Empty Bowls cancelled in Bigfork, but the event goes virtual

March 26, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    One of the casualties of the COVID-19 virus social distancing is an annual event crucial to the food shelf in Bigfork. It would have been the 16th annual Empty Bowls soup luncheon last Thursday, March 19.

    But undaunted, the luncheon is still on – as a virtual event. Freewill donations can be dropped off at the window of First State Bank in Bigfork or mailed to the bank as “Food Shelf Donation” at P.O. Box 257, Bigfork, MN 56628. For more information, visit Facebook and search for Bigfork Empty Bowls.

    Empty Bowls has been the only fundraiser during the year hosted by the food shelf and usually raises $4,000 to $5,000 for needed food purchases, according to volunteer Bonnie Cole. 

    The North Itasca Emergency Food Shelf serves about 50 families a month; last January it served 68, a monthly high for the food shelf which started in 1985. Last year, 552 households were served, 31,470 pounds of food distributed and $24,723 was spent to provide the service.

     The food shelf is open every Thursday from 12:30 to 3 p.m., and it hasn’t missed a Thursday in the 35 years it has been serving the community, said Cole. It has changed locations, however; today it is housed in the historic Bigfork City Hall and accessed from the north door.

    Social distancing has changed the food shelf’s distribution practice for now. Clients are met at the door with a prepacked box with enough food for three days of healthy meals. For more information, call the food shelf at 218-743-3381.

    “Keep those hands washed so we can meet up and taste all the fabulous food in 2021,” says a post on the Facebook page. “Please share this information, not germs.”

Bigfork Council hears about proposed MnDOT demonstration project

March 19, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    Bigfork has received the first Telecommuter Forward! designation in Minnesota. The award will be presented by the president on Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Department of Employment and Economic Development on Monday, March 30, 2 p.m. at City Hall. 

    During the public forum, the city heard from resident Gary Erickson that there is still confusion about agreements governing properties, including validity of the certificate of completion and homeowners’ association, and taxes paid by residents on outlots although not recorded on deeds. He offered a list of steps to resolve the issues, explaining that residents wanting to sell need the information for disclosure statements. He said he was advised to get a lawyer and questioned why this would be necessary to clarify the agreements.

    The city council heard from two Minnesota Department of Transportation representatives on a proposed temporary demonstration project ahead of the 2023 street repaving, curb and gutter, and sidewalk project in Bigfork. 

    Project managers Randy Costley and Derek Fredrickson said that Highway 38 through the north half of Bigfork would be redesigned with temporary painting to try out some concepts to enhance safety, especially for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The concepts to be tried out would be selected working closely with the council and be operational for two to three months starting this July. Citizen input would be encouraged to evaluate the ideas for possible inclusion in the final project. 

    Some of the ideas include bump outs at selected crossing points. Currently the curb-to-curb distance is 79.5 feet, said Costly, which means additional time pedestrians are on the road, especially if elderly. Signage is also difficult for cars to see beyond the parked cars. Additional items might be bike lanes, a center turn lane or back-in angle parking. The latter increases safety when cars pull forward into traffic when leaving a parking space and load through doors that open toward the sidewalk. 

    Communities are competing for demonstration project funding, the MNDOT speakers said, but Bigfork is the project that has floated to the top in District 1. Moving forward is dependent on Bigfork’s interest and funding. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Approved Feb. 21 and March 6 payroll, election judge payments, and claims paid and claims for payment of $243,442.28, including about $118,000 of bond proceeds designated for the 2020 road construction project engineer. The claims for payment in the Jan. 9 minutes was corrected to $86,482.71.

    • Took no action on the second amended and restated development agreement between the city and Mike Kocian regarding the Scenic Estates development. 

    • Amended Title V of the Code of Ordinances to add access to water meters for installation, repair or replacement and require a $20 monthly surcharge if access is not granted within two months after road restrictions are lifted.

    • Heard that Widseth Smith Nolting Engineers were successful in requesting an increase for $70,000 in the LRIP grant from the state for the Ash Street road project because of previously unknown soil deficiencies. The company is looking at ways to reduce the scope and bring costs in line with funding.

    • Heard that a schedule for the Comprehensive 10 Year Plan Update will include three public meetings set toward the end of July. The process will use a facilitator from the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission.

    • Heard that one or two streetlights have been requested by a resident for the Scenic Estate Development. 

    • Heard from Mark Lallak, communications lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Department that connection to the county’s video webcam system was possible but expensive for monitoring. He recommended scheduling a visit to the dispatch center at the Grand Rapids airport to see the system in operation. 

    The next city council meeting is scheduled for April 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the city hall.

Grand Rapids City Council hears criticism of city actions around Human Rights Commission meeting

March 05, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    In its Feb. 24 meeting, the Grand Rapids City Council heard a report from the Police Department, held two public hearings and heard from comments from citizens on administrative handling of an incident pertaining to the Human Rights Commission.

