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How high will the water rise?

Spring flooding in the Coulee Region is expected to be in the normal to slightly below-normal range, according to the La Crosse office of the National Weather Service, thanks to below-normal snow depths both in the immediate area and to the north.

“Overall, the flood potential for the coming spring looks to be near or below normal for much of (southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa), with just a few tributaries of the Mississippi slightly more likely to experience some degree of flooding,” its spring flood report said.

One wild card in that prediction, however, is the region’s deep frost — two to three feet, thanks to a couple of prolonged cold snaps — which could lead to excessive runoff in the case of heavy rains as spring approaches.

La Crosse has a 32 percent chance of reaching its minor flood stage of 12 feet, an 18 percent chance of reaching the moderate flood stage of 13 feet and a 10 percent chance of hitting the major flood stage of 15.5 feet.

The Kickapoo River at Gays Mills has a 59 percent of hitting the minor flood stage of 13 feet but less than a 5 percent chance of reaching the moderate and major flood stages of 15 feet and 17, respectively.

The National Weather service will issue its next spring hydrologic outlook, or flood prediction, March 1.

In Parkland, a ‘bubble of perfection’ is pierced

PARKLAND, Fla. (TNS) — Until last week, life in Parkland played out under a magical bubble, its residents, who call themselves Parklanders, will tell you.

A new city, a little more than 50 years old, and tucked away in a remote corner of rapidly changing Broward County, Parkland is a step back in time, an all-American small town of fewer than 30,000 residents, with desirable public schools, quiet streets and plentiful parks.

It is a wave-to-a-stranger kind of place, Parklanders say with some pride, where they prefer gentle roundabouts to stop signs and red lights.

It is a place that tries to meld respectfully into the flora on the edge of the Everglades — the city seal says “Parkland, Florida: Environmentally Proud,” and its high school is named for one of the fiercest defenders of the River of Grass.

It is a place where high school football, basketball and soccer are played at a high level, but baseball is still king.

It is a place that produced Anthony Rizzo, the most recent winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the Major League Baseball player who best represents the game through “extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions.”

It is a place where people who could live anywhere, like Florida Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie, choose to raise a family.

It is a place routinely listed among the safest cities in the state — a designation residents need no encouragement to share.

It is a place where they honor victims of a massacre with a field of 17 wooden crosses, and the emotional visitor will find at the base of each cross a thoughtfully placed box of tissues.

Sarah MacKenzie and her hockey-playing husband could raise their young children anywhere, including their native Sudbury, Ontario, but the family-friendly peace and quiet of Parkland was exactly what they were seeking.

“We wanted to bring some normalcy to the children’s life. We jump around from city to city, and we wanted some stability. We knew Parkland would provide that for us,” MacKenzie said, citing its many parks, city-sponsored sports and family events. “The safety factor also appealed to us, which is ironic to say now.”

MacKenzie was speaking at the city’s Pine Trails Park Friday afternoon, a short bicycle ride from her home, as her daughter, 8, and son, 6, played with their bikes. Nearby, on a field of grass typically dedicated to picnics, concerts and Easter egg hunts, 17 crosses received mourners, who offered flowers, re-lit candles and pulled tissues from boxes.

The park is part of her routine with her kids, but MacKenzie said this trip was designed to show them the reality of what was on TV and how “to be respectful of the situation.”

“I feel like we’ve lost an innocence, in our bubble. When we go out on date nights or something … there’s always a sigh of relief when we come home to Parkland, that calmness, the quiet, the dark, the country and things like that,” she said.

MacKenzie is confident the bubble can be repaired.

“It’s going to take time. But I think, if anything, now we’re just going to appreciate each other that much more,” she said. “We have the option to stay and live in Canada while my husband works here, but we choose to be here because we do feel safe. We’re happy here. And we shouldn’t run away from fear, because then evil wins, and we can’t have that happen.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is on Holmberg Road, named for an east-west sharecropper’s trail cut through woods and farmland long before the Sawgrass Expressway existed.

