Wednesday State News Roundup: UW scientists are part of national effort to find alien lifeWisconsin News
-- U-W Madison scientists are part of a national effort to find evidence of alien life.
MADISON - UW-Madison scientists are part of a national effort to find evidence of alien life. And despite what they tell us on “Star Trek,” space is not the “final frontier” for this project.
Researchers are studying rocks on Earth which are up to three-and-a-half billion years old. The scientists are looking for isotopes and elements which reveal possible evidence of alien life. Clark Johnson of the Wisconsin Astro-Biology Research Consortium says there are always stories hidden in rocks. And scientists must be clever enough to find the tools needed to quote, “interrogate those rocks to find what story they preserve.” The project has spent seven-million-dollars of federal NASA funding over the last five years – and another five-year grant of the same amount kicked in last month. The consortium is made up of 50 staff members, post-doctoral fellows, and students from 24 institutions in five nations. UW-Madison has about 25 of those participants.
Wisconsin agriculture officials are trying to get local groups to join a program that encourages healthy eating in K-to-12 schools. The program is called “Farm to School.” The federal government provides the money, and the state is working with the Ameri-Corps volunteer program to help schools get locally-produced items to their youngsters. The goal is to reduce childhood obesity. Additional state agencies are being encouraged to get on board, along with universities and non-profit organizations. The deadline to apply is April 26th. Ameri-Corps said it received 23 applications a year ago, and chose seven groups to be in the “Farm to School” program.
State Public School Superintendent Tony Evers says he agrees with having just one company instead of two operate a new statewide student information database. Skyward of Stevens Point is appealing the Walker administration’s choice of Minnesota’s Infinite Campus to run a 15-million dollar statewide system. School officials can access the network to obtain data like grades and health records of any public and charter student in Wisconsin. Both companies already operate data systems for individual schools in the Badger State. And schools that use Skyward are upset that they’ll have to spend thousands-of-dollars to switch over to the Minnesota company’s equipment. The Marshfield School District says it will keep using Skyward for the next year, and see how other schools are coping. Schools will have five years to make the change. Marshfield figures it will cost at least 200-thousand dollars to convert. Stevens Point says it will cost them 450-thousand. Some school officials wondered why the state couldn’t let schools choose between the two companies. Evers says it’s too late, since the governor and Legislature already approved a single vendor for the project. In Wausau yesterday, Evers said it guarantees the most efficient system possible, at a lower cost to taxpayers. Skyward says its homegrown company would have to leave Wisconsin if it loses its appeal. If it wins, the firm says it add over 200 new employees for a total of 600.
The state’s largest natural gas utility is updating residents on its plans to build a new pipeline in western Wisconsin. We Energies has chosen two possible routes for a $150-million natural gas line from the Fairchild area in Eau Claire and Jackson counties, south to Tomah. At an informational meeting in Augusta, utility spokesman Brian Manthey said the demand for natural gas has skyrocketed in recent years as prices have dropped. He said the new pipeline would make the fuel available to many new areas in western Wisconsin – and existing service would become more reliable. We Energies says it will file an application for the new facility in the next few months – and the state Public Service Commission would then pick the final route. If approved, construction could begin around the end of next year.
Officials hope that positive identifications can be made today on two people killed in a house fire about 17 miles northwest of Rhinelander. Investigators suspect that the homeowners were the ones killed – Mark and Kaye Juel. Kaye is Oneida County’s jail administrator. Their house was engulfed in flames when fire-fighters arrived about 4:30 yesterday morning. Five fire departments helped battle the blaze. The victims’ bodies were found in the house, after their vehicles were spotted in their garage. Autopsies are being scheduled. The state Fire Marshal is helping the Oneida County sheriff’s department and medical examiner’s office investigate – along with the fire department in the town of Cassian where the blaze occurred.
Many Wisconsin Christians are observing the start of Lent by having their foreheads marked with crosses for Ash Wednesday. Young and old worshippers alike attended services this morning. But all that folks in Madison had to do was drive up to a curb. Five Episcopal churches and a United Methodist church in the Madison area organized an “Ashes to Go” program. Pastors were stationed near busy streets and intersections, planting ashes in a drive-through format. Pastor Andy Jones said they needed to reach out to the world, instead of just serving those walking through their church doors. Most Christians plan to give up something from now until Easter, which is on March 31st.
State officials have endorsed the U.S. Army’s plan for cleaning up decades of contamination at part of its old military ammunitions’ factory near Sauk City. The plan includes the excavation of contaminated soil where the state’s new Sauk-Prairie Recreation Area will be located. The soil would be dumped in a landfill on another part of the massive property, which housed the Badger Army Ammunition Plant around the time of the Vietnam War. The DNR’s preliminary finding is that the cleanup would protect human and meet all state laws-and-codes. The Army’s Joan Kennedy agrees, and says the level of the cleanup would be appropriate for the property’s future use as a place for recreation. But the Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger says the strategy does not go far enough. Scientist Peter deFur said the cleanup standards for some contaminants are not protective enough. And that includes the chemical DNT, which has been found in the soil at the Badger site. The DNR expects to make a final decision after taking public comments on the clean-up proposal through March 11th. An open house is scheduled for next Wednesday night from 5-to-7 at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac, where folks can get their questions answered.