    In the public forum, Human Rights Commissioner Whitney Leming-Salisbury resigned her appointment, citing sensational overreacting and lack of support from city administration over a recent incident. An agenda for a meeting was posted without commission chair approval and then uploaded to social media and “where it faced a firestorm of pejorative comments from a local group, Itasca Taxpayers Alliance,” she said. When too many emails were distributed by a concerned commissioner, City Administrator Tom Pagel canceled the meeting for violation of open meeting law. It was understood that many outside people would be attending the next meeting. Leming-Salisbury also cited the tone of correspondence from City Attorney Chad Sterle’s office which was seeking personal emails between commissioners and city officials for a data request from John Casper. 

    Six additional citizens supported Leming-Salisbury in the public forum, emphasizing that the commission should be a safe place for discussion, and that the commission was made up of volunteers willing to come together for community betterment. 

    After the forum, Mayor Pro Tem Dale Christy thanked the public for coming to the meeting. “We will certainly discuss this at a council level,” he said. “The council has heard loud and clear your thoughts today.”

    Chief Scott Johnson reviewed Police Department activity during 2019.The department has 20 officers with an average age of 38 and average experience of 15 years. It also has 25 additional support personnel and volunteers. The department fields about 10,500 calls per year. Most incident categories decreased last year, with drug and blight calls increasing. Department personnel spent 1,721 hours in training. 

    In its first public hearing, the council considered rezoning two properties from Public Use, Shoreland Public Use, Shoreland Medical and Shoreland One-Family Residential to Shoreland R4 Multifamily Residential High Density for development of a 120 unit senior living community, The Pillars. Separately, Oppidan Holdings, LLC and Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital submitted a final plat that was approved by the council. 

    An owner of an adjacent property, the Garden Court Chateau with 25 residents, spoke of the dust, and burning and tarring smells experienced during the school construction which affected the welfare of the residents and asked for greater physical spacing from the Chateau. Community Development Director Rob Mattei addressed the question of setback. 

    Mattei also addressed email comments from a landowner planning a new house who objected to the rezoning. He said that the developer had agreed to additional tree screening.

    In its second public hearing the council considered a revised Comprehensive Plan, “Grow Grand Rapids 2040,” presented by Stephanie Falkers of SRF Consulting who worked with the steering committee and others. The Planning Commission had conducted a public hearing on Feb. 6. Falkers said that in the survey, residents considered neighborhood scale retail and mixed use as most important in future development and the former K-Mart site as a primary location for development. They felt public transportation needed improvement and revitalizing existing and single family homes as most important under housing. There were no public comments and the plan was approved.

    In other business, the council:

    • Approved claims for Feb. 4 to Feb. 17, 2020 totaling $836,504.02.

    • Reappointed members with expiring terms on boards and commissions and appointed new member Kelly Kirwin to the Pokegama Golf Course board. 

    • Appointed Bradley Timm to part-time hospital security officer and authorized the creation of an eligibility list for the position to fill in for shifts.

    • Approved a multi-use trail route along Highway 2 between 20th Ave. NW to 23rd Ave. NW.

    • Approved an on-sale liquor license for No-Po Coffee, LLC and temporary liquor license for the Itasca Economic Development Corporation for an event on March 18.

    • Accepted the resignation of Greg Chandler from the Public Utilities Commission and authorized filling the position for the remaining term through March 1, 2021.

    The next city council meeting will be on Monday, March 9 at 5 p.m. in the Grand Rapids City Council Chambers.

Itasca County Board targets March 17 to choose jail option

February 27, 2020

   At its Feb. 20 meeting of the county board jail committee, the Itasca County Board decided to target the March 17 work session for a final decision on which jail option to pursue. That date will still put the project at least a month behind the initial timeline, but allows time to look at major cost items such as land acquisition.

    The board also decided to call a meeting of stakeholders in the justice system to look at how things would work within the new structure. Commissioner Terry Snyder pointed out, “If we’re going to make an investment into our infrastructure, we need to look at the system that’s inside that infrastructure and make sure that we’re doing the right things.” Sheriff Vic Williams also suggested that legislators be contacted since they review and set sentencing guidelines which determines length of stay.

IRRR Business Energy Retrofit Grant Program helps firms pay for upgrades

February 13, 2020

By Lee Bloomquist

 

    Business partners Nick and Jen Gigliotti and Joel and Candice Sjogren knew what they were up against when in October 2018 they purchased an early 1900s building in need of work on Chisholm’s Lake Street.

    The roof leaked. A garage-type heater kept the building’s first floor warm, but not the second floor.  And no cooling meant the inside of the building felt like a sauna from May into October.

    In order to open a modern fitness center, the building needed major energy improvements.

    With assistance from the Minnesota Department of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Business Energy Retrofit Grant Program, 30West Fitness and Recreation is open and thriving.

    “We’re a new business and we’re being supported,” said co-owner Nick Gigliotti. “If we hadn’t done the retrofit, we knew it just would not have worked.”

    The eight-year old grant program assists businesses within the IRRR service area to fund energy efficiency improvements.

    What started as a pilot program in Hibbing has grown into one of the economic development agency’s most utilized business assistance programs.

