Morning State News Briefs: Investigators find cause of bluff collapse next to power plantWisconsin News
-- State officials say they’ve figured out why a bluff collapsed along Lake Michigan at Oak Creek last fall. The DNR said We Energies failed to install a liner in a storm water holding pond next to the utility’s Oak Creek power plant. And it was a “significant factor” in the collapse that spilled a mixture of coal ash and dirt down a steep hill and into Lake Michigan on Halloween of last year.
OAK CREEK - State officials say they’ve figured out why a bluff collapsed along Lake Michigan at Oak Creek last fall. The DNR said We Energies failed to install a liner in a storm water holding pond next to the utility’s Oak Creek power plant. And it was a “significant factor” in the collapse that spilled a mixture of coal ash and dirt down a steep hill and into Lake Michigan on Halloween of last year.
The DNR gave the utility a notice yesterday that it violated state solid waste rules. The penalty is five-thousand-dollars for each day the violation occurred, but DNR regional director Eric Nitschke could not say what type of fine We Energies might be facing. The utility is challenging the DNR’s findings. Spokesman Barry McNulty said a liner was not required for the storm water pond, because it was not built directly above a coal-ash landfill the utility operated in a ravine there in the 1950’s. Mud and ash from the landfill fell more than 300-feet down the bluff and into Lake Michigan last fall. And workers spent much of November and December stopping the erosion and removing the material from the lake. Lots of debris also tumbled from the bluff – along with several construction trailers near the power plant site which were damaged while landing next to the lake. The DNR said it exempted the old ash landfill from rules which are in place today for operating such facilities. But it said the utility was still required to install liners where ponds and open channels are built over the waste areas.
Odyssey Health-Care has agreed to pay $25-million to settle a Medicare fraud suit filed by a former Odyssey employee in Milwaukee. The company is one of the nation’s largest hospice care providers. It was accused of seeking false reimbursements from Medicare for home care services that were unnecessary, or did not comply with Medicare’s standards. Milwaukee nurse Jane Tuchalski was fired by Odyssey for raising concerns about its operations. She filed the lawsuit in 2008, and a number of medical providers also blew the whistle. They’ll share about four-point-six million dollars as part of the settlement. The fraud occurred between 2006 and the start of ’09. Gentiva Health Services of Atlanta bought the firm in 2010.
Wisconsinites are being urged to get flu shots if they didn’t get them already. He said there’s been a recent increase in seasonal flu cases in both Wisconsin and the nation as a whole. The U-S Centers for Disease Control said this year marks the latest start to the annual flu season in 29 years. State Health Officer Henry Anderson says vaccines remain available, and anyone over six months old can get them. In neighboring Minnesota, officials say they’ve only had seven flu-related deaths this winter – and there were 70 flu-related deaths in the Gopher State a year ago. Flu symptoms include fatigue, body aches, headaches, sore throats, and fever. The symptoms normally appear one-to-five days after a person’s infected.
Wisconsin is one step closer to having a wolf hunting season. The state Senate’s Natural Resources Committee voted 5-2 yesterday in favor of a bill that creates a four-and-a-half month trapping-and-shooting season for grey wolves between mid-October and late February. The bill was introduced in both houses after the federal government decided a few weeks ago to remove Upper Midwest wolves from the endangered species list. Supporters said the hunt would help farmers protect crops and livestock which are damaged and killed by problem wolves. The DNR would be able to limit wolf hunting licenses, and give them to applicants who accumulate preference points. An Assembly committee has approved similar legislation. That means the measure will go to both full houses before the current session is due to end for the year on March 15th.
With a compromise not on the horizon, the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has scheduled a vote for Monday on the mining bill passed by the state Assembly in January. State Senate leaders have already said they won’t have enough votes to pass the measure in their house. That’s because moderate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center marched out of step with his party, leaving only 16 Republicans of the Senate’s 33 total members who could favor the Assembly package. That assumes all Democrats will be opposed, just like they were in the Assembly. Schultz offered an alternative to restore some of the environmental protections lost in the Assembly bill, provide a longer time period to act on state permits, and to let the public keep challenging DNR decisions in contested-case hearings. But that package is going nowhere. And Schultz has also opposed another compromise offered yesterday by the finance panel’s two GOP leaders. Republicans are scrambling to find an acceptable measure to pass before the session ends on March 15th. If nothing’s passed, Gogebic Taconite has said it might scrap its proposed iron ore mine near Hurley with over 700 permanent jobs there never to be realized.
Why Ag? That’s the name of a new Web site which encourages Wisconsin school students to consider careers in agriculture. The state’s Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council created WhyAg-Dot-Com. It gives youngsters a chance to identify their talents, and match those talents with appropriate ag careers. The site also provides a list of current job opportunities in the industry. Green Bay Preble High School guidance counselor Natalie Killion unveiled the new Web site at a recent meeting of state school counselors. She used to be an ag teacher – and she tells the Brownfield Ag News Service she was frustrated when youngsters were not being guided into agriculture classes. That’s when she decided to become a counselor. Killion said her colleagues and others are often surprised to learn that one-of-every-10 jobs in Wisconsin is related to the agricultural industry. As part of the new effort, ag teachers talking with colleges and technical schools, to make sure their programs align with the available career opportunities.