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Rory O'Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune 

A skier decends while competing in the 94th annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament on Saturday in Westby.

Reaping the spoils on the Super Bowl fringe

HUDSON, Wis. — Brooke Fleetwood is still hoping to rent out her elaborate pink Victorian mansion for $7,250 a night, which includes the stripper pole in the living room.

At Pier 500, one of Hudson’s largest and most popular restaurants, space heaters typically used for ice shacks are being used to warm clear, plastic igloos on the outdoor deck, where diners can share baskets of walleye nuggets, brie cheese curds and chicken meatballs the size of a tennis ball.

Hotel rooms here are going for as much as $500 a night for those lucky enough to have Super Bowl tickets. And in nearby New Richmond, the regional airport, about a 45-minute drive to U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, is set to cater to more than two dozen private jets. They include a Global 5000 from Van Nuys, Calif., that has a top speed of 590 mph and will be carrying at least one celebrity who is universally recognizable.

“I can’t say, sorry,” said Mike Demulling, the airport’s director, when asked about the star’s identity. “We’re sworn to secrecy.”

There are no banners welcoming New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles fans and for much of this week, there have been few signs in St. Croix County that the NFL’s biggest event is happening an easy commute from downtown Hudson. It’s the equivalent of driving from Verona to Sun Prairie, although with a bit more traffic and the crossing of the St. Croix River instead of the Yahara.

But homeowners and businesses in this county of 87,513 people that split their allegiances between the Packers and Vikings are hoping to cash in even though their favorite teams aren’t in the big game. The degree to which they profit, however, likely won’t be known until Sunday night.

“It’ll be fun to have some new guests that have probably never been to our area,” said Mary Weller, Hudson’s tourism director who has lived in the city of 12,719 for 32 years. “Everybody has their opinion (on the economic impact). I figured we would have rooms rented, and there were some people who thought we wouldn’t rent out any rooms. I didn’t think we’d be sold out, but I figured we have rooms rented, and we do.”

Hudson as ‘a destination’

At the 66-room Comfort Suites hotel along Interstate 94, a few rooms for the weekend were still available Thursday for $259 per night, about $150 above the typical rate. Next door, at the 83-room Hampton Inn & Suites, all of the rooms have been booked for the weekend for $499 a night, which requires a three-night minimum stay, beginning Friday. On most winter weekends, the hotel, which opened in 2016 and includes a saltwater pool, is crawling with youth hockey families from around the Midwest. But this weekend, the guest list will include visitors from Manchester, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia; Las Vegas; Laguna Beach, California; and Houston, Texas.

Complimentary breakfasts are served year-round at the hotel, but on Friday night, there will be free chicken wings and pizza from the Green Mill restaurant across the street all in an effort to welcome a once-in-a-generation crowd.

“I’m hoping (the Super Bowl) at least really shows people Hudson, as a destination spot,” said Wade Scribner, the hotel’s general manager. “It would be great to get them to come back. It is a beautiful town.”

The city’s historic downtown is located along the river and over the last several years has been rejuvenated with bars and restaurants, art galleries, clothing stores and gift shops. There are plans to improve public access to the river and make upgrades to the docks and the dike. The former Post Office building here has been converted to a bar and restaurant, while Knoke’s Chocolates & Nuts, an awarding winning chocolate and ice cream shop fancied by Martha Stewart, is located across the street. LoLo American Kitchen & Craft Bar opened in fall 2016 on the south side of the downtown.

Just a few blocks to the north, Justin Terberst and Brian Priefer opened Hop & Barrel Brewing Co. in December. It features an 18-barrel brewing system and will soon have its own canning line. The tasting room looks over Second Street South and serves up IPAs like Hudson Haze and Hudson Fog along with Minnesconsin Lager, a nod to the border.

This weekend is typically reserved for the Hudson Hot Air Affair, one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in the Midwest, but the event was moved to last weekend because of the Super Bowl. Terbest had big crowds for the balloon festival but doubts the Super Bowl will mean similar business at his brewery.

“I think within certain circles in the Twin Cities, people are making a lot of money off of it,” Terbest said. “I think out this far, you’d have to be something pretty unique or a hotel or a place to rest your head. I don’t really foresee us or too many restaurants making a lot of extra off of it. Maybe it would have been a little different had a local team made it in, but I don’t think we’ll see much more business.”

Homeowners try to cash in

Homeowners in Wisconsin are also trying to cash in on the Super Bowl. Several properties are listed on sites like Air B&B and Vacation Rental By Owner. They include a one-bedroom, one-bath cottage on Hudson’s north side for $106 a night and a four-bedroom home on the city’s south side for $1,250 a night with a five-night minimum. There’s also a three-bedroom luxury home for six guests going for $8,000 a night just off the interstate. But the most eye-popping property is slightly less expensive but in Hudson’s historic district.

The 4,400-square-foot, four-bedroom home built in 1883 has been owned for the last three years by Fleetwood, 29, who has her own beauty business and line of makeup and skin care products, and her husband, John Stern, a contractor. The house, which is painted pink, can sleep 10 people, includes a workout room, is filled with pink and purple wallpaper, oversized ornate furniture and the stripper pole in the living room. There’s also access to two pink Cadillac Escalades and a Mercedes Benz. The litter of five Shar-Pei puppies born late last month will be temporarily moved, but the globes of goldfish that hang on the purple kitchen wall will remain.

