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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Cost of new Madison-to-La Crosse powerline over a half billion dollars

LA CROSSE - A proposed new electric transmission line between Madison and La Crosse would cost $540-to-$580 million.  

That's according to a draft environmental assessment released today.  It was among 17 projects endorsed in 2011 by the Midwest's regional transmission regulator, the Mid-Continent Independent Transmission System Operator.  Customers throughout the Midwest are expected to pay for those projects.  Wisconsin consumers are expected to pay around $87-million for the Madison-to-La Crosse connection.  State regulators have the final say on the various projects.  The Badger State's Public Service Commission is expected to act on the southern Wisconsin line by next April.  The American Transmission Company and X-cel Energy would build the new facility.  They say it's needed to keep the power flowing when coal plants are shut down.  They also said it would help import more wind energy from the Great Plains, and boost access to lower-cost power.  Critics question the need for the new line, saying electric sales have either been flat or falling in recent years.


A court hearing is set for Sept. 4 on whether a Minnesota man deserves a new trial for killing a La Crosse camera shop owner and his son. A new lawyer for 41-year-old Jeffrey Lepsch said three jurors reached conclusions about his guilt before hearing the case -- and attorneys should have caught that when the jury was picked.  The prosecution contends that all three jurors vowed to base their verdicts only on the evidence presented during the trial.  Lepsch, of Dakota, Minnesota, was convicted of killing 56-year-old Paul Petras and his 19-year-old son A.J. at May's Photo in downtown La Crosse on a Saturday afternoon in 2012.  Authorities said Lepsch also stole 27 items of camera equipment worth $17,000  Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez will decide whether Lepsch deserves a new trial.  If she doesn't agree, Lepsch can take his case to the state's Fourth District Appellate Court.  The jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, armed robbery by force, and illegally owning a firearm as a convicted felon.


Trempealeau County authorities have released the names of three people killed in a head-on crash yesterday between Arcadia and Blair.  The victims were 57-year-old Patrice Hamerski of Trempealeau, 34-year-old Donald Lewallen of Augusta, and 14-year-old Austin Lemon of Augusta.  Hamerski was the only person in an SUV collided in the opposite lane with a mini-van which caught fire on Highway 95.  Lewallen was driving the mini-van, and Austin Lemon was a passenger.  Two other passengers in the van were also injured.  A 23-year-old Fairchild woman suffered life-threatening injuries, and was taken to a La Crosse hospital.  A 34-year-old Owen man was treated at a Whitehall hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.  The road was said to be wet at the time.  The crash remains under investigation.


Prosecutors are now asking a federal appeals court to keep some records secret in the John Doe probe of the state's recall elections.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said it would release 34 files today, if it did not hear any objections.  Two unnamed parties asked that all files remain sealed.  Yesterday, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz asked that some files be withheld. He said their release could hurt the "remaining integrity" of the investigative process and impede a resolution.  Schmitz also said some of the files contain the names of people who might not be charged -- and a release would affect their interests to privacy.  The two-year-old John Doe is looking into allegations that Governor Scott Walker and other Republican recall candidates illegally intended to coordinate their campaigns with a dozen outside groups.  Walker has denied wrongdoing.  One of the main targets of the Doe probe, the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth, has joined prosecutors in asking that some files stay secret -- including affidavits which discuss the group's policy messages and strategies.  Media groups have asked that all the John Doe records be made public, after Federal Judge Rudolph Randa struck down the probe in May.  The state is appealing the order.


More heavy rains and hail are possible this afternoon and evening in central, eastern, and northwest Wisconsin.  But most of the state is expected to avoid the type of severe weather that raced through Wisconsin's mid-section last night.  The National Weather Service says another warm front will move into the state tomorrow night, with thunderstorms likely in southern parts of the Badger State.  Several weak systems are due in starting Thursday -- and there's a chance of thunderstorms from Thursday night into early next week.   Hot weather returns to southern and far southeast Wisconsin on Friday.  The National Weather Service says the heat index could reach the upper-90's south of a line from Wisconsin Dells to Burlington.


