Morning State News Briefs: Private wells in Marathon County found to have coliform bacteriaWisconsin News
-- About one-of-every-seven private water wells in Marathon County have tested positive this year for coliform bacteria, which has the potential to cause E-coli contamination.
WAUSAU - About one-of-every-seven private water wells in Marathon County have tested positive this year for coliform bacteria, which has the potential to cause E-coli contamination.
Marathon County is the state’s largest in terms of land area. County health officials in Wausau say they’ve tested about 18-hundred private wells this year, and 14-percent were found to have coliform bacteria. Environmental health director Dale Grosskurth says the county’s percentage is about what was seen at the state level a year ago. The State Hygiene Lab said about 15-percent of the private wells tested in 2011 had coliform samples. That figure was a high as 20-percent in 2008-and-2010, when the state has massive flooding. Officials say most coliform bacteria is harmless – but it can be a sign of poor water quality. Grosskurth said many of this year’s positive tests are from older wells which don’t have the protective caps which are now required by law. He said homeowners that test their wells each year would find it relatively easy to make improvements to come into compliance. He said the thought of contaminants in drinking water should be enough to encourage people to test their well water each year.
A group headed by Republican strategist Karl Rove has spent three-point-eight million dollars on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson. Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategy announced its latest ad campaign today, totaling one-point-two million. It attacks Democrat Tammy Baldwin’s position on health care – featuring a sound bite in which she mentioned supporting government-run care. It’s the latest attack-ad in a campaign full of them. An ad tracking group in Washington said 92-percent of the TV ads in the Thompson-Baldwin race over the last month have been negative. Baldwin leads the most recent independent polls by 3-to-4 points – close to a statistical dead heat.
If you thought political TV ads couldn’t get more negative, you were wrong. The ad tracking firm of Kantar Media CMAG said 92-percent of the previous month’s ads in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race criticized opposing candidates. That’s about the same as in the presidential race, which is a lot more negative than four years ago. CMAG said only eight-percent of the presidential ads since the parties’ conventions were positive. Four years ago, almost 30-percent of the ads around this time showed the candidates positively selling themselves and their views. Ken Goldstein, the UW Madison professor who runs CMAG, says TV ads don’t affect each candidate’s support very much when both sides run them equally. But Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin owned the airwaves for weeks, after Republican Tommy Thompson’s campaign went broke following a bitter primary. Only a quarter of the Senate ads from September third through October second were from Thompson and his supporters. And Baldwin took the lead over Thompson during that time in the major independent polls. The latest Senate poll – issued yesterday by Public Policy Polling – gives Baldwin a 49-46 lead. It was a statistical dead heat, because the result was barely within the poll’s margin-of-error.
For the second time in five days, the SS Badger car ferry has canceled a trip across Lake Michigan due to high winds. Operators of the ferry between Manitowoc and Ludington, Michigan called off their one scheduled trip today, because the forecast said winds on the big lake would gust to over 40-miles-an-hour. The Badger canceled a run last Friday for the same reason. High winds have pounded Wisconsin on-and-off since last Thursday. Winds yesterday gusted to 48-miles-an-hour on Washington Island in Door County. There were also big gusts inland, peaking at 37-miles-an-hour in Mauston. This morning, winds reached the mid-20’s in western and southern Wisconsin. Occasional light rain is in the forecast today, with a rain-and-snow mix possible in some areas tonight. A quiet, partly cloudy day is expected tomorrow, with highs in the 40’s statewide.
A Baraboo woman who was accused of stalking her lover’s wife is now charged with trying to kill her with stolen morphine. 43-year-old Stephanie McMillen is free on a $10,000 cash bond. She appeared in Columbia County Circuit Court yesterday on charges of attempted homicide, stalking, and obstructing police. McMillen was originally charged when she allegedly tried to lure the man’s wife to a pond, while claiming that her cat was lost. Authorities said the wife got uneasy when she was lured close to the water, so she left and called police. McMillen is a nurse, and prosecutors said a vial of morphine was missing from her place of work before the alleged stalking. State investigators said they found search information on McMillen’s computer seeking information on the use of morphine, and what a lethal dose would be. Attorneys will hold a pre-trial conference October 17th, and another court hearing is set for October 20th.