“It’s got to be a celebrity with money,” Fleetwood said, when asked about likely tenants during a tour of the home. “I got the idea from a client and figured why not. Let’s see if it rents. People are here for football, so they’ll have to like pink. There will have to be some girls involved.”

About 20 miles to the northeast, the New Richmond Regional Airport, which is advertising itself as “your Super Bowl ready airport,” is expecting about 25 private jets that will pay anywhere from $70 to $250 per day to park, but will also have access to fuel and de-icing services. Some arrived Thursday, with others landing as late as Sunday. Departures on the 5,507-foot runway are scheduled for late Sunday through Tuesday but, due to the increased air traffic around the Twin Cities this weekend, the airport is limited to one take off and one landing per hour.

“Getting out of this area is the big challenge. Everybody’s looking for that preferred time slot,” said Demulling, who will be living in the airport through Tuesday and has a team of 20 volunteers helping with airport operations. Some are giving up their own hangars for the weekend. “We’re really getting about five to six weeks of business in one weekend. To me, it’s a chance to utilize the airport to its fullest potential.”

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USGS: Sand production up 36 percent in 2017; Wisconsin tops in the nation

Domestic production of industrial sand increased more than 36 percent in 2017 as Wisconsin again led the nation, according to new numbers from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Total U.S. production was about 105 million metric tons, worth an estimated $3.5 billion, according to the agency’s 2017 Mineral Commodity report released Thursday. That’s up from about 77 million tons the previous year but still below the peak in 2014.

The average price of sand in 2017 was about $33 per ton, down slightly from the previous year. That figure represents the value of sand at the mine and doesn’t include shipping costs.

Altogether Wisconsin produced about $1.5 billion worth of minerals, principally industrial sand. Only 14 states produced minerals worth more.

The report does not include state-level numbers, but between 2013 and 2015 Wisconsin produced about a third of the nation’s industrial sand, according to USGS data. There are currently 92 active sand mines in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The report indicates the industry enjoyed a rebound from 2016, when Wisconsin sand producers were idling mines and laying off dozens of workers.

“Generally 2016 was a pretty low year,” said Thomas Dolley, a mineral commodity specialist.

The increase was primarily driven by activity in the oil and gas industries, which use about 63 percent of total domestic consumption, according to the agency’s 2017 Mineral Commodity report.

Silica sand, which is abundant in western Wisconsin, is mixed with a cocktail of water and chemicals and injected into the earth, where the grains prop open cracks in rocks to release gas and oil in a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Industrial sand is also used in foundries and for glass, abrasives and filters.

Increased oil and gas drilling was a major factor in the increase, while more efficient fracking techniques, which require more sand per well, also boosted demand.

“In any given year it’s always with the activity in the oil patch,” Dolley said. “If that’s up, sand production will be up.”

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Central's Terrance Thompson lays up a shot in front of Holmen's Jimmy Gillespie in the first half.

Town of Onalaska woman placed on probation for animal mistreatment

A town of Onalaska woman charged with 29 crimes after authorities discovered children and emaciated animals living in squalor on her property will serve one year on probation.

Linda West, 75, pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts of mistreatment of animals as party to the crime, while the remaining charges were dismissed but considering during her sentencing Thursday in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

Attorneys jointly recommended she serve probation, a resolution reached in mediation. West must also pay $1,800 restitution — a fraction of what was spent housing and caring for the animals — to the Coulee Region Humane Society. She cannot have contact with animals while on supervision.

“I think (the resolution) sends a message that this type of behavior will be prosecuted,” Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez said.

Carol West

Her daughter, 38-year-old Carol West, is charged with the same 29 crimes: two counts of child neglect, six counts of felony mistreating animals and 21 counts of misdemeanor mistreating animals, all as party to the crime. Her case is pending.

Authorities on Oct. 19, 2016 seized 44 rats, 16 horses, eight dogs and one cat from the Wests’ property at N5788 Hauser Road after a neighbor reported their horses tore up his grass. Most were emaciated after having survived living in feces-laden locked plastic kennels or corrals without water, according to the complaint. Veterinarians treated their wide-ranging injuries and conditions.

Carol West’s two children, ages 8 and 11, also lived at the house, which smelled overwhelmingly of urine and feces. An animal control officer choked on the odor, and deputies wore gas masks during a search of the property.

Authorities described the living conditions as “deplorable” with only narrow pathways through debris and a kitchen covered with garbage and dirty dishes. There were 32 dead rats in a freezer.

The county’s health department condemned the house but later lifted the order when the property met the minimum acceptable living standards.

All but two of the animals were adopted or placed with rescue groups, Coulee Region Animal Control Supervisor Kathy KasaKaitas said. Two horses that suffered from untreatable medical conditions were euthanized.

Neighbors and witnesses for 20 years have reported Linda West; since 2012, she was cited 12 times for having livestock running at large and once for having an unburied animal carcass.

West did not make a statement at her sentencing.

Linda West

Carol West