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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Construction worker back home in Wheeler from hospital after La Crosse accident

LA CROSSE - A construction worker is home from the hospital, almost four weeks after he fell 45-feet from a bridge project near La Crosse.  

NIneteen-year-old Logan Goodell of Wheeler in Dunn County was installing concrete forms, when he plunged into a temporary enclosure.  His Web page on Caring Bridge said Goodell was originally going to be released tomorrow from the Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.  However, his departure was moved up by two days due to his fast recovery.  Recently, an official of his employer -- Ames Construction -- said Goodell was working to rebuild his strength, and he's determined to make a full recovery.  The mishap occurred on Interstate-90 over the Mississippi River at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.  The Gopher State's Occupational Safety-and-Health agency is investigating.


The calendar has not been kind to the Salvation Army.  Chapters in La Crosse and Green Bay both say their donations are way down from a year ago due to a shorter holiday shopping season. That's because Thanksgiving came a week later than last year.  In La Crosse, the Salvation Army's Red Kettles have brought in 40-thousand dollars -- down from 51-thousand at this time in 2012.  In Green Bay, the Salvation Army of Brown County has collected 30-percent less from its Red Kettles, and 25-percent less in its general Christmas donations.  Julie Nelson of La Crosse tells WKBT-TV that a lack of volunteer bell-ringers is also keeping donations down.  Kathryn Paul of the Brown County chapter tells WLUK-TV that bell-ringers are actually up from a year ago -- but 54-percent of the available bell-ringing slots are still open.  Nelson is counting on a big push in donations over the next few weeks.  She says the Christmas donations pay for all of her organization's service efforts -- including an emergency shelter and meal programs for the needy.


The FBI and other federal agencies are reportedly investigating a suburban Milwaukee contractor.  The Journal-Sentinel dug up an affidavit for a search warrant, which suspected that Watry Homes of New Berlin filed false wage claims to the government for a public housing renovation.  The investigation comes after a federal report showing that the Milwaukee Housing Authority did not follow federal rules for hiring low-income workers for the project.  It's an $82-million renovation at Westlawn, the state's largest public housing facility.  In the first phase, over 330 public housing units are being torn down -- and 250 new affordable units are being put in their place.  According to the Journal Sentinel, the affidavit quoted a roofer who said Watry Homes and its owner fabricated employee identities to show it was paying higher wages, while actually using other workers who got paid much less.  The paper said the lower-paid workers never complained because they were afraid of being fired.


Gogebic Taconite has scaled back its plan to study potential iron ore at its proposed mine in Ashland-and-Iron counties.  At first, the company wanted to excavate four-thousand tons of rock at five locations in the Penokee Hills.  The DNR questioned the proposal, and critics spoke out against blasting as part of the work.  Now, Gogebic has submitted a revised plan to the DNR which calls for the removing of iron ore from three sites instead of five -- and blasting would only be used if the firm could not get enough material from excavation equipment.  The DNR will now review the new sampling plan, and decide which permits would be needed before the work could begin.  


A Milwaukee woman is due in court December 20th for allegedly embezzling over a million dollars to support a gambling addiction.  49-year-old Janice Nieman was charged yesterday with three counts of felony theft and one count of identity theft.  She was fired last July as a payroll specialist at Wheaton Franciscan Health Services in suburban Milwaukee.  Nieman told police she got hooked on slot machines before she joined the health chain 15 years ago, because she was depressed after losing a previous job.  Prosecutors said she used her payroll position to create false time off for almost 850 employees -- and she allegedly placed the wages for that time off into her own bank account.  In April of this year, Wheaton started a using a new payroll system that allowed workers to keep track of their payroll data online.  Authorities say the embezzlement scheme was cracked when a former employee came back, and noticed discrepancies in her online data.  Prosecutors said Nieman ran a total of four-million dollars through the slot machines at Milwaukee's Potawatomi Casino -- including $30,000 in a single day.


The 26 UW campuses lost almost 1,200 faculty members during the two years ending June 30th.  A new report to the Board of Regents shows that over 650 of the instructors retired.  All of them had their jobs secure through tenure.  Almost 500 faculty members resigned, and about 185 were tenured.  We don't know if there's a trend.  The report did not list faculty departures during previous two-year budget periods.  UW spokesman David Giroux says the university does not have figures from past years.


A suburban Milwaukee petroleum wholesaler has been fined $51,000 for abandoning three underground gasoline storage tanks.  The state Justice Department said Bulk Petroleum allowed a permit for the tanks to expire at the start of 2009 at a former gas station on Milwaukee's northwest side.  The company was supposed to either get a new permit, or properly close the storage tanks to avoid pollution.  Officials said Bulk Petroleum did neither of those things.  Bulk used to own 100 gas stations in the Midwest, while providing fuel to 200 other stations.  It filed for Chapter-11 bankruptcy in 2009.  Bulk re-organized by starting a new firm only to distribute gasoline without owning property for gas stations.  The new company has the same name as the old one.  It was not immediately clear whether the state violation applied to the old Bulk Petroleum, or the new one.


