Cover those tomatoes tonight as frost possible; fire destroys Siren gym; more state newsClear skies and calm winds could bring frost to wide areas of northeast- and northcentral Wisconsin overnight Wednesday. Also, authorities suspect a malfunction with fans in an air-handling room sparked a blaze that destroyed a gym and damaged a K-12 building at Siren Tuesday. More details on the run-up to Tuesday's recall election and more state briefs.
SULLIVAN -- June is only a day away but lows in the upper-20’s are possible Wednesday night in northeast and north central Wisconsin.
The National Weather Service has issued a frost advisory for those areas from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., Thursday.
Overnight lows are expected to be 30 -to 35 degrees in much of the north. Officials say plants that are susceptible to the cold may be damaged if they’re not protected.
Another dry day is expected in most of Wisconsin, with drizzle or sprinkles possible in the northwest and highs in the 50’s and 60’s.
Parts of northwest Wisconsin are drying out after some places got more than seven inches of rain late last week.
In Douglas County, parts of County Trunks “D” and “U-U” are still closed after last week’s washouts. Highway Commissioner Paul Halverson says County Trunk “P” is damaged but it remains open – and the repairs could take awhile.
The highway office in Superior recorded 5.7 inches of rain since last Wednesday.
The Brule River in Douglas County was running at over 500-cubic-feet per second on Monday – almost three times the normal flow for May.
Farther south, flood warnings continue on the Mississippi River as far south as Buffalo County. The river was expected to rise above its flood stage later Wednesday in Wabasha, Minn.
Siren gym destroyed, school damaged by fire
SIREN -- Fire destroyed a gymnasium Tuesday at Siren’s K-to-12 school building in far northwest Wisconsin. There were no reports of injuries, and the cause remains under investigation.
Burnett County authorities were called around 10:50 Tuesday – and nearly 475 students and around 75 teachers and staff members were evacuated safely. District Administrator Scott Johnson told WEAU-TV in Eau Claire that the blaze appears to have started in an area above a corner of the gym, where an air handling room and motors are located.
Officials said the fire spread quickly throughout the top of the gym, and the building has major smoke and water damage.
The school year was scheduled to end on Friday and it appears that classes will not resume for now. The school's web site notes the Siren K-to-12 building was extensively renovated about 12 years ago, when 54,000 square feet were added.
The gym was part of the older facility.
Corn planting ahead of schedule, despite rains
MADISON -- Wisconsin’s corn planting is still ahead of schedule, despite some heavy rains at the end of last week.
Officials said 95 percent of the corn is in the ground, more than the normal of 87 percent for this time of year.
Just over three-fourths of the corn crop is in good-to-excellent condition but some of it’s being re-planted due to poor stands caused by frost.
Seventy-nine percent of the Wisconsin soybeans have been planted, more than the norm of 65 percent.
Ninety-seven percent of the oat crop has emerged, and almost three-fourths of it is in good-to-excellent condition. Some 65 percent of first hay crop has been harvested – much more than the normal of 12 percent -- but the quality varies widely due to frost, weeds, and insects.
Readstown police chief silent on criminal charges
READSTOWN -- A police chief in southwest Wisconsin stood mute yesterday, while a judge entered innocent pleas to nine criminal charges against him. Shay Larson, 30, the chief of Readstown in Vernon County, remains free on a signature bond.
Prosecutors said he committed a variety of misconduct over a three-year period.
Among other things, he’s accused of arranging sexual favors on duty, looking the other way when crimes were committed, and lying to investigators. Larson had been investigated since last fall. He was arrested in March in Nebraska. Two other charges involving a 14-year-old boy were dropped last month.
Larson’s attorney said he plans to ask that all the other counts be dropped as well. The chief is due back in court June 25th.
He’s still employed by the Village of Readstown, even though he’s been on administrative leave since the investigation started. Larson had been Readstown’s only police officer, and the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department patrols the village in his absence.
DNR won't force hauler to fund well tests
OCONOMOWOC -- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says it will not order a Jefferson County waste hauler to pay for private well tests, to see if the hauler contaminated them.
