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Storm leaves blowing snow atop icy La Crosse area roads

The spring storm that slammed much of the nation’s midsection over the weekend created whiteout conditions and coated Coulee Region roads with ice and snow that slowed traffic all day Sunday.

Tomah and Sparta school districts decided already Sunday afternoon to delay the start of Monday morning classes by two hours. Click here for more information about schools delaying the start of classes.

The La Crosse Street Department declared an emergency that puts alternate-side parking rules in effect around the clock through 3 p.m. Tuesday to facilitate snow removal.

The mid-April storm Sunday dumped up to two feet of snow on parts of the Upper Midwest, coated roads with ice and battered areas farther south with powerful winds and tornadoes.

In the Coulee Region, snowfall totals by Sunday morning ranged from 5 inches in Stoddard to 14 inches in Black River Falls.

The La Crosse office of the National Weather Service received 8.3 inches, and 8.2 inches fell on Barre Mills.  

The storm system prompted Enbridge Energy to temporarily shutter twin oil and gas pipelines in Michigan that may have been recently damaged by a ship anchor strike.

The Line 5 pipelines were temporarily shuttered Sunday afternoon due to a power outage at Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis. Enbridge decided to shut down the twin pipelines until weather conditions improve in the Straits of Mackinac, the link between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

At least three deaths were blamed on the storm system, which stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Storms also knocked down trees, caused airport delays and dropped hail on the Carolinas.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where more than 13 inches of snow had fallen, 230 flights were canceled Sunday. Two runways were open, but winds were still strong and planes were being de-iced. On Saturday, the storm caused the cancellation of nearly 470 flights at the airport.

The wintry grip on the Twin Cities forced the postponement of a third straight Twins-White Sox game.

Two northeastern Wisconsin communities, Tigerton and Big Falls, received more than 2 feet of snow over the weekend, the National Weather Service in Green Bay reported. Heavy snow on Sunday caused part of a hotel roof to collapse over a pool at a hotel in Ashwaubenon, but no one was in the pool area at the time and no one was hurt.

The storm finally let up in South Dakota, allowing the airport in the state’s largest city, Sioux Falls, to reopen for the first time since Thursday. Interstates 90 and 29 in parts of eastern South Dakota also reopened, and no-travel advisories were lifted across the state border in southwestern Minnesota.

And another round of snow is possible midweek in the Upper Midwest, said meteorologist Eric Ahasic at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn.

“It’s not going to be as much snow as this one, thankfully,” Ahasic said.


» National Weather Service website

» Wisconsin road conditions website

» Minnesota road conditions website

» Iowa road conditions website

» La Crosse Regional Airport flight delays


topical top story
State farmers showing strong interest in growing industrial hemp

Wisconsin farmers stressed by stagnant dairy and grain markets are showing strong interest in growing industrial hemp this year, but a state agricultural official is warning them not to count on the niche crop to solve their financial problems.

“I’d say interest from farmers is almost extreme,” said Brian Kuhn, who heads the plant industry bureau of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“The calls we take every day about hemp are very high, and our website hits blows away numbers for almost anything we’ve put on our website in some time,” he said. “We’re getting distinctly higher numbers (for hemp) than what we’re used to, which is a good thing.”

But while the niche crop has the potential to create more income than corn or soybeans, Kuhn said farmers will get burned if they don’t follow rules for selling hemp that are different from rules for selling corn, soybeans and other mainstream crops.

“I’m telling farmers to be very cautious,” Kuhn said. “I don’t look at this as the savior for the farm economy. The farmer who’s on the edge shouldn’t be rushing out there to put 500 acres into hemp. While it’s got great potential and great promise, it could also cause great harm if they haven’t worked through the details of the market side.”

State lawmakers approved a plan in November that allows farmers to grow industrial hemp as a research pilot program, permitted by the 2014 Farm Bill. Thirty other states have started similar programs with industrial hemp — a nonpsychoactive cousin of the cannabis plant that produces marijuana. Its uses include many high-tech, health, manufacturing and food applications, many of which are largely untapped.

The crop, which once thrived in Kentucky, was historically used for rope, clothing and mulch from the fiber, hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels.

More than 50 producers have already sent in applications to obtain one-time licenses to grow industrial hemp since DATCP opened the nearly two-month application period in early March, Kuhn said.

“I’d say that is on the high end for what other states have seen in their first year,” he said, adding that Minnesota had about 30. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had upwards to 100 applications by the time it’s all said and done.”

Some of the farmers who get licenses aren’t planning to grow hemp this year, Kuhn said. That’s not unusual. Kentucky has 150 licensed growers and 12,000 acres of licensed acreage for hemp, but about 100 farmers are currently growing it on about 4,000 acres.

“People are licensing for the max and then, based on reality and markets and all the other details that have to come together, what gets planted is much lower than what is licensed to be grown,” he said.

The biggest factor for farmers is finding a buyer for their crop before they plant the seeds, Kuhn said. That is a different process for state farmers, who often sell their corn or soybeans after harvest.

Post-harvest

plan needed

Ken Anderson, the owner of seed company Legacy Hemp, cautioned farmers to also be on the lookout for scam artists: phony buyers who are promising a big payday at the end of the season.

“But at the end of the day, if that person the farmer talked to doesn’t have the money to pay for it, the person who will be hurt is the farmer,” he said. “I’d rather make three cents a bushel on corn than nothing a bushel on hemp.”

