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DOT shuns 70 mph concept for most state 4-lanes; Witnesses filmed girls’ fight rather than calling 911; 10 more state news stories

MADISON -- Before the politicians spoke up, the state Department of Transportation studied the idea of raising the speed limit to 70 mph on Wisconsin four-lanes.

The agency said all four rural interstates – 94, 90, 43 and 39 – have lower crash rates than other four-lanes. So DOT officials said those four would be the likely candidates for the higher speed limit, along with Hwy. 41 which is in the process of being improved to interstate standards.

The agency did not recommend raising the current 65 mph speed limit on the Hwy. 29 expressway across the state’s mid-section or other divided highways like 151, 53, 54 and 12.

Majority Assembly Republicans came out this week in favor of a 70 mph speed limit on rural freeways.

Speaker Robin Vos released the DOT study and said the agency was wise to look at it. He said Wisconsin will be the only Midwest state still at 65 mph after Illinois approved 70 this week. Vos noted that the lower speeds in urban areas would not change.

Peg Schmitt of the DOT said the report speaks for itself. Her agency has not taken a position on the bill to raise speed limits.

Gov. Scott Walker is non-committal as well, and the Senate’s GOP leader says it probably won’t come up in his chamber this fall.

At least a couple Democrats have expressed concerns. Milwaukee Senator Tim Carpenter and Appleton Representative Penny Bernard-Schaber want to know more from highway officials about the safety risks of a higher speed.


Witnesses filmed girls’ fight rather than calling 911

The Dodge County sheriff says a brawl at the county fair might have ended sooner had witnesses called 911 instead of recording the fracas on their cellphones.

Eighteen citations were issued for disorderly conduct in last Friday night’s incident. Those ticketed include 11 girls and seven boys, all age-13-to-17.

Sheriff Patricia Ninmann said the citations could have been avoided “if 911 was chosen as a priority over videotaping.”

It all started when five girls called each other names, and six more girls jumped in after a lemonade cup was smashed over a girl’s head. Another girl was thrown to the ground, kicked and punched.

The boys told investigators they didn’t seek help because they thought somebody else would. One boy said he hoped the fight would keep going so a girl he didn’t like would get hurt.

The citations were given to teens from Beaver Dam, Juneau, Horicon, Mayville and Burnett.



Frac-sand mine opponents file lawsuit to block permits

CRAWFORD COUNTY -- Opponents of a new frac-sand mine in a scenic part of southwest Wisconsin filed a lawsuit Wednesday to throw out two permits granted by a local town board.

The lawsuit alleges that two members of the Bridgeport Town Board in Crawford County had in-laws working for the Pattison Sand Company when they voted for the permits.

It also accuses of town of violating zoning ordinances by not considering potential negative effects. The mine’s neighbors filed the suit, along with an environmental group called the Crawford Stewardship Project. The two board members in question did not immediately comment.

Later Thursday, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board is scheduled to vote on a permit for the frac-sand mine located several miles east of the Mississippi River near the Iowa border. The area is protected for its natural beauty.

Some Riverway Board members recently wrote that the mine is a bad idea, but a loophole in state law would force them to vote for the permits. Board Director Mark Cupp said the new lawsuit does not affect his group directly – and therefore, it should not change his panel’s decision-making process.


Democrat pair begs for debate on redistricting protocol

MADISON -- Two Assembly Democrats from central Wisconsin say they’re willing to debate Republicans anytime, anywhere on the issue of redistricting.

A bill to create a non-partisan redistricting process every 10 years has been buried in Assembly and Senate committees for months. It would end the practice of giving the party in power the perk of redrawing state and congressional district boundaries after every Census. Instead, the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau would draw the maps.

Freshman Democrats Mandy Wright of Wausau and Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point are trying to keep the issue alive by pursuing debates. Shankland said the bill would result in a much fairer and more open process.

In previous decades, a federal court redrew the districts because neither party had full control of the Capitol, and they could not agree on new maps. In 2011, Republicans controlled both houses plus the governor’s office, and they secretly drew maps that were challenged in court.

A federal panel said the districts met the requirement of having equal populations, but the court decried the GOP’s secrecy. Other critics said lawmakers chose their own voters instead of the other way around.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that only 15 of 99 the Assembly districts are competitive anymore, along with just four state Senate districts and no U.S. House districts.

The paper said it results in lawmakers pleasing their voter bases with polarizing stands on issues, instead of governing to the larger center.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Idled nuke plant workers get federal retraining help

KEWAUNEE -- About 220 people affected by the recent closing of the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant will get federal help to move on with their lives.

The U.S. Labor Department has awarded an $807,000 emergency grant so workers and homemakers can get skill assessments, training and help in finding new jobs.

The Bay Area Workforce Development Board will dole out the funds.

Dominion Resources shut down the Kewaunee nuclear plant in May after the firm could not find a buyer for it. The plant employed around 650 people.


Walker hits the road to drum up funds, prop national profile

Gov. Scott Walker will head south tomorrow to make political hay.

