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Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune  

Holmen High School senior Logan Graff, 18, digs into a special surf and turf lunch Thursday. The lunch of steak, shrimp, asparagus and baked potato was part of a celebration to send off graduating seniors.


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La Crosse area cleans up after storms; flooding a concern in Trempealeau, Jackson counties

ARCADIA — Another day of violent storms downed trees, damaged buildings and dumped more rain on an already soaked Coulee Region Wednesday, pushing some area rivers over their banks.

Nearly 7 inches of rain fell over some areas between Monday and Wednesday, leaving farm fields under water and triggering flooding of the Trempealeau and Black rivers.

The Trempealeau River crested in Arcadia around 4:15 a.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

By mid-morning, daylight was just visible beneath the Main Street bridge. At the Family Dollar Store, manager Samantha Voss eyed the muddy waters swirling less than 100 feet from her window and worried that any more rain could send it rising again.

“It does make me a little nervous,” she said.

While the forecast calls for showers Friday night through Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Stangeland said they aren’t likely to pack the same punch as the week’s earlier storms.

“Right now I don’t see any return to big rains yet,” he said.

Meanwhile there was minor flooding in Dodge, Wis., where the Trempealeau River is expected to crest Saturday afternoon at more than 3 feet above flood stage, which will put some county roads under water. The Black River is expected to crest at 3.2 feet above flood stage Saturday evening in Galesville, affecting mostly farm fields.

Wednesday’s first batch of storms formed across northeast Iowa into southeast Minnesota and moved northeast, producing large hail, damaging wind and at least two tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service office in La Crosse.

Emergency management officials reported numerous trees and branches fell onto homes, cars and power lines. A camper parked near Red Pines Bar & Grill along Lake Onalaska was nearly cut in half when a tree fell on it.

ERIK DAILY PHOTOS, LA CROSSE TRIBUNE  

A camper at Red Pines on Brice Prairie was nearly cut in half when a tree fell on it during the storm Wednesday afternoon. None of the people inside the camper were injured. Storms moved rapidly through the area from 5:15 to 6:45 p.m., with reports of heavy rain, high winds and hail in some areas.

A second line of storms swept into the area from central Iowa producing mainly wind damage as it lifted north and east into neighboring Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The National Weather Service on Thursday confirmed weak tornadoes touched down in Plainview and Elgin, Minn., though there were no injuries or serious damage reported. Meteorologists were also investigating damage in the Trempealeau County town of Gale.

Quarter-size hail and wind gusts of up to 70 mph were reported across the region.

Rainfall amounts varied widely, with more than 2 inches reported at the La Crosse Regional Airport, bringing the three-day total to 4.5 inches. The area’s highest three-day rainfall total was 6.9 inches in Altura, Minn.

The storms Wednesday hit southern Wisconsin particularly hard, with significant damage reported in Rock, Sauk, Columbia, Walworth and Jefferson counties. A barn in Bradford, east of Janesville, was destroyed by high winds that also left thousands without power.

Meanwhile to the northwest, residents in Barron County are trying to move forward after a tornado leveled most homes in a trailer park near Chetek. One man was killed and two dozen others were hurt when the tornado touched down Tuesday evening.


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Citizen complaint: Onalaska mayor should be charged with felony

An Onalaska man wants criminal charges brought against Onalaska’s mayor under an obscure state law.

Greg Luce accuses Mayor Joe Chilsen of election fraud, a felony, after a private investigator found that he falsified nomination papers on Jan. 4, 2016, according to Luce’s complaint filed this month in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

Chilsen

Candidate supporters may circulate nomination papers but must sign them as the circulator. A private investigator hired by Luce found three people who signed a nomination paper circulated by Chilsen’s wife and friend, although Chilsen signed off as the circulator, according to the investigator’s report.

The nomination paper containing those three signatures was disqualified because it failed to include Chilsen’s required mailing address, an oversight Chilsen said on the radio was done by “someone circulating my nomination papers.”

