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As winter ebbs, ice anglers in the La Crosse area test their luck

Anglers who haven’t removed their ice shacks from Wisconsin-Minnesota boundary waters could land in court, while people still sliding around on ice in their vehicles could be courting disaster.

Meanwhile, owners who have their shacks stationed on inland lakes south of Hwy. 64, such as Lake Neshonoc near West Salem, have until Sunday to pull them off the ice, under the same Wisconsin regulations that dictate removal along on border rivers.

Ice anglers may have gotten a late start because of a tardy freeze, but they have experienced a much better winter than snowmobilers, who suffered through one of the worst seasons in recent years, with no trails opening at all in La Crosse County.

Mount La Crosse continues to do a brisk business, with “really good skiing weather” and all 19 runs open, said Alex Costello.

USSA races will take place on Mount La Crosse Saturday and Sunday, and a rail jam is set for Sunday, Costello said.

Although some owners have removed shacks from Neshonoc, anglers are focusing more now on taking advantage of a hot streak with crappies, said Jack Schulte at Neshonoc Sports in West Salem, where most of the anglers stop in for bait and to exchange a few fish tales.

“They’re really catching a lot of crappies,” and the 1-foot-thick ice — for now — ensures safety, Schulte said Wednesday.

“It’s thinning out, day by day,” he said, so the anglers still are converging on the lake in substantial numbers.

A couple of dozen anglers had their holes staked out Wednesday and Thursday in a frozen section of Swift Creek in South La Crosse, although current flowing under them is quite likely to make that dicey soon.

North of La Crosse, anglers still were flocking to Lake Onalaska, including many driving their heavy duty pickups and cars on the ice, despite the fact that an out-of-town angler’s vehicle broke through a weak area that locals know to avoid.

The man escaped, although his vehicle sank into the wintry waters.

Of course, any penalty a court might impose for not removing shanties would pale in comparison to the cost of having a sunken vehicle removed from a river or lake, in addition to potential fines for polluting the waterways.

Lake Onalaska’s traffic is nowhere near it was a few weeks ago, when it resembled a small town. Only a few shacks remained Thursday on the lake, which has increasing numbers of surface puddles but still is a relatively safe venue for those who know where the ice is solid enough to bear vehicle weights.

At any rate, shacks will be unnecessary for shelter this weekend, with the National Weather Service predicting highs of 48 Friday, 54 Saturday and 56 Sunday. On the other hand, the mostly to partly sunny skies the NWS predicts for the weekend are expected to continue degradation of the ice.

As the bleak snowmobile season draws to a close in the Coulee Region — conditions Up North have been and continue to be good for those craft — ardent sledder Linda Saley of Bangor said, “I don’t care if I don’t see another flake.”

Since no La Crosse County trails have accumulated enough snow to be groomed and opened, it’s too late now, especially because thawing ground would reduce the paths to sloggy-bottom bogs, even with a healthy snowfall, said Saley, secretary-treasurer of the Bangor Blizzard Busters.

“As long as we get the message out that farmers and landowners are our number 1 priority” to make sure nobody selfishly goes out and ruins land, sled enthusiasts will live to hit the trails another year, she said.

La Crosse County trails depend on about 40 landowners who have granted right-of-way for trails, and at this point, rutting fields would jeopardize the agreements, Saley said.

“One unhappy landowner can shut you down,” she said.

Saley didn’t head north this season, as did some, including county Snowmobile Alliance President Steve Falkenberg of West Salem.

“I went to Independence last weekend and was amazed how much more snow they had and how good the trails were,” Falkenberg said.

Wisconsin and Minnesota natural resources web sites show expansive areas to the north conducive to not only snowmobiling but also snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, among other winter pursuits.

As for holding out hope for La Crosse County snowmobile trails, Falkenberg echoed Saley’s assessment, saying there would have to be several nights below freezing to firm up the ground even if snow fell.

Like Saley, Falkenberg underscored the need to protect the property of those who allowed the alliance to plot out the trails.

