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Study confirms wind-turbine sounds in one home but inconclusive about effects; mayors bet treats on Packer-Viking game; new tax breaks plus more state news

GREEN BAY -- A new report confirms the presence of wind-turbine sounds in one of three homes where residents claimed they were forced to leave due to health problems caused by the turbines.

The state Public Service Commission partially paid for the study, which was done at the Shirley Wind Farm south of Green Bay. Clean Wisconsin and four independent groups tested audio levels in the three homes, after the residents appeared at a hearing to oppose another project proposed by Highland Wind LLC -- a 41 turbine, 2.5mw wind farm in the Town of Forest -- in eastern St. Croix County.

Clean Wisconsin scientist Tyson Cook told WLUK TV in Green Bay there were no audible wind-turbine sounds in none of the three homes that were investigated and only the most sensitive equipment picked up audio in the house nearest to a turbine.

Two of the three residents of that house said they suffered nausea and the four independent firms recommended further health studies.

Wind farm opponents say the tests confirmed what they knew all along. State Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere said the state should not approve any more wind energy farms until the results of the new tests are known. Jacque said the study clearly shows a connection between wind turbines and people's health and he said statements from wind farm advocates have been contradicted by the study's investigators.

Meanwhile, the PSC expects to act on the St. Croix project in February.


Newest tax breaks will cost Wisconsin $262 million

MADISON -- A new report says Wisconsin will lose up to $262 million over the next two years because of tax breaks that were previously-approved and are now being phased in or expanded.

The Wisconsin Budget Project, a research effort sponsored by the state's Council on Children and Families, says lawmakers might get into a fiscal pickle if they don't consider the existing tax breaks when they think about new cuts in income taxes.

Incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said his Republican majority wants to cut income tax rates for those making $20,000 to $200,000 a year, but the Budget Project report says people and businesses are already in line for nine major tax breaks some of which were approved several years ago, and are just now coming to fruition.

The biggest one is a phase-out of income taxes on manufacturing and farming operations. That one totals $102 million over the next two years, and $874 million over a decade.

The report from researchers Tamarine Cornelius and Jon Peacock notes that businesses do not have to create jobs to get the tax break and in fact, businesses that have massive layoffs could still qualify.

The study also mentions a $114 million loss in state revenues for a tax deduction of health insurance premiums by workers who share in the cost of plans from their employers.

Cornelius says most tax cuts are normally offset by further cuts in state spending and the phased-in tax cuts are something lawmakers should keep in mind as they adopt a new state budget in the first half of the New Year.


Wet spring needed to dent the drought

Wisconsin will need a wet spring to put any kind of a dent in the drought, according to meteorologist David Miskus of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. He says most of the annual rainfall takes places in the spring and early summer in this part of the country, so that's the critical period.

Washington County farmer Ross Bishop studies historical drought patterns. He says Wisconsin will need lots moisture from the winter snow melt, or else the plants won't be able to activate their deepest roots. So far, the news is good in that regard. The National Weather Service said La Crosse had almost as much snow in December as it had during all of last winter. But Wisconsin is still in a considerable drought.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said 88.5 percent of the state's land area is abnormally dry or worse. That's held steady in the past three weeks, but it's better than October when 99.5 percent of the Badger State was in some form of drought. As bad as it is here, experts say it's worse to our west and south. A stretch from South Dakota to Texas is in an exceptional drought - the Drought Monitor's worst category.

Milwaukee commodities' analyst Doug Houghton of Brock Associates says that region has some of the poorest winter wheat on record - and a good share of it might have to be abandoned.

Meanwhile, things could get a little icy in Wisconsin this weekend. The National Weather Service says a weak low pressure system will move across the Upper Great Lakes - and it could bring a slight chance of snow flurries and light freezing drizzle Saturday and Saturday night. There's also a chance of flurries on Sunday.


St. Paul man denies killing girlfriend

WAUSAU -- A St. Paul man has pleaded innocent to shooting his girlfriend to death near Wausau.

Richi Vue, 21, was arraigned in Marathon County Thursday on five felony charges, including allegations that he stole a pick-up truck and eluded officers who tried to arrest him. His lawyers say they'll try to prevent a possible jury from hearing statements Vue made to police upon his arrest.

A hearing on pre-trial requests will be the next step in the case but it has not been scheduled yet. Vue is accused of killing 20-year-old Lee Xiong in an apartment in Weston, just east of Wausau.

