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Wisconsin roundup: DNR hires environmental manager for Foxconn project, vows compliance; 8 more state news stories

Seated next to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, Gov. Scott Walker signs a memo of understanding last month. Photo courtesy of governor's office

MILWAUKEE — The head of the state DNR vows that air and water standards will not be compromised for Foxconn.

Cathy Stepp told the Natural Resources Board in Milwaukee Wednesday that she hired former DNR attorney Eric Ebersberger to oversee environmental safeguards for the $10 billion LCD screen plant that Foxconn plans to build in Racine or Kenosha counties. Stepp says she favors setting aside certain state rules as part of a $3 billion package of tax breaks, utility discounts, and other incentives for the Taiwanese electronics giant.

She says the company would have to comply with numerous state air and water emission permits, as well as all environmental rules. An Assembly vote on the Foxconn package is expected next week — but Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald says he does not have the votes yet to pass it in his chamber.

Fitzgerald said he spoke privately for about one hour Wednesday with fellow Republican, Gov. Scott Walker, after he told a Green Bay radio station that landing the Foxconn LCD screen plant in the state is like the Packers getting Reggie White. Fitzgerald told reporters, "We should be cautious ... doing the due diligence to make sure this is a good deal for the state and a good deal for locals," creating the type of "high tech campus that everyone's hoping for."


Northern Wis. storms flatten cornfield, knock out power

Heavy thunderstorms flattened part of a cornfield in northern Wisconsin early Thursday.

The National Weather Service says an 8-foot-tall stretch of corn got blown to the ground about 2:30 a.m. near Gilman in Taylor County. The Wisconsin Public Service utility reported almost 1,400 outages as of 5:15 a.m., but by 10 a.m. the number was down to 230.

More thunderstorms are moving through Wisconsin Thursday on an isolated basis. Forecasters say there's at least a chance of severe weather late Thursday and during the evening in northern and eastern areas.


Kohl’s sales drop, but stock returns rise

MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin based Kohl's Department Stores reports lower sales but higher profits for its most recent quarter.

The chain based in Menomonee Falls reports an earnings hike for investors of $1.24 a share for the three months ending July 29, and that's two cents more than the same quarter last year. Total revenues dropped by almost one-percent, and same store revenues fell by almost 0.5 percent — the sixth consecutive quarter that same store sales dropped, but by the smallest percentage since the quarter ending in January. Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell tells investors that store traffic rose, which he called the company's biggest priority amid a national drop is folks buying from brick and mortar shops.


Gas leak caused 2016 house explosion, but questions remain

FITCHBURG — Criminal investigators say a natural gas leak caused a house explosion in Fitchburg last August, but there are still questions about what led up to it.

The state Justice Department has issued a summary of its probe into the August 2016 incident that injured Brian Grittner who lived there and damaged more than 20 homes nearby. The explosion destroyed the home of the 57-year-old Grittner. The Justice Department says questions remain about a valve he turned on before the blast — and whether it was a gas valve or a water spigot. Gritter filed a civil suit last fall, claiming an installer did not properly put a cap on the gas line after an old gas dryer was replaced with an electric unit in 2011.


Green Bay’s 9/11 display coming down; as rebuild weighed

GREEN BAY — A memorial in Green Bay that honors victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 could be taken down until it can be more carefully rebuilt.

The city Parks Committee voted Wednesday to hold a "deaccession ceremony" next month on 9/11, where pieces from the 12-year-old display outside the Neville Public Museum would be removed and stored until a new display is designed that can weather the elements better. The full City Council will be asked to approve the moves next week.

The Press Gazette says the original marble deteriorated to the point in which the inscribed victims' names could hardly be read — there was incorrect information about the attacks — and an "I" beam from the World Trade Center was not designed to be exposed to the elements. For now, the beam would have rotating displays at the Green Bay police and fire facilities.


Plans for new state crime lab to be unveiled

WAUWATOSA — The state Justice Department is almost ready to unveil its plans for a new Crime Lab near Milwaukee.

A $75 million dollar forensic science center would be built at a former beer warehouse in Wauwatosa to replace a smaller crime lab on Milwaukee's south side that officials say is overcrowded. The new three story building will also house a field office for state criminal investigators, Attorney General Brad Schimel's Milwaukee office, and a training center for local law enforcement in southeast Wisconsin.

Funding was approved in March for the facility, which awaits final state approval in November with construction to begin in 2018 and an opening in 2020. A public meeting on the project is set for Sept. 20 at the Wauwatosa Public Library.


Retired cop convicted of child sex assault

EAU CLAIRE — A retired police officer near Eau Claire has been found guilty of having sexual contact with an 11-year-old girl twice in 2014.

Jurors deliberated for almost five hours before convicting 60-year-old Jeffrey Anger of first degree child sexual assault — and he was acquitted of a second similar charge. Anger spent almost 30 years with the Altoona police force before he retired in 2009, and his conviction came Wednesday at the end of a three day trial with a sentencing date pending.

Prosecutor Meri Larson said the victim came forward because she was afraid that Anger would molest somebody else, and she had no reason to lie. But defense lawyer Harry Hertel questioned whether any sexual contact took place — and he says he'll refer the case to another lawyer for a possible appeal.


Fatal ultralight crash victims ID’d

FT. ATKINSON — Two people killed when an ultralight plane crashed into a river have been identified as 51-year-old David Plambeck of Edgerton and his 16-year-old passenger Max Burlingame of Ft. Atkinson.

The teen was a friend of the pilot's family. Jefferson County sheriff's officials say the ultralight took off from the Fort Atkinson airport just before it plunged into the Rock River around eight Tuesday night. The craft was almost submerged when first responders got there, and other boaters on the river helped pull the two victims from the aircraft — which was removed from the water on Wednesday morning. Federal investigators are trying to determine the cause of the crash.


Johnson backtracks statement about McCain’s health in key vote

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has taken back comments he made earlier in the day questioning John McCain's vote that effectively killed the Obamacare repeal.

On a Chicago radio station, Johnson said McCain's brain cancer might have factored into his no vote at 1:30 a.m. A McCain spokeswoman sharply refuted that, saying that McCain has been "open and clear about the reasons for his vote" which prevented the health package from going to a conference committee.

Johnson later said he regretted his remark, saying he's disappointed he did not "more eloquently express sympathy for what Senator McCain is going through." Johnson says he has "nothing but respect" for the Arizona Republican but still said "the vote came at the end of a long day."