Much of it is a winding, two-lane road, lined by a ribbon of bike trails, but it remains a central thoroughfare for the city, running from the edge of Heron Bay Golf Club, home of the Honda Classic and Dixie Amateur tournaments, past equestrian centers and large lots of two-story, Spanish-tiled homes in serene shades of beige, tan and ecru.

On the west end of Holmberg, at Coral Ridge Drive, is a popular hangout for Douglas students, a Starbucks, where the clientele Friday was mostly media from around the world.

Sara Giovanello, a 17-year-old Douglas High junior and aspiring artist and poet, calls Parkland “utopia.”

“We were in this bubble of perfection. Everything is beautiful here. This shooting was a bullet to the bubble. Everything popped,” she said. “When I’d talk to people who asked where I lived, I’d say ‘Parkland,’ and they’d say, ‘Where’s that?’ Now, I’m going to say ‘Parkland,’ and they’re going to just say, ‘Oh.’ ”

Giovanello spent part of her Friday at Pine Trails Park, where she left milkweed flowers she picked from her garden at a cross dedicated to her late friend, Helena Ramsay. Her weekend would be devoted to funeral services, she said.

A prolific diarist, Giovanello said she’s been unable to write since she entered four words under the date 2-14-18: “Gunshots. I am broken.”

Since moving to Parkland from Long Island seven years ago, Giovanello has found the small-town charms of the city irresistible. The parade of food-truck events, pool parties, concerts in the park and other diversions is possible only with investment from the city, volunteers and residents, she said.

For Giovanello, that has meant using the artistic skills learned at Douglas to paint children’s faces at the Parkland Farmers Market.

“Being an active member of the community, to make kids happy, made me feel amazing,” she said.

Giovanello said that while the city’s reputation for safety may have taken a hit, she believes the atmosphere of community remains strong.

“In Parkland, everybody knows everybody, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “The only good thing to come out of this whole situation is the fact that we’re all so unified now.”

After Wednesday’s shooting, Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, a 2007 Douglas graduate, left the team’s spring-training facility in Arizona to be at a Thursday night vigil in Pine Trails Park. There, he delivered an emotional address in which he reminded the thousands of mourners that he studied in the same classrooms as the victims.

“I am only who I am because of this community,” he told the crowd.

Baseball has long been an important way for Parkland residents to bond.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles won a state title in 2016, and were ranked No. 1 in the nation by Baseball America, playing on a field named for Rizzo. He recently donated $150,000 for new lights for the field.

The North Springs Little League and the Florida Pokers travel team also are among the top programs in the state. Both programs will join the high school team in adding Douglas tributes to their uniforms this season.

Douglas High Eagles head coach Todd Fitz-Gerald was at the vigil for Rizzo’s speech and said it was a perfect reflection of the town, the family, the teachers and the mentors that raised him.

“For him to come back in this time of need, where everybody’s leaning on one another, for him to do what he did says a lot about his character and the kind of person that he is,” Fitz-Gerald said. “He made it very clear that he’s a Floridian, he’s a Douglas graduate and he’s a Parklander.”

The city has taken a devastating blow, but the healing has begun, Fitz-Gerald said.

“It’s just a tight-knit group of people who stand behind each other through thick and thin,” he said. “We definitely took a punch, that’s for sure. It’s not enough to knock us out. Our community, the school community, is too strong to allow the work of one insane individual to do that to us. We’re not going to give him the satisfaction of cowering down, I can tell you that.”

Fitz-Gerald’s team was on the practice field at North Broward Prep Friday, after the school and Flanagan High School both offered to host the Eagles. Getting back on the field so soon was not a difficult decision.

“It’s important to be around the people you love the most, and for me, it’s my guys and our program, and wanting to be with those guys and getting them something that they enjoy and love,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We have a responsibility to the community and to the school and the student body to give them something to be proud of. And maybe put a smile on their face in a difficult, tragic situation.”


Austin Dillon celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach.

