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Wisconsin ‘code talkers’ honored in Washington; Wind turbine neighbors ask for help from lawmakers; Flu season starts early; More state news

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Three Wisconsin Indian tribes were among 33 honored at the U.S. Capitol yesterday for helping save countless American lives during World War II.

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Congressional Gold Medals were awarded to recognize "code talkers" -- Indians who used their native languages to send messages that the enemy could never understand.

The Ho-Chunk Nation had seven code talkers during the war. The Menominee had five, and the Oneida had four. None of those soldiers lived long enough to see their secret contributions recognized.

House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse co-sponsored a bill in 2008 to create the medals for the native soldiers. He said the famous battle of Iwo Jima would have been much longer and far bloodier had it not been for the code talkers who could send messages in seconds. If it wasn't for them, the troops might have needed a coding machine that would have sent messages in a half hour. Kind said the Indians sent out 800 battle-field communications with perfect accuracy at Iwo Jima -- and the enemy was none the wiser.

Congressional leaders John Boehner, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were also among those honoring the Indians with the medals. Menominee Chairman Craig Corn called the ceremony “outstanding.”

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Wind turbine neighbors ask for help from lawmakers

Residents who say they've been robbed of their sleep by neighboring wind energy turbines went to the State Capitol Wednesday to ask for relief.

They testified in favor of a bill to make wind farm developers and utilities liable for damages caused to neighboring homeowners who complain of headaches, sleep deprivation and other health problems.

Senate Republican Frank Lasee of De Pere introduced the measure. Part of his district includes a wind farm in southern Brown County where several residents said they had to move away because of all the noise. Low-frequency sounds were detected at those homes, and the state Public Service Commission ordered studies on that matter.

Lasee says it's clear that homeowners need some recourse if they have problems, but business and wind-power groups say the bill is too broad, and it could lead to needless lawsuits.

Joe Sullivan of the wind energy business group "Wind on the Wires" said the bill goes against Gov. Scott Walker's efforts for legal liability reform. Brian Manthey of We Energies said his utility has investigated and addressed concerns raised by homeowners of its wind projects, including those testifying at Wednesday’s hearing before the state Senate's judiciary committee.

Chairman Glenn Grothman promised more meetings on the subject.

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Flu season starts early

The flu season has started early in Wisconsin for the second year in a row. State health officials have confirmed 25 cases. Fifteen of those people were hospitalized, about half from Milwaukee County.

Normally, young children and older people are the most likely to be sent to the hospital for the flu. This fall, Milwaukee has seen people of all ages hospitalized, and city disease control director Paul Biedrzycki calls that a "little disconcerting." He said respiratory illnesses are increasing in general, along with cold viruses.

Last year, the state's flu season peaked in December -- the earliest in almost 10 years. Normally, it peaks in January or February.

State epidemiologist Tom Haupt says the "A" and "B" flu strains are going around, and this season's vaccine covers both. Haupt said there's plenty of vaccine available, and it's not too late to get a flu shot. With the wider variety of people getting hospitalized, Haupt said everyone over six months should get vaccinated.

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Governor’s summit will be held in Pembine

The annual governor's economic development summit for northern Wisconsin will take place Dec. 16 and 17 in Pembine.

Gov. Scott Walker said the meeting will deal with the opportunities and challenges facing the North's economy -- especially in the areas of assistance for small business, regulatory reform and other aspects of the relationship between state agencies and businesses.

Walker and nine of his cabinet secretaries are scheduled to attend the meeting. Registrations are being accepted now. More information is available online at NorthwoodsSummit.com.

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Oak wilt spreads to northern Wisconsin

A deadly tree disease has been found near Woodruff in Wisconsin's Northwoods.

Oak wilt is prevalent in central and southern areas. Now, tests have confirmed its presence in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

Department of Natural Resources crews cut down the diseased tree and several others. They also removed some nearby stumps in the hopes of stopping the oak wilt from spreading.

The DNR's Brian Schwingle said it's concerning that the disease was found on the state's largest property where oak trees are extremely valuable. It spreads to new areas largely through firewood, and Schwingle says it's a big concern as deer hunters are about to set up camp for the gun season which starts on Saturday.

Oak wilt disease was discovered about a decade ago near Three Lakes in the far north, but this is the first finding in the Minocqua-Woodruff region.

Schwingle said it only takes a couple months for a healthy tree to die from oak wilt. He said you can protect your oak trees by pruning them over the winter to make them less vulnerable.

--Natalie Jablonski, WXPR, Rhinelander

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State gets $1 million to fight Great Lakes mercury

Wisconsin's health agency is getting a $1 million federal grant to help reduce people's exposure to mercury and other toxins by eating fresh fish from the Great Lakes.

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded a total of $3.6 million for the health departments in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin plus Cornell University. That school is working on a project to reduce toxic mercury exposure among urban anglers and fish-eaters in the Great Lakes region.

The funding comes from the government's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman said significant progress has been made to cut mercury exposure to fish consumers. However, she said 10% of babies born along the Lake Superior North Shore still have mercury levels above EPA recommendations.

