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Prep work starts for Stillwater Bridge - really; Farm planting start is slowest in 30 years; more state news

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After years of debate, work has finally begun on a new four-lane bridge from the Hudson area into Minnesota.

Minnesota's Department of Transportation says dock walls are being built to accommodate the construction equipment that will help install the foundations for the new bridge over the St. Croix River.

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Steel panels are also being installed to provide docking facilities for barges. The initial work is being done on the Minnesota side of the river.

Land for a construction staging site will be prepared early next month in Oak Park Heights.

Opponents tried for almost a half-century to stop the bridge project until Congress and President Obama finally approved an environmental exemption for the project just over a year ago.

Construction of the new structure begins next year between Hudson and Stillwater, Minn. The bridge is expected to open in 2016 and will replace an 80-year-old lift bridge between Stillwater and Houlton.

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Farm planting start is slowest in 30 years

The long winter has Wisconsin farmers off to their slowest spring planting start on record.

Half the state's oat crop is normally in the ground by now. But this year's planting was only 5% complete as of Sunday - the latest start in 30 years of federal data.

Spring field work is just 4% finished, breaking a record low set in 2011. The state's winter wheat crop is greening up, and it's too early to tell if there's any damage. Some potatoes are being planted in Portage and Waushara counties in central Wisconsin.

Despite some late snow last week, farmers are finding at least some dry soils. Four percent of the state's topsoil is short on moisture, along with 1% of sub-soil moisture. A quarter of the topsoil has surplus moisture, along with 11% of sub-soils.

A recent warm-up has made farmers more optimistic about getting things done. The warmest day of the year is expected with highs today from the upper 60's in northwest Wisconsin to the low 80's in the south.

But a cold front is expected to drop temperatures back into the 30's and 40's by Thursday. Rain is at least possible all week, with snow likely in some areas on Thursday.

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Boyfriend questioned in death of domestic abuse shelter director

Authorities planned to say more today about the death of a woman who helped protect victims of domestic violence in northeast Wisconsin.

Patricia Waschbisch, 45, of Peshtigo was found dead in her home on Sunday night. Her boyfriend for the last eight years was taken into custody for questioning.

Waschbisch was the interim director of Marinette's Rainbow House, an advocacy group that provides a shelter for domestic abuse victims.

Patti Seger, who heads the Wisconsin Coalition against Domestic Violence, said Waschbisch had a strong knowledge of the laws that protect abuse victims.

State Assemblyman John Nygren of Marinette told WLUK TV in Green Bay that Waschbisch stepped forward to lead her organization when no one else would do so.

He called her a "tireless advocate for battered women" and said she was committed to serving people who often don't have the level of support that they need.

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Mother, daughter charged with killing mother's partner

A mother and daughter from St. Paul have been ordered to stand trial for a 2007 murder near Appleton.

Dianna Siveny, who turns 54 tomorrow, and her 34-year-old daughter Kandi Siveny had preliminary hearings Monday on Outagamie County on charges of homicide and substantial battery. They and Rosie Campbell, 38, of the Twin Cities area are charged in the shooting death of Dianna Siveny's domestic partner Lara Plamann in Greenville.

According to authorities, Kandi shot Plamann for cheating on her mother. In yesterday's testimony, investigators said Campbell was hired to shoot Plamann, but she backed out at the last second.

Officials said Kandi Siveny shot the victim twice, and the three women then drove back to their Twin Cities homes.

On the way back, Kandi reportedly said, "That girl will never cheat on my mother again."

Both Sivenys are expected to enter pleas in their next court appearances. Those proceedings have not been scheduled. Campbell is scheduled to have her preliminary hearing tomorrow in Appleton.

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JFC chair rejects idea of more fees for road work

A top state lawmaker says Wisconsin will have to find a better way to pay for transportation projects -- but not now.

Republican John Nygren, the Assembly chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, said the Department of Transportation's plan to cover a $63.5 million transportation funding shortfall appears reasonable.

The plan, unveiled yesterday, includes a delay in the rebuilding of two Milwaukee freeway interchanges, along with less road aid for local governments and lower spending on Amtrak's high-speed train from Milwaukee to Chicago.

Nygren said the slow growth in the economy is forcing lawmakers to look at setting priorities rather than raising taxes and fees.

The finance panel is scheduled to review the DOT's new budget today. A Walker task force recommended a variety of revenue raisers a few months ago. Those include a new fee based on the numbers of miles people drive.

Nygren said his colleagues will most likely consider the task force recommendations as the economy gets better. But for now, he says it's not a good time to "go back to others and ask for more."