    Since 2013, the program has provided grants totaling $5.25 million to 307 businesses. That’s helped fund $19 million in energy efficiency projects at businesses within the agency’s 13,000 square-mile service area.

    In 2019 alone, the program provided $1.25 million in grants to 82 businesses. That funding created more than $8.6 million in energy efficiency projects.

    It’s a program designed to boost the sustainability of local businesses by saving energy costs. It helps keep northeastern Minnesota’s main streets alive.

    “We know the cost to rehab existing buildings is high,” said Whitney Ridlon of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation development. “To ensure that existing businesses and downtowns are being utilized, this program helps offset the high costs and helps them save energy.” 

    The Virginia-based Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), which oversees a variety of housing and business rehabilitation programs within Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, administers the initiative. 

    “It’s been really successful in my opinion,” said Vince Meyer, AEOA commercial and multi-family production lead. “I would say that 40 percent of the businesses wouldn’t be able to move forward with what they wanted to do without the program.”

    Businesses can fund projects such as new LED lighting, heating, cooling, on-demand water systems, windows, doors, insulation and roofs.    

    The program provides a maximum grant of $20,000 to cover up to one-third the project’s costs.

    A primary goal is to help businesses reduce utility bills and reduce operating costs.

    Coupled with investment from each business, the program helps companies remain competitive, employ local people and provide services to local residents.   

    The program started in 2013 with $250,000 in funding. But it’s popularity has since grown into budgets of $500,000 to $750,000 per year. In 2019, the program was budgeted at an all-time high $1.25 million. In each of the program’s eight years, its annual budget has been fully allocated.

    For 2020, 53 projects are already funded, said Ridlon.

    “I think there’s a lot of word of mouth going on,” said Ridlon. “Rudy’s in Aurora just inquired about the program after they heard about Boomtown using it. When you look at the list of who has been helped, it’s a lot of existing service businesses that are locally owned and employ local people.”

    Meyer says the location of businesses utilizing the program has changed since its inception.

    “Once it opened up in 2014 to the entire TAA (Taconite Assistance Area), it was kind of 70 percent downtown businesses and 30 percent everywhere else,” said Meyer. “But now, it seems to be more downtown businesses than folks on the outskirts. It’s a good example of fixing up the downtowns.”

    In 2019, the list of businesses using the program included restaurants, a bakery, day care provider, resort, lumber yard, recreational retailer, meat processor, maple syrup producer, senior center, YMCA, dentist, newspaper office, auto dealer, car wash, bank, furniture store and others.

    Without the program, the Gigliotti’s and Sjogren’s couldn’t successfully operate the fitness center, said Gigliotti.

    To help open the facility, a new roof was installed along with new heating and cooling systems and LED lighting.  

    “For the cost of things, we would have never been able to do it ourselves,” said Gigliotti. “We would have had to take out a loan, which would have really set us back. What I like about the grant so much is that it understands reality. That little bit of help was what we needed in order to do what we needed to do.”    

     

    Beyond IRR and business owner funding, a variety of energy efficiency rebates are also available to businesses through the region’s electric utility providers, along with other funding sources, said Meyer.

    “There’s so many other opportunities for these businesses to leverage funds,” said Meyer. “What’s good about this program is that it helps businesses get to know the other leverage funders that are out there.”

    Application information for the program is available on the IRR and AEOA web sites.

    “It’s super easy on the front end,” Ridlon said of the application process. “Being very easy on the front end is helpful for businesses. The program can really help you do your whole storefront. And the amount of money some of them are saving is insane.”  

    For the Gigliotti’s and Sjogren’s, development of 30West Fitness and Recreation is not just about opening a new business.  It’s about creating a new healthy quality-of-life amenity for residents, entrepreneurship, injecting new life into downtown Chisholm, and preserving a stately building.

    “We just wanted to breathe life into it,” said Gigliotti. “Especially, this building – it’s got so much life to live.”

Lake Country Power outlines future at district meetings

February 06, 2020

By Beth Bily

    Lake Country Power executives hope to get through 2020 without a general rate increase and plan to deploy more technology in this and the coming years to deliver rural electrical service more effectively.

    LCP’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Bakk kicked off the first of a series of district meetings in January just north of Grand Rapids by noting that the only rate changes planned for 2020 at this point were Energy Wise rate changes, which include dual fuel and off-peak programs. 

    Bakk did note, however, that the electrical cooperative, which services nearly 50,000 customers in northeastern Minnesota, is in the midst of a cost of service analysis. The outcome of that study will guide future rate decisions, he said. 

    Because Minnesota is in a bonding and election year, state lawmakers weren’t likely to take up significant policy changes in this session, Bakk said. While the coop has increasingly provided new renewable energy options – such as wind and solar – executives are not in favor of power mix quotas coming from state lawmakers. 

    “We’re opposed to mandates and affordability has to be part of the discussion,” Bakk said.

    Currently, 50 percent of the Great River Energy power mix is carbon free and plans are in place to deliver 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Great River Energy is not-for-profit wholesale power provider owned by LCP and 27 other electric cooperatives, CEO Greg Randa said.

