Armed guards at taconite site rile local lawmakers; Judge puts state's latest abortion restriction on hold; Farm Tech opens near Barron, more state briefs
ASHLAND -- Two Wisconsin lawmakers have asked the president of Gogebic Taconite to remove armed security guards from the company’s proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties.
Bob Seitz, Gogebic Taconite spokesman, told the News Tribune that the company began employing private security guards after teams of mining opponents “dressed in black and wearing masks violently attacked our drill site” in June.
State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, on Monday sent a letter to Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams, calling on him to immediately remove “the heavily armed masked commando security unit recently hired to protect the company’s property in the Penokee Hills.”
Several photographs of armed guards dressed in military-style camouflage and combat gear, apparently working for the Arizona-based Bulletproof Securities Force, have appeared on anti-mining blogs in recent days. In one photo, one of the guards, armed with an assault-style rifle, appears to be masked.
The lawmakers called the photos “horrifying” and the action by the company to hire the high-security Arizona firm “appalling.”
“These kinds of security forces are common in Third World countries but they don’t belong in northern Wisconsin,” Jauch and Bewley said in a press release.
The company is now conducting test drills, working toward construction of Wisconsin’s first modern taconite mining operations, including an open-pit iron ore mine and processing plant.
The project was pushed by Wisconsin Republicans as a way to create jobs in the region but is opposed by several Ojibwe and environmental groups and activists who say the project will damage the environment. The company reported several incidents last month with drilling crews confronting mining opponents at the drilling sites. One woman was charged after an altercation over a camera.
Seitz said opponents erected roadblocks to slow the response of local law enforcement officials, spurring the company to hire round-the-clock security.
“Sen. Jauch is entitled to his opinion. But I would have hoped he would be more interested in the safety of Wisconsin workers” on the company’s mine sites, Seitz said.
He would not confirm or deny that Bulletproof is the company providing the security guards. He said Gogebic had no intention of removing the guards or hiring a more moderate force to do the job.
“We have to protect our workers,” Seitz said.
Although the security guards are at Iron County drill sites, one drill hole was in Ashland County. Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan told Wisconsin Public Radio he doesn’t see the need for the assault-style rifles.
“Yeah, it always concerns law enforcement any time we have someone who is carrying a firearm, open carry or not,” Brennan said. “My concern if it was in Ashland County is the need for it and what the circumstances that maybe prompted them to change their security forces that they have.”
Jauch and Bewley acknowledged the company’s right to protect its property, but they called the decision to hire the security firm an effort to intimidate citizens. “No one in their right mind can justify the excessive force. These individuals are not deputized; they can’t arrest anyone. What they can do is unjustifiably scare people, and that appears to be your intention.”
Jauch and Bewley added that the company could improve its relationship with local residents by reversing its decision.
-- John Myers, Duluth News-Tribune
Judge puts state's latest abortion restriction on hold
MADISON -- A federal judge in Madison has put Wisconsin’s latest abortion restriction on hold.
Judge William Conley issued a 19-page ruling Monday evening which delays the enforcement of a law that requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinics.
Conley put the measure on hold until at least July 18th, the day after he holds a hearing on the matter. It was supposed to take effect Monday, as part of a law that requires abortion candidates to get ultrasounds, so they can see photos of their unborn babies. That part of the law remains in effect.
Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed suit against the entire measure in Conley’s court last Friday. They aid it’s unconstitutional.
Conley said there’s a “troubling lack of justification” for the requirement that abortion doctors have hospital-admitting privileges. He said it would cause irreparable harm to women who plan to have abortions in the next week.
Conley said the state has failed to “demonstrate any benefit to maternal health” by imposing the restriction. Planned Parenthood said it have to close its Appleton clinic, and reduce abortions at its Milwaukee facility by half.
The suit said Affiliated would have to close its Milwaukee clinic. Plaintiffs’ attorney Lester Pines said one clinic would have had to cancel up to 30 abortions or related appointments, had Judge Conley not blocked the law until after next week’s hearing.
Heat, humidity spawn high winds, heavy rains
Wisconsinites were in for another warm and humid day Tuesday, before heavy thunderstorms arrive.
Two rounds of storms were predicted for Tuesday afternoon, and again in the evening.
The National Weather Service said damaging straight-line winds could accompany the first round of storms, which was due in late Tuesday morning and will travel from west-to-east. The second round of thunder-boomers is due in late Tuesday afternoon, continuing through the evening. Forecasters say it will be accompanied by a cold front, and tornadoes are not out of the question.
Monday's hottest temperatures were in western Wisconsin, where it was 92 in La Crosse. The region expects a top heat-index of 90- to 95 Tuesday, while temperatures remain cool near Lake Superior.
