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Demand for frac sand apparently declining – for now; 37 cases of Legionnaire’s disease reported; Ex-priest says church owes him $450,000; more state news

The demand for frac sand appears to be sinking in western Wisconsin and Minnesota – as least for now.

Over 100 silica sand mines opened in the state in recent years, the most in the nation, amid a demand by oil and gas companies to use it in their domestic drilling equipment.

However, the Winona Daily News quotes both industry and government officials as saying the demand for frac sand has cooled off greatly this year – but it will grow again soon.

The Fredonia Group, a market research outfit, says the total annual demand for the product will grow by almost 5% a year through at least 2016. Experts say the demand for frac sand was higher than the supply a year ago, but the supply has since caught up.

For now, Superior Sand Systems of Wabasha, Minn., expects to remain idle after it got an operation permit late last year. Meanwhile, U.S. Silica, the nation’s second-largest frac sand maker, just opened a mine at Sparta, and it expects no problem selling what the new mine produces.

As of 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey said only 41% of all frac sand produced in the nation was used for hydraulic and packing equipment. The rest was used to help manufacture other products ranging from toothpaste to roofing shingles.


31 cases of Legionnaire’s disease reported in Milwaukee

The late start of summer might have caused the recent outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in southeast Wisconsin.

Health officials say there’s no other explanation for 31 people contracting the water-borne disease in the Milwaukee area since June first.

Paul Biedrzycki of the Milwaukee Health Department said one possible cause might have been the spreading of old stagnant moisture from cooling towers atop larger buildings. He said the towers normally get fresh water in April or May to help run their buildings’ air conditioners once it gets hot. It didn’t get really hot for any length of time in Wisconsin until last week so when the air conditioners were finally turned on, droplets could have spread Legionnaire’s bacteria from the stagnant water for several miles.

Wisconsin has recorded 37 Legionnaire’s cases since June 1, all but six in Metro Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee had 14 of those cases with four people hospitalized.

Biedrzycki has spent a week looking for a cause. He has found nothing that stands out.

State epidemiologist Tom Haupt said Wisconsin had 93 Legionnaire’s cases last year. The Milwaukee cluster is the largest he’s seen in a while. The region’s last major outbreak was in 2008, caused by a flowing wall of water at a hospital.


Ex-priest says church owes him $450,000

A former Catholic priest is among those who say the Milwaukee Archdiocese owes them money.

Marvin Knighton is among the sex abuse victims and retired employees who've lined up as creditors in the church's two-year-old bankruptcy case.

A jury found Knighton not guilty of sex abuse charges, but the church still removed him from the priesthood, claiming that two of the three allegations against him had merit.

Knighton wants a bankruptcy judge to award him $450,000 when the court decides who the church must pay in settling its bankruptcy. The Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, claiming it would not otherwise have enough money to pay all the sex abuse victims who've sued the church.


Three Milwaukeeans die of heat-related causes

Milwaukee officials say three people may have died to heat-related incidents last week.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office says two men, ages 71 and 79, were found in separate houses but may have died because their homes were sealed and had no air conditioning.

On Wednesday, a 44-year-old man was found unresponsive in an alley. Authorities say his body temperature at a nearby hospital was at 108 degrees. He later died in an intensive care unit.

Authorities continue to warn people about taking precautions in the latest heat wave making its way across the state.


‘Gustnado,’ storms cause damage

About 200 electric customers were still without power this morning in southern Wisconsin after thousands were in the dark due to heavy storms late Sunday.

The National Weather Service said a rare “gustnado” might have landed near DeForest north of Madison, where most of a roof was blown off a house and the debris caused minor damage to other homes.

A “gustnado” is often mistaken for a weak tornado, but it has does not have the same type of rotation.

In Waukesha County, two horses were struck by lightning, and two women were hurt while riding them in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. TV reports said the horses threw off their riders and ran away. The women were said to be up walking after the incident. They were taken to a hospital to be checked out.

We Energies said 6,400 electric customers had lost their power in Sunday’s storms in eastern Wisconsin. Only about 75 were still out as of 5 a.m. Over 110 Wisconsin Power and Light customers were still without electricity, mostly in the Janesville area where almost an inch of rain fell in 10 minutes.

Racine was hit with 3.5 inches of rain. Palmyra had the most, 3.8 inches in two waves of storms. Small hail fell at Whitewater and Eagle.

Muggy weather returns to much of Wisconsin today with highs in the 70’s and 80’s. There’s a chance for more storms through tonight, and forecasters say some could be severe.


Lawmaker plans another try at making English state’s official language

It’s been a few years since lawmakers tried making English the official language of Wisconsin, but at least one Republican plans to bring it up again now.

De Pere Rep. Andre Jacque is asking his colleagues to co-sponsor a bill to be taken up in the fall session. It would require state and local governments to use only English for their written communications with certain exceptions for public health and law enforcement.

Jacque says he’s reviving the issue because there is “widespread agreement that you really need to have proficiency with English to pursue the American dream.”

In the 2007 session, the Assembly approved making English the state’s official language, but the bill didn’t make it past the Senate. Back then, it was a Democrat who carried the banner. Former Representative Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids feared at the time that America was becoming a divided nation because we don’t speak a common language, and he blamed “political correctness.”

An effort to make English the nation’s official language died in Congress in 2006. Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner said at the time that English was “the language of commerce,” and it behooved Americans who didn’t know it to learn it.


Life sentence expected for elderly man convicted of killing teen

John Spooner will be sent to prison today, probably for the rest of his life.

A 1:30 p.m. sentencing hearing is set in Milwaukee County Circuit Court where Spooner, 76, will get a mandatory life prison term for killing his 13-year-old neighbor Darius Simmons in May of last year.

Judge Jeffrey Wagner could set a minimum date for a supervised release, but it would have to be at least 20 years down the road when Spooner would be 96 if he lives that long.

He was convicted last week of first-degree intentional homicide for killing Simmons over four guns that Spooner accused the teen of stealing.

Spooner tried to claim he was insane at the time, which would have sent him to a mental institution if the jury had agreed. However, the jurors said Spooner knew exactly what he was doing when he shot the teen. That was after a court-appointed psychiatrist said Spooner would have also shot Simmons’ brother, but he chose not to, because it might have endangered others.


Charges expected in crash that killed two passengers

A Clark County man is due in court today for allegedly causing a drunken driving crash that killed two passengers near Stevens Point.

A bond hearing is set for Timothy Saavedra, 22, of Loyal. Portage County authorities want prosecutors to file charges of causing deaths and injury by drunken driving.

Authorities said Saavedra’s pickup truck slammed into a group of trees around bar-time on Saturday morning. Melissa Peterson and Stephanie Eberhardt, both 21 from Wisconsin Rapids, were killed.

A 21-year-old Rudolph man was extricated from the truck. He was upgraded yesterday from serious to fair condition at a Marshfield hospital.

Also today, Portage County and State Patrol investigators hope to get information from a black box in the vehicle – like the vehicle’s speed and how fast the brakes were applied when the truck’s air bags were pushed out.


Top game warden will retire after 30 years with DNR

Wisconsin's chief game warden will retire at the end of the year.

Randy Stark is leaving in December after 30 years in the state Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement bureau.

The agency is now taking applications for Stark's replacement. Those interested can apply until Aug. 5. More information and an application form can be found on the DNR's Website, accessible at