A relatively cool and dry summer is still hampering the Wisconsin corn crop.  The National Agriculture Statistics Service says the corn matured nicely over the past week -- but the plant's silk and dough levels are still four-percent below the average for the past five years.  Sixty-five percent of the state's corn is rated good-to-excellent.  Sixty-eight percent of Wisconsin soybeans are good-to-excellent.  The beans are maturing a little ahead of schedule.  There's still a need for rain.  Only 53-percent of the state's farm fields have adequate moisture levels -- and 45-percent are short or very short of moisture.  That's two percent more than a week ago.  Parts of central Wisconsin had rains yesterday that were too heavy to soak in.  Wisconsin Rapids had the most, with almost three-and-two-thirds inches.  More showers are in the statewide forecast today, with a chance of rain every day into the weekend.


A jury in West Bend will start deliberating this afternoon in the homicide case of 20-year-old Daniel Bartelt.  The Richfield man is accused of strangling 19-year-old Jessie Blodgett in July of last year.  The victim's mother said her daughter came home from a cast party after performing in "Fiddler on the Roof," and she found Jessie dead in her bedroom the next day.  An autopsy showed that Blodgett was bound and strangled.  In his closing arguments, Washington County District Attorney Mark Bensen said Bartelt's DNA was found on the victim's body, which indicated a sexual assault.  The defense agreed that a roll of tape found near the victim had the defendant's fingerprints -- but the prosecution cannot say how they got there.  


An eastern Wisconsin man faces a criminal charge for climbing on a construction crane and jumping down with a bungee cord.  Twenty-six year old Nicholas Propson of Maribel is charged with a misdemeanor count of illegally entering a construction site.  Authorities said he bungee-jumped from a 140-foot tall construction crane last month at Acuity Insurance in Sheboygan.  His feat appeared on You-Tube -- and after that, a company manager called police.  The video showed other people, including another person behind him on the crane.  Propson turned himself in four days after the incident, but police said he refused to tell them who was with him.  The contractor which owned the crane said the machine had to be recertified after the incident, and that process cost three-thousand dollars.  The firm filed a request for restitution in Sheboygan County Circuit Court.


The way beer is regulated, you might think it's impossible to buy it from vending machines.  But baseball fans in Minneapolis are doing it -- and the food vendor for the Milwaukee Brewers wants to offer it, too.  Sports-Service Incorporated has filed an application with Milwaukee's licensing division for the okay to install two self-service beer vending units in Miller Park.  A city panel will consider the request next month.  The idea of course, is to speed up purchases for baseball fans so they can get back to the action on the field.  Fans would go to a cash register, show ID's, and then buy cards for certain monetary amounts.  Those cards would be scanned at the vending machines, where buyers could choose the brands and amounts of beer that they want.  Monitors would be at the machines to double-check ID's and ban those who look like they've had one-too-many.  The Minnesota Twins were reportedly the first Major League Baseball team to offer self-service beer, a couple weeks before they hosted the All-Star Game in mid-July.


A Marshfield start-up company which makes it easier for researchers to handle microscope specimens has raised $410,000 from angel investors.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cited a federal securities' filing in reporting the capital investment for Microscopy Innovations.  Its C-E-O, Mark Nelson, tells the news outlet that leading drug-makers are among his customers -- along with NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and major university research labs.  Microscopy Innovations has developed a capsule-based system that lets researchers keep specimens in one container throughout their experiments -- thus reducing the amount of chemicals needed, and lowering the risk of specimen damages or losses.


A Southern California woman who was ticketed for climbing into the giraffe exhibit at the Madison zoo says she'll fight her citation.  Twenty-four year old Amanda Hall of San Luis Obispo tells the Los Angeles Times she was not trying to hurt the animal, and she doesn't believe a $686-fine for harassing zoo animals is fair.  In her words, "I got hit in the face by a giraffe ... I don't need a fine and this on my record."  The incident happened last Saturday afternoon at Madison's Vilas Park Zoo.  Hall described herself as an animal lover.  Madison Police said she climbed over one fence and was scaling another, when a 12-foot-tall giraffe named Wally licked her face, then turned and kicked her in the face.  Zoo officials said giraffes are capable of killing lions -- and Hall was lucky not to be seriously injured.