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Proposed Beloit casino project edges forward; snowfall didn't do much to stem drought; wolf hunting nearly done; more state briefs

Just one wolf-hunting zone -- in far northwestern Wisconsin -- will remain open in Wisconsin after Friday night. Nine permits remained unfilled in that zone as of Thursday.

BELOIT -- Only a handful of people attended a public hearing Thursday on a long-proposed Indian casino in Beloit.

Scott Doig of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs says his agency will review the impact on traffic and other matters, before deciding in 18- to 24 months whether the casino could be built. State approval would also be needed.

The Ho-Chunk tribe plans to open a 700,000 square-foot casino in Beloit with a 300-room hotel and a theater. It's been on the books for years but it's been tied up in a long-running federal dispute over the locating of gaming houses away from tribal reservations.

Beloit leaders have long supported the casino, saying it would help a city that's still struggling after the recession. Randall Upton of the Greater Beloit Chamber said it would be an "amazing step forward" but Jane DeSoto of Beloit spoke against the casino, saying the jobs would be low-paying and it would not improve the area's quality of life.

Despite the small turnout at the hearing, Beloit City Manager Larry Arft told Madison's WISC-TV that the proceeding itself was a good sign that the project's moving forward in Washington.

Judge tosses two claims against Milwaukee Archdiocese

MILWAUKEE -- A bankruptcy judge has thrown out two damage claims from those saying they were molested by priests in the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese.

Judge Susan Kelley said one claim failed to prove that the church defrauded the victim and the other victim had a reason to suspect fraud a number of years earlier, but did not act on it. The 10-county Milwaukee Archdiocese filed bankruptcy almost two years ago because of the settlements it's still facing in the priest sex abuse scandal.

Over 570 people have claimed they were molested by Milwaukee area priests and they're the largest group of creditors, as they seek compensation for their ordeals. Other Catholic branches have also filed for bankruptcy, but none have tried to throw out large numbers of damage claims like the Milwaukee church is trying to do.

The Archdiocese says it should not have to pay damage claims that go beyond the six-year statute of limitations and those in which settlements have already been paid out. The church also says it should not have to pay for abuses by priests in separate religious orders. Victims and their lawyers have lashed out at the church's legal strategy, saying it's "legally and morally wrong." But church attorney Frank LoCoco said the archdiocese made it clear from the start that it would only pay for claims which the law requires to be paid.

While Walker conducts 'Talks', Dems question job creation numbers

Gov. Scott Walker continues to meet with Wisconsinites to hear their concerns, before he puts his next state budget together. On Thursday morning in New Richmond, Walker attended a listening session attended by over 200 employees at Bosch Packaging Technology. He was also planning a similar session at Trego in far northwest Wisconsin.

Workers and their bosses have brought up numerous concerns in similar events the governor has held in recent weeks. On Thursday, Walker further explained his reasons for not pursuing right-to-work legislation like the law passed in neighboring Michigan this week. The governor said it would take away from his five main priorities for the next session - to create jobs, train workers, transform education, reform government, and invest in infra-structure.

Meanwhile, back in Madison, Democrats challenged Walker's claim that he has created 86,000 jobs. The numbers come from the U.S. Labor Department's quarterly employer surveys, which are much more complete than the samples taken for the monthly unemployment reports.

State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate says the monthly figures are the ones used for years to measure job growth and Tate says Walker's ignoring them because he doesn't like what they say.

The monthly data shows that Wisconsin only added 25,000-plus private sector jobs in 2011. Walker has promised a quarter-million new jobs in his current four-year term.

Snow doesn't temper drought effects

The snow from last weekend did almost nothing to relieve dry conditions in the soil. The U.S. Drought Monitor said 88.5 percent of Wisconsin's land area was in some type of drought this week. That's just .04 percent less than a week ago.

East central Wisconsin remains the only region that's not abnormally dry or worse. Northwest and far southern areas continue to be in a severe drought. The reports are based on conditions from Tuesday and quite a bit of snow has melted since then, so it will be interesting to see how the seepage affects the dry conditions underground.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agriculture and Commerce departments have entered into an agreement to improve their drought forecasting and data-sharing efforts. The need for improvements was brought up in a series of regional conferences on the drought.

WDNR purchase will help link Wisconsin-Michigan forests

MADISON -- A big step was taken this week to connect two public forests in northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board agreed to spend $1.5 million dollars to buy almost 600 acres in Vilas County. Several thousand more acres would need to be purchased in order to connect the American Legion State Forest with the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan's upper penninsula.

American Legion forest superintendent Steve Petersen says his crews plan to actively manage the additional forest land and that provides jobs in the timber industry. It will also be open to public hunting, fishing, and hiking.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Stout alums form scholarship honoring fallen classmate

MENOMONIE -- Some UW Stout alumni are creating a scholarship in honor of their classmate who was killed in the Vietnam War.

Lieutenant John Abrams graduated from Stout 50 years ago and he died in 1968, when his Navy helicopter crashed after getting hit by enemy fire.

Abrams was in the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity and eight of his frat brothers decided to create a scholarship at UW Stout in Abrams' memory.

