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PSC OKs St. Croix County wind farm; Green Bay bridge support sinks two feet; 11 more state news briefs

Regulators have approved Wisconsin's first large wind energy farm since 2009. The Public Service Commission voted 2 to 1 Thursday to let Emerging Energies of Hubertus build a 44-turbine wind farm in the St. Croix County town of Forest.

The panel rejected the project in February, but it gave the company a second chance after it found ways to reduce noise levels at the site.

An opposing group called Forest Voice says it will review the commission's decision before deciding whether to challenge the project in court.

The new wind farm will cost $250 million and create 102 megawatts of electricity.  Last year, Wisconsin added only 18 megawatts of wind power while three neighboring states -- Illinois, Iowa and Michigan -- each added 600 megawatts.

In the last decade, Wisconsin passed a law requiring that 10% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2015. Utilities came within 1% of that goal last year, largely because it's cheaper to make power with natural gas than with high-polluting coal.


Green Bay bridge support sinks two feet

State engineers are just starting to find out why a concrete support pier sank two feet, causing a dip in the pavement on the high-rise Leo Frigo bridge in Green Bay.

Kim Rudat of the Department of Transportation said the sagging on the I-43 bridge apparently developed over a few hours on Wednesday morning. The pier settled unevenly as one side dropped by 22 inches and the other by 27 inches.

DOT structures design chief Bill Dreher said the dip stretches across the width of the four-lane bridge but does not appear to be affecting other areas.

Meanwhile, engineers are measuring the pier every few hours to make sure it's not dropping any more. Once it's stable, Dreher said crews will dig into the piers and see what's happening.

Officials say the bridge will be closed for months and possibly a year until everything can be fixed. It's not part of the normal path for fans going to Packer games. Travelers going north on I-43 to northern Wisconsin are urged to take the Hwy. 172 freeway just south of Green Bay, before heading north on Hwys. 41 and 141.


Is state’s new job ranking good news or bad news?

Both parties tried to make political hay from yesterday's federal report showing that Wisconsin had the 34th-lowest rate of job growth in the year ending in March.

The ranking was based on the percentage of each state's growth. Wisconsin jobs grew by 1.1% for a total of 24,000-plus.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker had a rosier view, noting Wisconsin had the 22nd largest increase in actual jobs. Wisconsin is 20th in population -- so the actual job numbers appear that the state is not lagging too far behind as Walker faces re-election in 14 months.

Minority Democrats tried to make the figures sound as grim as possible. Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca said the state had the 37th-slowest job growth when the time period examined was stretched to two years instead of one. He also cited projections that Wisconsin would fall to 45th in future growth.

What neither side mentioned, though, is why the state is ranked where it is. Sue Marks of the Brookfield recruiting firm of Pinstripe Inc. says there's no easy answer.

She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Wisconsin commercializes patents at a slow pace, it has a proportionately small service sector, and other states moved faster to create incentive packages for employers to invest.

Marks also says the state's polarized politics do nothing to help.

“It's hard to get all the right constituencies in one room to tackle important issues like this,” she said.


Let those ducks race, says lawmaker

A state lawmaker is quacking mad after the state Department of Justice told a community in his district that its charity duck race is illegal gambling.

Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere wants to fix that. He's asking colleagues to cosign a bill to legalize plastic duck races that non-profit groups use as fundraising raffles.

Jacque said the village of Mishicot was recently warned by the DOJ that ducks were a vehicle for illegal gambling. He said his bill would create an exception to allow duck races -- similar to what neighboring Minnesota and Michigan do.

The bill would legalize races like the "Lucky Ducky Derby" in Menomonee Falls and the "Ducktona 500" in Sheboygan Falls.


Boy’s $10 donation to police prompts others to give too

A suburban Milwaukee boy who donated $10.03 in coins to his local police department has inspired others to give as well.

A Greenfield police official said Thursday that his department received over $1,000 in donations and $400 more were sent to the boy who triggered the generosity.

The boy never gave his name when he left his money jar at the police station two days after the anniversary of 9-11.  Police issued a video of his deed, and it wasn't long before he was identified as 11-year-old Max Siepert of Greenfield. He's been profiled in various Milwaukee area media reports.

Max said he wanted to do something good in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and he wanted to honor his grandfather -- a Milwaukee police officer killed in the line of duty 39 years ago

The Greenfield Fire Department has also received some donations. Max’s mother, Bridget Siepert, said all the money donated to her son would be given to various worthy causes.


Mating deer raise risk for drivers

Wisconsin motorists again face a high-risk of colliding with deer this fall.

Car-deer crashes are a problem throughout the year, but it gets worse in October and November during the deer mating season.

Almost 19,000 vehicles struck deer in the state last year. Dane County had the most with 851 crashes, followed by Shawano County with 800 and Waukesha with 710.

Deer were involved in more than half of all traffic crashes last year in Taylor, Green Lake and Shawano counties.

The Department of Transportation’s David Pabst says drivers must slow down whenever they see deer close to the roadways. If a driver cannot avoid striking a deer, Pabst says it's safer to hit the brakes and hit the animal instead of swerving to miss it -- thus avoid a rollover crash or striking something else.


Six days and counting; Trevino trial testimony expected to end next week

A judge in St. Paul expects jury deliberations to begin Tuesday in the trial of Jeffrey Trevino, who's charged with killing his wife from the Wausau area.

