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Mississippi barge-jam expected to persist for 2 weeks; baseball-sized hail reported at McKinley; 8 more state stories

WINONA -- The Army Corps of Engineers says it might take another couple weeks to re-open the Mississippi River to barge traffic at western Wisconsin's border with Minnesota. Dredging work is underway. Heavy flooding in June caused soil to wash into the river, creating sandbars that have grounded tow-boats from about Red Wing to Winona. The Army Corps now says that almost 200 scheduled barges have not been able to go south.

Channel maintenance coordinator Dan Cottrell says the Corps conducts dredging every year but they've never seen the sediment this bad. He said parts of the Mississippi have been impassable for 12 days.

Cottrell expects the Winona area to re-open by Monday. Upstream, it might take a couple weeks to complete the project at Red Wing.

Cottrell says the barge companies can feel the delay on their bottom lines.

One tow boat that pushes 15 barges has about the same maximum load as 870 semi-trucks.

Prison reform group urges Walker to seek fed investigation

MADISON -- A Wisconsin faith-based coalition has asked Gov. Scott Walker to seek a federal investigation into the alleged abuse of prisoners at Waupun.

WISDOM has been pushing for a host of reforms at the state's lock-ups. On Wednesday, the group wrote Walker to ask for a probe into suspected abuses by staffers in Waupun's segregation unit.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism cited 40 abuse allegations this month. Twenty-eight involved one guard who's suspected of slamming inmates into walls, choke holds, hitting prisoners' knees, touching genitals in strip searches, and making racial slurs.

WISDOM has asked Walker to transfer the guard in question until an investigation is finished. The group also asked that the state Corrections Department rotate guards in segregation units, improve training, and create an independent system for inmates to lodge complaints.

Rev. Jerry Hancock, who heads a prison ministry project in Madison, says it's clear that the corrections agency is "out of control."

Walker's office did not comment on the request for a federal probe. A corrections spokeswoman said the Dodge County Sheriff's Department normally investigates prison allegations, and there's been no substantiated allegations of prisoner abuse by Waupun staffers.

Baseball-sized hail pummels Polk County 'burg

Several hail-storms went through Wisconsin late Tuesday but the National Weather Service reported no major building damage.

McKinley, east of Cumberland in Polk County, reported baseball-sized hail. The Appleton area had quarter-sized hail. Pellets covered the ground at Fifield in Price County.

Smaller and lesser hail was reported at Marshfield, Black Creek, Suring, Plymouth, and parts of Ashland County, where 48 mph wind were also reported.

Trees fell at Waukesha. One tree fell on a car near Silver Lake in Kenosha County. Most storm-related power outages have been resolved.

The only significant outage Wednesday morning was in the New Berlin area, where We Energies said more than 80 customers were in the dark.

An upper-level low pressure system is expected to hang over Wisconsin for the rest of the week, with stormy conditions possible each afternoon and evening. Wednesday highs were predicted to be near 80 except along Lake Michigan.

Plaintiffs in case against Archdiocese seek $2 million for attorney fees

MILWAUKEE -- A judge was to consider a request Wednesday to make the Milwaukee Archdiocese pay over $2 million in legal fees to creditors' attorneys in the church's bankruptcy case.

The Catholic Archdiocese plans to tell bankruptcy judge Susan Kelley that it doesn't have the money to pay all the legal bills right now.

Kelley had agreed more than a year ago not to force the church to pay legal bills while the case was pending. That way, the archdiocese could have enough to pay at least one month of its bills.

Bankruptcy law requires the church to pay legal fees for both the archdiocese and its creditors about 575 victims of sex abuse by priests. Their lawyers say the church has more money than was anticipated -- and there's no reason they shouldn't get paid now.

The Milwaukee archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying it didn't have enough to pay anticipated legal settlements to the priest sex abuse victims.

Former pediatrician will surrender license

EAU CLAIRE -- A former Eau Claire pediatrician has agreed to stop practicing medicine for good, in exchange for the dismissal of two remaining sex charges.

A jury acquitted David Van de Loo in February of 14 sex-related counts, while declaring a mistrial for the other two.