    Among the changes LCP customers can expect in the coming months and years is the transition to Advanced Metering Infrastructure or Aclara AMI. The coop has already deployed 52 percent of the high-tech meters in the Grand Rapids and Cohasset area and plans to have the new system fully in place within five years. 

    The new metering systems will allow for greater accuracy and effectiveness in reporting power outages throughout the LCP system. Outages are of significant concern to the rural power cooperative and to address the problem in a more cost-effective way, LCP brought its own tree crews on board in 2019. Previously, tree removal requests were handled through contractors. Downed trees and limbs are the No. 1 cause of power outages in the LCP service area, which includes parts of eight counties in northeastern Minnesota.

    LCP will be conducting district meetings throughout the month of February and into March. The cooperative’s annual meeting will take place April 15 at its new service center in Cohasset.

Structure fire, explosion claims the lives of two

January 30, 2020

    Last Thursday, at approximately 7:29 a.m., Itasca County Sheriff’s Communications received a 9-1-1 call of a structure fire with a possible explosion occurring around the Turtle Lake area. It was reported that a loud bang was heard and then the fire occurred.

    The location of the fire was at 52894 Turtle Lake View Path, Bigfork, Minnesota. The fire had fully engulfed the involved structure, as well as downing power lines and resulting in debris spread over a large diameter around the property. 

    Responders were initially unable to get near the residence until the Bigfork Fire Department arrived on scene and began fire suppression efforts. 

    A lone male occupant lived in the home and had recently had a daughter who visited. Deputies located the body of a male and female, both of whom were deceased at the scene. Both individuals were transported to the Itasca County Corners Office for autopsy.

    The victims of the incident were identified as father and daughter Roy Earl Halverson (92) Bigfork, Minnesota and Christie Lee Kurtz (67) Milaca.

    The Itasca County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate.

    The Itasca County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by Bigfork Ambulance Service, Bigfork, Cohasset, Deer River and Grand Rapids Fire Departments, along with neighborhood residents. The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank those who helped and provided assistance to law enforcement.

PolyMet to ask for Supreme Court review of appellate court decision

January 23, 2020

BusinessNorth Report

 

    Poly Met Mining will ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn a state Court of Appeals decision remanding the company’s permit to mine and dam safety permits to the Department of Natural Resources for a contested case hearing.

    “The issues raised by the court of appeals’ decision are, of course, important to our project, but equally, they have far reaching impact to the State of Minnesota and to any future project that seeks permits from the state,” said Jon Cherry, president and CEO, in a Thursday announcement. “The potential negative consequences of the decision to any industry or business in the state, and the many Iron Range communities and workers who stand to benefit economically from responsible copper-nickel mining, warrant the Minnesota Supreme Court’s attention.”

    Cherry cited, as a primary basis for seeking review, the court’s decision to require an open-ended contested case hearing process, in spite of the DNR’s 15-year-long environmental review and permitting process for its copper-nickel-precious metals project. The process involved extraordinary amounts of public review, public comment and public meetings, PolyMet said. The proposed project already has been reviewed at public hearings held in previous years.

    “No other company in the history of the state has been subjected to anywhere near the time and cost that was associated with this permitting process,” Cherry said. “We did everything the state and the law required, and more. And the process confirmed that our project will be protective of human health and the environment.

    “The court’s decision greatly diminishes the role of expert state agencies and their commissioners in permitting in favor of administrative law judges. It sets a precedent that subjects the project and any future industrial project in the state to an endless loop of review, contested case hearings and appeals,” he said.

    The company will file its petition for review to the Minnesota Supreme Court within the next 30 days.

    Jobs for Minnesotans released a statement in support of PolyMet’s plan to appeal.

    “Jobs for Minnesotans firmly stands behind PolyMet’s decision to appeal the Minnesota Court of Appeals rulings on the NorthMet project’s permits to the Minnesota Supreme Court. We believe this project should move forward and the more than 10 years of extensive and thorough environmental review by state and federal agencies should be upheld. The rulings from earlier this week will have a much larger impact than just to the PolyMet project, but will create a ripple effect for any future project from responsible industries looking to do business in the State of Minnesota. The message this decision sends to the Northeastern Minnesota communities, businesses across the state and the impact on the state’s economy long-term warrants the Minnesota Supreme Court’s close attention.”

    Cherry also reaffirmed the company’s resolve to push the project forward.

    “The NorthMet deposit is abundant in metals that address climate change in the way of renewable and clean energy technologies. We are confident that we can produce these strategic metals responsibly, with Minnesota workers, and in compliance with all applicable regulations,” he said.

Debate surrounds the state’s budget surplus

January 09, 2020

   Minnesota Management and Budget recently predicted state government will have a budget surplus of $1.3 billion. This set many a tongue wagging among legislators, economists, agencies and taxpayers as to what this will mean for the state. Specifically, what can Minnesota get out of such a windfall, or is it even a windfall at all?

