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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: State Supreme Court says economics can be a factor in lake levels

MADISON - For the first time, the State Supreme Court has told the DNR to consider the economic impact of the water levels it sets on lakes. In a 4-to-3 decision today, the justices ruled in favor of the Rock-Koshkonong Lake District in Rock and Jefferson counties.

The district said it would increase tourism if it could raise Lake Koshkonong by almost seven-and-a-quarter inches each summer. But the D-N-R said no, arguing that it would cause shoreline erosion, and reduce the amount of wetland habitat around the lake. The Lake District took the case the court in 2005. A Rock County circuit judge and a state appeals court sided with the DNR, saying the agency has the authority to protect public health and lake properties. The Supreme Court reversed those two court decisions today, saying the D-N-R should have considered the district’s testimony on the economic losses caused by lower water levels.


The state government will help trucking firms and local communities purchase almost 100 vehicles fueled by natural gas and propane. The idea is to encourage the private sector to add more such energy-saving vehicles – and create stations to fuel those vehicles. The State Administration Department’s energy office announced 29 grants today to help buy 81 natural-gas-powered vehicles, plus 18 with propane. Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch says the demand is increasing for alternative fuels. He says it’s vital to have an infra-structure in place to expand the use of those fuels in the Badger State. Over the next three years, the energy office hopes to help establish 200 filling stations for compressed natural gas, to serve 15-thousand mid-to-heavy-duty trucks which use the fuel. The Wisconsin Clean Transportation Program is helping the state fund the initial grants. The program received $15-million in federal stimulus funds in 2009.


Four Republican governors, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, will speak at a forum in Colorado next week on what’s working well for their respective states. The Aspen Institute will sponsor the forum on July 25th in Aspen, Colorado. Besides Walker, the program includes GOP governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Pat McCrory of North Carolina. While he’s in Colorado, Walker will raise money for his campaign. Donors will pay up to 25-hundred-dollars to be part of a fund-raiser on July 26th put on by the Colorado Auto Dealers Association. Walker will also speak on the 26th to the Western Conservative Summit in Denver.


Wisconsin House Democrat Gwen Moore held a rally in Milwaukee yesterday to round up support for a higher minimum wage. She was joined by fellow House Democrats Keith Ellison of Minneapolis and Danny Davis of Chicago as part of a national campaign called “Raise Up.” Ellison said President Obama took a good first step by proposing a hike in the federal minimum wage from $7.25-an-hour to nine-dollars – but Ellison said it’s not enough, and he supports a bill to raise the minimum to $10.10-per-hour. The National Restaurant Association says that with an average four-percent profit margin, a higher minimum wage would hurt the ability of restaurants to maintain jobs. Moore, however, says it’s not the “mom-and-pop diners” that hire low-wage workers. She says many are Fortune-500 companies, 92-percent of which made profits last year. Some low-wage workers also spoke at the Milwaukee rally. They gave examples of so-called “wage theft” – companies that don’t pay employees during slow periods, or pay in the form of debit cards in which the workers must pay fees for each transaction. 


Five dead birds in Wisconsin have tested positive for the West Nile virus. Wisconsin has not had any human cases of the mosquito-borne illness this summer – but officials say bird-and-horse deaths provide a warning for people to take precautions. The Wood County Health Department confirmed the state’s latest case yesterday. West Nile was diagnosed in a dead blue jay in the southern part of Wood County around Wisconsin Rapids. Health experts say 80-percent of those infected with West Nile virus do not get sick. The disease can be deadly, though. Four Wisconsinites died from West Nile a year ago, when record human cases occurred throughout the nation’s mid-section. Fifty-seven Wisconsinites were said to be infected – nine more than in 2002, when West Nile was first reported. Thirty-two birds and one horse also died from the virus last year.


Over 100 people gathered in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis yesterday to demand criminal charges in the death of a high school football player. Police said 16-year-old Corey Stingley died last December 29th, two weeks after he was restrained by shoppers who caught him taking merchandise from a food store. Officers handcuffed Stingley, but removed the cuffs when they saw that he was not breathing. Stingley was black. Some at yesterday’s rally compared the death to that of Traevon Martin, the black Florida teen reportedly shot by an Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Defendant George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder last Saturday. Milwaukee County prosecutors started a John Doe investigation this month into Stingley’s death. His family has said Stingley returned the items he took from VJ’s Food Mart, and the store clerk agreed not to call the police.


