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Lots of questions, few answers about proposed Gogebic mine; ‘Legalize marijuana’ sign leads to challenge of nomination papers; More state news briefs

About 400 people attended a forum in Minocqua yesterday on the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine.

They had lots of questions but not a lot of answers. Among other things, folks wanted to know who owns the long stretch of property where the mine would go and what the reclamation process would be like once the minerals are removed. Panelists said it's too early to tell.

No one knows what the mine would look like or even its exact boundaries in the Penokee Hills of Ashland and Iron counties. Ann Coakley of the Department of Natural Resources said Gogebic Taconite is technically allowed to file for its mining permit as early as June 17, a year after it filed a pre-application notice.

But Coakley said it might take years for the application to be ready. She said a lot of environmental data has to be collected, and the bulk of the work has yet to be done. She said Gogebic Taconite has collected some very limited groundwater and surface water samples.

The DNR is also collecting its own data at the site. Northland College geology Professor Tom Fitz explained the region's rock formations at yesterday's form. Others spoke the process of mining waste management, a mine's potential effects on jobs and the economy, and the Bad River watershed at the mining site.

--Natalie Jablonski, WXPR, Rhinelander


‘Legalize marijuana’ sign leads to challenge of nomination papers

Both major political parties are trying to get opponents removed from the fall ballot because of what they say are problems with their nomination papers.

The head of the state GOP filed a complaint against State Capitol protester Jeremy Ryan, who's running against House Republican Paul Ryan of Janesville.

Party director Joe Fadness said Jeremy Ryan got people to sign his papers under false pretenses, by holding up a sign that read "Sign Here, Legalize Marijuana." Ryan said he was only trying to attract people, and they were then told about his real purpose.

The GOP also said some people signed Jeremy Ryan's petitions twice and others had illegible dates and addresses.

The Government Accountability Board will decide that issue and others involving nomination papers on Tuesday and determine whether candidates have enough valid signatures to make the ballot.

The GOP is also challenging Assembly Democrat Mandela Barnes' petitions, saying some signers didn't live in her Milwaukee district.

Democrat Gary George of Milwaukee had his nominating petitions for Congress challenged. Labor leader Sheila Cochran said hundreds of George's signatures should be stricken for using felons as circulators and having incomplete signatures with inaccurate dates.

Dane County's Democratic Party wants Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey's name taken off the ballot for governor, alleging that over 200 signatures had their municipal addresses forged. Hulsey denied that.


No-work Fridays becoming more popular

Not many years ago, Milwaukee radio talk show Mark Belling called government offices on Friday afternoons to see if officials were working.

He doesn't do that anymore, and today, it's not just the mayor and bureaucrats skipping out for long weekends.

The Society for Human Resource Management says 43% of companies with 50 or more workers let at least some of their employees compress their work weeks by putting in longer hours on fewer days for at least part of the year.

Mercury Marine of Fond du Lac lets several hundred office employees work longer on Monday through Thursday so they can take advantage of Wisconsin's short summers and start their weekends after Friday morning. The company says it has not figured out how to spread the benefit to factory workers and still keep the machines running, but they're working on it.

Lisa Horn of the Human Resource Management group told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that workplace flexibility is a great morale booster at a time when employees are doing more with less -- and it doesn't cost the employer much, if anything.

Briggs and Stratton of Wauwatosa allows flexibility on an individual basis. Vice President Laura Timm says it's made for happier and more productive employees.


Man dies eight days after being beaten with baseball bat

A Plover man died this week after he was beaten with a baseball bat on Memorial Day.

Because of that, prosecutors say they'll upgrade a criminal charge against the man's stepson.

Andrew Pray, 32, of Plover is jailed under a $250,000 bond in the death of Christopher Bonnstetter, 77. Pray is due back in Portage County Circuit Court on Monday. By then, his attempted homicide charge could be upgraded to homicide.

Pray is facing several charges in an attack May 26 at Bonnstetter's home in Plover. Authorities said Pray's mother tried calling for help, and she was forced to go a neighbor's house to get assistance. Pray was arrested a short time later.

Bonnstetter died at a Marshfield hospital eight days after the incident.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Task force members resign, alleging Tavern League exerted unacceptable influence

State Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb disputes a claim that the Tavern League has had too much influence on a task force aimed at finding ways to curb drunk driving.

Four of the group's 38 members made the accusation yesterday when they resigned.

The panel was formed last year to create a federally required plan to reduce impaired driving. Twenty-six members endorsed the plan recently, while 12 others did not vote.

Health First-Wisconsin director Maureen Busalacchi, Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project coordinator Julia Sherman and doctors Stephen Hargarten and Richard Brown submitted their resignations in a letter. They said the Tavern League's participation posed a conflict of interest, the plan's ideas are generally ineffective, and the four members felt their participation "lends credibility to a hollow process."

Department of Transportation leader Gottlieb said it was unfortunate the four members quit. He said he wants to meet with them in the hopes they would reconsider.

Gottlieb said the Tavern League's participation is appropriate because it runs the state's "Safe Ride" program for bar customers who've had one too many. He said the task force had input from a host of groups, and he's open to having others participate in changing Wisconsin's drinking culture.

Tavern League director Pete Madland denied his group posed a conflict. He said and he was surprised about the resignations.


Store worker finds teacher’s lost diamond

An elementary school teacher in Eau Claire figured there was no way she'd find a diamond that was lost from her wedding ring.