During the mayoral campaign, a ruling by the Government Accountability Board eliminated Chilsen from the spring 2016 ballot because deficient papers left him eight signature shy of the required 200.

Chilsen won a second four-year term on April 6, 2016, after a write-in campaign. He drew 4,018 votes to challenger Jack Pogreba’s 2,183.

Luce brought his case to the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department on Sept. 19. An investigator turned it over to District Attorney Tim Gruenke, who declined to file charges against Chilsen.

The three signers were not tricked into supporting a candidate they did not know or support, and the nomination paper bearing their signatures was disqualified and did not influence the election, Gruenke wrote in a letter to Luce.

“The statute indicates we should construe these potential election violations while considering the ‘will of the electors,’” Gruenke wrote. “In this case, the violations were of no consequence and were not the result of any intentional fraud or deceit.”

Added Gruenke, “Ethically, I can’t file a complaint because I don’t believe there is probable cause.”

Luce’s complaint against Chilsen asks a judge to invoke a state law that allows circuit judges to permit a criminal complaint to be filed when a district attorney refuses or is unavailable to, but only after a judge finds probable cause to believe a party committed a crime.

Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke set a hearing for May 30.

“I look forward to the La Crosse County Circuit Court’s review of this matter,” Chilsen said. “After an investigation by the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke came to the conclusion that no crime had been committed. We are confident that the circuit court will come to the same conclusion.”

“After an investigation by the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke came to the conclusion that no crime had been committed. We are confident that the circuit court will come to the same conclusion.” Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen

FLW Tour photo 

Anglers compete Thursday, the first day of the four-day in the FLW Tour event on the Mississippi River, near Stoddard. A total of 320 fishermen, including 160 pros, are chasing a first-place prize of $125,000.


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La Crosse park board recommends Memorial Pool site for new aquatic center

The Board of Park Commissioners voted Thursday evening to send a feasibility study about pool options in La Crosse to the Common Council — and recommended that it consider only designs for a new aquatic center at the Memorial Pool site next to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus.

The board picked the two conceptual designs from five choices the pool committee recommend from among 11 Burbach Aquatics designs. Other options included sites at Forest Hills, on St. Andrew’s Street and Erickson Pool.

Memorial Pool renovation with bathhouse: Construction cost: $3.95 million. Operating cost: $115,000.

Update Memorial Pool: Construction cost: $4.9 million with lazy river, $4 million without. Operating cost: $172,000 with lazy river, $106,000 without.

The feasibility study conducted by Burbach recommended the lower portion of Forest Hills for the new pool, but the board and other council members said the public’s interest in replacing the pool at its current location narrowed down their choices.

Joshua Layer of Burbach said the company also recommended Weigent Park, the upper portion of Forest Hills and the current Memorial Pool site as options for building a new pool.

All of the design choices will go to the council in the feasibility study, and the council has the option to select designs other than those recommended by the board.

Members of the public voiced concerns at the meeting about the Forest Hills option, saying they would not allow their children to go to a pool at Forest Hills on their own because they would have to cross Losey Boulevard.

Many expressed interest in upgrading the current Memorial Pool site, but others still supported an indoor pool, citing the need for competition and therapy pools, which Burbach listed as a community need.

Despite originally advocating a combination indoor/outdoor pool site, council member Jacqueline Marcou, who also serves on the parks board and recommended including only Memorial Pool designs, said she believes the public overwhelmingly wanted to see a new pool built at the Memorial site.

“My feeling is that we should focus on Memorial. I feel like that’s the public priority,” Marcou said.

One of the design options for the Memorial Pool sites includes constructing a lazy river, eight 25-yard swimming lanes and a general swimming area, for a total cost of just over $4.9 million. Omitting the lazy river from this design option would save the city $900,000.

Operational costs for these designs would be $172,000 per year with the lazy river and $106,000 per year without it.

