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Gogebic Taconite says it will build mine if rules are relaxed; Man 'defrosting' after two nights in freezing forest; More waiting to testify when mining bill hearing ends; more

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Gogebic Taconite said Wednesday that it would return to Wisconsin and build an iron ore mine near Hurley if legislators would relax the state's regulations on mining.

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The company left the state last spring after the Senate voted down a package that set a deadline to approve a state permit, eased environmental restrictions and banned certain legal challenges.

Last week, majority Republicans in both houses offered a similar package - plus the relaxing of wetland requirements - in the name of creating jobs.

Gogebic Taconite lobbyist Bob Seitz said many of those jobs would be filled by Wisconsin residents. He rebuffed a claim by one Democrat that most of the workers would be experienced miners from Minnesota and Michigan.

Earlier yesterday, legislative leaders said the final package would definitely be different than it is now and the GOP might consider some of items in an alternative bill proposed by Janesville Senate Democrat Tim Cullen. Among other things, his bill would lengthen the permit approval deadline by the proposed 480 days and would not relax environmental laws.

If the package is favorable to Gogebic, Seitz said work would begin as soon as Gov. Scott Walker signs the bill. At the point, the company would spill out its plans in detail.

Gogebic Taconite president Bill Williams said the mine would be highly efficient and would be built with workers from all parts of the state.

Hurley restaurant owner Gary Pelkola pleaded with lawmakers to pass the bill because the area needs the jobs so badly.

But Mick Isham, chairman of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, again expressed environmental concerns. He said lawmakers should have consulted with tribes as they drew up the bill.

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Man 'defrosting' after two nights in freezing forest

Craig Friebe's wife says her husband was still "defrosting" as recently as yesterday.

Becky Friebe said he was still in a lot of pain but in good spirits in a Duluth hospital.

The Superior man was riding his snowmobile in subzero temperatures last weekend when he ran out of gas. He had to spend two nights in the forest on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border in temperatures of 15 degrees below zero or colder.

He started walking from the Nemadji river, trying to find his way back to civilization and reaching a bridge Monday morning. Friebe waited there until a snowplow came by.

He and his wife are sharing their stories online at the website: CaringBridge.com.

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More waiting to testify when mining bill hearing ends

Wisconsin lawmakers finally wrapped up their public hearing on the new mining bill just after 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Republicans adhered to their 12-hour time limit, and several people who registered to testify were still waiting by the time the final gavel came down.

Once again, the argument was jobs versus the environment. But Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said the new mining package will benefit both.

The GOP measure would set a 480-day time limit to act on state mining permits, relax environmental protections and limit public challenges to the Department of Natural Resources' decisions.

Gogebic Taconite says it needs all those things to build a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties - a project the company said it would revive if the governor and Legislature give the firm what it wants.

High school students from Hurley were among those supporting the bill, saying it would provide jobs in a place where there are too few opportunities for young people.

But tribal members said the mine's pollution would contaminate the Bad River downstream and ruin their wild rice beds.

In one of the more pointed exchanges, Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said lawmakers would commit "genocide" by putting money and the economy over human health.

But Senator Grothman assured Wiggins, "Nobody will vote for a bill unless they're absolutely certain the Bad River will be clean."

Wiggins then asked the senator, "Can I hold you to that?"

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Towns Association asks for wind turbine moratorium

The Wisconsin Towns Association wants a moratorium on wind energy farms.

The group voted this week to ask the state not to approve any more wind turbines until further health studies are done.

A recent study by Clean Wisconsin and four independent groups found that residents of a home south of Green Bay suffered nausea after a nearby wind farm produced barely audible sounds from its turbines. The groups suggested more health studies.

The Towns Association says those studies should be done, and solutions should be found. The group also says the state's wind-energy siting rule needs to be modified accordingly.

The state Public Service Commission says the towns' request will be considered along with other evidence when the panel acts by the end of February on a proposed 41-turbine wind farm in St. Croix County in far western Wisconsin.

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Higher gas tax 'off the table,' says Assembly leader

Wisconsin Assembly leaders say there's no way they'll approve a higher gasoline tax and a new vehicle registration fee that increases the more a person drives.

Those were the two main ideas endorsed Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that called on motorists to pay an average of $120 more each year to maintain roads and other transportation facilities.

But Assembly Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder said raising taxes would only "damage our recovering economy." He said any increase in the state gas tax is "simply off the table."

The commission proposed a five-cent hike in the gas tax, the first such increase since 2006.

It also wanted motorists to report how many miles they travel in a year and pay a license plate fee ranging up to $204 for those driving 20,000 miles. Suder and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also struck that down.

The commission also suggested higher registration fees for other vehicles, a jump in the driver license fee, and imposing sales taxes on trade-ins.