But a sharp-eyed Walgreens drug store employee was able to save the day for Michelle Finder. She told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram she was out shopping last weekend when her ring got caught in a Walgreens shopping cart.

Finder was at another store later on when she noticed that her ring was dull and then discovered that the diamond was gone. She went back to Walgreens and left her name and phone number, still believing the odds were against her for getting her diamond back.

The next day, Finder was shocked to get a phone call from the employee she talked to. The worker found the tiny diamond near the store's cart area.


Man gets 55 years in prison for killing store clerk

A Milwaukee man has been sentenced to 55 years in prison for killing a store clerk while he was under state supervision for two previous armed robberies.

Jason Wandick, 26, was found guilty in April of reckless homicide, armed robbery and illegal firearm possession as a convicted felon.

Prosecutors said Wandick shot and killed William Melendez Jr. after the 44-year-old Family Dollar store clerk agreed to hand over the money in his cash register.

Prosecutors said the killing would have been avoided had the state revoked Wandick's supervision last year for committing two thefts and a drug offense during that release period. He was under five years of extended supervision after serving a five-year prison term for his previous robberies.


Bail set at $10,000 for man accused of trying to kill cop

Bond has been set at $10,000 for a man who allegedly tried to kill a police sergeant in Superior.

Gregory Thompson, 30, is charged in Douglas County with attempted homicide, disarming a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Authorities said the sergeant was trying to get Thompson out of his mother's house on Tuesday when the man pulled a large concealed knife on the officer. Officials said Thompson was drunk and belligerent at the time, and he tried several times to grab the officer's gun and resisted being handcuffed.

Police said he was pepper-sprayed and subdued. After that, he reportedly admitted that he was trying to kill the officer who arrested him.


Railroads want crude oil shipping details kept confidential

U.S. railroads have until tomorrow night to tell Wisconsin and other states how much crude oil they ship through those places and where.

In response, three large railroads are asking states to sign agreements to keep the information secret.

Lori Getter of Wisconsin Emergency Management said her agency would be violating the state Open Records Law if they did that. She told the Associated Press the information will help local emergency crews become fully prepared for crude oil spills and it's good to let communities know as well.

The federal government ordered railroads to disclose their crude oil shipping activity after a series of fiery railcar mishaps, including one in Quebec where 47 people were killed.

Railroads that don't provide the reports could be fined $175,000 a day and lose their privileges to ship domestic oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota. However, the administration said it would provide latitude for extenuating circumstances.

Five other states besides Wisconsin have said they won't sign secrecy agreements sought by CSX, the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads. Three others have yet to decide. Railroads say the information is too security-sensitive, and it could put those companies at a competitive disadvantage.


SC Johnson heir’s sentencing is today

A Racine billionaire is expected to be convicted today on a reduced misdemeanor charge for allegedly molesting a teenage girl for several years.

A plea and sentencing hearing is scheduled for Curt Johnson, an heir to the SC Johnson household products empire.

He's charged with a felony count of repeated child sexual assault for alleged improper conduct over three years, starting after the girl completed sixth grade. Prosecutors say the victim refuses to cooperate, and Johnson's counseling records are not being made available so the DA's office says the only real chance for a conviction is on a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree sexual assault.

Johnson is the former chairman of Diversey, a cleaning products company that was spun off from SC Johnson.


Facing primary challenge, Burke aims to unite Democrats

Mary Burke will ask her fellow Wisconsin Democrats tonight to unify and get behind her effort to defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker this fall.

The annual State Democratic Convention will be held through tomorrow in Wisconsin Dells.

Burke says the notion of a divided party is "hogwash" as she faces a recent primary challenge from Madison Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey, who was not given a speaker's slot at the convention.

Democrats are fired up by polls showing that Burke is keeping up with Walker. A recent Marquette poll had the two tied at 46%. However, 51% of those polled said they didn't know enough to form an opinion about Burke, the former Trek Bicycle executive who spent two years as former Gov. Jim Doyle's commerce secretary.

State Republicans have tried to equate Burke with Doyle, saying she'd move the state backward after Walker's administration added 100,000 jobs and cut taxes by over $2 billion.

Among other things, Burke has shied away from tax increases, supported efforts to get school students to consider career decisions earlier and decried the polarization in state government. Some in both parties say Burke hasn't helped herself by not committing to overturn the GOP's near-elimination of public union bargaining privileges in 2011.


Autopsies set for two bodies found near Lake Geneva

Autopsies are planned today for two people found dead near Lake Geneva.

Walworth County authorities said the bodies were found yesterday about a half mile from a police station in the town of Geneva.

Other details were not immediately released.


Man found not guilty of causing heroin death

A Madison man has been found not guilty of causing the heroin death of a Cross Plains man almost two and a half years ago.

A Dane County jury deliberated for over six hours yesterday before acquitting Jason James, 34, of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Darrel "DJ" Thurow, 22. The jury did, however, find James guilty of delivering heroin to a friend that the victim was out with the night before he died.

The friend, Adam Krutchen, was put on five years of probation in March after he pleaded guilty to delivering heroin.

James pleaded guilty to two similar counts in January, and he'll be sentenced on all three counts at a later date.

During the trial, a defense expert said it could not be determined whether Thurow died from the heroin he took the night before his death or from two other drugs prescribed to him. Dane County's medical examiner said he was certain that Thurow would not have died it wasn't for the heroin.