A former town treasurer near Appleton will not go to jail for stealing $28,000 in tax money to help solve financial problems at home. Erica Siewert was placed on one year of probation yesterday. Prosecutors also sought jail time, but a judge said no. The 50-year-old Siewert was the treasurer of the Outagamie County town of Dale when she and former town clerk Marcia Kelly allegedly used town credit cards for personal reasons. Siewert struck a deal with prosecutors in August, in which she pleaded no contest to a half-dozen embezzlement and misconduct charges – and eight other counts were dropped. Her attorney said the 50-year-old Siewert turned herself in – her family loaned the money to pay back the town’s taxpayers – and she now has a new job. During her sentencing, Siewert apologized to town residents and officials. Kelly is scheduled to go on trial December fourth, after she pleaded innocent to 33 theft and misconduct charges. She’s accused of taking almost $50,000 from the Town of Dale.
State election officials are telling voters to be cautious about the mailings they get from candidates and political parties about how-and-where to register and vote. The Government Accountability Board and local government clerks say they’re getting numerous complaints and questions from people about certain mailings. Board director Kevin Kennedy says those mailings mix voter information with campaign messages – and some of them have errors. Kennedy cited an example in the Madison area. He said the State Republican Party mistakenly told residents in parts of Madison to return their voter registration applications to the town of Albion. Kennedy says voters should have their questions answered by their local clerks – or the accountability board’s Web site at www.my vote.gov
Wisconsin’s governor is among those trying to keep Indiana’s governorship in Republican hands. Scott Walker lent his support to Mike Pence, while the two attended Sunday’s Green Bay Packers loss at Indianapolis. Pence said Walker was supportive of him before the Colts’ come-from-behind victory – but Pence quote, “didn’t ask after.” GOP governors have been flocking to Indiana to do what they can to help Pence replace fellow Republican Mitch Daniels, who will become the new president of Purdue University in January. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are among those who’s helped raise money for Pence – who’s running against Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham on November sixth.
Fire departments throughout Wisconsin are observing Fire Prevention Week. In Milwaukee, officials hope people will learn some lessons following the weekend death of a seven-year-old boy in a house fire. The victim was identified yesterday as Joelle Creasy. Officials said an adult relative started cooking, and he then went upstairs and fell asleep. The man woke up and smelled smoke, and he jumped from the home’s roof while four children followed him. None of them were injured, but Joelle was not part of that group. His body was found later on the home’s second floor. The victim’s mother was visiting relatives in New York during Saturday’s blaze. The cause is still being investigated. Fire officials said the home had smoke detectors – but they did not have working batteries. Yesterday, Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing and Mayor Tom Barrett held a news conference to mark Fire Prevention Week. Rohlfing said Joelle’s death showed how devastating a fire can be. He was the seventh person to die in a Milwaukee fire this year, and the second child. Two decades ago, the Milwaukee Fire Department created the “Survive Alive” house on the city’s south side, which shows youngsters how to be safe during a fire. Funds were raised to buy the house after 18 kids died in fires in Milwaukee in 1987. About 350,000 kids have been through the “Survive Alive” house since it opened.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will visit Appleton and Green Bay today to campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Governor Scott Walker plans to join McDonnell when he meets with campaign volunteers in Appleton this afternoon. Tonight, McDonnell will speak at a dinner in Green Bay.
