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gets the nod

UW-L liked what it saw in interim men’s basketball coach  SPORTS, PAGE B1

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

An immature bald eagle, likely 2 to 3 years old judging by its plumage, flies Monday over the Black River in La Crosse. 

New rules proposed for commercial users on Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge

Federal wildlife officials are proposing a revised set of rules for guides and others who make a living on the Upper Mississippi River.

Draft rules released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would impose new fee schedules but limit the amount of money collected from fishing floats and commercial hunting, fishing and wildlife guides.

The move comes more than a year and a half after the Fish and Wildlife Service rolled out updates to its 10-year-old comprehensive plan for the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The documents, known as “compatibility determinations,” cover more than a dozen uses, such as camping, boating and swimming as well as foraging, archaeological surveys and livestock grazing along more than 261 miles of the river between Wabasha, Minn., and Rock Island, Ill.

The Fish and Wildlife Service adopted 16 updates with only minor changes and few public comments, but guides and fishing float owners balked at the proposed fees, and state governments challenged federal jurisdiction on navigable waters.

Under the new rules, float owners and commercial hunting and fishing guides will pay a $100 administrative fee plus per-client fees ranging from 60 cents to $6 a day with a cap of $500 per year. Wildlife observation guides will have fees capped at $300 per year.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had previously proposed to take 3 percent of gross revenues, which owners considered an unauthorized tax, with a $500 minimum payment.

The new rules will relax fees on waterfowl guides, most of whom had been paying $700 a year, Refuge Manager Sabrina Chandler said.

The agency said the existing $100 fee, which has not been increased in more than 45 years, was not enough to cover the cost of administration and enforcement.

Mark Clements, owner of Clements Fishing Barge in Genoa, said the revisions are an improvement over the previous draft though he’s unhappy with the fees, which he considers a tax.

“I’m not saying I shouldn’t pay more,” Clements said. “They’re picking on certain groups of businesses. There’s a lot of other businesses that utilize the refuge. But they’re not able to go after them at this point. They’re going after the ones they can.”

Three licensed fishing floats serve about 14,000 customers per year on refuge land near Trempealeau, Dresbach and Genoa. Fish and Wildlife said they are popular among anglers who don’t have access to boats, though the agency does not plan to allow any new floats.

Based on complaints and reported conflicts, the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to issue six licenses for hunting guides who will now be able to work in all of the refuge’s pools.

Fish and Wildlife will not put a cap on commercial fishing guides. Chandler said once the determination is adopted the service will begin trying to identify the 37 guides believed to be working in the refuge. The primary concern for guided fishing is the potential for conflict with other users.

The service has licensed six wildlife observation guides and predicts the demand for their services will result in more commercial operators.

The determinations are an update to the refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Adopted in 2006 after four years of planning and significant public controversy, the CCP was an attempt to balance the needs of wildlife and the 3.7 million people who use the 240,000-acre refuge each year for fun, sport and commerce.

State officials in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin registered concerns with elements of the plans.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources warned any increase in regulation would be met with public resistance and create more work for DNR staff.

“These groups are managed by the state of Iowa and are already vocal and time consuming customers,” wrote Randall Schultz, supervisor of Mississippi River Resource Management.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources objected to any federal regulation of commercial or recreational fishing within the state’s boundaries. In particular, the state argued, the federal government cannot require special-use permits for professional fishing guides because the state reserved those rights when it allowed the federal government to establish the refuge in 1925.

The Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated language that prohibited guides from harvesting fish, agreeing that authority rests with the state but said, “we disagree that Wisconsin retains exclusive authority to regulate the commercial aspect of this activity.”

Aaron Buchholz, the DNR’s deputy division administrator for fish, wildlife and parks, said the revised rules addressed the state’s substantive concerns.

“There’s still a lot of things we agree to disagree on,” Buchholz said.

Photos: 400 miles of the Mississippi

Photos: 400 miles of the Mississippi

Francis at 5: Paradigm shift in mercy, migrants and marriage

VATICAN CITY — Whenever Pope Francis visits prisons, during his whirlwind trips to the world’s peripheries or at a nearby jailhouse in Rome, he always tells inmates that he, too, could have ended up behind bars: “Why you and not me?” he asks.

That humble empathy and the ease with which he walks in others’ shoes has won Francis admirers around the globe and confirmed his place as a consummate champion of the poor and disenfranchised.

But as he marks the fifth anniversary of his election today and looks ahead to an already troubled 2018, Francis faces criticism for both the merciful causes he has embraced and the ones he has neglected. With women and sex abuse topping the latter list, a consensus view is forming that history’s first Latin American pope is perhaps a victim of unrealistic expectations and his own culture.

Nevertheless, Francis’ first five years have been a dizzying introduction to a new kind of pope, one who prizes straight talk over theology and mercy over morals — all for the sake of making the Church a more welcoming place for those who have felt excluded.

“I think he’s fantastic, very human, very simple,” Marina Borges Martinez, a 77-year-old retiree, said as she headed into evening Mass at a church in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “I think he’s managed to bring more people into the church with the way he is.”

Many point to his now famous “Who am I to judge?” comment about a gay priest as the turning point that disaffected Catholics had longed for and were unsure they would ever see.

Others hold out Francis’ cautious opening to allowing Catholics who remarry outside the church to receive Communion as his single most revolutionary step. It was contained in a footnote to his 2016 document “The Joy of Love.”

“I have met people who told me they returned to the Catholic faith because of this pope,” Ugandan Archbishop John Baptist Odama, who heads the local conference of Catholic bishops, said.

“Simple as he may be, he has passed a very powerful message about our God who loves everybody and who wants the salvation of everyone.”