    Regardless, it does look like good news for the state. According to its report on the budget and economic forecast, Minnesota Management and Budget stated, “Minnesota’s budget and economic outlook has improved since the end of the 2019 legislative special session. A better than expected close to the last biennium, an improved revenue forecast and a small decrease to estimated spending create a forecast surplus of $1.332 billion in the FY 2020-21 biennium.” However, the report adds that while Minnesota’s economy and revenues continue to grow into the FY 2022-23 planning estimates, budget challenges remain for that biennium.

U.S. Steel Great Lakes plant idling brings concern on Iron Range

December 26, 2019

By Lee Bloomquist

for BusinessNorth

 

    Iron Rangers have seen this before.

    An announced idling of a significant portion of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Works steelmaking facilities in Ecorse and River Rouge, Mich., is reason for apprehension on the Iron Range.

    “When they make these kind of announcements, you always wonder what’s going to happen next,” said Minnesota State Senator David Tomassoni of Chisholm. “Every time they make these announcements, you have concern about the future.”

    U.S. Steel on Thursday said it will indefinitely idle portions of the iron and steelmaking plant around April 1, affecting up to 1,500 workers at the facilities. Additionally, the plant’s hot strip mill rolling facility will be idled before the end of 2020, the company stated.

    The idling creates concern about the operational future of U.S. Steel’s iron ore pellet plants on Minnesota’s Iron Range. U.S. Steel owns and operates Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron and Keetac in Keewatin.

    Iron ore pellets produced at Minntac Mine and Keetac are fed into blast furnaces at U.S. Steel-owned steel mills to manufacture steel. 

    Keetac, a 5.2 million-ton-per year plant, supplies iron ore pellets to Great Lakes Works.

    When steel and iron ore markets soften, Keetac is generally viewed as U.S. Steel’s “swing” operation. That means Keetac is usually the first of the two wholly-owned U.S. Steel plants on the Iron Range to be impacted by downturns. Minntac Mine is North American’s largest iron ore plant.

    Dan Pierce, president of United Steelworkers Local 2660 at Keetac, said it’s too early to predict any effect on Keetac.

    “I have no knowledge of anything yet, other than what came out of the press,” said Pierce on Friday. “I’m not at the plant today. I called some people at the plant, but right now, I don’t know what’s going on. It’s way, way too early to tell. Right now, it’s business as usual.”

    Amanda Malkowski, a U.S. Steel spokeswoman, said Friday that for now, Keetac and Minntac, would not be affected.

    “There’s no impact right now,” said Malkowski “There are no operational organizational announcements to make right now.” 

    None of the Great Lakes Works workers would be affected before April 2020, according to U.S. Steel. 

    “These decisions are never easy, nor are they taken lightly,” stated U.S. Steel. “However, we must responsibly manage our resources while also strengthening our company’s long-term future – a future many stakeholders depend on.” 

    A pickle line, cold mill, sheet temper mill, continuous galvanizing line, annealing, and warehousing, will continue to operate at Great Lakes Works, according to U.S. Steel. 

    The cyclical steel and iron ore industries have since the beginning of iron ore mining been a way of life on the Iron Range. As the domestic steel industry goes, so does Iron Range iron ore mining.

    U.S. Steel in early November trimmed nearly 40 salaried employees at Minntac and Keetac. 

    Tomassoni said he remembers 2008, when U.S. Steel held a large ceremony to announce a $500 million expansion at Keetac.

    “Two months later, the entire Iron Range (iron ore industry) was shut down,” said Tomassoni. “And the expansion never happened.”

    Keetac is a single-line iron ore pellet plant. It’s 350 employees generally produce a little more than five million tons of iron ore pellets per year. 

    Keetac also supplies pellets to U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works, in Granite City, Illinois.

Bigfork gets a look at housing study

December 19, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    For a small town, Bigfork has some very unique features, said Steve Griesert in a presentation of his firm’s 76 page housing study to the Bigfork City Council and community members last week.

    The Housing Study, performed by Community Partners Research of Lake Elmo, Minn. for the Housing and Redevelopment Authorities of Itasca County and Grand Rapids, will serve as a first step in the updating of the 2011 Bigfork Comprehensive Plan next year.

    In as many as 600 studies, his firm “has never seen such a nice senior services complex,” said Griesert of the hospital living options. In addition, it has a large downtown area, school, amenities and a stable population.

    On the other hand, the median income of $28,036 is “about as low as we’ve seen in the communities we’ve been in,” he said. The population growth is only in ages 55 and over, with losses in younger age groups that net out to a loss of 1 to 8 people (depending on the data source) in the last decade.

    The report covered demographics of both Bigfork and the market area surrounding it, as well as current housing options, housing condition and future housing needs. In a windshield survey of 93 homes, over 70 percent were considered in sound condition or needing minor repair. The median home price is $91,250. Bigfork also has 107 rental units with a large variation in rents and high occupancy. The only vacancies when the study was done were in Condor Apartments, an income-restricted building. 