The high Monday was 67 at Superior, and similar readings were expected Tuesday. Otherwise, the cold front won’t cool things off very much. Highs in most of Wisconsin are expected in the 80’s every day into the weekend.
After Tuesday evening, the next chance of rain will be Saturday. Wausau and Appleton both set rainfall records for the date Monday.
Almost 2.2 inches fell at Appleton, where the rains likely caused a roof to collapse at a sign company near downtown.
One person got out safely, as a portion of the roof caved in at Sign Works around 9 a.m. Nobody else was in there. College Avenue, one of Appleton’s main streets, was closed for several hours while firefighters checked to see if the neighboring buildings were safe.
Near Crandon, about 30 trees snapped several feet above the ground.
Farm Tech Days now open near Dallas
DALLAS -- Wisconsin’s largest farm show opened at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Barron County.
The 60th annual Farm Technology Days runs through Thursday at the Breezy Hill Farm near Dallas, owned by Alex and Mary Olson. Over 600 exhibitors will feature the latest in farm technology and practices. There will be field demonstrations, speakers, displays, and entertainment. Attendance has varied in recent years.
Special signage has been erected along Hwy. 25 north of Menomonie to direct people to the venue and at least a dozen State Patrol officers were to be assisting with traffic.
About 40,000 people went to last year’s show near New London in Outagamie County. The year before, around 60,000 showed up when the event was held near Marshfield in Marathon County.
Farm Technology Days highlights a different type of farming each year – and that’s the main reason it moves around the state. A few years ago, the show’s organizers said no to a permanent location that was offered in the middle of Clark County’s dairy country.
Dairy will be the focus of this year’s show. The host farmers milk around 500 cows.
Meanwhile, Crave Brothers cheese said it stopped producing three award-winning products as soon as it was learned that they might have caused an outbreak of listeria.
Crave Brothers, a family-owned dairy and cheese factory located near Waterloo which hosted Farm Technology Days in 2009, said it stopped producing three award-winning products as soon as it was learned that they might have caused a small bacterial outbreak. The dairy is working with the FDA to determine the exact source of the contamination. Listeria illnesses were reported in Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. A Minnesota resident died, and a pregnant woman had a miscarriage. Three others were hospitalized. The victims ranged in age from age 31 to 67. Tests from Minnesota tentatively identified the Crave Brothers cheese as the source, but further test results are pending.
Company president George Crave says more needs to be known but “Our sympathy goes out to the affected families.”
Crave recalled Les Freres, Petit Frere, and Petit Frere with Truffles, made on or before July 1st. All three have won awards from the American Cheese Society. Whole Foods packages the Les Freres cheese. Kroger and about 20 percent of Roundy’s stores also carry the products.
Dry Fourth of July week help farmers make some hay
Wisconsin farmers finally got a chance to make hay during the Fourth of July week.
Just over six days were suitable for field work. Officials said 92 percent of the first hay crop was harvested by Sunday -- 15 percent more than the week before. Fourteen percent of the second crop has also been harvested.
The dry weather also gave the corn a chance to grow. Some 98 percent of the crop has emerged. The average height is 31 inches, but that varies even within fields. Sixty-three percent of the Wisconsin corn is being assessed as "good to excellent" and 27 percent is "fair".
All but 3 percent of the soybean crop has been planted and 93 percent has emerged. Ninety-three percent of the beans are rated "fair to excellent". Around 75 percent of Wisconsin fields have adequate moisture, and about 20 percent have surplus moisture.
Courthouse fire damage worse than first characterized
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee County Courthouse might be closed longer than expected.
After a basement electrical fire on Saturday, officials said the courthouse and its adjacent safety building would be closed Monday and Tuesday. Now, County Executive Chris Abele is not sure when the structures can be re-opened.
One media report said it might be as late as Friday. The County Board has a veto review session scheduled for tomorrow. If supervisors cannot meet at the courthouse, they’ll meet at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
The county’s 9-1-1 emergency calls continue to be taken in neighboring Waukesha County. The district attorney’s office is still open, but the courts are not. Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Kremers says it might be a few weeks before a backlog is finished for cases delayed by the shutdown.
A consultant warned about the electrical problems as early as February. The firm of CBRE said the building’s electrical system was approaching its life expectancy, or was beyond it. It also said the building has no sprinkler system and does not meet current codes.
Two supervisors said the county should have done something in response. Abele says the current problems need to get fixed before anyone points fingers.
Finance chair wants more resources to police public assistance fraud
MADISON -- The state Senate’s finance chair says Wisconsin needs a public assistance fraud control unit.
River Hills Republican Alberta Darling wants stronger enforcement, after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that the state is not checking actual incomes of aid recipients who are self-employed, or who claim they’re broke.