Anderson is building the state’s first hemp grain processor in Prescott and has contracts with 18 organic farmers to grow hemp on 1,800 acres this year. He expects to contract with more farmers over the next few weeks because more receiving centers are opening their doors to hemp farmers in western Wisconsin.

Besides processors, the state’s hemp industry also needs more receiving centers where farmers can have their hemp grain cleaned, conditioned and stored, according to Anderson.

“The grain doesn’t do very well as soon as you take it off of the plant,” he said. “Farmers can lose an entire crop if they don’t have a post-harvest plan in place and get it cleaned and conditioned quickly after harvest.”

Many of the farmers already under contract are in the organic-rich Viroqua and Eau Claire areas, but Anderson has growers signed up from around the state. While a few are growing hemp on 300 acres or more, most will grow on about 40 acres, he said.

Anderson also said he’s contracting with only organic farmers because conventional grain is stockpiled in Canada and prices have dropped. “The way to make farmers profitable right now is through organic, but I think that the market shift will be to conventional grain also,” Anderson said.

Consumer

interest

Companies working with organic and conventional hemp are showing interest in building processors and other businesses in Wisconsin, but most are taking a wait-and-see attitude, Kuhn said.

Anderson doesn’t mind paving the way for future niche buyers of Wisconsin hemp grain and stalks. An international cardboard maker who uses hemp for his products is looking to build a stalk processor in the United States, and Anderson is looking to bring him to Prescott. That would give hemp farmers the opportunity to make dual sales every harvest.

“His input costs will go down if he builds it here instead of California, and we also have some good connections with building supply companies in Wisconsin that would love to spearhead it for him,” Anderson said.

Anderson is waiting for the day when the consumer and business interest in hemp matches the farmers’ interest in growing it.

“The more companies put hemp into their product lines, the more contracting we can do,” he said. “In Wisconsin, we’re starting to see more of these companies who are interested in putting hemp into their product lines. So, that’s exciting for us.”


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-La Crosse coach Chris Schwarz watches the action from the bench during a game against Saint Mary’s last season at Copeland Park. The Eagles, like other spring sports teams, have seen Mother Nature wreak havoc with their schedule.


Marquette professor says firing shows anti-conservative bias

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A dispute between a conservative professor and the university that fired him is going before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will hear arguments this week on whether the firing was the result of a provocative blog post or his conduct.

Former Marquette University professor John McAdams sued the private Catholic school in 2016, arguing that he lost his job for exercising his right to free speech by expressing his disapproval of what he believes was a teacher’s attempt to shut down a discussion about opposition to gay marriage.

However, the school has always said that it was not what the professor wrote that led to his firing, but rather his “doxing” of a graduate student instructor in a blog post. Doxing is the practice of publicizing someone’s personal identifying information online to subject them to harassment.

“Had he written the exact same blog post and not included the student-teacher’s name and contact information he would not have been disciplined,” said Ralph Weber, Marquette’s attorney. “He’s being disciplined for his conduct, not any viewpoint.”

McAdams’ attorney, Rick Esenberg, said the doxing argument is “fundamentally dishonest” and that all McAdams did was link to publicly available information.

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday.

The case is significant to conservatives, who see universities as liberal havens that stifle their viewpoints, and to private businesses that want control over how employees can be disciplined.

In the November 2014 blog post, McAdams described an interaction between a conservative student and a graduate student instructor of philosophy. The student claimed the instructor refused to allow discussion about opposition to gay marriage during a class and provided McAdams with a recording he secretly made of a conversation with the teacher after the class.

That formed the basis for McAdams’ post, in which he argued that the students’ experience was another example of liberals silencing people whose opinions they disagree with or find offensive. The post included the student-teacher’s name, a link to her personal website and her email address, and it led to a flood of hateful messages and threats against her. The threats were bad enough that the university posted a security officer outside of her classroom and she noticeably lost weight.

McAdams published his post on his personal website, “Marquette Warrior,” which he has used for more than a decade to condemn political correctness and the silencing of ideas that might be hurtful to protected classes, according to his lawsuit against the school.

McAdams stirred up several controversies in his thousands of blog posts over the years and the university went out of its way not to punish him for them, according to a March 2016 report from a faculty committee that recommended a one-year suspension for the tenured professor. The committee noted that McAdams had been advised previously, in 2011, not to mention a student’s name on his blog.

“One of the more important obligations that professors have is to take care not to cause harm, directly or indirectly, to members of the university community,” wrote the committee, which also criticized McAdams for inaccurately portraying the interaction between the student and instructor.

The graduate student McAdams named in his blog eventually moved to another university, where she had to repeat three semesters and revise her PhD thesis.

McAdams was given the chance to return to work after his suspension, provided he write a letter apologizing for his conduct, acknowledging his post “was reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University” and promising to follow to those values in the future. The letter was to be shared confidentially with the student instructor, but McAdams refused to write it, saying during a talk radio appearance that he would do so “when hell freezes over.”

Esenberg said McAdams didn’t write the letter because it would have been admitting he did something wrong and he doesn’t think that’s the case.

“What Marquette is doing is they’re forcing him to make a Soviet-style confession,” Esenberg said.

A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Marquette before the case went to trial last year, saying the school’s disciplinary proceedings were fair and not a violation of McAdams’ academic freedom. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, can affirm the decision, return the case to Milwaukee County for a jury trial or refer it to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. It also could find that Marquette violated the portion of its contract with McAdams guaranteeing academic freedom.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers have filed briefs in support of Marquette. The Thomas More Society and the National Association of Scholars, both conservative groups, are supporting McAdams, as well as the American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which are nonpartisan.