    Looking at housing as it relates to workforce, most residents (85 percent) travel less than 10 minutes to work, but most employees at Bigfork jobs (> 40 percent) travel in excess of 30 minutes. The average wage in the 394 jobs in Bigfork is $41,288, very close to the average wage in the county.

    A number of planning recommendations were made based on the data collected. From one to two single family homes should be added to maintain the housing stock, the report said. To do this, the city should promote the limited number of lots available and consider construction incentives or partnering with housing nonprofits. To make existing homes more attractive, the city could explore financing programs to help repair homes. 

    “Home ownership promotes community stability,” pointed out Griesert.

    Rental projections justify adding 8 to 12 new rental units over the next five years, and funds for rental rehabilitation of older buildings should also be pursued. Seven homes and six mobile homes were identified as dilapidated, and the city was encouraged to work with owners toward demolishing and removing these.

    Community priorities were discussed by the audience: did residents really want growth? Griesert pointed out that additional new housing might not indicate growth, but rather transitioning poor condition housing to new construction. 

    Housing studies were also done for the cities of Grand Rapids, Cohasset and Nashwauk. The Bigfork Housing Study will be posted on CityofBigfork.com.

Tomassoni fears ‘disturbing trends’ in the steel industry

November 21, 2019

By Bill Hanna/BusinessNorth 

 

    The recent elimination of about 30 white collar jobs at U.S. Steel’s Keetac and Minntac plants on the Iron Range has state Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm “very, very concerned” that a troubling downturn in the steel industry could turn even worse.

    “I wish I knew,” Tomassoni said when asked what is happening at U.S. Steel. “I just hope this isn’t an indication of the ax falling in the very near future.”

    District 3 Sen. Tom Bakk was a bit more definitive. “I heard that more cuts are coming and I wouldn’t be surprised. This has been a long recovery, really since 2009. But it doesn’t last forever,” he said.

    U.S. Steel officials announced last week that the company is dealing with “challenging market conditions,” but did not give specifics on the number of permanent positions cut on the Range and elsewhere. Reports based on remarks of a union official and a Keetac manager, indicated the number of positions to be eliminated is about 30.

    Tomassoni said Range lawmakers were not notified in advance of the cutbacks.

    The cost-cutting step has been foreshadowed for several weeks by U.S. Steel and Wall Street financial realities.

    DFL state Rep. David Lislegard of Aurora said “my heart goes out to those who have lost their jobs at Minntac and Keetac.

     “I know how they feel. I was at LTV when it was shut down in 2001. It’s just a terrible feeling,” he said.

     And he said the uncertainty of the current mining economy weighs heavily on workers at all Iron Range mines.

     “It’s difficult now for our miners, who do a tremendous job at the mines,” he said.

     U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt, during a Nov. 1 call with investors, said the tough market conditions have forced the company into a new direction for its operations. According to the Pittsburg Steel Times, U.S. Steel intends to implement an enhanced operating model starting in January, which it said would reduce costs and better align the company with strategic investments like its recently completed $700 million investment in Big River Steel. 

    The previous week, the company announced a third quarter net loss of $84 million.

    The U.S. Steel stock price has fallen from the most recent high of $45.39 on March 2, 2018, to $13.64 last week.

    In October, the company idled one line of production at Minntac but said it would not directly result in layoffs.

    Also in October, U.S. Steel unveiled a company-wide cost-cutting plan envisioning a savings of $200 million savings in annual fixed costs by 2022.

    “We’ve been battling challenging market conditions, which means we need to truly become a leaner more efficient organization faster,” company officials said in a statement on the nonunion cutbacks.

    District 6 Sen. Tomassoni has been on the mining roller-coaster ride while in the Legislature since first being elected to the state House in 1992 and then the Senate in 2000.

    He fears he’s seen this movie before.

    “The ups are always too short; the downs too often. I hope they can find a solution and this is a one-time cut,” he said. “There are disturbing trends in the industry that are worrisome.”

    Tomassoni said any mining cutback extracts a personal toll on the Range.

    “These are management people with families who are working in our communities. And the holidays are upcoming,” he said.

    Tomassoni said this could also be a reality of the new age economy that wants to cut back on energy use.

    “They want us to use less and less energy. But we need more and more steel and copper for new energy products.

    He said it takes 4 1/2 to 9 1/2 tons of steel to build one windmill.

    “That kind of thinking is really outrageous,” he said.

 

    Business North Contributor Bill Hanna, who has been a writer and editor in the newspaper business for more than 40 years, was a Reporter and Executive Editor at the Mesabi Daily News on the Iron Range from 1985 to 2016. He has won more than 50 state and national awards. He currently writes Sunday columns for the MDN Op/Ed section.

Hodgins-Berardo Arena gets an upgrade

November 14, 2019

Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation

 

    The Hodgins-Berardo Arena in Coleraine has upgraded its heaters and sound system, as well as made ADA accessibility improvements to an interior walkway/viewing deck and ice viewing windows. Considered a historic venue by the Vintage Minnesota Hockey organization, the indoor arena was built in 1962 and seats about 2,000 spectators. It is utilized for community youth recreation including figure skating, hockey and roller derby. It is also a hub for youth football, baseball and fast pitch softball which are played at the nearby Greenway Sports Complex in Bovey. The arena has a meeting room that may be rented for private functions as well as a community fitness center that are both open year round.