In one case, a woman had $4 million in rental properties, but still managed to get $150,000 in tax-funded benefits for herself and her six kids. Another public aid recipient is a tutor who lives in a $460,000 home in Mequon.
Yesterday, Darling started seeking co-sponsors for a bill to have the state Justice Department prosecute public assistance fraud cases. Local district attorneys have that job now, and the Journal Sentinel says many don’t have the resources – so many offenders go free.
Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout of Alma says the current laws are sufficient, but regulators need to do a better job of using various databases to share data. Vinehout says it’s a matter of officials not doing their jobs.
Assembly finance chair John Nygren of Marinette says he favors two pending bills – one that gives counties incentives to pursue public assistance fraud, and creating rewards for those who report it.
Wisc-Net will carry on despite losing the UW’s business
MADISON -- The non-profit group that delivers the Internet to Wisconsin schools and libraries expects to keep going, despite losing over a quarter of its business.
Two state Senate committees held a hearing Monday to learn how Wisc-Net will keep functioning after the UW System dropped out.
Wisc-Net director David Lois said the U-W represented a large percentage of both its revenues and expenses. He called it a critical time for everyone involved.
State public school superintendent Tony Evers was afraid that Wisc-Net would fall apart, forcing schools and libraries to resort to higher-cost Web providers. The Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association said its members are ready to match Wisc-Net prices in public school and library districts.
The group’s director, Bill Esbeck, called the UW’s withdrawal a victory for the private sector. The university system recently approved a new contract with Wisc-Net, despite complaints from legislative Republicans who said the arrangement hurts private commercial Internet carriers. The new state budget called for a permanent UW withdrawal from Wisc-Net, and the university pulled out of its contract last month.
Guardsman remanded to trial in girlfriend's murder
An Air National Guardsman has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly shooting his girlfriend to death, and wounding another woman in Mauston.
Cody Treul, 29, had a preliminary hearing Monday in Juneau County Circuit Court on charges of homicide, attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment. He’s scheduled to enter pleas on Aug. 28th.
Sheriff’s detective Shawn Goyette testified that Treul pointed a gun at several people at a tavern courtyard before he killed 29-year-old Gail Howland and wounded 23-year-old Ebony Lasher. The shootings took place on May 31st. The detective said Howland was shot 10 times. She was reportedly breaking up with Treul.
His attorney tells WKOW TV in Madison that they’re considering insanity pleas.
Wausau police say firecracker incident 'could have been worse'
WAUSAU -- Wausau Police are looking for a person who lit a firecracker and threw it into a house during the Fourth of July weekend.
Police captain Bryan Hilts said an unknown person opened a front door and threw the firecracker onto carpeting, where it exploded.
The residents were in another room so nobody was hurt.
The carpeting had minor damage, and Hilts said it could have been a lot worse.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
Liberal 'Greater Wisconsin' group has new leader
MADISON -- A new leader has been named for the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a liberal group that spends millions of dollars on campaign ads.
Rich Judge will replace Michelle McGrorty on Aug. 1st.
Judge is currently the chief of staff for Democratic state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. He used to be a deputy chief of staff for
former Governor Jim Doyle. McGrorty headed the Greater Wisconsin Committee for eight years.
Since 2006, the group has spent $19 million on elections – mostly for ads which support Democrats and-or attack their Republican opponents. McGrorty is taking a new job with Emily’s List, a national group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. McGrorty will recruit candidates for public office in a region that covers 18 states.
Milwaukee native named bishop in El Paso
A Milwaukee native was to be installed Tuesday evening as the new Catholic bishop in El Paso, Tex.
A special Mass will take place at the El Paso Convention Center for 59-year-old Mark Seitz. He’ll become the new leader for 55 Catholic parishes and 22 missions in 10 West Texas counties.
Seitz was most recently the Auxiliary Bishop in Dallas. He’ll replace former El Paso Bishop Armando Ochoa, who is now the diocese leader in Fresno Calif.
Seitz says he wants to listen to people – and he’s eager to get to know clergy members and their congregations.
Teen invented shooting tale after gun accident
TOWN OF DELTA -- No charges are expected against a northern Wisconsin teenager who accidentally shot himself – and claimed that somebody else did it so he wouldn’t get in trouble at home.
Bayfield County Chief Deputy Dan Clark said the 16-year-old boy was not supposed to be touching his family’s weapons when nobody was around – but he did anyway. The incident happened on Sunday night.
Officers were first told that the boy was shot by somebody who was trying to steal things from his dad’s pick-up truck.
Investigators later concluded that the boy shot himself in the lower leg with a 22-caliber pistol. He did not have a life-threatening injury.