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Store owner says he’s being targeted in decades-old double murder

The owner of a western store in central Wisconsin says he's being wrongly targeted as a suspect in a 1992 double murder in nearby Waupaca County.

Laine Shields told reporters Wednesday that investigators searched his B Bar 10 Western Store at Amherst for almost 12 hours on Tuesday and again last March, and they found no evidence either time. He said he consented to the searches because has nothing to hide.

The state Department of Justice refuses comment.

Shields, 69, said one of his former employees, Glendon Gouker, implicated him in the murders of Tanna Togstad and Timothy Mumbrue at their farmhouse near Weyauwega. Shields said he figured that Gouker brought up his name while seeking a plea deal in Oklahoma so he could escape the death penalty.

Gouker is serving four life sentences in Oklahoma for murder, rape, kidnapping, sodomy and other charges. More recently, Gouker was convicted for a 1990 rape of a woman at a park in Iola in Waupaca County. At the time, authorities said Gouker was a person of interest in the farmhouse murders, but he was never arrested for those.

Shields said he hasn't seen Gouker in two decades and has no connection to any of the crime victims.

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Bond set for man accused of burning woman’s body

A $100,000 bond was set Wednesday for a southern Wisconsin man accused of burning a missing woman in fire pit in his yard.

Nathan Middleton, 29, of rural Evansville was charged in Rock County with hiding and mutilating a corpse.

Authorities said Middleton advertised on Craigslist for sex, and 18-year-old Aprina Paul of Fitchburg answered the ad. The two met, and Middleton claimed he found the woman dead in his bed on Oct. 28 after they took drugs and had sex the previous night.

Middleton stayed in his jail cell while appearing in court through a video hookup. Middleton had been held since Nov. 1 first for violating a previous probation. A preliminary hearing was set for Dec. 18.

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Four men accost him at factory; he pursues; one dies

A $5,000 bond was set Wednesday for a Manitowoc man while he awaits charges in a hit-and-run road-rage crash that killed a teenager.

The victim has been identified as Eric Neuman, 19, of Two Rivers.

Authorities said Neuman and three other men went to a factory in Manitowoc late Tuesday night to settle a score with Shawn Lischka, 22. Police said there was no fight at the plant, but Neuman and the other three drove off in a pickup truck, and Lischka pursued them through Manitowoc into Two Rivers.

Officials said Lischka sideswiped Neuman's vehicle. The victim's truck then spun into a guardrail and ejected the driver. He died at a hospital.

A 16-year-old boy in the truck was treated for a head injury. Two others in the truck were not hurt.

A prosecutor said Lischka drove off after the crash and was arrested at his home later after he tried hiding the damage to his vehicle.

Lischka has not been charged yet. Police are recommending counts of hit-and-run causing death and negligent homicide.

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Prison inmate charged in 12-year-old homicide

A man serving time in a federal prison in Wisconsin has been transferred to Utah to face charges in a 12-year-old murder case.

Vincent James, 32, was at the federal lockup in Oxford on unrelated charges when Salt Lake City Police identified him as the man who shot and killed Leonel Perales in 2001. Investigators reopened the case in 2012, and they charged the alleged getaway driver earlier this year.

Officials said they began in February to consider James as a possible suspect, and they did not use DNA or other new technology to prove he was at the murder scene. District Attorney Sim Gill said investigators used "good old-fashioned shoe leather" as they re-interviewed some witnesses and found others they couldn't reach in the past.

James is now in a Utah jail under a $1-million bond.

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Great Lakes water levels better but still not back to average

All five Great Lakes have much higher water levels than a year ago thanks to the heavy rains and snows of the past 12 months.

However, Lakes Michigan and Huron are still 17 inches below their long-term averages for October, while Lake Superior is slightly below average. As a result, federal officials say it's too early to declare an end to the reduced water levels that have plagued the Great Lakes for about 15 years.

Federal forecasters said Wednesday that Lakes Michigan and Huron would remain below their long-term averages by 16 inches next April. Lake Superior is expected to be three-inches below normal. All forecasts hinge on the type of winter precipitation we get.

For now, shippers are getting at least some reprieve from the shallow harbors which forced freighters to carry lighter loads. The Lake Carriers Association said many vessels have hauled up to 6,000 more tons of cargo this year, compared to last. However, the group says average loads are still about 5,000 tons below normal.

The Lake Carriers are asking Congress to spend more to dredge those harbors that remain shallow.

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Madison gets perfect ranking from gay rights group

Madison received a top rating of 100 in the Human Rights Campaign's annual Municipal Equality Index for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered persons.

Milwaukee also fared well, with a rating of 91. Green Bay had a relatively low score of 48.

The Human Rights Campaign evaluated 291 cities -- at least three in each state. The ratings were based on how fairly the campaign feels LGBT people are treated in local laws, policies and municipal services.

Madison and Minneapolis were among just 25 cities that got perfect scores. Milwaukee fell just short of perfection, mainly because it does not require that contractors provide equal benefits for LGBT workers. Green Bay fell short in several categories involving its nondiscrimination laws, not ensuring that LGBT individuals are included in city services. The report also said Green Bay does not have a specialized police liaison or task force, and the city's overall relationship with the LGBT community has room for improvement.

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