At a status conference Tuesday, a judge was told that the 61-year-old Van de Loo would permanently surrender his state medical license in exchange for dropping the two pending criminal charges. Those counts were second-degree sexual assault by a medical employee, and exposure -- both involving the same victim.

Van de Loo was accused of having inappropriate contact with 15 teenage boys who were taking medical exams at the Mayo Clinic Health facility in Eau Claire. He was fired from Mayo in late 2012.

Van de Loo still faces around two dozen civil lawsuits.

Prior to becoming a physician, Van de Loo once taught music in the Ellsworth School District.

Marshfield shuttering Elk Mound clinic

MARSHFIELD -- Marshfield Clinic will close its rural primary care facility at Elk Mound, between Eau Claire and Menomonie.

Clinic officials say a reduction in patients is one of the main reasons. It's a common concern in the industry, as higher deductibles and health costs are making folks more careful about planning their doctor visits.

The Elk Mound center will shut down Sept. 19. It has five employees, and they'll get a chance for placement in similar jobs at other nearby Marshfield Clinic locations.

Patients will be directed to the clinic's other facilities in the area, including Eau Claire and Menomonie.

Crandon voters toss sitting mayor with recall

CRANDON -- Voters in Crandon have removed their mayor from office. Rob Jaeger was recalled Tuesday, losing to Dennis Rosa 378-to-184.

Over the half the city's eligible voters came out to cast votes.

Recall supporters had accused the first-term mayor of trying to fire certain city employees, working around committees, and not letting people speak at public meetings.

The City Council originally decided against a recall vote but the state Government Accountability Board said the city had no choice, because the number of people who petitioned for it exceeded the state's minimum of 200.

City officials said it was a new experience for Crandon, after the city lengthened the mayor's term from two years to four.

Recalls are generally not needed for two-year office holders, because they must serve at least one year before they can eligible for recall.

-- Natalie Jablonski, WXPR-Rhinelander and Larry Lee, WSAU-Wausau

FFA members finalists for national recognition

Two Wisconsin Future Farmers of America members are up for national honors.

Thomas Allen of the Reedsburg FFA and Thomas Larson of the Viroqua chapter are among 16 finalists for four American Stars in the agricultural education group.

Allen is among four finalists for the American Star Farmer award. He breeds, raises, and markets his dairy cattle and then sells the animals at shows and sales.

Larson is one of four final nominees as the American Star in Agri-business. He started a business to fix machinery, and re-sell repaired items like chainsaws, lawn-mowers, and more.

Each finalist has received $2,000 and the four winners will get another $2,000.

They'll be announced Nov. 1 at the National FFA Convention in Louisville.

Grant enables Oshkosh-Appleton trail development

APPLETON -- Thanks to a state grant, Fox Valley officials will try to establish consistent bicycle-and-walking trails between the Oshkosh and Appleton areas.

The state Department of Transportation has provided $120,000 to help connect existing trails between the two cities and a number of places within those areas.

Regional transportation planner Melissa Kraemer Badtke says there are too many places where bike paths are interrupted by street facilities, and vice versa. She said a rebuilding project on Highway 41 resulted in a new and improved trail at Lake Butte des Morts near Oshkosh but it does not connect with either UW Oshkosh or the city's downtown.

Besides trail plans, the grant may also cover things like trail safety tips and recreation classes.

Threesome reunited with Coast Guard rescuers

CHICAGO -- A nine-year-old suburban Chicago boy was re-united Wednesday with a Coast Guard crew that helped rescue him from Lake Michigan at Door County.

Tommy Alter and other relatives met the helicopter crew at the Chicago Executive Airport. Tommy thanked the rescuers who saved him, his nine-year-old cousin Zach Suri, and his aunt Allison Alter.

They rented kayaks on July 10th and were only planning to be gone for just over an hour from the small bay in western Door County where they took off. Instead, they got caught in waves of up to two-feet -- and they were found about 14 miles away in the Bay of Green Bay.

A search plane from the Royal Canadian Air Force located Tommy Alter and his relatives about 15 hours after they initially got on the water. They were checked out at a hospital and released the same day. Young Zach and his mother Allison Alter used to live in Madison, where she and her husband worked at the UW.