His campaign says the Republican governor will hold a fundraiser at a home in Franklin, Tenn., where it will cost at least $2,500 to get in. Tomorrow night, Walker is scheduled to make the keynote address at the Alabama GOP’s summer dinner in Montgomery.

Walker is keeping up a national profile amid speculation that he might run for president in 2016. Many analysts say he will need to be re-elected as governor next year to have a legitimate shot at the White House.

He raised $3.5 million dollars during the first half of the year. Walker had $2.2 million in his gubernatorial campaign fund at the end of June without a Democrat stepping up to run against him yet.


Weddings up; divorces down

The number of marriages in Wisconsin is up for the second straight year after three decades of declines.

State officials said this week that almost 31,000 couples tied the knot in 2012, over 650 more than the year before. Still, the latest total is only about three-fourths the record for Wisconsin marriages -- at 41,000 in 1980.

Meanwhile, divorces have gone down for the second year in a row. Just over 16,000 married couples split in 2012 -- 300 less than the previous year.


Twisters spotted in northern Wisconsin

Two funnel clouds were seen in northern Wisconsin as another round of heavy thunderstorms hit the region late yesterday.

The National Weather Service said there were reports of a funnel in the Stanley-Boyd area around 5:45 p.m. and a funnel cloud near Bonduel in Shawano County just after 7:30. Neither twister touched down.

Chippewa Falls had over 2.5 inches of rain in a one-hour period. Menomonie had golf-ball-sized hail.

The Weather Service said trees fell in Shawano County between Gresham and the Stockbridge Indian Reservation as winds hit 70 mph.

Officials said a tree also fell onto a building close to a group of campers near Three Lakes in Oneida County. Fallen trees were also reported in Marinette and Lincoln counties.

It’s been raining all night in parts of southern Wisconsin. Small hail fell for 10 minutes straight near Waukesha last evening.

Just over 3,000 electric customers were in the dark as of 4:45 this morning. Wisconsin Public Service had almost 2,800 customers out in Marinette and Langlade counties. We Energies had around 250 customers out, mostly in the Shawano area.

There’s some lingering rain in southern Wisconsin this morning. Much of the state will be drier and cooler today with highs from the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s.


SBA offers loans to repair Fox Valley storm damage

The U.S. Small Business Administration has given fast approval to Wisconsin’s request for disaster aid after six tornadoes hit the Fox Valley 15 days ago.

Gov. Scott Walker looked to the SBA for low-interest loans after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said there was not enough damage to qualify for its disaster grants.

The SBA declared Outagamie County a disaster area after it had $31 million in damage from the Aug. 7 storms.

Victims in adjoining counties can also get loans. They include Brown, Calumet, Shawano, Waupaca and Winnebago counties.

Walker’s office says homeowners can get low-interest SBA loans of up to $200,000 to fix or replace their houses. Both homeowners and renters can get loans of up to $40,000 for their personal property.

Businesses and non-profit groups can get interest breaks on up to $2 million in loans to restore or replace buildings or equipment.


Swimmer drowns near UW-Madison campus

The body of a swimmer was pulled last evening from Lake Mendota near the UW-Madison campus.

Authorities said three people went for a swim near a campus boathouse, and one of them went under. Bystanders on the shore were asked to help search for the swimmer, and rescuers were called around 3:30 p.m. yesterday. Dane County sheriff’s divers used sonar equipment to help with the search.

Madison firefighters said they had trouble searching due to heavy weeds in the water. Officials said a body was discovered around 7 p.m. It was not immediately known whether the victim was a UW student.


Teen still missing after 12 days

A 17-year-old girl from central Wisconsin has been missing for 12 days.

Jessica Kolz of Mosinee was last seen by her family Aug. 10 at a strip mall in Stevens Point. The Wisconsin Crime Alert Network posted her information yesterday, saying Kolz is “missing and endangered.”

Mosinee police Officer Matt Wehn does not go that far. He says the Kolz family assumes she’s endangered, but for now, officers have no direct evidence of that. He says they’re not ruling anything out.

Law enforcement agencies have checked several locations where Kolz has been reported to be spotted. They’ve also checked with people she might have been with.

The public is asked to call their local law enforcement agencies if they have any tips.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Nothing’s cheap as hotel rooms fill for Harley anniversary

As of yesterday, about a dozen Milwaukee hotels had rooms available for Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration.

The four-day bash begins a week from today, and there are still accommodations for those willing to pay. The Radisson Hotel in Wauwatosa had a four-night package costing over $1,300 for a single room.

The Visit Milwaukee group and the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association have a Website listing available rooms up to two hours from Milwaukee. Brent Foerster of Visit Milwaukee says more rooms are becoming available due to last-minute cancellations, but they should be snapped up by the start of next week.

Craigslist and other Websites have hundreds of ads from people willing to rent parts of their homes or their land for camping.

But nothing’s cheap, even for outsiders planning to stay with their Milwaukee friends. Rick Nemeth of Chicago told the Journal Sentinel he offered Dave Reesman and his wife plane tickets so he could rent their home for the Harley bash. The Reesmans plan to visit relatives in Colorado late next week.