Far northwest Wisconsin got its heaviest snow of the season overnight.  Superior had seven-and-a-half inches by four o'clock this morning.  Six inches fell at Spooner and at Mason in Bayfield County.  In west-central Wisconsin, two inches of snow fell at La Crosse and Neillsville.  That was on top of freezing rain in some places.  Clark County sheriff's deputies said numerous vehicles slid into ditches during the night, because drivers couldn't see the ice under the snow.  Freezing rain was reported in both Clark and Taylor counties.  More of it is possible today and tomorrow, along with rain and snow in various parts of the state.  Far southern Wisconsin is supposed to get only rain.  Relatively mild temperatures should continue the next couple days, with highs in the 30's-and-40's statewide and lows in the 20's-and-30's.  Much colder weather is expected on Thursday once the precipitation clears out.  By Saturday, highs in northwest Wisconsin might not get past five-above.


An alleged drunk driver was charged yesterday with killing a deer hunter and injuring another in northwest Wisconsin.  42-year-old James Winchel of Sheldon faces two Taylor County charges of causing homicide and injury by drunk driving.  Authorities said Winchel was driving at a high rate of speed last Friday toward members of a hunting party who were standing on a town road west of Gilman.  52-year-old Juan Salinas of Roscoe, Illinois was killed, and 53-year-old Fernando Salinas of Roscoe was still hospitalized in Wausau at last word.  Others in their hunting party managed to jump out of the way.  Winchel was still hospitalized at last word in Eau Claire, in stable condition. 


Milwaukee has recorded its 16th death of a baby this year due to unsafe sleeping conditions.  The medical examiner's office said a five-month-old boy was found dead by her mother late Sunday afternoon, after they spent most of the day sleeping together in her queen-sized bed.  Experts say the safest way for a baby to sleep is in a crib.  Officials said the baby's home had three cribs, all filled with clothes, baby supplies, and other items.  The mother told officers she was not intoxicated, and she had just two glasses of wine before going to bed with her infant.


For the first time in five years, a captive deer on a Wisconsin game farm is found to have chronic wasting disease.  The state agriculture department said yesterday that a five-year-old buck tested positive for the fatal brain disease, after being shot November fourth at a preserve near Eland in eastern Marathon County.  Officials are not sure how the animal contracted CWD.  The discovery was made as part of a routine test.  All deer-and-elk killed on game farms and hunting preserves must be tested for the disease. The ag department did not identify the preserve by name.  It has about 370 deer in an enclosed site that covers about 350 acres.  Hunting will still be allowed there.  State veterinarian Paul McGraw did order a quarantine in which no animals can be transferred from the affected preserve or three nearby deer farms with the same owner.  Officials say they'll check animal transfer records to see if it uncovers any clues of why CWD appeared on the site.  Almost 100 infected deer have been discovered on eight Wisconsin game farms and shooting preserves from 2002-through-'08.  The biggest case was in Portage County, where 82 deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in 2006.


State lawmakers have given their first endorsement to Governor Scott Walker's proposed delay for big changes in BadgerCare.  The Joint Finance Committee voted 11-2 yesterday in favor of waiting three months, until the end of March, to drop 77,000 BadgerCare recipients above the poverty line.  They would have to get their coverage from the federal Obamacare purchasing exchange, which has had major problems in enrolling people online.  The bill now goes to the full state Assembly tomorrow.  Health groups and some Democrats took issue with the change, because it would also delay new BadgerCare benefits for 83,000 of the state's poorest childless adults.  Senate Democrat Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie and Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine voted against the measure.  Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards endorsed the bill but said it was a quote, "imperfect Band-Aid," after majority Republicans refused to take additional federal Medicaid funds to implement Obamacare.  Republicans don't want the state to be stuck funding the program if it doesn't work nationally.  Finance chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) says the Obamacare roll-out has been quote, "a disaster."  Also yesterday, state Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel asked the federal government to include the state in a pilot program that lets people use subsidies to buy coverage not available on the exchanges.  The governor made the same request last month but never got an answer.


A Milwaukee-based grocery wholesaler is getting bigger.  Roundy's said yesterday it would acquire 11 Dominick's food stores in the Chicago area for $36-million in cash and lease assumptions.  The stores are owned by Safeway, which said in October it would no longer operate 72 Dominick's stores in Chicagoland.  The deal is expected to be closed during the second half of December.  Roundy's says it will rename the stores under its Mariano's banner.  Mariano's has 13 stores in the Chicago area, and five more are being built.


The State Capitol is in full holiday mode, with decorations that relate to almost everyone.  A tall Christmas tree was put up yesterday, a balsam fir provided two weeks ago by Jim Draeger of Antigo.  The Capitol also has a traditional Nativity scene, and a menorah for Hanukkah.  Madison's Freedom from Religion Foundation has its own nativity scene that steers away from a Christian holiday and celebrates winter.  It has a sign which reads "Religion is but myth and superstition."  Finally, the Capitol has a pole for "Festivus," the fake holiday created on the old "Seinfeld" comedy show in 1997.  It says there will be an "airing of the grievances" next to the Festivus pole on December 23rd.