The second Memorial Pool site design option does not have a lazy river but includes a one-meter diving tower and an upgraded bathhouse. This design would cost $3.9 million, and operational costs would be $115,000 per year.

The study took into account demographics of the more than 200 respondents at the public input hearings. Layer said Burbach also took into account presentations to the pool committee by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, and people supporting the indoor pool options.

Council member Jessica Olson brought up concerns that non-residents were allowed to give input without being identified as such. Layer said specifying residence on the survey was optional.

Some attendees were also concerned that too little public input was included in the study.

The study will go to Common Council over the summer.


Committee rescues labor review panel

MADISON, Wis. — The Legislature’s finance committee chose Thursday to preserve the state commission that decides workplace disputes, rejecting Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate it and have his administration issue labor rulings instead.

The Republican-controlled committee’s co-chairs introduced a motion to save the Labor and Industry Review Commission but delete 7.8 vacant commission positions and request state Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack to review the commission’s decisions and report back to the committee by next July. The committee approved the motion on a 12-4 vote.

Sen. Alberta Darling, one of the co-chairs, said she’s heard concerns that the LIRC hasn’t based its decisions on state law. The survey will shed more light on how the LIRC reaches its conclusions, she said.

“Is LIRC a necessary function to preserve equal rights and safety or is it an added layer of bureaucracy?” Darling said.

The panel’s four Democrats thanked the Republicans for rescuing the commission but said they couldn’t support the move because it eliminates 7.8 positions that the commission might need if the economy sputters and people start losing their jobs.

“The first thing I want to say is thank you for maintaining LIRC,” Sen. Lena Taylor said. “(But) it’s a setup if you take away the positions. People need to be able to do the work connected to this. You’re protecting people from discrimination.”

LIRC formed in 1911 as the State Industrial Commission. It reviews decisions by administrative law judges’ rulings in disputes over unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation and workplace equal rights. Parties can appeal the LIRC’s decisions to circuit and state appellate courts.

Walker’s 2017-19 budget called for eliminating the commission and its 26.5 positions. The commission’s duties would shift to the state Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Administration, both cabinet agencies.

Walker justified the move by saying the number of appeals LIRC has heard has decreased by nearly 60 percent over the last five years. DWD Secretary Ray Allen said eliminating the commission would speed up appeals. A Legislative Fiscal Bureau summary of the governor’s position made no mention of Walker being concerned about whether LIRC was overstepping its legal authority.

The proposal generated a host of questions, including whether Walker’s pro-industry administration could decide cases fairly.

Another key concern was whether the legal precedence LIRC has established in its decisions over the years would stand up after the commission disappeared, creating uncertainty in the labor law world and driving parties to pursue more cases to the circuit and appellate court levels, leading to more expensive disputes.

Only 88 commission cases went to court in 2016. About 1,000 additional cases could end up in court annually if the commission disappears, the LFB estimated.

In other budget actions Thursday, the committee:

—Rejected Walker’s proposal to freeze Wisconsin College Technical College System tuition at 2016-17 levels. The committee did vote to boost grants for technical college students by $2.5 million annually. Committee Republicans said freezing tuition would force more tax dollars to the system to offset the lost revenue and students need to invest in their education.

—Approved Walker’s plan to eliminate the Educational Approval Board, which regulates for-profit colleges, and shift its functions to the Department of Safety and Professional Services. The committee voted to attach the board to DSPS, where it would continue to operate as its own entity until July 2018. Then it would disappear.

—Allocated $32 million from Wisconsin’s share of a federal settlement with Volkswagen AG to set up a fund for cities looking to improve their bus systems The committee also devoted another $10 million from the settlement to replace state vehicles. Walker’s budget called for spending $16 million state vehicles and $26 million on Milwaukee County buses.

—Limited eligibility for the state homestead tax credit to people at least 62 years old, people with spouses at least 62 years old, the disabled and people who earn income. The LFB estimated the move would make 11,300 people ineligible for the credit.


Chilsen