    The arena and sports complex are owned and managed by Greenway Joint Recreation Association (GJRA) which is comprised of 11 government entities within the Greenway Independent School District. Cities include Bovey, Calumet, Coleraine, Grand Rapids, LaPrairie and Taconite. Townships are Greenway, Lawrence Lake, Marble, Nashwauk and Trout Lake.

    The association’s mission is to provide quality public youth sports and sports facilities to residents of its service area. GJRA has levying authority to fund its mission and paid for a portion of the upgrades. Blandin Foundation provided a grant, and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported this project with a Community Infrastructure grant.

    “The youth and families of our communities rely on the arena and athletic programs for healthy recreation options and quality of life,” said Patrick Guyer, arena manager. “We are thankful for the grants that helped make the needed improvements to preserve a very important community resource.”

 

Reprinted with permission

Itasca County Board hears about Community Wellness Forum, discusses jail concerns

October 17, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, Oct. 8 with all commissioners present except Commissioner Terry Snyder. 

    Two residents spoke under public comments. Anthony Kotula said that during the bond issue period for the new schools, nothing had been mentioned about the need for $30-60 million for a new jail and possibly a justice center. He had heard also that the county may be considering a county sales tax. He questioned the transparency surrounding these potential obligations for the taxpayer. Resident John Casper spoke to second his comments.

    Business Division Manager Crissy Krebs spoke on the work of the county fraud investigator for Health and Human Services who looked at 113 cases, forwarding eight for criminal charges and recovering $144,000. The public may refer cases at 218-327-6191, and all referrals are investigated. 

    Kelly Chandler, Public Health Division manager, together with representatives of partner organizations Jean MacDonell of Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital, Steven Loney of Kiesler Wellness Center and Kyle Erickson of the Blandin Foundation spoke on the area initiative to counter substance abuse and opioid addiction. The UMD School of Pharmacy and U of M Extension are also partners. There will be a community forum in Bigfork on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m. and a Community Wellness Forum at the Kiesler Wellness Center on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 4:30 p.m. on addiction and local initiatives to support recovery. Guest presenter is Dr. Mustafa al’Absi, professor of Behavioral Medicine from Duluth Medical Research Institute on the effects of addiction on the brain. 

    Resident John Casper brought his concerns over the proceedings and transparency of the Jail Task Force Committee to the board. His concerns included: no apparent consideration of remodeling vs. greenspace construction; spending money on alternatives not selected yet; lack of transparency including no public attendance allowed at meetings, no minutes taken and no website; and whether the public will pay for a $30-60 million project through a levy. County Administrator Brett Skyles detailed to the board why nonpublic task force meetings did not violate the Open Meeting statute. Commissioner Leo Trunt, task force member, said his personal preference was to remodel or build onsite, and he would like to see an engineering assessment of whether a second and/or third floor could be added. Chair Davin Tinquist said that the focus was on fixing the problem of jail noncompliance looking at all alternatives, that he could assure the public that the board was very conscious that the school district had just passed a bond issue, and that the board was still looking at ways to reduce the current levy. He also said that the board would be looking at ways to finance the jail, but that it would not be part of the levy. 

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $2,475,596.41.

    • Were notified of condemnation proceedings on Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. in the Itasca County Courthouse by the State of Minnesota to acquire land for Trunk Highway 6 improvements.

    • Adopted a resolution proclaiming Oct. 6-12 as 4-H Week in Itasca County.

    • Adopted a resolution proclaiming Thursday, Oct. 24 as Lights On Afterschool day. Events are scheduled throughout the week in the county: Oct. 23; Making Scarecrows (Bigfork School). Oct. 24; Pumpkin Carving (Deer River King School), Fall Bingo (Keewatin Elementary School), Movie Night (First Lutheran Church), Glow Party (Greenway High School), Community Meal (Robert J. Elkington Middle School). Oct. 28; Fall Harvest Fun (Itasca County YMCA). 

    • Adopted a resolution to execute the Crime Victim Services Grant Agreement with the Office of Justice, Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

    • Under Commissioner Comments were reminded by Commissioner Davin Tinquist that it was Fire Prevention Week and to check smoke and CO2 alarms.

    The next regular meeting of the Itasca County Board is on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 2:30 p.m. in the Itasca County Board Room.

LaPrairie City Councilor dies following blastomycosis battle

October 10, 2019

    Scott Olson, who served on the LaPrairie City Council in 2018 and 2019, passed away last week after a battle with blastomycosis.

    According to his online obituary: He was born in Park Rapids, Minn. in 1970 to Larry and Carolynn Olson. He was raised in Grand Rapids, graduating from Grand Rapids High School in 1988. After graduation he joined the U.S. Army, where he served from 1991 to 1993. After the military, Scott attended Bemidji State University, where he graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science degree.

