanted to please the horror character Slender Man.  The victim's family said today that the youngster is still dealing with both physical and emotional challenges as she recovers at home.  And she's well enough to go see a movie with her father.  The two 12-year-old female defendants both face adult charges of attempted homicide after a May 30th incident that's been publicized worldwide.  They're due back in court a week from tomorrow. Attorneys for both are trying to get them transferred to juvenile court, where they have a better chance of getting treatment with a much shorter confinement period if they're convicted.  One of the girls was also given a mental competency exam.  Meanwhile, the victim's family has received thousands of the purple hearts she asked for -- and they've come from all over the world.  Supporters have given $50,000 to help with the youngster's treatment.  

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A Wausau woman is suing three strip clubs where she used to work, claiming she and fellow dancers were stripped of wages and overtime they earned.  In the latest suit, the owners of the Four-Mile Gentlemen's Club at Fountain City contended that the strippers were independent contractors -- but La Crosse labor attorney Justin Peterson said they were actually employees entitled to wages-and-benefits.  The La Crosse Tribune said Elizabeth Mays has similar suits pending in Wausau and Lincoln Nebraska -- and she hopes to sue two other clubs where she worked during her six years as a dancer.  At Fountain City, Mays said the club's owners had "substantial control" over their work schedules, the clothes they had to wear, and the types of dancing they did.  She said they charged "stage fees" of $5-$27, even if the club was almost empty and no one was tipping.  She said the club charged $50 for being late for a work-shift.  Mays said adult entertainment workers are vulnerable to being exploited, but she and her colleagues are entitled to the same labor protections as the rest of us.  Peterson said he has never seen a lawsuit like this lose. 

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A Wisconsin man is accused of taking three women to North Dakota against their will, to serve as prostitutes for men working in the Bakken oil fields.  31-year-old Levell Durr is being held without bond until a hearing on Thursday.  He was charged late last week in Federal Court in Bismarck North Dakota with transporting individuals for illegal sex.  A magistrate gave Durr a public defender.  According to an FBI affidavit, Durr was trafficking females for at least the past two months -- and a woman told Sheboygan Police that he took the three women away.  The affidavit said Durr used drugs and physical abuse to keep them in line.  Reportedly, the women were not allowed to have eye contact with their sex customers -- and they were told to kiss Durr's hand when they gave money to him.  The FBI also said Durr maintained pit bulls in the Milwaukee area for a dog-fighting ring.  One of his alleged acquaintances, Anquentin Holliman of Milwaukee, is charged in North Dakota state court for not being honest with investigators.  A faces a pre-trial conference in his case August 20th.

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Wausau Police have told the owner of a pit bull to either euthanize it -- or move it out of the city.  Officials said the pit bull attacked Cindy Ryder and killed her Chihuahua while they were walking last Thursday near downtown Wausau.  Ryder tells WAOW-TV that the animal came running out of a house, grabbed her arm, and threw her to the ground while she tried saving her own pet.  Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel called it one of the worst pet attacks he's ever seen.  Ryder had numerous cuts, bruises, bites, and punctures.  Police reports did not turn up any other incidents involving the pit bull.

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It might take two years for almost 900 accidents, people burned by a travel scam to get back anything they lost.  That's according to the Appleton Post-Crescent, which reported that a fake outfit called "Going Places Travel" promised free trips and never delivered them.  The state Justice Department ordered the scammers to pay $3.8 million dollars in lost damages.  The travel outfit mailed post-cards, inviting hundreds of thousands of people to a sales presentation in exchange for free trips.  A third party was supposed to handle the free vacations, but they never materialized.  Dee Mosher of Neenah tells the Post-Crescent that she and her husband charged four-thousand dollars for a membership -- but all they got back were demands for payment from six collection agencies over a four-year period.

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The mother of woman killed in a traffic crash near Wisconsin Dells is shocked that a case manager has recommended community-based treatment for the offending driver.  Twenty-eight year old Casey Wright was found innocent by insanity to a negligent homicide charge in his August 2012 crash that killed 22-year-old Lisa Mikec.  Wright said he was trying to escape demons when he slammed into Mikec's oncoming vehicle.  A case manager from Lutheran Social Services recommended a conditional release from the institutionalization that's normal in cases like this, so he could be placed in a community setting.  Mikec's mother Pam tells the Baraboo News-Republic she feels like she's being victimized all over again -- and if he's too mentally-ill to face the charges, it stands to reason that he's not well enough to be released into the community.  A judge has yet to act on the issue.

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Authorities in far southeast Wisconsin are trying to find out why two men turned up dead separately in a pair of lakes.  The first man was discovered last evening by somebody who was walking his dog along a Lake Michigan beach in Kenosha.  Police said the death did not appear suspicious.  Shortly after that, Racine County rescuers were called to Wind Lake, where a boater found the body of a 34-year-old Waterford man.  The rescue team recovered him soon afterward.

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A central Wisconsin man faces three criminal charges, for allegedly selling his neighbor's SUV for scrap while the neighbor was gone.  Twenty-year-old Justin Braze is free on a signature bond.  He's due back in Wood County Circuit Court July 10th for a preliminary hearing on a felony count of producing a counterfeit vehicle title.  Braze also a plea hearing that day on that count, plus misdemeanor charges of theft and obstructing a police officer.  Prosecutors said the defendant's neighbor came home earlier this month to discover that his Jeep Grand Cherokee was missing.  Investigators said they traced the SUV back to a salvage yard where Braze sold it for $300.

