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Language in budget, stimulus bill allows for quick project approval

Proposed changes in the state’s 2009-11 budget to approval processes for building projects will be for a limited time only, said state Sen. Mark Miller.

“It’s only related to projects having to do with federal stimulus money,” said the Monona Democrat who is also co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance. “Projects built with state money will still go through the same approval process.”

The budget proposal includes a paragraph saying the state will grant “(the Wisconsin Department of Administration), Building Commission, and other state agencies increased authority to award state building construction contracts notwithstanding current statutory requirements and without obtaining certain approvals required under current law.”

Although no sunset date or further details are provided, Miller said it’s merely precautionary language relating to expedited approvals for shovel-ready projects in order to meet any federal deadlines for starting projects.

“The same language was in the deficit reduction and economic stimulus bill we passed last week,” he said.

The state’s economic stimulus bill said federal stimulus-related projects could bypass legislative review if approved by the Joint Finance Committee as part of a package of projects ready for work.

Wausau moves step closer to building new college

Wausau (AP) — The Wausau City Council approved $755,000 in aid to bring Rasmussen College to town.
Developer Chuck Ghidorzi plans to break ground in April for a $3 million facility for the St. Paul, Minn., based private college that offers two- and four-year degrees and plans to accept students starting in 2010.

The city approved tax-incremental finance money to help with infrastructure improvements, such as roads, utilities and site preparations.

Officials say the project will provide 250 construction jobs.

Landowner loses appeal against utility that built transmission line

Wausau (AP) — A northern Wisconsin landowner failed in her legal fight against the builders of a high-voltage transmission line between Wausau and Duluth, Minn.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals said Tuesday that Wisconsin Public Service Corp. had the right to build the line across Patricia Andrews’ property in rural Douglas County under easements for an existing line. The ruling overturned a decision by a circuit judge.

The 345-kilovolt power line — a $420 million project across the property of about 800 private landowners — was completed in 2008.

Court records say a judge eventually allowed the utility to condemn Andrews’ property in 2007 to allow the line’s construction on her land.

The appeals court upheld a judge’s decision to dismiss Andrews’ claims seeking punitive damages from the utility regarding its actions seeking to enforce a 1972 easement.

Wisconsin tribal leader calls for road improvements to bolster tourism

Madison (AP) — State and tribal governments must work together with federal officials to improve northern Wisconsin’s infrastructure, the chairman of the Sokaogon-Chippewa American Indian tribe told the Legislature on Tuesday.

Arlyn Ackley implored legislators during the fifth annual State of the Tribes speech to help add lanes to northern Wisconsin highways in hopes of drawing Chicago tourists to the region. The state Senate and Assembly met with representatives of Wisconsin’s 11 American Indian tribes to hear the speech.

Bill would allow fraud suits over home sales, reversing decision made last year

Madison (AP) — Duped home buyers could sue the sellers for fraud under a bill approved Tuesday by the Wisconsin Senate.

The bill would reverse a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision last year that barred civil fraud lawsuits stemming from residential home sales.

Dissenting Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said the decision made Wisconsin the only state to do so and allowed sellers to “look the buyer in the eye, lie about the condition of the home, and escape legal consequences.”

The decision limited lawsuits in real estate transactions to claims of breach of contract and false advertising.

The bill restores the ability of ripped-off buyers to sue for fraud, which had been common and allows for greater damages.

January existing home sales fall by 5.3 percent nationwide; West showed increase in sales

Washington (AP) — Sales of existing homes unexpectedly plunged in January to the lowest level in nearly 12 years.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes fell 5.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.49 million last month, from 4.74 million in December. It was the weakest showing since July 1997.

Without adjusting for seasonal factors, sales nationwide fell 7.6 percent from a year earlier. The West was the only part of the country to show increased sales.

Toshiba to build two Texas nuclear plants that will be running by 2016-17

Tokyo (AP) — Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp. said Wednesday it will construct two nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Toshiba’s U.S. subsidiary signed an agreement to build the plants for the South Texas Project — a nuclear power facility being expanded by NRG Energy Inc. and CPS Energy, the electricity utility for San Antonio, Texas.

The plants, each to have a capacity of 1,400 megawatts, are scheduled to start operations in 2016, and 2017.
They will be the first in the U.S. that are advanced boiling water reactors.

U.K. homebuilder Barratt reports six-month loss of more than $600 million

London (AP) — Barratt Developments PLC, Britain’s second-biggest house builder by volume, reported Wednesday a half-year loss of $618.5 million as it took a massive hit on the value of its land and work in progress amid a depressed property market.

Barratt reported the loss in the six months ending Dec. 31, its fiscal first half. Revenue fell 14 percent.

Barratt said it completed 6,905 housing units in the first half, down 24 percent from the previous year, and the average selling price fell by 9.7 percent. In the last six weeks, the company said it was averaging a sale every other week at each site, up 20 percent from mid-2008.

China to slash nonferrous metals capacity due to slumping demand

Shanghai (AP) — China plans to slash annual output capacity of nonferrous metals by 1.5 million tons in the next three years, part of a wider plan to restructure and upgrade major industries including automakers and steel, a report said Wednesday.

The plan, due for cabinet approval and release soon, is intended to reduce excess output of nonferrous metals. State media reports say similar guidelines call for consolidation of smaller steelmakers and automakers into larger, more competitive industrial groups.

Over the next three years, 800,000 tons of annual aluminum smelting capacity, 300,000 tons of copper refining capacity and 400,000 tons of zinc smelting capacity would be eliminated under the plan.
Three to five major nonferrous metals groups would be formed through consolidation of smaller smelters.

The plan would continue a process of consolidation that has left state-run, publicly listed giants like Aluminum Corp. of China to dominate such industries.

China’s economic planners were complaining about excess factory capacity in many industries, including aluminum smelting, long before demand for China’s exports plunged last autumn, slowing consumption of many industrial inputs including metals.

China already has suspended about 20 percent of its aluminum-making capacity due to slumping demand, with production expected to reach nearly 14 million tons this year, up 3 percent from last year.

China had 160 million tons in excess steel producing capacity in 2008, with total output at about 500 million tons, according to industry figures.

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