Three seek seat on Wisconsin Supreme Court in primary Tuesday

MADISON — An attorney and two judges are on the ballot Tuesday to settle which candidates will compete to replace Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman for a 10-year term on the state’s highest court.

Madison attorney Tim Burns, Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock have been building their cases to voters over which one is the least likely to infect the court with politics.

Even so, the candidates’ political associations have defined the officially nonpartisan race ahead of Tuesday’s primary. The general election is April 3.

Burns, who has spent much of his career as an attorney representing business clients in lawsuits against insurance companies, has emphasized he would be an “unshakable” progressive on the court and would fight Gov. Scott Walker’s “extreme agenda.”

Burns has fiercely criticized legislation like requiring photo identification to vote and partisan redistricting, positions conservatives have argued would force him to recuse from cases if those issues came before the court. He’s endorsed by Democratic politicians and progressive groups like Our Revolution, a national organization linked to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.

Though Burns has an extensive resume as a business lawyer, he has argued only a handful of cases in state and federal courts. Burns has been criticized for expressing his political views, but he says justices should be honest about their opinions and not pretend the court is not affected by them.

Dallet has spent the past few months emphasizing her judicial experience as evidence of her ability to remain impartial, but she has also aired a television ad criticizing Republican President Donald Trump.

Dallet has been endorsed by hundreds of Democratic lawmakers and judges across the state. She has focused much of her criticism of the court for relaxing their recusal rules, and has said the current conservative-controlled court is unable to decide cases fairly because of the lack of requirement to remove justices from cases involving top campaign donors.

She was first elected to the bench 10 years ago, after working as an assistant district attorney. Since then, she has presided over more than 10,000 cases, she says. She has been criticized by Burns and conservatives for the way she’s handled some of those cases — including one in which an appeals court overturned her ruling that police were acting legally when they searched a black man standing outside of a convenience store for a few minutes, and found a handgun.

Screnock has major backing from conservatives, and was appointed to the Sauk County bench in 2015 by Gov. Scott Walker. He became an attorney about 10 years ago after working for many years in city finance and became Reedsburg’s first city administrator.

As an attorney, Screnock helped defend Walker’s signature legislation known as Act 10, which eliminated collective bargaining abilities for most public employees, and the Republican-written legislative maps from 2010.

He has been criticized for touting impartiality when compared to his opponents while also receiving heavy support from the state Republican party. More than half the money Screnock has raised since he jumped in the race has come from the Republican Party of Wisconsin — about $140,000.

As of Feb. 5, campaign finance filings show Burns has about $126,000 in cash, Dallet has $237,000 and Screnock has about $90,000. Dallet has consistently topped her opponents in money but has also contributed $200,000 of her own money to the campaign.

Sheila Harsdorf makes strong first impression as state's new ag leader

MADISON — The story, as a reporter heard it, was that a Dane County farmer told friends last year he was voting for Hillary Clinton for president because he believed her husband, Bill Clinton, would step in in the event of a crisis.

It causes Sheila Harsdorf to explode with laughter.

The 61-year-old dairy farmer from River Falls who made history in November when Gov. Scott Walker named her the first woman to lead the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, long ago learned to ignore such slights.

The former Republican state senator from District 10 in western Wisconsin, Harsdorf certainly would have been exposed to her share of them: She spent most of her adult life in agriculture and politics, fields that historically have been unfriendly toward women.

But she downplays the gender milestone, saying she hadn’t had to overcome any roadblocks professionally because she’s a woman. “Or maybe I didn’t pay attention to them,” she said.

What she did pay attention to, say former colleagues in the Legislature and agricultural industry officials, was the views of others. By listening and showing respect for opposing viewpoints, they said, Harsdorf excelled in both areas.

“Sheila learned it from her father and I think it’s very genuine, it’s just who she is,” said Jim VandenBrook, executive director of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association. “She treats people with respect and gets it back.”

Harsdorf grew up on a small dairy farm near Stillwater, Minnesota, and listened to her father, Ervin, preside over county government meetings at their house.