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Bill would restrict use of food stamps

A bill to limit the amount of junk food bought by those on food stamps is up for a vote today in a Wisconsin Assembly committee.

The State Affairs panel will consider a bill from Neenah Republican Dean Kaufert to make low-income people use more of their Food-Share benefits from fruits, vegetables, milk, and bread.

Kaufert said taxpayers provide the benefits so the government has the right to clamp down on buying soda, candy and chips with food stamps with the goal of getting people to eat healthier.

Critics say FoodShare clients already have limited options, somebody would have decide which new products are junk, and there could be confrontations at the checkout counter when a clerk has to tell a client to put something back.

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Triple murder suspect is martial arts athlete

The man suspected of killing three family members in southwest Wisconsin is a former Mixed Martial Arts athlete who was reportedly released from jail just last Friday.

WKOW TV in Madison said Jaren Kuester, 31, of Waukesha was jailed last Thursday and was let go the next day after he paid a $243 fine to settle a nine-year-old case for resisting arrest.

Lafayette County authorities said 70-year-old Gary Thoreson, his 66-year-old wife Cloe and his 76-year-old brother Dean were all found dead Sunday morning at their home in the town of Wiota near Darlington.

Kuester was arrested early Monday at his apartment in Waukesha, where police found a pickup truck owned by one of the victims. Kuester's SUV was found on a rural property in Green County.

Laverne Gordee told WKOW that his wife found the suspect's ID bracelet from the Waukesha jail early Saturday, and he called 9-1-1. He said investigators found drugs in Kuester's abandoned SUV.

Kuester reportedly faces three possible charges of first-degree intentional homicide in what officials are calling a random crime. They said he did not know the victims.

Autopsies were conducted yesterday in Madison as an investigation continues.

Kuester's previous convictions include battery and disorderly conduct. WKOW said he competed under the name "The Hitman" in a Mixed Martial Arts event in West Bend in 2009.

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Dairy farmers income stable in 2012

Wisconsin milk producers made almost as much money last year as in 2011.

The National Ag Statistics Service said the total value of the milk produced in the state last year was just over $5.25 billion. That's was about .15% less than in 2011.

Total production was up slightly in 2012, and it almost made up for a drop in the average price paid to farmers for their milk. That price was $19.40 for every 100 pounds produced - 90 cents less than the previous year.

Almost 27 billion pounds of milk were used in Wisconsin last year, just over a billion more pounds than in 2011.

Last year's total milk value was over $600 million more than in 2008 when the Great Recession began in earnest. And it's 60% more than the recession's worst year in 2009 when Wisconsin's milk was valued at just $3.3 billion for producers.

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Nudists say weekday closing of beach was drastic move

People who visit Mazo Beach say shutting down the clothing-optional beach during the week was a drastic reaction.

Last weekend was the first where the weather made things comfortable at the state's only legal public nude beach.

Users say the decision to shut down the beach west of Madison during the week was made too suddenly. Under the new rules, the beach is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from March 1 to Sept. 15.

Beach goers say it brings business to the area with people coming there for vacations or long weekends. Some have come for decades.

DNR wardens say the changes were necessary because the illegal activities had multiplied in recent years.

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Parents lose second child to co-sleeping

Neglect charges have been filed against a Milwaukee couple after their five-month-old son died last week.

The child was co-sleeping with his twin sister. Investigators say when they went to the home of Brenda McGee and Joseph Walker, they found a loaded gun in the sofa cushions, filthy living conditions and rotten food in the refrigerator.

Seven other children were removed from the home for their safety. The same family lost another baby due to co-sleeping six years ago.

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National board upholds firing of 75 pizza workers

The National Labor Relations Board said a Milwaukee pizza-maker did nothing wrong last year when it fired 75 workers as employees tried to form a union.

A decision Monday from the board's general counsel in Washington paves the way for a union vote at Palermo Villa Inc., which makes Palermo's frozen pizza.

The new ruling upholds a decision made last November by the NLRB's Milwaukee regional office. Almost 100 workers at the Milwaukee plant went on strike last June, saying the company refused to recognize a petition to form a union.

At the time, the company was performing an immigration audit to determine if all its workers were in the U.S. legally. The audit was later held up by the strike.

Palermo's fired the 75 workers a day later. The Milwaukee Hispanic group Voces de la Frontera accused Palermo's of using the audit to stop the proposed union, but the firm disagreed and said it was only following immigration laws.

Palermo's says it's always been willing to allow a union vote, and the new ruling will make it happen.

Meanwhile, a dozen protestors were removed from a building at UW-Madison Monday. They demanded that the Wisconsin sports program end its promotional ties with Palermo's due to the firings.

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