The alliance, whose agreements with landowners end on March 31, represents six clubs: the Bangor Blizzard Busters, Holmen Coulee Comets, Mindoro Country Classics, Onalaska Coulee Sno-Drifters, St. Joe’s Ridge Runners and Table Rock Riders.

As for the slopes, Mount La Crosse’s Costello said the ski and snowboarding mecca doesn’t have a firm date for its final run, but some slush is starting to form, and closing could come as early as next week.

Walker shifts position in reaction to school shootings

MADISON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican with an A rating from the National Rifle Association for his long history supporting pro-gun measures, is shifting his approach after the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school and as he seeks re-election in November.

Walker, who is running for a third term in November, reacted to past school shootings by remaining open to the possibility of arming teachers while emphasizing the need to bolster mental health treatment and rejecting calls for stricter gun control.

But two weeks after the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, Walker has come out against arming teachers. Instead, he said he’s working with lawmakers on a package of school safety bills for them to take up this spring. Walker did not say what specifically he would be proposing, but he said it ought to be similar to measures put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks that increased safety in airports.

That differs from his position after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 26 dead. Walker said then that arming teachers should be considered, but that the emphasis should be on increasing mental health services. He also refused to endorse any bills that would limit the types of weapons or ammunition that could be sold.

Walker, governor since 2011, has a long history of signing pro-gun bills backed by the NRA into law. That includes legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons, instituting the “castle doctrine” which gave homeowners more legal protections if they shoot an intruder and repealing a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases.

As a member of the Assembly in the 1990s, Walker sponsored a bill to legalize concealed carry and voted for a bill that pre-empted local governments from enacting tougher gun control measures than state law allowed.

Since 2010, Walker has received $3.5 million from the NRA, the most of any Wisconsin office holder, based on a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign which tracks political donations. The NRA has endorsed him in his previous elections and has given him an A rating.

Walker downplayed that NRA support when asked about it Wednesday, saying the only special interest he cares about are the people of the state.

But his critics aren’t buying that Walker’s position on guns has softened in any meaningful way.

“To know where Gov. Walker will end up, you need to follow the money and look at what he’s done, not what he’s saying today,” said Scot Ross, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.

Walker opponents say his shift on guns fits with his history of taking more moderate positions before elections and then returning to more conservative stances after he wins.

For example, in 2014 Walker said he had no interest in a right-to-work law, but after he won re-election, it was the first bill he signed into law. He also ran a television ad in that race saying he trusted women with their health care decisions, but in July 2015 signed a 20-week abortion ban into law.

“There is no one who watches public opinion more closely or is more prepared to pander on the issue of the day than election year Scott Walker,” Ross said.

Democratic lawmakers argue that now is the time for Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature to consider proposals that polls show have broad support, including universal background checks for gun purchases.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz. “While it is encouraging Governor Walker has finally acknowledged the national conversation on the epidemic of gun violence in our country, this needs to be a comprehensive, bi-partisan effort.”

Other measures Democrats want include bans on the sale of assault weapons and bump stocks and on allowing domestic abusers to own guns. They also want schools to be allowed to exceed revenue limits to spend more on security.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

West Salem/Bangor's Alex Jackson gets knocked off the puck by Eau Claire Memorial's Joe Short in front of the goal in the second period at the WIAA Boys State Hockey Tournament at the Alliant Energy Center. Memorial defeated West Salem 6-2.

Energy forum to explore transmission alternatives

Southern Wisconsin residents hoping to stop another high-voltage power line are holding a forum Friday to present an alternative to the costly — and to some unsightly — towers and lines being built through the Coulee Region in recent years.

The forum in Dodgeville will feature regional and national experts and activists, including a woman who succeeded in blocking a transmission project in West Virginia.

The goal, said organizer Rob Danielson, is to draw attention to a proposed line between Dubuque and Madison while demystifying the political process and promoting a path to a more democratized energy future.

It is sponsored by a coalition of grassroots groups and the Inter-Municipal Energy Planning Committee, which represents six towns from Vernon, Iowa, Grant and Dane counties.