After operating the family farm, he bought a bigger farm near River Falls and formed a partnership with Harsdorf’s brother, Jim, when he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1973. Sheila joined the partnership when she graduated with an animal science degree from Minnesota in 1980, the same year that Jim was first elected to the state Senate.

Jim Harsdorf would later serve as DATCP secretary from 2001 to 2003, making the pair the first brother-sister combo to head the same state agency. He was appointed by Gov. Scott McCallum when then-DATCP secretary Ben Brancel stepped down after serving four years. Brancel was reappointed to the post in 2011 by Walker and announced his retirement last year.

Sheila Harsdorf ran the farm and was a busy volunteer for a number of agricultural groups and committees in Pierce County until she was elected to the Assembly, representing the 30th District, in 1989. She was elected to the state Senate for the first time in 2000.

After leaving DATCP, Jim Harsdorf returned to the farm in 2003 and expanded it to its current capacity of 560 registered Holsteins and 30 registered Jerseys. The farm covers three sites that includes Sheila Harsdorf’s land where her home is located. Harsdorf, who is divorced, has one son, Ryan Bailey, 24, and he works on the farm while attending UW-River Falls.

“I think what’s great about Sheila’s perspective is that she is not coming in with some sort of agenda,” said Jim Harsdorf, 68. “She’s going to do the same thing she did as a legislator: Listen, serve and hopefully make agriculture a stronger industry in this state.”

A full plate

Harsdorf has a slew of issues to deal with as the new administrator of the agriculture department and the five other divisions of DATCP, which has a budget of $95 million and employs more than 500 people.

State farmers continue to go bankrupt because of continued low prices for grain and milk. Dairy farms, cheese processors and other agricultural companies aren’t operating at full strength and need help learning how to compete with non-agricultural businesses in an extremely competitive employment market, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association executive director John Umhoefer said.

The industry’s growth hinges on expanding its export markets, but the food safety requirements need to be more clearly defined, Umhoefer said. The agency also needs to find new ways to keep innovative ideas flowing because discretionary money DATCP used to fund such projects has not been replenished over the last several budgets, said Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.

Finally, there is the looming move of regulating the biggest dairy operations, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), from the Department of Natural Resources to DATCP.

Harsdorf expects the industry’s great diversity of resources to provide some answers. She says they could come in the form of a big-ticket item or something as small as a bag of cheese curds.

“To me, it’s all about meeting the consumer’s demands. That’s why I believe marketing is so very important,” she said. “We need to focus on building those markets and look at where there are emerging markets (domestically) and where we have an opportunity to grow our exports and develop new markets (internationally).”

Harsdorf said she’s already thinking about potential collaborations with the agency’s export experts. “I think there are a lot of different efforts taking place,” she said. “But whatever the department can do to bring those efforts together and collaborate where we can, I think it’s a win.”

VandenBrook called Harsdorf a moderate who used the amendment process to fund his conservation association in each of the past three budgets. She also has gone against her party on some conservation issues.

He didn’t express concern about the transition of CAFO regulation to DATCP.

The success of the move “is going to be about how to make the thing function efficiently,” VandenBrook said. “There isn’t just one way to do it. Our group is agnostic about the notion of where the permitting responsibilities lie, but we want a program that works. Let’s put it this way, I’m not real worried about at least a good faith effort coming forward from Secretary Harsdorf.”

Communication key

Harsdorf said one of her most important tasks is to use her communication skills to educate the growing number of people about where their food comes from and the importance of agriculture to their lives and the state economy.

Farmers appreciate the effort, said Lisa Kivirist, an organic farmer, entrepreneur, innkeeper and author from Browntown. “Having somebody as our ag secretary who understands and communicates well with both sides can make an impact,” she said.

Kivirist called Harsdorf a strong role model for young women.

“I look at it from the lens of younger women in Wisconsin and women considering careers in agriculture and farming,” she said. “It’s great to see.”