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Trempealeau, Barron frac-sand mines accused of environmental violations; Hundreds pack temple as Sikhs mourn shooting deaths; More state news stories

The state Department of Justice says it’s considering legal action for three environmental violations connected with the rapid increase in frac-sand mining.

Department of Natural Resources officials say additional cases could be referred for prosecution after the agency issued 20 violation notices to 19 companies since late 2011.

The DNR said five frac-sand companies violated storm-water permits in April and May of this year when melting snow and rains pushed debris into streams and wetlands in Trempealeau and Barron counties.

Frac-sand mining is a relatively new process, and officials say both sand companies and regulators are still getting accustomed to their proper roles.

The western half of Wisconsin, with its favorable soils, has become of the nation’s hot spots for frac-sand mining. The process uses water and chemicals as part of the extraction of domestic oil and natural gas deposits that could never be tapped until now.

A new federal report shows how frac sand has cut into the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. Energy Information Agency said last week that oil and gas companies added almost four billion barrels of oil reserves in 2011 – the most since 1977.


Hundreds pack temple as Sikhs mourn shooting deaths

A Sikh Temple leader in Oak Creek said lots of people were hurt by the shooting massacre at the temple a year ago today. Still, Pardeep Kaleka said a million good things came from it.

Hundreds of people jammed the Oak Creek temple Sunday for an anniversary service. Flags, pictures and roses reminded people of the six worshippers killed by gunman Wade Michael Page before he shot himself to death. Kaleka’s father, the temple’s president, died while trying to stop Page in his tracks.

Kaleka said the tragedy spurred a “bigger calling” in the temple’s young members. “I think they have a personal vendetta for peace,” he said.

Sikhs from throughout North America and India attended yesterday’s anniversary service. Gov. Scott Walker and Congresswoman Gwen Moore joined them. Walker said he admired the Sikh community’s strength and concern for others and those traits showed at a vigil soon after the shootings, where people showed love instead of hatred.

Over 1,100 people took part in a fundraising run for the Sikh Temple on Saturday. Tonight, the anniversary observance ends with a meditation at 6 p.m. and a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m., both at the Oak Creek temple.


Act 10 helps Milwaukee cut overtime costs by 30%

Wisconsin’s largest city reduced its overtime costs for public employees by almost 30% last year.

The Journal Sentinel said the state’s Act 10, which set limits on public union bargaining, helped the city of Milwaukee rewrite some of its compensation ordinances to cut down on overtime and other expenses.

The Public Works Department had the city’s largest reduction in overtime, a drop of 65% last year to $2.2 million. Officials cited better planning and budgeting plus drier than normal weather last year that resulted in fewer water main breaks.

Milwaukee police still have the largest overtime expenses in the city, around $14 million last year. That was down by $2.5 million from 2011. Police Chief Ed Flynn said he has taken a number of steps to reduce overtime, including a reduction of officers who appear in court and an overlap of shifts to reduce the need for extra time to brief officers to ongoing matters at the start of their workdays.


Agencies: Pilot error caused November crash

Two federal agencies agree that a pilot’s error caused the crash of a single-engine plane in Burlington last November, killing a father and daughter from Illinois.

Todd Parfitt, 50, of Antioch, Ill., and Nicole Parfitt, 14, were both killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Todd’s lack of recent flight experience caused the single-engine plane to spin out of control just before it went down in a cornfield. An earlier finding from the FAA said the pilot mismanaged the controls just before the spin began.

Parfitt was apparently trying to land at the Burlington Municipal Airport when the plane lost control. Both he and his daughter were thrown from the craft upon impact. The Safety Board said Parfitt had not flown for almost six months before the crash.


Ryan raises $1.7 million so far this year

Janesville Republican Paul Ryan has raised three times as much as any other Wisconsin House incumbent for the next campaigns in 2014.

Federal records show Ryan brought in $1.7 million to his House war chest in the first six months of this year. Individuals make up about three-fourths of Ryan’s donations, many from out of state. He raised just over $400,000 this year from special interest political action committees.

Campaign finance director Susan Jacobson said millions of people outside of Wisconsin became familiar with Ryan’s message after he ran for vice president in 2012.

Bob Biersack of the Center for Responsive Politics says Ryan’s second term as the House budget chairman doesn’t hurt his fund-raising ability either.

Ryan is often mentioned as a 2016 presidential hopeful. A year ago, he ran for both vice president and Congress with the intent of resigning his House seat had Mitt Romney been elected to the White House.

La Crosse House Democrat Ron Kind raised the second-highest amount among the state’s 10 members of Congress this year with $585,000.

Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner only raised $66,000, leading to speculation that he might step down in 2014. However, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says Sensenbrenner has already filed papers to run for 37th and 38th years in the House in next year’s elections.


Camper falls, dies while taking pictures

A Clintonville man drowned over the weekend while camping alone in Marinette County.

Authorities said a 37-year-old man was taking pictures on Saturday night when he fell off some rocks and landed in the water at the Twelve Foot Falls County Park in the town of Dunbar. Witnesses pulled the man to shore, but could not revive him.

Sheriff’s deputies said the death appears to be an accident. They’re still investigating. The victim’s name was not immediately released.


Lawmaker wants longer prison terms but not higher beer tax

A state lawmaker who wants more and longer prison terms for drunk drivers is against raising the beer tax to help cover the incarceration costs.

Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon said those who drink responsibly should not have to pay for those who choose to drink and drive. He says one problem is that the beer tax money goes into the state's general fund. Ott told the Central Wisconsin Sunday newspaper he would favor higher fines and surcharges for those convicted of OWI.

An Assembly committee held a public hearing last week on Ott's bill to make three- and four-time OWI a felony, require a minimum six-month jail term for causing injury by drunk driving and a mandatory 10-year prison term for killing a motorist while driving drunk.

Critics say the extra prison costs are too high. Corrections officials say the housing costs for prisoners would rise by $220 million a year -- and another $230 million would be needed for more prison space.

Wisconsin has the 13th lowest alcohol taxes in the country. Madison Assembly Democrat Terese Berceau has tried and failed for years to increase the beer tax.


Milwaukee fisherman dies in lake near Tomahawk

An autopsy is planned today for a Milwaukee County man found dead on a lake in northern Wisconsin.

Authorities said the 51-year-old man apparently went fishing by himself Sunday morning on Smith Lake near Tomahawk.

A witness called 911 after seeing the man’s body floating on the water. Authorities recovered the body near an empty boat. They said a lifejacket was not found at the scene. The victim’s name was not immediately released.