Wisconsin roundup: Stillwater Lift Bridge reopens — but only temporarily; 9 more state news stories
HOULTON — The Stillwater Lift Bridge reopened about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, as thousands of Wisconsinites did not have to drive out of their way to get to their jobs in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation spent the night completing temporary repairs to the main power cable on the bridge that crosses the St. Croix River. Officials say a malfunction in the socket of an electrical meter caused the lift bridge to get stuck about 30 feet up during the noon hour Tuesday.
It stalled again Tuesday night, while the bridge was being tested following the socket repair — and a bucket truck had to lower several workers from the structure. The Stillwater Lift Bridge will close at 10 p.m. Wednesday for permanent repairs, and it's due to reopen at 6 a.m. Thursday.
State budget impasse continues after talks break down
MADISON — Republican leaders of both houses blame each other after a day of talks on the new state budget broke down after 40 minutes on Tuesday.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke says the Senate leaders "walked away from the table," as disagreements continue between the two houses — mainly on how to pay for highways, as Senate leaders want more borrowing and no tax hikes while the Assembly GOP keeps pushing for new revenue sources to cut down on bonding.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called each other's position "laughable." Both said it could mean no spending increase for road construction and more delays for projects in the next two years. No new talks are scheduled this week — and even though the current budget expires Friday, state spending will continue at current levels until a new budget is passed.
Analyst: Gas prices surprisingly low for July 4
MILWAUKEE — Gas prices normally rise between New Year's Day and the Fourth of July, but the exact opposite is happening this year.
Analyst Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy.com says it's the first time in the website's 17-year history that July 4 gas prices will be lower than the start of the year. He says it's because of an unexpected drop in the price of crude oil.
Unless there are unexpected refinery problems, DeHaan says we may have already seen our highest fuel prices for 2017. In Wisconsin, Gas Buddy says the average price is $2.23 for a gallon of regular unleaded Tuesday. That's only two cents more than what Gas Buddy projects nationally for the July 4 holiday. That national price is 12 cents cheaper than on January first, and it's the lowest fuel price in 12 years for an Independence Day.
UW won't let taxpayers bail out Oshkosh foundation
MADISON — The UW System will not let state taxpayers bail out the private foundation that serves the Oshkosh campus.
Board of Regents audit chairman Michael Grebe said Tuesday the university would not use state dollars to pay foundation debts for what he called "inappropriately made, real estate related financial commitments." Former Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and business officer Thomas Sonnleitner were sued in January, after the UW alleged they funneled tax money to the school's foundation to back five building projects.
Talk of a bailout came as the state Justice Department started negotiating a settlement — and Senate Republican Steve Nass said any bailout would hurt the rebuilding of trust between the UW and state lawmakers. But the UW is concerned that the Oshkosh foundation might go bankrupt, thus putting scholarship money in jeopardy — and Grebe said the university would keep working with the foundation on a solution.
Madison Culver's to reopen following robbery-related death
MADISON — A Culver's restaurant in Madison is expected to reopen Wednesday after a contractor died from a medical problem while the place was being robbed.
Police Chief Mike Koval says the 56-year-old victim was among four men working on a floor remodeling project about 3 a.m. Tuesday when two masked robbers busted in. The chief says they held the workers at gunpoint while one of them opened a safe — and right then, one of the workers was having a medical emergency but the robbers would not let anybody come to his aid.
The robbery suspects were still being sought at last word — and while the unidentified victim was not a homicide victim, Koval says the incident could still face lesser charges of felony murder. He says the other construction workers were in their 20s and 30s, and all were "shattered" by what happened.
Searches continue for 2 missing Wis. women
In Racine County, Lynn Rickard's family has put up a $10,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts.
The 59-year-old Rickard has not been seen since Sunday when she left her Kansasville home — and law enforcement is now using drones, as their search extended into Kenosha County on Tuesday. In central Wisconsin, the search continues for 46-year-old Anna Ineichen, missing since last Thursday. Her car was found Friday near Lake Dexter about 20 miles south of Marshfield — and her sister, Marie Zoellner of Merrill, says relatives from as far away as Texas are helping with the search.
Zoellner tells WDLB Radio that Ineichen left without her cell phone or medication — and she doesn't know why she may have vanished, saying she's not aware of problems at home.
USDA confirms record yields for cranberry bogs
MADISON — Wisconsin cranberry growers are making the most of their limited production space.
The USDA has confirmed record yields for last year that averaged 288 bushels an acre, more than 50 barrels higher than the previous year. Wisconsin is far and away the national leader in cranberry production, making almost two-thirds of the country's total product — and that's almost twice as much as second place Massachusetts.
The final numbers show that Wisconsin made a whopping 26 percent more cranberries in 2016 than the previous year, for a total of 6.1 million barrels from 21,000 acres. Net prices received by cranberry growers held steady from 2015 at $29.20 a barrel.
FBI says bone fragments not those of boy who vanished in 1983
SHEBOYGAN — The FBI says bone fragments found in a man's yard are not those of Bobby Joe Fritz, who was 5 years old when he vanished from Campbellsport in 1983.
Sheboygan County sheriff's deputies recently asked the FBI to do advanced DNA tests on four small bones dug up in 1990 from the home of the late Michael Menzer. Investigators long suspected that Menzer abducted Bobby Jo and buried him at his property in Waldo — but he was never charged with those crimes before he died in 1990, while serving a 40-year sentence for killing two stepsons in a fire that destroyed the Waldo Mill. Investigators thought they could find Bobby Joe's skeleton on Menzer's land — so they dug it up after he died but found only four small bone fragments plus some decayed children's clothes. That clothing is now being retested.
Judge denies request at Sauk Prairie rec area
MADISON — A federal judge has refused to halt helicopter training, hunting dog training and motorcycle races at the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area.
The Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance filed a lawsuit in January seeking to stop the activities. The group filed a request last week for a preliminary injunction after a state court denied a similar motion. U.S. District Judge James Peterson denied the request Monday, saying the group hasn't shown it would suffer irreparable harm before he can decide the case next spring or that environmental harm from the activities would be permanent.
The group has asked Peterson to reconsider and issue a temporary restraining order halting the activities while he weighs a preliminary injunction. The recreation area was once the site of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant.
Newlyweds get surprise performance from Rascal Flatts
WATERTOWN — A couple celebrating their wedding at the Sugar Island Barn in Watertown on Saturday were surprised by some very special guests — the trio of Rascal Flatts.
Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney were in Wisconsin to perform at Country USA Oshkosh. The bride and groom don't know the members of the band, but a spokesman with Sugar Island Barn told television station WISN that a family member contacted them last October to ask if they would do the honor. Spokesman Brady Robus said "They said that if they had time they would try and it ended up working out." Rascal Flatts performed their single "Bless the Broken Road" for the newlyweds and their guests.