They raised about $41,000 and the first John Leon Abrams Memorial Scholarship was presented this fall. Upper-class students in plastics engineering are eligible for the award along with veterans and their descendants.

As two states' wolf seasons close, Michigan edges toward a hunt

Wisconsin's first wolf hunting season is nearly over. The quota has been reached in the state's largest zone, which covers about the southern three-fourths of Wisconsin and the season will officially end there at 5 p.m., Friday. Only one of the six original wolf-hunting zones remains open - a small territory in far northwest Wisconsin.

As of Thursday, only nine wolves could be killed in Zone 3. The statewide quota was 116 when the season began in mid-October.

Neighboring Minnesota is also about to wrap up its inaugural wolf hunt. As of this week, 261 wolves were taken in the Gopher State - close to the state's quota.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in neighboring Michigan voted Friday morning to designate the wolf as a game animal. It puts Michigan a step closer to having a wolf hunt. But the bill's sponsor does not expect a statewide hunt any time soon. The bill goes back to the Senate to ratify a minor amendment.

The Humane Society of the U.S. has asked Michigan's governor to veto the bill, saying the animal is just starting to recover in the Upper Midwest. The group has filed suit in Wyoming to put wolves back under federal protections there and they're considering similar legal action in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.

Police investigate poisonings of three dogs

COLUMBUS -- Police in Columbus are trying to find out if somebody's poisoning dogs on purpose.

Two pets died after playing with green sticks that look like chewable toys, but contain rat poison. The sticks were found in the yards of the two dogs, just several houses apart on the same street but officers are not sure how they got there.

A small child was found to be handling one of the sticks. A third dog was also poisoned at one of the homes.

Columbus Police have asked residents to check their yards for the green poison sticks - and if any are found, people are asked to place them in paper bags and call police.

Columbus is located about 35 miles northeast of Madison on Hwy. 151.

A man sues investigator, alleged victim

A northwest Wisconsin man wants $4 million in damages, after he was wrongly accused of molesting a child.

Paul Burritt filed a civil suit against the Polk County Sheriff's Department and investigator Lisa Ditlefsen.

Burritt, 61, of Turtle Lake, claims that the investigator had a "reckless or intentional disregard" of the facts, when she arrested him last December for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl he was carrying in a van for kids with special needs. The girl later recanted her story, and said the alleged abuse never took place.

A sexual assault charge was dropped, and the case was expunged from Burritt's record.

His attorney, Peter Nickitas of St. Paul, said the investigator knew the facts did not add up and she still arrested him. Ditlefsen and the county have not commented.

Burritt is seeking $3 million dollars in punitive damages, and $1 million for pain and suffering.

Wisconsin court records indicate Burritt's attorney also filed a civil lawsuit Monday in Rusk County against a Birchwood girl and her mother. Further details of that suit weren't available.

Milwaukee firm acquires Illinois maker of iron bars

MILWAUKEE -- A metal manufacturer in suburban Milwaukee has acquired an Illinois firm that makes iron bars.

Charter Manufacturing of Mequon has purchased the stock of Wells Manufacturing, The owner of Dura-Bar and Dura-Bar Metal Services. Charter says it's the world's largest maker of continuous iron bars and it's the only manufacturer of its kind in North America. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Charter CEO John Mellowes says the purchase allows his company to diversify, and enter new markets.

Charter Manufacturing makes a variety of steel bars, rods, and wire. It has 1,500 employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, England, and China.

Wells Manufacturing has 360 workers in Woodstockm Ill., as well as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and China.

Two die in overnight crash in Waukesha County

MILWAUKEE -- Two men were killed overnight in a one-vehicle crash in Waukesha County.

Sheriff's deputies were called to a rural intersection just after 2 a.m.

The two victims were said to be in their early-20's. No one else was in the vehicle. There was no immediate word on the victims' identity, or what caused the crash.

Tomah Police say deaths of two were heroin-related

TOMAH -- Investigators are still trying to figure out how they obtained the drug.

Michael Bobak, 35, and Tracey Small, 25, died in a home where two minor children also lived. Police had immediately ruled out violence.

-- Craig Otto, Magnum Broadcasting

Milwaukee woman gets life for murder of pregnant woman, fetus

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee woman will spend the rest of her life in prison for strangling a pregnant woman and stealing the baby, hoping to pass it off as her own.

Annette Morales-Rodriguez, 34, sat motionless with her head down Thursday, as she was given a life sentence with no chance for a supervised release. She was desperate to deliver a son to her boyfriend but could not do it naturally so she tried cutting an unborn infant from the womb of 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz.

Both the infant and the mother died from the incident which took place in October, 2011.

Assistant district attorney Mark Williams called it "the most selfish act anyone could conceive of." The victim's husband, Christian Mercado, testified that the defendant left three children without a mother.

The judge noted that Morales-Rodriguez "didn't bat an eye" as Mercado quoted a daughter who asked him that if her mother was in Heaven, why couldn't she see her.

The fetal abduction was one of only 14 in the U.S. since 1987.