Wednesday, April 25th

Local

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly picked Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the next 10 years. 

Dallet crushed Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock 56 percent to 43 percent, with 44 percent of votes counted, and is the first candidate backed by liberals to win an open seat on the state's highest court since 1995. 

She replaces Justice Michael Gableman, whose decision in 2015 to not step away from a case involving the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which had spent millions to help elect Gableman, was a big reason Dallet decided to seek a seat on the court. 

Dallet, a judge for the last 10 years, campaigned largely on changing the rules that govern when judges and Supreme Court justices should recuse themselves from cases involving top campaign donors and repeatedly criticized Gableman and the court controlled by conservatives for "doing bidding" for special interests.

Despite new competition, Wisconsin’s frac sand industry has come roaring back from a slump that idled mines two years ago, fueled by a continued surge in domestic crude oil production.

“They can pretty much sell all the sand they want,” said Kent Syverson, an industry consultant and chair of the geology department at UW-Eau Claire.

After a strong 2017, U.S. frac sand demand is expected to grow again this year and could hit an all-time high in 2019, according to producers and industry analysts.

“We’re looking at a really good year,” said Rich Budinger, spokesman for the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, who noted that many idled mines are ramping up again.

But while several new projects have drawn public attention this year, industry observers don’t expect another wave of new development. Opening a new mine can take years — and millions of dollars — and new competition and oil price fluctuations mean demand might not be there by the time an operator is up and running.

The race to replace Sen. Kathleen Vinehout in the 31st Wisconsin Senate District keeps growing.

Steve Boe of Taylor, 34, announced Wednesday he will seek the Democratic nomination for the mostly rural district, which includes parts of Buffalo, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pepin, Pierce, and Trempealeau counties.

Boe

His announcement came one day after Aaron Camacho, an activist, student and Indigenous  community leader from Fountain City, announced her candidacy for the district that includes Jackson County. She is running on the Wisconsin Green Party ticket.

Last week, former assemblyman Jeff Smith, who lives south of Eau Claire, announced his candidacy in the Democratic race.

Mel Pittman, a Republican from Plum City who ran for the seat unsuccessfully four years ago, has filed his candidacy with the state Elections Commission.

Boe grew up on a family farm in western Jackson County and graduated from Blair-Taylor High School.

Legislation that would have cleared the way for a controversial frac sand operation in Monroe County is dead.

Meteor Timber wants to build a $70 million processing and loading facility that would serve a nearby mine.

Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation have challenged the state Department of Natural Resources’ decision to issue the Georgia-based company a permit to fill 16¼ acres of wetlands.

A judge is considering whether the agency followed its rules in granting the permit.

Last month, just days before a hearing on the permit, the Assembly approved provisions that would have allowed Meteor to proceed with construction in spite of the legal challenge, but that amendment was met with resistance from Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Cowles.

The Senate adjourned for the year Tuesday without taking up the amendment.

Wisconsin frac sand industry roars back, but new competition looms

Lawmakers in the Wisconsin Assembly have revived a measure that would let a controversial Monroe County frac sand operation bypass the appeals process.

Meteor Timber wants to build a $70 million processing and loading facility that would serve a nearby mine. Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation have challenged the state Department of Natural Resources’ decision to issue the Georgia-based company a permit to fill 16.25 acres of wetlands.

A judge is considering whether the agency followed its rules in granting the permit.

In the final minutes of a special session on school safety Thursday, the Assembly attached legislation allowing Meteor to proceed regardless of the judge’s decision to a Senate bill allowing some nonviolent offenders to receive occupational licenses and certificates.

The bill passed unanimously without discussion, and the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Ron Tusler, abstained. The process, captured by Wisconsin Eye, took less than 70 seconds.