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Burke still clarifying iron mine stance; High water closes Mississippi to grain traffic; More state news

Gov. Scott Walker's main election opponent is trying to clear up a critical comment she made last week about the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine.

Democrat Mary Burke told Wisconsin Public Radio she would look at every tool she'd have in considering whether to stop the project with the goal of protecting natural resources.

Yesterday Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said Burke never indicated that she wants to "put the brakes" on the proposed $1.5 billion mine in Ashland and Iron counties. He said Burke wants the state to consider its approval of the project using the rules that were in place before 2013. That was when Republicans relaxed environmental requirements in order to bring back jobs to the region that have been lost in recent years.

Burke told Public Radio the new mining rules weakened the state's environmental regulations against the best interests of northern Wisconsin and the state as a whole.

Both the state and federal governments must approve the project before it can begin. Gogebic Taconite is conducting field studies to help determine the environmental impact.

Indian tribes that oppose the fine have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to do its own review of a mine's possible environmental effects before the state Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers make their final decisions.


High water still closing Mississippi to grain traffic

Wisconsin grain shippers are affected by the closing of locks and dams caused by recent rains and floods downstream on the Mississippi Rivers

As of early yesterday, the high water forced two locks to be cut off to commercial traffic in the Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island, Ill., district. That's the busiest stretch of the Mississippi, which is the main shipping route to the Gulf Coast

Ron Fournier of the Rock Island District told the Brownfield Ag News Service that six more locks are expected to close by tomorrow as the river continues to rise

The district has a dozen locks, and with that section closed, no grain can be moved for export.

At least five locks and dams are now closed on the mid- and upper Mississippi River. Fournier is not sure how long the shutdowns will continue.

Here in Wisconsin, flood warnings continue at least until the middle of next week on the river at La Crosse, Winona and Wabasha. Further upstream, flood warnings are due to expire tonight at Red Wing and Sunday near Prescott.


30-mile bike trail set to open this summer

In about a month and a half, you'll be able to walk or a ride a bicycle for more than 30 miles on a northern Wisconsin nature trail.

The Bearskin-Hiawatha State Trail has a missing link of about six miles in the middle. That gap is being closed now, and the state Department of Natural Resources expects to have it finished in about a month.

Jim Wise of the Tomahawk Chamber of Commerce says a ribbon-cutting event is planned for Aug. 23.

The trail follows a former railroad bed. The Bearskin segment runs about 18 miles from downtown Minocqua to the south. It opened in the 1970's.

The Hiawatha portion runs from Heafford Junction to Tomahawk. It doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter, which gives communities the chance to promote it as a year-round attraction. Now Wise is hoping folks will make the Bearskin-Hiawatha a tourist destination, similar to the long-running Elroy-Sparta trail in western Wisconsin.

--Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


Husband will get life term for killing wife, dumping body in swamp

A north central Wisconsin man will be sentenced to life in prison this morning for killing his estranged wife and dumping her body in a swamp.

The only real question is whether Judge Jay Tlusty will make Mark Bucki, 50, eligible for a supervised release once he serves at least 20 years behind bars.

A Lincoln County jury convicted Bucki in mid-April in the death of his 48-year-old wife Anita in April of 2013.

The defense claimed that Mark had nothing to do with the stabbing and strangling of his wife, and there was no physical evidence which tied him to her death.

Prosecutors said there was plenty of circumstantial evidence that pointed to the couple's finances, and Anita's $150,000 life insurance policy. The state also said there were no defensive wounds on her body, apparently showing that she knew her killer.

Mark Bucki was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse and strangulation and suffocation.


Alleged suitcase killer due in court today

Steven Zelich, the former West Allis police officer accused of dumping two suitcases that contained the remains of women he's suspected of killing, is due in court today.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in Walworth County Circuit Court. A judge will decide if there's enough evidence to put Zelich, 52, on trial on two felony counts of hiding corpses.

Authorities have said Zelich met his victims online, killed them the first time he saw them in person and held onto their remains for months before dumping them in separate suitcases. The bodies were found June 5 along a grassy road near Lake Geneva.

Prosecutors have said that Zelich would face homicide charges in the places the women were killed. Police said Laura Simonson, 37, was murdered in a Rochester, Minn., hotel room last November, and Jenny Gamez, 19, of the state of Oregon was killed in 2012 or 2013 in Kenosha.


State’s cost for health care for poor climbed 70% in 12 years

Wisconsin's health care for the poor cost taxpayers 70% more from 2000 to 2012. But a new study said other states raised their Medicaid spending even higher.

Because of that, Wisconsin's growth for Medicaid dropped from the nation's second highest in 2009 to 24th just three years later. The State Health Care Spending Project said Wisconsin's Medicaid spending grew from $4.4 billion in 2000 to $7.5 billion a dozen years later.

Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families said the numbers reflect life before Obamacare, and the next round of data should show Wisconsin's Medicaid growth to be even slower.

Yesterday the Obama White House told Wisconsin and 35 other states that they could cover more people, create more jobs and boost federal spending in their states if they would stop refusing to take additional Obamacare Medicaid funds to serve more people in need. The report said Wisconsin could cover an extra 120,000 people by taking the money.

Gov. Scott Walker contends that the federal money would run out someday, and the state would be left with a colossal tab.

Peacock said the premise of the Obama report was correct, but it did not reflect that Wisconsin added thousands to BadgerCare by changing its own policies.

According to final figures, 63,000 above the poverty line lost their BadgerCare this spring, while 82,000 below it were covered for the first time ever. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said it's an accomplishment that no governor of either party had made in the past.


Passing motorist saves grandmother, two kids from burning house

A rural central Wisconsin family would love to know who stopped to save them from their burning house yesterday.