Wisconsin campers could face tighter restrictions on the firewood they can bring into state parks and forests. DNR staffers will ask the Natural Resources Board on October 24th to ban all firewood on state property that comes from at least 10 miles away. Firewood is one of the main carriers of the tree-killing emerald ash borer, which has been found in several new locations in Wisconsin this year. Right now, firewood is banned on state property if it comes from at least 25 miles away, or anywhere outside Wisconsin. And the wood must be certified as being treated for diseases. The DNR’s proposal would drop the out-of-state ban, saying the tighter 10-mile limit makes the ban unnecessary. If the DNR Board endorses the new rules, a draft would get public hearings before it goes back to the panel for final approval.
Wisconsin’s largest pumpkins are the latest to suffer from this year’s drought. Entries and pumpkin weights were down this past weekend at a festival in Anamosa, Iowa. A Wisconsin pumpkin won the event, as John Barlow of Gays Mills brought in a 12-hundred-69-pound whopper. But entrants from the Badger State, Iowa, and Minnesota said they were disappointed with their loads. They blamed the drought and hard growing conditions for the lighter weights and poor color of their pumpkins.
It’s been a horrible year for Wisconsin motorcycle deaths. As of yesterday, 102 bikers have been killed on state highways – the fourth-deadliest year since 1986. Officials have mentioned several possible reasons. The mild winter and early fall extended the riding season – and September alone had 21 motorcycle deaths statewide. There are more bikes on the road – almost 304-thousand last year, 74-percent more than in 2000. And many who gave up motorcycling picked it up again, as gas prices moved closer to four-dollars-a-gallon. The average age of those killed rose from 30 two decades ago to 48 this year. State DOT motorcycle safety specialist Greg Patzer says some of it’s due to the older population, and some are biking again after years of not doing so. He says it’s possible that some bikers – and their machines – are rusty. Speed-and-alcohol have caused just over a-third of this year’s biker deaths. At least 11 riders died when hitting deer. Only one involved a wet road, in another sign of Wisconsin’s drought. Last year, 92-percent of those killed on motorcycles were not wearing helmets. But that’s down this year – and it appears to be closer to the average of around 70-percent over the last decade.
Testimony continues today in the trial of Kevin Kavanaugh, the former Milwaukee County Walker aide accused of stealing $42,000 dollars in donations for veterans. Kavanaugh served on the Milwaukee County Veterans Service Commission during Governor Scott Walker’s years as the county executive. And prosecutors said Kavanaugh took donations from an annual event at the County Zoo designed to help veterans and their families. Former chief-of-staff Tom Nardelli testified that Walker’s office transferred responsibility for the event to the Military Order of the Purple Heart in 2006 – and prosecutors said Kavanaugh had access to the money as the group’s treasurer. Nardelli said Walker’s office had concerns as early as 2007. He said staffers tried numerous times to confront Kavanaugh about the matter but couldn’t. So at Walker’s urging, they went to the district attorney in 2009, and charges were filed earlier this year. Defense lawyer Christopher Hartley said in his opening statement that Kavanaugh gave the group’s money to veterans who needed help. And Hartley called Kavanaugh a “lousy bookkeeper.” The 62-year-old Kavanaugh was among five ex-Walker associates charged in a John Doe investigation – and he’s the first to go on trial. The proceedings are scheduled to continue through Friday.
A bicyclist from Madison was killed, when she was hit by a pick-up truck. It happened around 11:30 yesterday morning near the entrance to Governor Nelson State Park on Dane County Trunk “M” in the town of Westport. Sheriff’s deputies said the bicycle and the pick-up were both heading in the same direction when the truck veered to the right and hit the bicyclist, who was riding on the right shoulder. A 37-year-old Madison woman on the bike died at the scene. The truck was driven by a 21-year-old Waunakee man. The crash is still under investigation.
New home construction is still above last year’s pace in Wisconsin’s largest metros. MTD Marketing Services said today that the numbers of building permits rose five-point-six percent last month for new one-and-two-family homes in the Milwaukee, Dane County, Racine-Kenosha, Fox Cities, and Green Bay-Door County areas. MTD said 262 building permits were issued in those places in September – 14 more than in the same month the year before. Greater Milwaukee was the only region that did not see a year-to-year monthly increase. For the first nine months of 2012, MTD said 23-hundred-40 one-and-two-family permits were issued. That’s up three-percent from the year before – but it’s still only about half what it was in 2007, before the Great Recession put a whammy into the housing market.
