WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Cleanup continues at Colfax Schools after last week's tornado
The cleanup continues at the public school in Colfax in northwest Wisconsin -- but this week's rain has made the job harder. A tornado caused an estimated one-million-dollars in damage to the facility on Friday. The next day, more than two-inches of rain dampened some of the exposed areas in classrooms. Superintendent Bill Yingst says parts of the floor are being dried out, and only then will officials know if it can be salvaged. He's not sure how much damage there is in the gymnasium, where the floor was soaked. Yingst says the million-dollar damage estimate was mainly the result of what happened to the school's roof -- and it might be a couple months before a final damage amount is known. In the meantime, cleanup work rolls on, with a goal of having the school ready for classes in September. Also, a special mowing device has been brought in to remove broken glass from an athletic field. Colfax is also continuing its summer school classes in an undamaged part of the building.
Voters in Crandon will decide July 29th whether to recall their mayor. Incumbent Rob Jaeger will run against Dennis Rosa, who filed nomination papers by yesterday's deadline. About 200 people signed petitions to force the recall vote -- but the City Council didn't want to hold it originally. They voted against an election last week, but state officials said Crandon had no choice but to proceed with the vote. They went along this week, with one alderman still voting no. Recall organizers have accused the mayor of trying to fire certain city employees, going around committees, and not letting people speak at public meetings. City Clerk Cindy Bradley says it's a new concept for Crandon, partially because the mayor's term was recently lengthened from two years to four. State law requires elected officials to serve at least one year before being eligible for recall. That means those serving two-year terms would be up for election anyway, almost in the amount of time it might take to complete a recall petition and voting process.
The state Administration Department has announced ten state-owned properties that could eventually be sold. The current state budget allows the administration to sell facilities which are under-used, or could make profits for taxpayers. The list includes the former Knapp House governor's mansion on the U-W Madison campus -- the former Ethan Allen boys' detention center at Wales -- the Northern Wisconsin Center for the developmentally-disabled at Chippewa Falls -- an airplane hangar at Madison's airport -- and heating-and-cooling plants which serve state facilities. Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch (hipsh) stressed that the properties would only be sold if it's "prudent and logical." Seven firms will analyze the properties and their possible sale value. The sales would occur in the next two-year budget period starting in 2015, with a goal of reducing the state's debt. Some properties could be sold outright, while others might have lease-back arrangements for users. Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison said the lease-back concept does not make economic sense. In his words, "It just creates a layer of middlemen who cash in on the taxpayer dollar."
A funnel cloud was spotted north of Wausau last evening. It didn't touch down, but it still marked the fourth day in the last five in which Wisconsin had at least some type of tornadic activity. The National Weather Service reported no storm damage where last night's twister was spotted -- and the Wisconsin Public Service utility reported no power outages in the Wausau area this morning. The same cannot be said for southeast Wisconsin, where almost 54-hundred We Energies are still in the dark after high winds on Monday. The utility expects everyone to have their power back by tonight. Meanwhile, the Weather Service now confirms three tornadoes in Iowa and Dane counties late Sunday night. Two twisters landed at the same time north and northwest of Dodgeville at 10:30 p-m. Both were rated F-Twos, causing numerous building and tree damage. This morning, Wisconsin Power-and-Light reported 140 customers still without electricity in Iowa County. An F-One tornado landed north of Oregon in Dane County just before 11:30 Sunday night, causing heavy tree damage. Forecasters say southern Wisconsin will get more scattered rain showers today.
Just over half of Wisconsin's 422 public school districts will get higher state aid in the coming year. That's according to preliminary estimates released yesterday by the Department of Public Instruction. Total general school aids are up two-point-one percent statewide, to almost four-and-a-half billion dollars. Even so, 197 districts will get less, because of how they fit into the state's funding formula. The statewide aid package is still less than what it was in 2011, before Republicans dramatically cut state support and urged schools to get the funding back themselves by finding savings through the Act-10 union bargaining limits. Also, school districts are sharing their aid with a growing number of private schools that get tax-funded vouchers to teach low-income kids.
Leave your fireworks at home. That's what the D-N-R is telling campers at Wisconsin state parks and forests over the Fourth-of-July. The D-N-R says most fireworks are illegal in park facilities. Sparklers and snakes are allowed, but rangers are discouraging their use as well -- because they're fire hazards. The D-N-R says those who caught with illegal fireworks can be fined up to 200-dollars. Also, those who start wildfires are liable for the damages, and the costs of sending fire-fighters out -- and if kids cause the fires, their parents will get the bill.
Wisconsin's largest grocery chain will close its distribution center in Stevens Point, putting almost 200 people out of work. Roundy's told state officials yesterday that most employees would be released by the end of August, and the shutdown would be complete by the end of September. The company blames the closure on the sales of more than two dozen Roundy-owned stores in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul areas, which obtained its grocery items from the Stevens Point facility. The firm said it would move the center's operations in phases to similar facilities in Oconomowoc and Mazomanie. Media reports said Roundy's plans to revitalize its grocery business in southeast Wisconsin, where it has Pick-N-Save and Metro Market stores. The firm also plans to grow in the Chicago area. Roundy's operates a total of 174 supermarkets and 110 pharmacies in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota.
It's been 14 years since Wisconsin baby whooping cranes have migrated to Florida each winter, to try and raise populations of the endangered bird in the Eastern U-S. However, experts say adult cranes have still not been able to produce enough chicks that survive as adults. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says almost 250 cranes have been released into the wild in Wisconsin since 2001 -- but only 95 are now living. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a group of public and private agencies, said a record 13 cranes hatched in the wild this past year -- but ten have died, apparently from predators. The partnership notes that no whooping crane re-introduction has ever truly succeeded, and all of them are fraught with challenges. New strategies have been tried which increases baby cranes' natural time with adults. Supporters say it should take 3-to-5 years to see if the new efforts succeed. If not, it remains uncertain whether the project might be shut down. A similar crane reintroduction effort to the west has fared better. Officials say a connection between Alberta and Texas has resulted in 300 living cranes.
Most of Wisconsin's corn and soybean crops are making it through the rainy season quite nicely. Eighty-percent of the state's corn is rated good-to-excellent, along with 77-percent of the soybeans. However, almost daily thunderstorms over the past week has made fields too soggy to hold farm equipment in a number of counties -- and rain ponds are not helping, either. Eau Claire's total rainfall is five-point-eight inches above normal since June first. Madison is three-and-a-half inches above normal -- and La Crosse and Milwaukee have around two more inches of rain than the norm. Officials say nitrogen deficiency is starting to show up in some of the corn fields. Thirty-seven percent of Wisconsin topsoil has excess moisture, and the rest are adequate. Almost 90-percent of the state's first hay crop is in, along with nine-percent of second-crop alfalfa.