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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Underground explosion evacuates Milwaukee market

MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Public Market in the city's downtown was evacuated today, after road construction crews said they heard an explosion underground.  

Police said there appeared to be a fire burning deep under the ground, but there was no immediate evidence of an explosion.  The crews were pounding pilings as part of a re-construction project near the Public Market at Interstate-794.  It was not immediately clear whether the crews struck a natural gas line.  The area is part of Milwaukee's Third Ward.  It remained cordoned off early this afternoon.


A Wisconsin Senate Republican says he'll try again to ban affirmative action policies in the Badger State.  That's after today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling which upheld Michigan's constitutional ban on using race in deciding who gets admitted to public colleges and universities.  Voters approved that ban in 2006.  West Bend state Senator Glenn Grothman said today he would push to revive a proposal for a similar ban in Wisconsin, which he has tried but failed to adopt previously.  Grothman is running for Congress -- but if he loses, he can return to the Legislature to complete a term that would run through 2016.  Grothman says the average person doesn't realize quote, "how extensive race and gender preferences are in our society."  Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says applicants to UW-Madison who've been rejected are contacting a legal group that's seeking clients for a potential lawsuit.  The group is run by the Project on Fair Representation, and they've been seeking possible plaintiffs for the last few weeks.  The UW has not commented on the decision as of early afternoon.


The Wisconsin State Supreme Court today dramatically reduced a one-million-dollar damage award in a Door County property dispute.  The case questioned whether Robert and Judith Kimble had an easement connecting their lakefront property to a highway.  They tried to sell the land in 2008, but failed because they couldn't resolve the dispute.  The Kimbles sued title insurer First American in 2009, accusing the company of not defending their title.  The couple later sold their interest to neighboring landowners John and Jane Stevenson, who later won a damage award from the insurer of just over a million dollars.  Today, the Supreme Court voted 4-2 to reduce the award to about $240,000 -- including around $30,000 in compensatory damages.  The majority justices said the original punitive damages were excessive.  Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson called the reduction "shocking," and said it rewarded the insurer by paying less due to bad faith.


Two more people announced their candidacies today for the Sixth District U.S. House seat to be given up by long-time GOP incumbent Tom Petri.  As expected, state Senate Republican Joe Leibham of Sheboygan became the third Republican in the race.  Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris of Oshkosh was the first Democrat to join the field.  Leibham noted that today is Wisconsin's Tax Freedom Day -- the day you start working for yourself, after making enough since the first of the year to pay the average tax obligations. Leibham called that "unacceptable," and he pointed to over two-billion dollars in state tax relief that he supported while in the Legislature.  Harris says he'll campaign on raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable, and more funding for highway repairs and to preserve Social Security.  Leibham joins state lawmakers, Senator Glenn Grothman and Assemblyman Duey Strobel in the Republican field.  Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickles has said he's considering a Democratic bid.  It's the first time in 35 years that Petri's House seat has opened up.  


Only two rivers in Wisconsin still had flood warnings this afternoon -- and both are getting close to falling below their banks again.  The Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien was expected to drop below its flood stage tonight, with only minor flooding projected.  The Fox River at Berlin is also dropping, and was an inch below its banks today.  Minor floods were predicted, but there was no immediate word on when it drop below its flood stage.  Forecasters say it should remain dry in Wisconsin until Thursday, when a chance of thunderstorms is in the forecast.  It's still relatively cool for this time of year, with highs in the 40's-and-50's projected for the next few days.  North central Wisconsin could get down to 20 tonight.  The 60's may not return until Thursday in the southern part of the state.


Fox Valley Technical College of Appleton says it will take a closer look at its plans to create a so-called "body farm."  In a letter to the project's neighbors, vice president Christopher Matheny said it won't be considered until the middle of next year at the earliest.  The proposed body farm is an outdoor research facility to find out how human bodies and animal carcasses wear down in the dead of winter.  The two-acre facility is planned at Greenville, near Appleton's airport.  It was part of a $35-million public safety training facility for Fox Valley Tech that was approved by voters in 2012 -- but the Appleton Post-Crescent said voters were never told about this part of the project before the referendum.  Since the word got out in late March, residents have voiced concerns about odors, airport safety, and possible reductions in their property values.  School officials have said the fenced-in site would not be readily accessible, and neighbors would not smell the bodies.  They said it would help forensic investigators around the country improve their skills.  


A 53-year-old man has been told to spend the rest of his life in prison for a strangling a woman half his age, and leaving her body in a cemetery near Kenosha.  At his sentencing, Javier Garcia insisted that he didn't kill 26-year-old Lisa Mezera.  Circuit Judge Mary Kay Wagner could have given Garcia a chance for a supervised release in at least 20 years -- but she decided not to, citing his lack of remorse.  Mezera was left beaten and partially-clothed in August of 2012 in the Kenosha County town of Somers.  That was a day after the two left her father's house together.  Ron Mezera said he could not figure out why Garcia committed quote, "the most heinous crime I could ever think of."  The defense promised to appeal.  At his trial, it only took an hour for jurors to deliberate before convicting him on all five charges against him -- homicide, false imprisonment, sexual assault, aggravated battery, and theft.  


Two motorcyclists killed in a crash near Stevens Point were identified today as 21-year-old Alexander Reeder of Wisconsin Rapids and 20-year-old Katherine Axlen of Mukwonago.  Both were seniors at U-W Stevens Point.  Portage County authorities said their motorcycle collided with a mini-van late yesterday afternoon just west of Point on Highway 66 at County Trunk Double-"P."  Deputies said the mini-van driver, a 41-year-old woman, was turning into a driveway in the path of the motorcycle.  She and her 11-year-old son escaped injury.  The motorcyclists were thrown from their bike, and they died at the scene even though both were wearing helmets.


A former dean at UW-Green Bay will become the new president of Northern Michigan University.  The school at Marquette in the Upper Peninsula has named Fritz Erickson as its 15th president.  Erickson is currently the provost at Ferris State.  At Northern Michigan, he'll replace David Haynes who returns to the school's faculty in July.  At Green Bay, Erickson was the dean of the College of Professional and Graduate studies.  He has also held various posts at Eastern Washington and Michigan Tech.