Jurors will start hearing testimony today in the trial of John Spooner, a 76-year-old white man accused of killing a black teen in Milwaukee over guns he thought the boy stole. As the jury was being selected yesterday, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner said the case is totally different from that of George Zimmerman. He’s the Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer from Florida acquitted Saturday in the killing of black teen Traevon Martin. Wagner asked prospective jurors if they could separate the two cases. A white candidate was let go after telling the judge that the system is “failing,” and black teens are getting arrested for things that whites only get ticketed for. Prosecutor Mark Williams said he was not pleased that only one of the 14 jurors to hear the trial is black – and he’ll bring up the matter this morning before attorneys make their opening statements. Prosecutors said Spooner shot a neighbor, 13-year-old Darius Simmons, in May of last year while the youngster was taking out the family garbage. Defense lawyer Franklyn Gimbel says he’ll concede that his client shot Simmons, but will claim that it was not intentional. He also plans to present evidence showing that Spooner had a mental illness in which he could not judge right-from-wrong. Spooner has pleaded insanity to first-degree intentional homicide.


A 15-year-old boy died yesterday after a swimming accident the day before in eastern Wisconsin. Kewaunee County sheriff’s deputies said Zachary Busch of Green Bay was swimming with friends, when he could not swim back to a platform they were jumping from. He was underwater for about 15 minutes when rescue divers pulled him out. Sheriff’s officials said Busch drowned in the incident, which occurred Sunday at Krohns Lake County Park in the Kewaunee County town of Pierce.


A Merrill woman is due back in court a week from Thursday for the drunk driving deaths of two friends. A pre-trial conference was held yesterday in the case of 25-year-old Ashley Baumann. Lincoln County court officials say the case is on track for a week-long trial starting December 16th. The jury would be picked three days before then, unless there’s a plea deal beforehand. Baumann is charged with nine felonies in a crash 13 months ago in Merrill that killed two of her passengers, 31-year-old Misty Glisch and 33-year-old Jessica Hartwig. Prosecutors said Baumann’s car was going almost 100-miles-an-hour when it rolled over several times. A 29-year-old passenger survived. Baumann is charged with causing deaths and injury by drunk driving, and reckless driving while causing injuries.   


A search resumed this morning for a cliff jumper missing on the Wisconsin side of the Saint Croix River. Chisago County authorities in Minnesota received a report of a man diving off a rock ledge yesterday, and not surfacing. It happened near the Franconia Landing near Saint Croix Falls. National Park Service personnel helped local authorities search for the missing diver until around 9:30 last night – when the effort was called off for the evening.   


Wausau Police are looking for the people who desecrated dozens of tombstones at two cemeteries. Officials at Pine Grove Cemetery are still trying to determine who many tombstones were destroyed – and how the affected families can be identified and contacted. Several tombstones were also vandalized at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Wausau. Pine Grove officials say many of the damaged graves date back to the 1800’s, and are irreplaceable. The Wausau Daily Herald says some of the city’s founding residents are among the five-thousand people buried at Pine Grove. Officials say they’re watching for repeat vandalism, especially over the following week when it’s most likely to happen. 


A Stevens Point woman is free on a signature bond, after making her first court appearance for last month’s disturbance at the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine. 26-year-old Katie Kloth waived the state’s time limit for a preliminary hearing on a felony robbery charge in Iron County. She’s also charged with three misdemeanor counts of theft and criminal damage. Her next court date was not set. The Ironwood Daily Globe said Kloth wore a T-shirt to court yesterday which read, “Save the Penokees.” The Penokee Hills is where Gogebic Taconite has been drilling eight exploratory holes over the past month. The firm expects to complete its initial drilling by Friday. The Iron County district attorney said Kloth was among up to 20 protestors at the mining site on June 11th. The DA said they hid their faces with bandanas as they threw soda cans, shouted obscenities, damaged drilling equipment, and destroyed a worker’s camera and cell-phone. The damage totaled 24-hundred dollars. Gogebic Taconite responded by hiring a military-style security firm from Arizona – but it was pulled back when it was learned that the firm did not have a state license. Bullet-Proof Securities of Arizona said it applied for the license last Friday, and it expects approval within a couple days. In Watertown yesterday, Governor Scott Walker said he didn’t blame Gogebic for bringing in the camouflaged security guards with assault rifles. Walker – who supports the mine as a job creator – called the protestors “extremists” who dressed like ninjas. He hoped that quote, “cooler heads will prevail.” 