Prosecutors said the two were dealing meth-amphetamines from the apartment, and a dispute over a drug deal led to the slaying. The murder occurred in a family apartment, and a 14-year-old girl was there at the time. She made the initial calls to police.

Previous reports said the gun involved was among 55 stolen in a pair of gun-shop burglaries in Wausau and Lincoln County and some have been tied to other crimes. Vue remains in jail under a $1 million bond.


Plea deal pending for former probation agent

WAUSAU -- A plea deal is in the works for a former state probation agent from Wausau, who's charged with stealing pain-killers from offenders she supervised.

Online court records show that a plea hearing has been scheduled Jan. 28th for Kim Hoenisch, who's also the wife of Marathon County Sheriff Randy Hoenisch.

Her attorney, Harry Hertel, tells the Wausau Daily Herald that he believes a resolution has been reached with state prosecutors. He said there are special circumstances, and they'll come out at the plea hearing and he said he realized that Hoenisch needs to be held accountable for "her past mistakes."

She was fired from her state job Dec. 19th, two days before she was charged with three drug possession counts, burglary, and misconduct in office.

Prosecutors said she repeatedly stole pain-killers from clients at her office, and at homes where she did not have permission to go in.


College assisting overburdened homeless shelter

GREEN BAY -- St. Norbert College has come to the aid of a Green Bay homeless shelter that was recently cited for having too many people than what the city allowed.

The St. John the Evangelist shelter was allowed to have up to 64 people each night but with a recent bout of cold weather, more than 80 people were staying on some nights so the city issued a citation to the shelter in late December.

The nearby Saint Norbert College in De Pere has been on a winter break so the school offered to temporarily house the excess from what St. John's is allowed to serve. Officials inspected the site Thursday.

The Green Bay Catholic Diocese has shuttled over 15 people from the downtown shelter to the campus since Dec. 21st. The solution is only temporary, though. The school will end its assistance once the students return on Jan. 21st.

Meanwhile, the city and the diocese are still meeting to discuss a solution to the overflows.


Ruling awaited on wolf-hunting with dogs

MADISON -- The future of wolf hunting in Wisconsin could be affected by a judge's ruling that's expected to come down Friday afternoon.

Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson will announce whether or not hunters will ever be able to use dogs to help track down the wolves. Anderson issued a temporary ruling that prohibited the use of dogs in the inaugural hunt this fall and hunters did just fine without them, exceeding their quota of 117 wolves more than two months before the season was due to close at the end of February.

The judge responded to a lawsuit from environmental and animal rights' groups, questioning the DNR's previous approval for the use of hunting dogs. They feared that the wolves would injure or kill the dogs in large numbers.

The DNR plans to impose restrictions on dog use when it prepares permanent rules for wolf hunting, but the humane groups say those rules might not be ready for a second hunting season this fall.


Mayors wager cheese, sausage over Packer-Vike game

GREEN BAY -- The mayors of Green Bay and Minneapolis have made a food wager on Saturday night's Packer-Viking playoff game.

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt is putting up Bel-Giooso Cheese, Beernsten's Candies, and Sno-Cap Root Beer from Green Bay's Titletown Brewery.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is putting up home-made sausage Butcher & Boar, which was recently named the Restaurant-of-the-Year in Minnesota's largest city.


Milwaukee's Bradley Center to get $3 million facelift

MILWAUKEE -- The home of the Milwaukee Bucks continues to get a facelift. Officials at the BMO Harris Bradley Center unveiled about $3 million in upgrades Thursday. They include a renovation of the 44 luxury suites between the upper-and-lower seating levels, 16 new theater boxes with private dining tables, a new hospitality area that goes with the highest-priced seats and a new food and beverage area for all fans on the main lower level concourse.

There's been talk of a new arena to replace the 25-year-old Bradley Center but that's expected to be some time off and arena officials have been working to spruce up the current facility.

The center's board received $18 million in corporate sponsorships, including the BMO Harris naming rights, plus a $5 million dollar restoration grant from the state.

Besides the Bucks, the arena houses the Marquette men's basketball team and the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team.


Charges mulled in shoplifter's death

WEST ALLIS -- Milwaukee County prosecutors are considering charges, after customers in a West Allis convenience store restrained a shoplifter who suffered brain damage and died two weeks later.

