Corps issues permits for Stillwater Bridge; One in five firms plan to add workers; more briefs
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given its blessing to a new four-lane bridge over the St. Croix River near Hudson.
The Corps has issued a permit that includes required authorizations under the federal Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. The approvals were granted about a year after Congress and President Obama granted an exception from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to allow the new structure.
Foundation work will begin next month and will be completed by the summer of next year. That's when the main structure will start being built. It's expected to be completed in 2016.
The bridge was subject of debate for about a half century due to environmental concerns. It replaces an 80-year-old lift bridge and will prevent thousands of Wisconsinites from having to drive through Stillwater, Minn., each day to get to and from their jobs in the Twin Cities area.
One in five firms plan to add workers
More than one of every five Wisconsin employers plan to add workers from April through June, according to a quarterly survey by Manpower Inc.
The Milwaukee-based job placement firm polls 18,000 U.S. companies about their hiring plans every three months.
Of the Wisconsin firms surveyed, 22% plan to hire additional people this spring. Four percent expect layoffs, and 72% will maintain their current employment levels.
In the Milwaukee metro area, 23% of employers plan to add staff members in the second quarter of the year. Five percent expect layoffs, 3% are not sure, and 69% expect no change.
Nationally, the numbers of employers planning layoffs - 5% - is the lowest since 2000.
The survey was taken a few weeks before the automatic federal spending cuts took effect March 1, and employers did not figure them into their plans. Manpower senior executive Jorge Perez says there will be an impact from the federal cuts, but it's too early to say what the extent might be.
Gogebic may begin exploratory drilling this spring
Exploratory drilling could begin this spring on the proposed new Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.
Ann Coakley of the state Department of Natural Resources said the company could also seek permission to dig up bulk loads of iron ore to see how it can be converted into taconite.
Gogebic Taconite officials stayed away yesterday when Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill that paves the way for the company's new mine, which would be the largest in Wisconsin history. A spokesman said the firm was busy working on the project's early details at its headquarters in Hurley.
Walker held bill-signing ceremonies in Rhinelander and Milwaukee at firms which could eventually provide equipment to build the new mine.
Walker predicted the law will pass all legal challenges. Despite what critics say, he insists it would protect both the environment and the state's economic interests.
The head of the Bad River Indian tribe said he would start a fund drive this week to round up money for a legal challenge.
Walker said any mining bill would have been challenged in court because there are some people who "just don't want any mines under any circumstances." Recent polls indicated public opposition, but Walker said it's because "All they're hearing is the scare tactics."
Walker said that when a company wants to invest $1.5 billion, "They want to know that if they follow the rules, the rules aren't going to change on them."
Runoff causes some Wisconsin rivers to flood
Parts of seven rivers in southern Wisconsin were over their banks this morning, and other parts of the state report high water from melting snow and runoff.
The National Weather Service says there's major flooding on Spring Creek at Lodi. The creek was 1.5 feet above its flood stage this morning, and forecasters could not say when it would drop below its banks.
Moderate flooding is reported at Sheboygan, where the Sheboygan River is over three-feet above its flood stage. It's not expected to drop until early Saturday.
Other places report minor floods along the Pecatonica, Fox, Milwaukee and Sugar rivers. Turtle Creek near Beloit was also 1.5 feet above its banks this morning with no word on the flooding impact. The Root River in Racine County was expected to flood today but not for long.
Most rivers with minor flooding are expected to drop below their banks by this evening.
Forecasters say it might stay below freezing today. Highs near 30 are predicted statewide with periods of light snow showers. The far north could get a couple inches.
Observer predicts it won't be long before special interests outspend candidates
Special interest groups are starting to spend almost as much as the candidates themselves in trying to tell Wisconsinites how to vote.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that 44% of the total spending in the 2010 and 2012 state and federal elections came from outside groups. That's up from 32% in the 2006 and 2008 cycles.
Mike McCabe of the Democracy Campaign says it won't be too long before outside groups have a bigger say than the candidates in political ads. That's because of the 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to put money into elections through independent groups.
The Democracy Campaign estimates that $392 million was spent in the 2010 and 2012 state and federal elections in Wisconsin - up from $124 million in 2006 and 2008 elections.
Much of the recent spending was put toward the recall elections connected with the limits on public union bargaining. But even when that's taken out, campaign spending almost doubled in the last four years compared to the previous four.
When mine would open is open question
Gov. Scott Walker says he won't venture a guess as to when a new mine could open under the terms of the new mining permit regulations he signed Monday.
Some GOP lawmakers say Gogebic Taconite could open its proposed iron ore mine near Lake Superior within three years. But Senate Democrat Tim Cullen of Janesville said it will be more like seven to 10 years before the lawsuits are settled and all the state-and-federal approvals are given.
Walker himself refuses to guess on a timeline.
"I never said a dozen (years). I never said two. It's pretty wide open," said the governor.
He said the new mine would create jobs even before it opens. Walker said it would put mining equipment suppliers and others to work early.
The Bad River Indians are considering legal action, saying the mine would violate federally approved water quality standards on the tribe's reservation downstream.
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says it will look to punish the bill's GOP supporters next time they stand for election.
About a dozen protestors were outside the Milwaukee ceremony. Linea Sundstrom of Milwaukee said the only people who want the mine are "Walker's cronies."
Nuclear power plant closes
The Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant will stop making electricity May 7.
The date was announced yesterday after the plant's owner, Dominion Resources, first announced the shutdown last fall.
About 650 jobs will be phased out during the next couple of years - many this summer - while the nuclear plant undergoes a detailed closure.
Dominion said it could not find a buyer for Kewaunee because utilities that buy the power have contracts running out at the end of the year, and they won't renew because it's cheaper to get power from plants fired by natural gas.
In a filing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dominion said it has adequate funds to cover the plant's decommissioning, a plan to manage spent fuel and a restoration of the site.
Italian donor gives UWGB bust of da Vinci
UW-Green Bay has received a very notable gift from a philanthropist in Italy - a 500-pound bust of Leonardo da Vinci.
The white bust was created last year, and it's still in a crate while campus officials decide where the statue should go.
The donor was said to be well aware of UW-Green Bay after five groups of students traveled to Florence, Italy, over the past decade.
Music instructor Sarah Livingston calls the bust "breathtaking." She told WBAY TV she's excited that the Green Bay campus can share the gift with the community. Officials expect to unveil the da Vinci bust in August.
Tanning salon owner blames business's failure on new tax
A former tanning salon owner blames the Obama health care reform law for the demise of her business.
Mari Jo Rislov said she decided to close Rio Tan in the town of Oconomowoc soon after Obama was reelected last November. Rislov said she took issue with a 10% tax on tanning services in the health law, and after Mitt Romney lost, she knew there was no chance the law would be repealed.
Rislov told the Lake Country Reporter that her profit margin was 10% so "Obama was getting 100% of my proceeds."
She did not want to pass the tax onto her customers, but some tanning shop owners have no problem doing that. Mary Beth Feider said she took ownership of her business just as the tanning tax was being implemented, and she said people don't mind paying it.
Feider said it's just like a tax on cigarettes or alcohol, and she gives customers lots of specials which help them offset the tax.