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Barrels with explosive devices tossed back into Lake Superior; New tax reciprocity agreement close; Mining bill clears Assembly; more briefs

Officials say there were no high levels of toxic or hazardous chemicals in 25 barrels of old military waste pulled from Lake Superior last summer.

But all but three barrels had thousands of tiny explosive devices and were thrown back into Lake Superior because there was no specialized landfill in the region where they could be buried.

The Red Cliff Indians and the cleanup firm of EMR hope to get a federal waiver this summer to bury the explosives at a dump in the region. The tribe and the firm presented an update Thursday on their effort to remove 70 barrels of military waste that were dumped into Lake Superior.

The barrels contained top-secret items that were never used, and the Pentagon did not want its enemies to know about those items during the Cold War in the 1950's and 1960's.

After explosives were found in the first barrels, they reduced their retrievals to 25 barrels so there was enough federal funding to clean them up properly.

State officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota were upset because they were not notified that some of the waste was being hauled on their roads. But project leaders said nothing was transported that had to be regulated, and the three barrels they sent to a site on Lake Huron contained only garbage, ash, non-toxic bomb parts and slag material.


New tax reciprocity agreement close

After four years of negotiations, Minnesota and Wisconsin tax officials say they are within $6 million of a new reciprocal tax agreement.

About 80,000 people who live in one of those states and work in the other would be allowed to fill out a single state income tax return.

Two studies released last week show Wisconsin would owe Minnesota about $69 million to compensate for the tax revenue lost under the agreement.

That key issue is settled, but Minnesota also wants Wisconsin to pay an additional $6 million to cover a difference in tax credits that the states offer interstate commuters.


Mining bill clears Assembly

After 9 1/2 hours of debate, the state Assembly voted 58-39 last evening to make it easier for the largest mine in Wisconsin history to be built in the far north.

All Democrats voted no after they failed to get almost 20 amendments passed. The proposed amendments dealt with concerns like pollution, health problems, the taxing of mining profits and legal challenges.

A small number of protestors jeered majority Republicans as they left the Assembly floor.

The bill now goes to Gov. Scott Walker. He thanked lawmakers "on behalf of the unemployed skill workers in our state who will benefit from the thousands of mining-related jobs over the next few years."

But the head of the Bad River tribe, which is downstream from the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore facility, said his people would have "nowhere to run" if contamination occurs.

Mike Wiggins promised an all-out effort to stop the project, including a lawsuit. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos conceded that lawsuits are likely, but Majority Leader Scott Suder still believes the new mine could be running in 3-4 years.

Earlier yesterday, Republicans tossed aside reports that Gogebic's parent firm is about to be sued for not doing enough to protect groundwater at one of its coal mines in Illinois. South Milwaukee Republican Mark Honadel said Exxon-Mobil used to own mine, and it's the one that caused the pollution.


UW students may see lowest tuition increase in years

Associate Vice President Freda Harris told the University of Wisconsin's Board of Regents yesterday that UW students could pay their lowest tuition increase in years this fall.

Gov. Scott Walker has asked lawmakers to approve an extra $181 million in state funds for the UW System over the next two years. The regents will set this fall's tuition during the summer after the state budget is finalized.

Harris said the extra state funding could help reduce a growing gap between what students pay for their tuition and what the state kicks in. Back in the 1970's, Wisconsin students and their families only paid 25% of UW tuition, while the state paid the rest. Now students cover 70% of the tab.

The university has had budget pressures for most of the last three decades. In-state tuition has gone up by 5.5% in each of the last four years. It was even higher before the state imposed limits on tuition hikes in the last decade.


State traffic deaths down for January, February

Wisconsin traffic deaths are down from a year ago.

The Department of Transportation said yesterday that 69 people lost their lives in state crashes in the first two months of 2013 - nine fewer than in January and February of 2012, but one more than the average for the past five years.

For last month, preliminary figures showed that 28 people were killed - the fifth-lowest for a February since World War II, and it happened during a much milder winter than this one.

State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable said that with spring on the way, car and truck drivers have to start watching for more bicycles, scooters and motorcycles on the roads.

And she said officers are more strictly enforcing Wisconsin's mandatory seatbelt law. A recent report said the numbers of state motorists buckling up held steady last year at 79%, despite major enforcement campaigns.