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A Waukesha County woman has been cleared of criminal charges for allegedly leaving a loaded handgun in church restroom.  Circuit Judge Lloyd Carter dropped a misdemeanor count against 66-year-old Susan Hitchler of Oconomowoc.  She was charged with negligent handling of a weapon, after she openly carried a Ruger-.380 into Brookfield's Elmbrook Church in March and left it in a stall.  Her attorney said the weapon was only seen by a custodian at the church, despite concerns that youngsters might have spotted it.  Officials said Hitchler called the church about a half-hour after she realized it was missing.  Defense lawyer Tom Grieve said the charge required that the defendant's conduct directly endangered another person -- and in this case, there was no proof that it did.

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Riders of a motorcycle and a riding lawn mower were both injured, after they collided on a foggy road in Grafton, north of Milwaukee.  Ozaukee County sheriff's deputies said a group of bikers were on a hill-crest when one struck a lawn tractor that was crossing the road.  It happened around seven last night.  Deputies said the 31-year-old motorcyclist from Saukville was not wearing a helmet.  The riding mower was ridden by a 41-year-old Grafton man.  Deputies said a rescue helicopter was called -- but it was canceled because it was too foggy.  Ambulance drivers took them to a hospital instead.  

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Wisconsin companies were given almost six-billion dollars in private equity investments last year.  That figure was released today by the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, which said the Badger State was last among the 20 states which got the most investment dollars.  The report said 37 companies in Wisconsin received private equity investment in 2013.  Since 2004, the council said state companies received over 57-billion dollars in private equity funding -- and almost 400 firms were able to hire 129,000 people as a result.  Neighboring Minnesota joined the list last year, with a ranking of 17th and a total equity investment of six-point-nine billion dollars.  Council president Steve Judge says state which receive private investments can expand their operations, put new innovations in place, and hire workers.  The group said its numbers were based on data from Pitch-Book.  That's a research outfit which collects data on equity investments from public surveys and other sources.  For undisclosed investments, Pitch-Book makes estimates with an algorithm.  

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Wisconsin apparently has a huge pent-up demand for historic preservation.  According to WisPolitics.com, a state agency has put a moratorium on tax breaks to rehabilitate older properties.  That's after the amount of tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation reached $35-million for 29 projects -- almost nine times the tax losses that the Legislature originally planned on.  Last year, the governor and Legislature jacked up the tax credits to encourage historic preservation from five-percent of a project's cost to ten-percent, and later to 20-percent.  The goal was to create construction jobs, while helping communities get more in touch with their heritage.  WEDC director Reed Hall told the Joint Finance Committee that the projects were indeed an economic bonanza, potentially resulting in $180-million to the economy had all the projects been realized.  However, Hall said they also required a review of their impact on the state budget.  The bill signed last December by Governor Scott Walker did not cap the tax breaks.  But after some Republicans feared the spending would get out of control, the finance panel agreed to review the situation in 2017.  According to WisPolitics, finance co-chairs state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Assemblyman John Nygren (R-Marinette) were both happy with the tax credit's popularity.  Both said they also looked forward to find ways to keep the credit viable in the future.

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Home sales in Wisconsin are down for the fifth month in a row.  That's what the state Realtors Association reported today.  The group's members sold 69-hundred-70 existing houses in the Badger State last month -- down from almost 75-hundred in the same month of 2013. Realtors' board chairman Steve Lane said his group expected a slight recovery in the sales figures, once the unusually long-and-cold winter ended -- but it hasn't happened yet.  Realtors' president Michael Theo said rising home prices and interest rates might be a couple of reasons for the sales drop -- along with tighter regulations on lending.  The Realtors' median sales prices jumped three-point-eight percent last month, compared to a month ago.  The median house statewide sold for $150,000.  For the first five months of 2014, the group said its home sales were down by eight-percent from the previous year.

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Governor Scott Walker has said that Democrats might hammer him over the allegations that he led illegal campaign coordination between recall candidates and conservative groups.  However, state Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate told reporters today that the fall governor's race will hinge on Walker's job record.  Tate said the Republican Walker's greatest challenge is defending the state's slow job growth -- the 37th slowest in the nation, according to federal figures from last week.  Tate said Wisconsinites do not have the confidence that things will get any better -- and Tate says his party's main gubernatorial candidate, Mary Burke, has a better job plan.  The state has created just over 100-thousand jobs since Walker took office at the start of 2011.  That's less than 40-percent of the private sector jobs Walker promised when he first asked voters to elect him in 2010.  

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Hayward has been raising big bucks to fight heart disease.  Over 800 students took part in a recent "Jump Rope for Heart" fund-raiser.  They jumped rope as their sponsors donated just over $100,000.  That's the second-highest in the nation among schools of all sizes. Only a district in New York State raises more.  The funds go to the American Heart Association.  Renee Davis of the association's regional chapter says the average school raises about three-thousand dollars, or three-percent of what the Hayward schools took in.  Last year, Hayward -- the seat of Sawyer County in northwest Wisconsin -- raised 50-thousand dollars, the fifth-highest in the country.  The funding goes toward heart research and education.

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