“We try to understand what’s going on ... immersing ourselves in these discussions where electric customers are absent,” Danielson said. “This is customer money.”


A joint venture of American Transmission Co., ITC and Dairyland Power, Cardinal-Hickory Creek would be a 102-mile line with an estimated price tag of about $500 million. The costs would be shared by consumers from 15 states and one Canadian province, with Wisconsin customers covering about 15 percent of the cost.

ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman said the line is part of a portfolio of transmission projects that will provide better reliability, access to lower cost power and access to renewable energy.

The regional grid operator, a company known as MISO, estimates that the 17 projects will result in net annual savings that work out to about $21 a year for the average residential customer.

Danielson, a member of the IMEPC, said ATC has not provided the public with enough information to determine if the project is a good deal for ratepayers. In particular IMEPC has asked ATC to study the costs and benefits of the transmission line compared to alternatives.

Frieman said ATC has put out “a significant amount of information,” including an alternatives evaluation (reliability, access to lower cost power and access to renewable energy). That study, however, relies on MISO’s 2011 transmission expansion plan and does not include detailed cost-benefit comparisons between Cardinal-Hickory Creek and no-wire alternatives.

While a detailed analysis is required as part of the PSC permitting process, Danielson said by then it’s too late for average citizens to change the outcome.

“The only way you can really influence it is to hire a lawyer and experts and try to intervene,” he said.

And public utility commissions are often stocked with people with industry ties and who are appointed by politicians who in turn are heavily influenced by utility campaign contributions, said Bill Powers, a consultant who has served as an expert witness in numerous transmission cases, including Badger Coulee.

“The institutional deck is really stacked against opponents,” Powers said.


Cardinal-Hickory Creek would be the third such high-voltage line built through southern Wisconsin since 2015.

CapX2020, a 345-kilovolt line that connects La Crosse with the Twin Cities and Rochester by way of Alma, was the first. With a price tag of $211 million, it was part of a $2 billion multi-utility project to add about 800 miles of new transmission lines through four states.

ATC is now at work on Badger Coulee, a $560 million connection between La Crosse and Madison that is expected to be operational by the end of this year, though a challenge from the town of Holland is pending before the state appeals court.

Owners of the lines say are needed to more efficiently move electricity through southern Wisconsin and to meet future demand, although electricity use across the Midwest has been virtually flat since recovering from a nosedive during the recession of 2009.

In addition to making the system more reliable, they say, these lines facilitate the development of wind farms hundreds of miles to the west with lots of wind but few customers to use the power.

Powers, one of the scheduled speakers at Friday’s forum, argues those remote wind farms are not cost-effective.

“The fundamental problem is the unquestioned assumption that bringing in wind power from afar is the only cost-effective (solution) ... even if we have to spend billions of dollars on these 345KV lines,” he said. “There are non-transmission alternatives that are cheaper, better, faster.”

Those include local solar and wind generation coupled with energy efficiency and demand response programs that allow utilities to reduce use rather than building expensive new generators or power lines to handle infrequent spikes.

But the political system, in which utilities operating as regulated monopolies are allowed to pass the costs of infrastructure on to consumers with a guaranteed profit margin of close to 10 percent, creates an incentive for investor-owned companies to embrace “steel in the ground” strategies.

“If there’s an avenue to make a good return on investment ... that’s the default go-to approach,” Powers said.


Gary Radloff, who recently retired Director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis for the Wisconsin Energy Institute, said new technologies could upend the centralized power generation model that makes transmission lines necessary.

High-power computers, cheap solar panels and battery storage can enable linked “micro grids” where individuals could generate electricity to sell to their neighbors. Rather than selling electrons, utilities would function more as service providers, maintaining the wires and managing the system.

Radloff, one of the speakers at Friday’s forum, said it’s time for state policy makers to begin planning for a distributed generation system.

“We are really short-changing the ratepayer,” he said. “There are very few ways to save the customer money in the current system ... All this hardware and infrastructure and cost is built in.”