A passing motorist never identified himself when he saw flames going through the roof of Ron and Julie Cooper's house south of Colby on Hwy. 13.

Julie and two of her grandchildren were sleeping at the time. Thirteen-year-old McKayla Cooper told a reporter the Good Samaritan knocked on the door and woke her grandmother up. Next thing she knew, grandma was yelling to get McKayla and her brother out of the house.

Four fire departments and sheriff's officers from Clark and Marathon counties responded. The home was a total loss with fire and water damage. The cause remains under investigation.


Help offered to those who lost food during power outages

Milwaukee area food stamp recipients who had food spoil due to this week's power outages can get emergency benefits to make up for the loss.

The city's Hunger Task Force will help qualified residents fill out the required forms, which are due a week from today.

About 114,000 We Energies' customers in the Milwaukee area lost their power during Monday's storms. All those people are back on, after 11 final customers in Waukesha had their power restored early this morning.

To get emergency benefits, Food-Share recipients must have proof from the utility that they had extended power outages, and they must provide affidavits showing how much food spoiled that was bought with the government aid.


DOJ plans appeal of gay-marriage decision

The state Department of Justice says it will file an appeal soon to Federal Judge Barbara Crabb's decision that Wisconsin's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck also reaffirmed the attorney general's contention that the same-sex marriages performed in the state last month are "uncertain."

JB Van Hollen still contends that county clerks did not have the authority to issue close to 600 same-sex marriage licenses in the days after Crabb's ruling, which she later put on hold while it's being appealed.

Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would file a lawsuit to try to validate the Wisconsin marriages if the state presses the issue in the federal appeals court. Molly Collins of ACLU said the state's refusal to recognize the same-sex marriages violates the couples' due-process rights to stay married.

The ACLU is the main plaintiff in a suit that seeks to strike down the 2006 state constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions.


Remains found near Rhinelander are those of convicted arsonist

Skeletal remains found near Rhinelander are those of a convicted arsonist whom state parole officials have been trying to find for 14 months.

The body of Steven Boron, 54, of Oneida County was found Monday by a person walking in a wooded area near Lake Julia, about five miles south of Rhinelander.

The remains were identified yesterday with the help of dental records from the state Department of Corrections.

Oneida County Chief Deputy Dan Hess said Boron was released from prison and failed to report to his parole agent. Hess said the man was most likely dead for more than a year. He was not reported missing.

Foul play is not suspected, but a cause of Boron's death has not been determined. Investigators are still waiting for toxicology test results on the remains. 

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


Oshkosh prosecutors plan charges in 2-year-old drug death

Authorities in Oshkosh are looking for a man who's charged in a drug overdose death from 2012.

An arrest warrant is out for Patrick Schreck, 25, who's charged with first-degree reckless homicide.

According to authorities, Schreck bragged to a jail inmate in Oshkosh that he sold the best heroin in the area, and it killed five people.

Investigators interviewed him about that last year. Their investigation resulted in a new charge for the overdose death of Stephen Hidde, 44, of Appleton.


Judge extends review deadline in Joe Doe probe to July 17

All sides in the John Doe probe into the state's recall elections will have two more weeks to recommend which documents should be unsealed.

Prosecutors, a target of the probe and two undisclosed parties have been poring over 3,000 pages of secret records after 266 pages were released in June. Today was the deadline to finish the new review, but Federal Judge Rudolph Randa extended it to July 17.

Five media groups asked Randa to release all the documents in the John Doe. Prosecutors have asked for the same thing, saying the need for secrecy no longer exists.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the targets, says its proprietary data should be kept under wraps.

The undisclosed parties said the previous release of records was unfair to Gov. Scott Walker and others, and they want all the files kept secret

Judge Randa halted the two-year-old John Doe probe in May, saying prosecutors violated the Club for Growth's free speech rights by keeping the group quiet. In the previous document release, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz put out a theory that Walker and two other GOP operatives headed an illegal coordinated effort to win his and other recall elections with the help of 12 outside groups.

Walker insists he has done nothing wrong. An attorney for Schmitz later made it was clear that the governor himself is not being targeted.


Ultralight pilot dies in Winnebago County crash

The pilot of an ultralight plane was killed in a crash shortly after 7 p.m. last night west of Omro in Winnebago County in eastern Wisconsin.

The FAA and sheriff's officials said the pilot was the only person in the craft when it went down in a hay field in the town of Poygan. It was said to be close to a remote air strip.

Officials could not immediately say where the ultralight took off from or where it was going. The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.


Power restored to thousands more in storm’s wake

Thousands of people in southeast Wisconsin finally got their electricity back yesterday after 114,000 customers got cut off due to Monday's storms.

About 5,000 We Energies customers were still in the dark 24 hours ago. This morning, that figure was less than 30, and most of those were new outages due to things like tree contact with power lines. Only 11 storm-related outages had yet to be resolved. They were in the Waukesha area.

At the height of the storms, We Energies said one of every 10 Metro-Milwaukee customers had outages -- the highest numbers for a single incident in almost a decade.

Wisconsin Power and Light said almost 350 customers had no power as of 4 a.m. today. In Iowa County, where a pair of tornadoes touched down last Sunday night, only four customers were still out.

Much of Wisconsin had a dry day yesterday after several days of rain and storms. It's supposed to stay dry through the July Fourth holiday. Our next chance of rain is Saturday.


Man, son burned when lawnmower explodes

A Fox Valley man and his teenage son were burned while working on a lawnmower that exploded.

Outagamie County authorities said fuel was ignited, and investigators are trying to find out how and why. The incident happened about 7:30 last night near Leeman in the town of Maine.

The father was airlifted to a Madison hospital, and his son was taken to a Neenah facility. Both were said to have significant burns.  Their names and conditions were not immediately disclosed.