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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Traffic fatalities declined in the first six months of 2014 compared to last year

For the second year in a row, Wisconsin could see a major decline in the number of motorists killed in traffic accidents.  Two-hundred-15 people were killed in road crashes during the first six months of 2014.  That's 11 fewer than the previous year.  Wisconsin is on pace for almost 100 fewer deaths for this year -- but D-O-T safety analyst Donald Lyden says traffic deaths normally increase in June, July, and August because folks drive faster.  Five-hundred-27 people died in Wisconsin highway mishaps in 2013, way down from the 601 deaths the previous year.  Both years had a late start to summer-like weather, keeping more people off the roads and contributing to the drop in traffic deaths.  Mass transit advocates have also pointed to surveys showing traffic declines in the state's largest metros.  The D-O-T credits things it controls -- like improved highways, safety campaigns, and a renewed focus for citing drunk drivers and speeders.  Last Thursday, the D-O-T reported the second-safest June for traffic deaths since the mid-1940's.


It was north central Wisconsin's turn to get hit with severe weather last evening.  A wave of thunderstorms dumped quarter-sized hail for up to ten minutes near Boulder Junction in Vilas County.  Lac du Flambeau had one-and-three-quarter inches of rain in less than an hour.  Rhinelander almost had that much rain.  Trees fell at Pine Lake in Oneida County.  Parts of Lincoln and Langlade counties also had hail.  Up to 15-thousand electric customers lost their power at the peak of the storms.  At six this morning, the Wisconsin Public Service utility said almost 360 customers were still in the dark, about two-thirds of them in the Boulder Junction area.  More thunderstorms are in the forecast for most of Wisconsin late today and tonight.  Those storms could be severe in the western half of the state.  The National Weather Service in the La Crosse region said an isolated tornado is possible this evening.


Owners of the former Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant are speeding up a transfer of used fuel, to address concerns from local residents.  Dominion Resources shut down the plant in the spring of last year.  Under its latest plan, the spent fuel rods would be moved from a large storage pool in the reactor to two dozen concrete casks which stand 18-feet tall.  The move is set to be completed by the end of 2016.  The firm hired an Atlanta company to build the casks and fill them. Kewaunee has said it would take the full 60 years allowed by federal law to decommission the plant.  Officials in the nearby town of Carlton are worried that it would hurt efforts to bring in new jobs.  Dominion spokesman Mark Kanz tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the fuel-rod transfer is the only activity being moved up -- but it could set the stage for an earlier decommission down the road.  The Kewaunee reactor operated for 39 years until the utilities which bought the plant's electricity found cheaper alternatives with plants that burn natural gas.  Nuclear plants are hanging onto their spent fuel because the federal government has not found finalized a national plan to store them.  Wisconsin reactors have an estimated 14-hundred-30 tons of spent fuel.  That's around two-percent of the U-S total.


Last month was one of the soggiest on record in Wisconsin.  The National Weather Service said Madison had about nine-and-a-half inches of rain in June, the fifth-highest on record.  Also, there was at least a trace of rain during 20-of-the-30 days of June in Madison -- the second-highest in Weather Service annals.  Milwaukee had its 14th-wettest June, with just over six-inches of rain.  That city also had 20 rainy days last month, tied with 1969.  The faucet was turned off at least long enough for most of us to enjoy our July Fourth weekends.  The northwest half of Wisconsin had rain early yesterday, and it spread during the afternoon.  Those storms are gone, but more are due in this afternoon and evening.


Wisconsin leads the Midwest in the percentage of new businesses that survive for at least ten years.  The U-S Small Business Administration said 41-percent of companies which opened in 2002 in the Badger State were still around a decade later.  That's six-and-a-half percent more than the national average -- and it's at least ten percent higher than larger states like New Jersey and Florida.  However, Wisconsin falls short in its actual numbers of business start-ups.  As a percentage of population, the Badger State has ranked near the bottom in new start-ups in 2002, '07, and 2010.  Wisconsin was dead last in 2002, with 157 new firms opening for every 100-thousand state residents.  Washington D-C had the most that year with 410.


A black bear was rescued by a lumberjack who saw the animal's head stuck in a milk can.  It happened a few weeks ago near Rice Lake in northwest Wisconsin, and the rescue was captured on You-Tube.  Both T-V stations in Eau Claire showed the video during the weekend.  Garrett Smith said he was working in a wooded area when he saw the troubled bear next to a cornfield.  He said the landowner gave him permission to drive across the field, and use a skid-steer to try and remove the milk can from the bear's head.  It worked after a couple tries -- and the bear quickly ran off.