There's some talk in the Legislature about raising the state's $10 fine for seatbelt violations. Those tickets don't add demerit points against your license, but Huxtable said they can still drive up what you pay for auto insurance.


King of Spam avoids prison time

A citizen of Russia who was charged in Milwaukee with running a major worldwide computer spamming network has avoided prison time in a plea deal.

Newly released documents show that Oleg Nikolaenko, 25, agreed last June to plead guilty to new charges that would have netted him nine years in prison. But eventually, prosecutors agreed to limit his jail time to the 27 months he served since his arrest, and he'll spend the next three years on probation.

Authorities said Nikolaenko's network placed malicious codes on 500,000 U.S. computers and then sent out billions of emails selling things like fake Viagra and counterfeit Rolex watches. On some days, officials said the network accounted for a third of the world's unwanted emails.

A Milwaukee FBI agent cracked the case after a seller of counterfeit Rolex watches in Kansas City told authorities he spent $2 million to advertise fake watches on the network.

Nikolaenko was arrested in the fall of 2010 in Las Vegas where he was attending a car show. But no others came forward to complain, and officials did not consider restitution.


Risk of spring flooding about normal

The National Weather Service says the risk of spring flooding is about normal after a snowy February.

Earlier forecasts called for a below-normal risk of floods. But that was before heavy snowstorms hit parts of Wisconsin in each of the last three weeks. The Mississippi River basin now expects normal flooding.

The Weather Service office in Minneapolis also said parts of west central Wisconsin could get flooding due to what's called "concrete frost." That happens when ice in the soil is not able to thaw, and melted snow and spring rains rapidly run off and cause high water.

The flooding is possible despite drought conditions in most of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that almost 89% of the state's land area is abnormally dry or worse - pretty much what it's been all winter.


Police chief says Milwaukee's violent crime limited a few neighborhoods

Milwaukee has long had one of the nation's highest poverty rates, but Police Chief Ed Flynn says the city has the lowest murder rate among 10 big cities with similar poverty.

Milwaukee had 92 homicides last year, almost 6% more than the previous year. Total violent crime jumped by almost 9.5%.

Flynn told the city's Public Safety Committee that there's too much violence in Milwaukee, but compared to cities with similar challenges, he says it's "a better place than one might expect."

Flynn said the most violent crime is limited to just a few neighborhoods where poverty, unemployment and abandoned homes are at their highest.

Flynn included Philadelphia and Detroit in his comparison of murder rates, along with Cleveland, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Memphis, among others. He said they all have the same plight with about three of every 10 residents living below the poverty line.

Flynn has urged Congress to ban assault weapons and require standard background checks for gun buyers. He's also been urging state legislators for some time to make it a felony to buy guns for criminals and for repeat offenders to carry concealed weapons. Those measures and others have not gone anywhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature in the last two sessions.


New egg processing plant will have sprinkler system

Burlington fire officials now say there was $40 million in damage in the Jan. 30 blaze that destroyed most of the Echo Lake Foods egg processing plant.

A new fire inspection report said about three-fourths of the large property was damaged, plus two-thirds of the building's contents.

The company has said it would rebuild at its present site. The new plant will have sprinklers on the ceilings, something the main part of the old building did not have when the flames erupted.

Burlington Fire Chief Richard Lodle said the older parts of the structure were not required to have sprinklers, and there were no building code violations.

Echo Lake Foods had about 300 employees making prepackaged foods, mostly for schools and other institutions. Most are back at work, either at the company's scaled-down operations or with somebody else.

Love Incorporated, a charity that's helping the employees, is still providing food and rent assistance to about 55 of the workers.


Woman gets two life terms for killing lover and husband

A 40-year-old woman has been given a second life prison term for killing her lover in northern Wisconsin -- just a few days after she killed her husband in Minnesota.

Angelina O'Mara pleaded no contest Thursday to an Ashland County charge of first-degree intentional homicide. She decided not to even schedule a trial for her Wisconsin case after she was given her first life prison term last December.

Prosecutors said O'Mara shot her husband James in Sauk Rapids, Minn., in late 2011, then shot her boyfriend Michael Pies, 36, at Anderson's Chequamegon Motel in Ashland. Both men were shot in the head.

O'Mara will serve both of her life sentences in Minnesota. The Ashland judge refused to give her a chance at a supervised release for her case there. She was also ordered to pay $2,600 in restitution to Pies' family.