Another area in which Francis has sought change extends into global politics, with his demand for governments and individuals to treat migrants as brothers and sisters in need, not as threats to society’s wellbeing and security.

After a visit to a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, Francis brought a dozen Syrian Muslim refugees home with him on the papal plane. The Vatican has turned over three apartments to refugee families. Two African migrants recently joined the Vatican athletics team.

His call has gone largely unanswered in much of Europe and the United States, though, where opposing immigration has become a tool in political campaigns. Italians in the pope’s backyard voted overwhelmingly this month for parties that have promised to crack down on migration, including with forced expulsions.

The Pew Research Center found that while Francis still enjoys a consistently high 84 percent favorability ratings among U.S. Catholics, an increasing number on the political right believe him to be “too liberal” and naive. Despite all the talk of “the Francis effect” bringing Catholics back to church, Pew found no evidence of a rise in self-proclaimed Catholics or Mass-goers.

Whether he ultimately will be remembered as a unifying or divisive figure, the world has gotten to know the man formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina who emerged on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica as pope on March 13, 2013, and quipped that his brother cardinals had to search to the “end of the Earth” to find a new leader.

There have been magical moments: When Francis wept hearing the life story of an Albanian priest who was tortured during communist rule, and later made the clergyman a cardinal. When his whispery voice weakened as he met with Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees and told them, “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”

But not all are pleased.

When Francis created room for remarried Catholics to receive Communion, a few dozen traditionalist academics and clergy accused him of heresy. Four of his cardinals formally asked for clarification. Conservatives in the U.S. and Europe wrung their hands trying to square how Christ’s vicar on Earth could seemingly condone adultery under the guise of mercy.

“At the end of the day, ‘The Joy of Love’ is the result of a new paradigm that Pope Francis is bringing forward,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said. “Probably the difficulty that exists in the church is due to this change of attitude that the pope is asking for.”

One cause Francis is accused of neglecting reared its head last week. A coalition of Catholic women gathered at Francis’ own Jesuit headquarters in Rome to demand he provide women with a voice and a place at the decision-making table in the Catholic Church.

“Women’s right to equality arises organically from divine justice. It does not and should not depend on ad hoc papal benevolence or magnaminity,” former Irish President Mary McAleese said.

To be fair, Francis appointed a study commission on ordaining women deacons. He has named a woman to head the Vatican City’s biggest cash cow, the Vatican Museums. He empowered ordinary priests, not just bishops, to absolve women who have had abortions and put Mary Magdalene on par with the male apostles by declaring a feast day in her honor.

But no woman heads a Holy See office, no woman sits on his kitchen cabinet. The Vatican’s women’s magazine ran a scathing expose this month of how nuns are treated like indentured servants by the bishops and cardinals they serve.

The other major unmet expectation is on the clerical sex abuse front. Francis set the bar high when he vowed “zero tolerance” for abuse, created an ad-hoc commission of experts to advise him and publicly pledged that bishops would be held accountable when they botched cases.

But he scrapped a planned tribunal to judge those bishops, allowed his advisory commission to lapse and most recently, shocked even his closest advisers by callously dismissing accusations of cover-up lodged by victims of Chile’s most notorious predator priest.

The episode further cemented the impression that the 81-year-old Jesuit simply hasn’t grasped how important the scandal is in many parts of the world, and how his papacy will be judged by it.

Tritium found in groundwater at former Genoa nuclear plant

The company charged with decommissioning a shuttered nuclear power plant in Genoa has reported elevated levels of radioactive material in groundwater.

LaCrosseSolutions, a subsidiary of the nuclear waste disposal company EnergySolutions, announced Monday that it had detected elevated levels of tritium in a monitoring well near the former reactor building.

According to a report filed with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, EnergySolutions reported a reading of 24,200 picocuries per liter in water taken from a monitoring well on Feb. 1. The water was tested by an independent lab on Feb. 14.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter, although the monitoring well was just 25 feet below the surface and not used for human consumption.

“Based on the information we have so far this should not have any impact on public health and safety,” said Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng.

EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said off-site wells have not been tested because the contamination appears to be contained in shallow water on site.

Mitlyng said NRC inspectors were on site when the tritium was discovered and are working with LaCrosseSolutions to determine the cause. The environmental consulting firm Haley & Aldrich has been contracted to assist in further testing and to develop a groundwater monitoring plan.

LaCrosseSolutions has stopped dismantling the containment tower as inspectors try to figure out what caused the leak, but Walker said other decommissioning activities are continuing.

Dairyland Power Cooperative workers at the neighboring coal-fired generator were instructed to stop drinking well water on March 6, although test results received Monday indicated water from the on-site well is safe to drink, according to LaCrosseSolutions.

Tritium is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen that emits a weak form of radiation that doesn’t travel far and cannot penetrate the skin, according to the NRC.

Dairyland, which operated the 50-megawatt La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor from 1967 to 1987, transferred the site license to LaCrosseSolutions in 2016 to complete the decommissioning process, which was expected to be completed later this year at a cost of about $85 million.

Under the agreement, LaCrosseSolutions will remove everything down to three feet below ground and return the clean site to the La Crosse-based utility. Exposure to radiation at the cleaned site must be below the NRC’s acceptable level of 25 millirem per year from a single source, which is about 2½ times the exposure from a chest X-ray.

The nuclear reactor vessel was removed in 2007 and taken to a burial site in South Carolina. In 2012, after six years of planning, the spent fuel rods were encased in dry storage casks that will remain in Genoa until the government opens a long-term storage facility.

Note: This story has been updated to correct the date on which elevated levels of tritium were discovered and to accurately reflect the EPA limit for tritium in drinking water.