Panel member Bob Cook said he hoped the ideas would lead to a compromise. Commission member John Antaramian, a former state lawmaker and Kenosha mayor, said something has to be done, and while Gov. Scott Walker might not like the idea of raising taxes "the options are limited."

Walker's office did not comment on the panel's ideas. The governor is expected to propose his own on Feb. 20 when he submits his next budget package to the Legislature.

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Expect to pay more for beef, says UWRF economist

Beef will cost more than you might expect this year as shoppers pay for the effects of last year's drought.

UW-River Falls agricultural economist Brenda Boetel told a forum in Madison Wednesday that a $5 pound of beef could rise by up to 20 cents during the year. That's because the drought will reduce supplies, while consumer demand goes up.

Boetel said many beef and dairy farmers culled their herds last year because feed costs jumped due to the drought. Also, she said U.S. beef supplies will be further limited due to a higher demand for the product in developing nations.

But Boetel said beef prices cannot get too far out of control because the product still has to compete with pork and poultry dinner entrees.

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Man gets prison term for bringing child porn to VA Home

A Wausau area man will spend 3 1/2 years in prison after checking into the Veterans Administration Home in Tomah with a collection of child pornography.

Greg Crisman of Rothschild, who turns 49 next week, pleaded no contest in Monroe County to 10 felony charges of possessing child porn. Forty other counts were dropped in a plea bargain.

Crisman told Fort McCoy investigators that he had to view the material since he was molested years ago and he was living what he called a fantasy trip. He had over 50 images of naked youngsters when he was caught last May.

Crisman did tell arresting officers it was a good thing they found him. He said he was suicidal, and he was glad there were not any actual victims from his actions.

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Like Santa, state's cows worked hard during holidays

Wisconsin dairy cows were extremely busy during the holidays as the state's milk production rose by a sizable 5.5% compared to a year ago.

Officials said the state made just over 2.33 billion pounds of milk in December while California - the nation's leading milk producer - had a 2.3% drop to 3.4 billion pounds.

Wisconsin's increase was almost 3 1/2 times the national jump of 1.6%. U.S. dairy farms made almost 17 billion pounds of milk last month. All but just over a billion pounds were produced in the 23 major dairy states, where production rose 1.7% from a year ago.

Wisconsin, the nation's No. 2 milk state, add 5,000 cows to a herd that now totals just over 1.25 million. Production per cow rose by 90 pounds to 1,845.

Meanwhile, California state officials have granted a temporary payment price for that state's milk from February through May. Golden State producers have been calling for a higher pay price after feed prices began to skyrocket last summer.

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More charges filed in rapper's murder

New charges were filed Wednesday against five men in the beating of a Milwaukee rap music artist who was reportedly killed in a gruesome gang murder.

Billy Griffin, Victor Stewart and Ashanti McAlister had previous battery charges upgraded to first-degree intentional homicide.

Devin Seaberry and Ron Allen were charged for the first time in the case, both with homicide.

The defendants range in age from 19 to 37. They're accused of killing Ebony Young, 22, who's been missing since New Year's Day. Her body has not been found, and police said they were searching at a landfill Wednesday.

One defendant told authorities he thought Young was male, but officials said the victim changed genders to female.

According to prosecutors, Young's roommate, Billy Griffin, first told officers that she got into a car with somebody on Jan. 1 and disappeared.

But Griffin later told investigators that gang members Stewart and McAlister came to his house along with others. They told Griffin he'd be allowed back into their gang if he killed Young.

But instead, officials said they choked Young with a chain, taped a plastic bag over her head, beat and shot her. Young's body was then thrown into a trash bin.

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Daycare worker leaves phone behind; child finds nude photos of kids

A Milwaukee child care worker is due back in court Feb. 5 on two felony charges of possessing child pornography.

According to prosecutors, a youngster picked up Louie Flowers' phone at a north side Milwaukee daycare center last June and saw a photo of a nude young girl.

The child showed the phone to teachers who saw numerous other pornographic items while Flowers, 39, was away on a field trip to Chicago with a group of youngsters. He was arrested later that day.

Police said they later found numerous images of child porn on Flowers' computer at his home in Brown Deer, showing girls as young as six being molested.

Flowers worked for six years at Milwaukee's Silver Spring Neighborhood Center until his arrest.

The Journal Sentinel wrote a story about the case last month, a few weeks before charges were filed. Prosecutor Paul Tiffin would not say why it took six months to take the case to court, but he said a variety of things can hold up matters, including forensic analysis.

In the meantime, the paper said Flowers was looking for work in December, and another child care employer might not have known about his arrest six months earlier.

Flowers is free on a $10,000 cash bond. At his next court appearance, a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.

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