In a letter to the affected residents, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said the potential for groundwater contamination by Herr Environmental was relatively low. Herr was fined over $4,000 for excess spreading of human waste on farm fields last year.
The case attracted recent controversy because top DNR official Scott Gunderson referred the case to local prosecutors instead of the state Justice Department, which could have ordered a much higher penalty. As a legislator, Gunderson received campaign money from Herr environmental, but the agency said it had nothing to do with the decisions.
Democrats have called several times for the agency to force the company to pay for water tests, after a DNR investigator said there was potential for contamination. But Gunderson told the Wisconsin State Journal that health concerns drew very little discussion as the case was being handled.
Stepp told neighbors, “Well-trained, qualified people can differ regarding the potential for environmental harm from violations.”
Marinette FSA office still on closing list
Marinette County is still on the list of 125 Farm Service Agency offices that will close. The USDA said Tuesday that it removed six offices from the chopping block in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
Marinette is the only Farm Service facility in Wisconsin that’s targeted for consolidation with other offices. The move is part of a larger effort by the Agriculture Department to cut $150 million in spending.
Officials say farmers and ranchers will still get FSA services in neighboring counties, and employees in the closed offices can still work elsewhere in the agency.
As an additional measure, 230 permanent FSA employees have left the agency since 2011 voluntarily or by retirement.
Walker transferred $100,000 to legal defense fund
MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker transferred another $100,000 in campaign donations to his legal defense fund this month. That was after he transferred $60,000 in campaign gifts in April.
Walker says the money is helping to pay for attorneys he hired to keep tabs on the John Doe investigation into Walker’s former aides in the Milwaukee County executive’s office.
Five former aides and associates have been criminally charged with crimes ranging from embezzlement to illegal campaigning on taxpayers’ time. One struck a plea deal in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.
State law allows defense funds for officials under investigation for ethics and election law violations. Walker has repeatedly said he’s not a direct target of the John Doe probe but his election opponent next week, Democrat Tom Barrett, points to a recent Journal Sentinel report that Walker exchanged e-mails with a campaign aide over a 2010 real estate deal that’s being investigated.
Barrett’s camp says the governor could have saved himself a lot of legal bills by releasing the e-mails and other details of the John Doe but Walker says the law requires him to stay silent on the probe.
The law requires the approval of campaign donors before they money goes to a legal defense fund.
The Walker camp had no comment on the latest transfers, which were mentioned in his latest state campaign finance report.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has raised about $208,000 over the last month to try-and-keep her post in next week’s recall election.
A report filed Tuesday covered the period from April 24th to May 21st. All told, the Republican Kleefisch has raised about $782,000 this year.
Kleefisch is being challenged by Democrat Mahlon Mitchell of Madison, head of the state firefighters’ union. He had until midnight last night to file his latest campaign report, and his numbers were not immediately available.
Kleefisch and Gov. Scott Walker were elected as a team in 2010 but the state’s recall laws require that they run separately in next week’s elections.
Kleefisch is the nation’s first lieutenant governor ever to face a possible recall. The Republican Walker is the third in the country ever to face a recall vote during his term.
Menomonee Falls girl is spelling bee contestant
WASHINGTON D.C. -- An eighth-grader from suburban Milwaukee is the only Wisconsin entry in the National Spelling Bee, which begins in earnest today near Washington.
Fourteen-year-old Heloise Cheruvalath of Menomonee Falls earned her spot by winning the State Spelling Bee earlier this year. Heloise attends North Middle School in Menomonee Falls, where she serves on the Student Council and she’s making her first trip to the national bee.
There are 278 spellers entered.
They took a computerized test Tuesday and they’ll start spelling words on-stage Wednesday morning in Rounds Two and Three. They’ll all take part in both rounds, while accumulating points.
Around the Top 50 will advance to Thursday's semi-finals, and a champion will be crowned Thursday night.
Heloise plays the violin in her school orchestra, and she’s a member of the school group “Web,” which provides support for sixth graders.