Corey Stingley, 16, a football and track athlete at West Allis Hale, died last Saturday. His family said the teen suffered major brain damage in the incident, which occurred Dec. 14th outside of V.J.'s Food Mart.

Three customers were questioned by police, and one was referred to the district attorney for causing injury. Now that Stingley has died, Acting Police Chief Charles Padgett expects the D.A. to review the behavior of all three customers involved.

He said they confronted Stingley inside the store, after he apparently tried to sneak alcohol in his school backpack. A scuffle broke out, and it continued outside the store. Padgett said the customers were holding Stingley down when officers arrived and rescuers used CPR to revive the youngster after he had stopped breathing. He was then taken to Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital, where he died.

Police would not give other details, saying they're still investigating. Assistant D.A. Mark Williams said he received the case on Wednesday, and it would take a few days to decide on charges.

Padgett said the legal issues are complicated. He said people have a right to make a citizens' arrest but they need to know the impact of their actions and "there's a line you can't cross."


Services set for Lamers' founder, feminist pioneer

Funeral services were to be held Friday in De Pere for the founder of Lamers Bus Line. Meanwhile, admirers are also recalling the accomplishments of Women's history pioneer Gerda Lerner, who died Wednesday at Madison.

Lyle Lamers, 97, died from natural causes last weekend at his home in De Pere. Anyone who has driven Wisconsin roads for any length of time, has seen one of those white Lamers buses with the large red lettering - or perhaps a yellow Lamers school bus. The company began in 1944 when Lyle's brother-in-law sold him a school bus. Lyle was a dairy farmer at the time - and he and his wife continue to farm until the early 1970's while growing their business. Lamers is now Wisconsin's largest locally-owned bus line with 29 branches in the Badger State and one in Florida. They provide trips to casinos and Packer games, shuttle rides to airports, trolley rides, and medical transportation. Lyle's son Allen Lamers is now the company president, and many Lamers family members still work for the firm.

The family of Women's history pioneer Gerda Lerner said the 92-year-old Lerner died peacefully from old age on Wednesday night at an assisted-living facility in Madison where she created a doctoral program in women's history at the University of Wisconsin.

Lerner was a founding member of the National Organization for Women. She was born in Austria in 1920 and she spent her 18th birthday in a Nazi prison. Lerner was behind bars for six weeks. She later wrote that the experience showed her how society manipulates people - and the lesson was reinforced by college history professors who said that only men were worth studying. Lerner came to the U-S in the 1970's in New York State, where she created the nation's first women's studies graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College.

She later moved to Madison, where she established her doctoral program on women's studies at the U-W. Lerner also wrote a number of textbooks on women's history, including "The Creation of Feminist Consciousness." She was also an editor of a book called "Black Women in White America." It was one of the first books which chronicled the struggles and accomplishments of black women in America.


Two escape when SUV drops through thin ice

Two people escaped injury when their sport utility vehicle plunged through the ice on a lake east of Wausau.

Rescuers were sent to the Pike Lake Resort in Hatley Thursday afternoon. Somebody saw the SUV break through, and was not sure if anyone was inside.

Authorities said the two people managed to escape the vehicle as it sunk, and they made it back to the shore. A state DNR warden said the ice was about six inches thick at that spot but it was two inches thicker on other parts of the lake.

The warden said speed might also have been a factor. The SUV sunk about 30-feet to the bottom of the lake, and officials say the owners will have a month to get it out.

The DNR reminds ice fishers to check ice conditions before going out. Officials say about four-inches of ice are needed to walk on it and vehicles need at least five inches or more of safe ice, depending on their size.


Former Verona woman killed in Texas

A Verona native was killed in Austin Texas, and a man who was reportedly dating her has been arrested.

Austin Police said 26-year-old Cassandra Clark suffered "obvious trauma to her body" last Sunday. Officials said the suspect, Ryan Clarke, 27, slit his wrists at a park a few hours later and when he was at the hospital, he had a social worker call 9-1-1 to check the woman's apartment. That's when officers found her dead. Ryan Clarke was arrested on a possible murder charge. He's in jail under a $100,000 bond.

Clark graduated from Verona High School in 2004, and from Madison Edgewood College in 2008 with degrees in Spanish and clinical psychology. She was working as a financial aid officer with the University of Texas business school at the time of her death.