Jurors have heard six days of testimony. Defense lawyer John Conard spent 1 /12 hour yesterday questioning McKenzie Anderson of Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Conrad was trying to find fault with Anderson's earlier testimony that blood DNA in the couple's apartment matched that of Kira Trevino.

Prosecutors said the couple got into a bloody fight at their home in February, and then Jeffrey Trevino placed his wife's body into the Mississippi River where it was found 2 1/2 months later.

Steger was reportedly about to leave Trevino for another man.

A retired police sergeant who questioned Trevino is expected to testify today. District Judge Leonardo Castro said closing arguments and jury deliberations are on track to begin Tuesday.


Resources board wrestles with pet deer issue

A state panel has said no to letting Wisconsinites keep live deer as pets, but the animals no longer have to be killed if they're caught being captive.

The Natural Resources Board partially rejected a proposal this week that was meant to avoid a repeat of an incident earlier this year in Kenosha. Department of Natural Resources personnel seized a baby fawn named "Giggles" from an animal rehab center and euthanized the deer.

A national backlash resulted, and Gov. Scott Walker told the DNR not to let it happen again. The agency's solution was to let people keep deer as pets if they pay a fee and report their animals to the state.

However, the Natural Resources Board reaffirmed that it's illegal to capture wild animals and letting people keep deer as pets essentially commercializes the state's roaming deer herd.

The board did, however, let DNR personnel return captive deer to the wild. The agency said deer could still be euthanized if they create health problems.


‘Whose Line’ stars entertain sixth graders

Two comedians from the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway" put on an hour-long improvisational show for sixth graders in Stevens Point Thursday.

Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood showed off their creativity, and they urged the young people to do the same.

The long-running TV show features actors who are given a subject or situation, and they make up funny skits about them. The students provided the subjects during yesterday's performance.

Mochrie said kids should not be afraid of being creative and never feel it's immature after they get to be 10 or so.

"You can go on forever and make a nice career out of it," he said.

Sherwood said the show has made folks much more aware of improvisational theatre, and it shows kids how to "get out of their shell and think more creatively."

Mochrie and Sherwood will teach a class today at UW-Stevens Point and then put on a show for the public tonight at the Theater at 1800 at Sentry Insurance in Point.

--Thanks Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Wisconsin farms get alternative-energy grants

Farmers and small businesses in 22 states are getting the latest round of USDA energy conservation funds.

A Wisconsin farm is getting $32,000 to help pay for a wind turbine and solar energy unit. Five other rural operations in the state are getting grants for solar energy systems ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

The money comes from the USDA's Rural Energy for America program or REAP. The grants cover up to 25% of project costs, and eligible farmers can get loan guarantees to finance the rest.

Agriculture officials say the assistance helps President Obama achieve the climate action plan he announced in June to "reduce carbon pollution and better prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change.


DNA test confirms ID of wolf that bit teen

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A wolf killed at a Lake Winnibigoshish campground after an attack on a teenager has been confirmed as the wolf that bit the 16-year-old, officials said Thursday.

DNA testing done by forensic scientists at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California-Davis showed identical matches between the wolf’s DNA profile and the profile of samples obtained from a comforter used when the teen was transported for treatment, the Department of Natural Resources said.

Noah Graham, 16, of Solway, was camping with friends at the West Winnie Campground in northern Minnesota when he was attacked and bitten by a wolf in the early hours of Aug. 24. The wolf bit down on Graham's head, and he had to reach behind and pry the animal's jaws from his head. Graham suffered a more than 4-inch-wide gash on his scalp that required 17 staples to close.

A wolf was trapped and killed Aug. 26 at the campground, but a necropsy and DNA testing was needed to confirm whether it was the animal that bit Graham.

--Forum News Service


Hixton man suspected of killing father

A west central Wisconsin man is being held on suspicion of killing his father.

Lars Helgeson, 20, of rural Hixton was arrested Wednesday night about the same time that searchers found the body of a man believed to be Brian Helgeson.

Jackson County Sheriff Duane Waldera told reporters yesterday that the body was in such bad shape that they could not confirm who it was or how he died. Authorities were hoping those questions would be answered in an autopsy scheduled for yesterday in Madison.

Waldera said the body was apparently buried for 10 or 11 days before a K-9 search team found it. State and local officers took part in the search. They were still gathering evidence yesterday.

Waldera said a motive has not been established. Deputies started to investigate on Monday when Lars Helgeson's brother got concerned over suspicious activity. The sheriff said a tip led his officers to a stolen vehicle near Brian Helgeson's house on Wednesday, and they reportedly saw Lars run away as they approached. He was later taken into custody without incident.

Waldera says Lars is cooperating with investigators while awaiting court action. He's being held on a possible charge of first-degree intentional homicide.


Oshkosh man convicted in stabbing death

A jury in Sheboygan has convicted a 23-year-old Oshkosh man for a stabbing death.

Jurors refused to accept Michael Lemerande's claim that he acted in self-defense when he killed Nicholas Lehrke, 41, with a butcher knife earlier this year during a fight.

Lemerande claimed he was defending a friend whom Lehrke was attacking. Prosecutors said the fight was not a major scuffle, and Lemerande's friend was never in serious danger.

Lemerande was found guilty of second-degree reckless homicide. A sentencing date has not been set. The judge and attorneys in the case will get together for a status conference on Nov. 25