An Arizona man has pleaded innocent to killing the fiancée of his ex-girlfriend in Superior. 41-year-old Juan Padilla of Fort Mohave was arraigned yesterday in Douglas County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide. He’s accused of killing 46-year-old Terrence Luukkonen, who was found shot and bleeding in his car outside of Genesis Attachments in Superior on May 23rd. Luukkonen died a short time later at a hospital in nearby Duluth Minnesota. A 9-1-1 caller told police that Luukkonen had committed suicide. Prosecutors said he was engaged to a woman who broke off a relationship with Padilla about a month before the killing. She told police that Padilla was upset about the breakup, and he wanted to kill her fiancée. A hearing is set for August 14th on the status of the case. A trial date could be set at that time.   


Wisconsin had its hottest day of the summer yesterday, as a week-long heat wave began in earnest. The heat index reached 104 at the state headquarters of the National Weather Service in Sullivan. In Grant County, the temperature-and-humidity index was 103 just northeast of Dubuque Iowa – and 102 near Boscobel. The heat index was in the 90’s in most other parts of the state. Heavy rains fell in parts of southern Wisconsin but did nothing to cool things down. Downtown Oconomowoc recorded four-point-two inches of rain in almost two-and-a-half hours late yesterday afternoon. Many roads were closed due to standing water, mostly in construction zones. It was still 78-degrees at three this morning in Madison and La Crosse. A dry day is expected, with highs in the low-90’s projected for most parts of the state. A major cool-down is not expected until Friday or Saturday. 


Wisconsin’s corn crop is catching up, thanks to a dry July. It’s still behind schedule, but officials say the average height is 44-inches – more than a foot higher than the previous week. However, the corn height varies greatly, as farms dry out from a waterlogged June. Believe it or not, most crop reporters say they can use some rain. Sixteen-percent of Wisconsin’s top soil is listed as short-to-very short of moisture – along with eight-percent of subsoil moisture. Almost two-thirds of the Wisconsin corn crop is rated good-to-excellent. Only nine-percent is rated less than fair. Ninety-three percent of the soybeans are also fair-to-excellent. Thirteen-percent of the beans have bloomed, 11-percent below normal. Parts of southern Wisconsin had extremely heavy rains late yesterday. Oconomowoc had over four-inches within two-and-a-half hours. A mostly dry and hot week is in store. Heavy thunderstorms are possible on Thursday.


The tree-killing emerald ash borer has been found at Mirror Lake State Park near Wisconsin Dells. As a result, Sauk County has become the 17th in the Badger State to be quarantined for the invasive pest. Agriculture officials said a number of adult beetles were caught in one of the purple traps that were set throughout Wisconsin to check for the ash borer. Also, the DNR found other signs of infestation, including immature beetles, when they pulled bark from some of the ash trees near the park’s entrance. The new quarantine means that people cannot take firewood or other ash products out of Sauk County. Local shippers of ash products must get certifications from the state ag department that their products are pest-free. It’s the second this month that a quarantine was ordered. The first was in Jefferson County just over a week ago, when the emerald ash borer was spotted just south of the county line at UW-Whitewater. 


You can still wear saggy pants in Green Bay without breaking the law. The city’s Protection-and-Welfare Committee voted unanimously last night against a proposal from Alderman David Boyce to ban the low-belt bottoms. Boyce voted against the motion himself, saying it was enough to have it discussed in an open forum. The full Common Council will have the final say two weeks from tonight. Boyce said he was once assaulted by people with their pants hanging out. He wanted to make it known that Green Bay has standards, and is a decent place to live. Opponents said the proposed ban would stomp on people’s rights, and reflect poorly on the city. One critic called it a form of racial profiling. Police captain Bill Bongle said such a law would be unenforceable, and the city attorney’s office had constitutional concerns. A beachside town in New Jersey recently banned saggy pants, with fines of up to $200.


If you can’t trust a fire chief, who can you trust? Roger James, the fire chief in Kronenwetter near Wausau, turned in a bank bag with thousands-of-dollars that he found along a highway in Lincoln County. James said he and his wife were driving to their cabin to do some cleanup work on Sunday, when he saw a bank bag on County Trunk “E” in the town of Harding. The bag had around two-thousand dollars in cash and another two-thousand in checks. The chief took it to the sheriff’s office in Merrill. Deputies tracked down the bag’s owner the same day. The owner said he had not noticed yet that the bag was missing.