Governor Scott Walker has been subpoenaed to testify in the trial of one of his former top staffers in the Milwaukee County executive’s office. The subpoena has been served on Walker’s attorney – and it’s been filed with the Milwaukee County circuit court. Former deputy chief-of-staff Kelly Rindfleisch is scheduled to stand trial a week from today on four felony charges of misconduct in public office. She’s accused of doing campaign work for Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis during the hours she was supposed to be working for taxpayers in Walker’s county executive office in 2010. Prosecutors had earlier named the Republican Walker as a possible witness in Rindfleisch’s possible trial.
A Republican state lawmaker says State Treasurer Kurt Schuller is going back on a promise to abolish his office. Representative Dean Kaufert of Neenah asked the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee today to reject a request by Schueller to convert four temporary workers in his office into permanent employees. Kaufert says the request proves that the Republican Schuller has abandoned his promise to try-and-eliminate the treasurer’s office after he current term on 2014. Schuller put out a statement that the positions do not represent an expansion of government. He said he inherited the employees when he took over – and they’re all working close to 40-hours-a-week. Schuller also said he kept his promise by offering a constitutional amendment to abolish his Treasurer’s office. The measure died in the Legislature in the last session.
Just over a quarter of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have been losing population since 2000 – and it’s raising new concerns about their futures. Nineteen counties have declines in residents, and most are in rural areas. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism says it’s a relatively new phenomenon, because only Milwaukee County lost residents during the 1990’s. And Wisconsin as a whole showed a six-percent population increase in the 2000’s, indicating that larger and growing areas benefited the most. Experts say it poses major problems both now and in the future. That’s because many of the departing residents are younger workers. And they’re leaving fewer employees behind to help provide the tax base for the services that people need. Iron County is feeling the squeeze the hardest. It lost 14-percent of its population since 2000 – and it’s the oldest county in the state, with a median age of 51. Less than half of all Iron County residents older than 16 were in the workforce in 2010. That’s much lower than the statewide average of 69-percent. Officials supported the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine earlier this year to bring jobs to the region – and they plan to support it next year when a new bill is introduced in Madison. Hurley’s mayor says something needs to keep the economy going – and tourism dollars are not steady enough. But critics fear a possible loss of visitors. UW-Madison sociologist Gary Green says it’s a common dilemma in which tourists want nature – and no factories nearby.
A fire Monday morning damaged the attic-and-roof above the theater at the UW-Madison Memorial Union. City fire-fighters were called just before 7:40 a-m, and they saw smoke from two sides of the building. Flames traveled up to the building’s fifth floor – but by 8:20, the fire was put out. Damage estimates were not immediately available, partially because of construction that’s taking place at the student gathering center on the state’s flagship campus. No one was hurt, and the union re-opened later in the morning.
Only one of Wisconsin’s 10 historic sites have seen bigger crowds this year. Circus World Museum in Baraboo has had an eight-percent jump in attendance, to just 68,000 as of last week. The site’s revenues also went up by two-percent. Meanwhile, attendance at all 10 historic sites totaled just over 300,000 for the year – and there were $735,000 in revenues, both down two-percent from a year ago. Wisconsin’s largest historic site, Old World Wisconsin, had a one-point-three percent drop in attendance to just over 41,000. And its revenues fell by 13-percent. Steve Freese, the director at Circus World, tells the Wisconsin State Journal that an uncertain economy played a role in the attendance drops. As for the increase at his own site, Freese said Circus World gets a spillover from the Wisconsin Dells visitors – and many grandparents would rather take their grandkids to Circus World as an alternative to the Dells’ water-parks.