    He married Audra Robertson in 1996, together they raised two children. He was employed at MDI and he was active with the Special Olympics and Ventures Travel. He loved working with people with special needs and did so for 20 years.

Coleraine City Council

September 19, 2019

    At last week’s Coleraine City Council meeting, Attorney John Dimich presented the new legal description for the old fire station building near Cotton Beach. City officials are in the process of placing the building up for bids when the current lease runs out in May. Successful bidders will need to submit a complete business plan for use of the property to city officials. 

    As autumn rotates into reality, Coleraine Public Works are already planning for snow removal. Supervisor Harry Bertram suggested trading one of the plow trucks for a front-end loader with a vee plow. Bertram said a loader with a blade would cut manhours in half for snow plowing. Three city employees currently need 14 hours to clear the streets.

 

    Bertram reported that the park vandals have trashed the pavilion and councilors talked about installing surveillance cameras at the location. Bertram said the student workers have gone back to college and added that they did a fantastic job this summer. Hydrant flushing is in progress and residents should expect discolored water. He also noted that two of city hall’s three boilers have cracked water jackets. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Received a multitude of thank-you notes from Reach.

    • Voted to approve a $1,000 donation for the storm retrofit project.

    • Voted to approve a contract to allow Waste Management to operate exclusively for another five years.

    • Authorized Payment Number 5 for the CBT force main for $353,239.96. 

    • Approved the annual payment to the CBT Joint Wastewater equipment replacement fund for $28,535.67. 

Stepping up: local corporate giving

September 12, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    In the mid 1990s, a half dozen residents of Itasca County noticed that the dollars from a generous community were flowing – they just weren’t flowing into the community but streaming out to alma maters and other causes outside the area.

    There had to be a way to keep those dollars in the area to meet local needs, and the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation was born.

    Now, 25 years later, the hometown reservoir has grown; GRACF manages assets of $22.5 million in 270 funds earmarked for causes ranging from economic development to families in crisis. Most of the money comes from – and most of the donors are – individuals, explains Sarah Copeland, director of grants and programs, but corporate giving has a significant presence.

    One of the reasons is that GRACF strives to make it easy and rewarding for businesses to give. Some companies find a natural home – causes that align with an internal goal. But if a company wants to set up its own fund, the envelope can be very flexible. Businesses don’t lose their own voice in setting criteria for how the money is distributed, Copeland says. 

    Distributing money

    In fact, within GRACF there are a large number of ways to distribute, from tightly controlled annual grants to donor advised funds that can make distributions at any time. 

    There are two major ways to set up funds: endowed and unendowed. Like checking accounts, monies can pass through unendowed funds, Copeland explained, while endowed funds are like savings accounts. In the latter, only earnings on principal are available for distribution. However, this distribution amount became so volatile that now the foundation uses a formula of 4.5 percent on the average fund balance of 20 rolling quarters so recipients can budget properly.

    Within these structures there are many causes, from the arts to the environment to health. The most popular causes are scholarships, along with crisis help, says Copeland. There are also general corporate giving funds, where requestors can apply through a fund instead of at the business itself. 

    The art of giving

    A critical part of making sure the company is satisfied with the giving experience is finding out exactly what it wants to accomplish. Working through the process to really listen and find out what the donor intends to do, says Copeland, is what she calls the art of giving. The company, for instance, may want to create a giving culture among employees as part of its own philanthropy. A solution to that might include giving responsibility for directing distributions to an internal employee committee. 

    Why companies give

    What are reasons companies want to make charitable donations? One reason is altruistic: wanting to give back to the community that has been good to them. One way to do that is through community funds. GRACF manages five that cover the county from Hill City to Nashwauk, Greenway, Deer River and greater Itasca County.

 

    Giving back may also be seeing a specific need and giving to that need – like buying playground equipment. Or it may be to improve the health of the workforce by providing scholarships that enable productive young adults to learn trades needed locally. 

    Some companies want to leave a legacy; the Blandin Foundation is one example. 

    “It’s difficult to talk about charity without talking about the Blandin Foundation,” Copeland says. “It’s a wonderful example about impact to community.” One way the Blandin Foundation encourages further giving is to provide matching challenges. Each of the five community funds can double their donations up to a match of $200,000 through this year.

    One of the most important reasons for giving, though, is supporting the interests and passions of an organization. The character of a company, believes Chris Fulton, executive director of the GRACF, is defined by its owner and leadership. A giving company supports a charitable culture. The company may give to a cause that aligns with its products or supports a goal important to the company leadership and/or its employees.

    In turn, a charitable environment is often good for the business, both in brand perception and employee satisfaction as well as the obvious tax deductions. “Employees respect companies that care for their community – it simply makes employees feel good and increases the emotional attachment to their employer,” points out an article in Inc online. [https://www.inc.com/molly-reynolds/4-ways-that-supporting-charity-is-good-for-business.html] This is especially true for Millennials, those 23- to 38-year-olds which are both important spenders and employees. 

    Rural giving

    In a very different rural economy, business giving still follows a similar pattern. Benefitting a rural area of northwest Itasca County is the Bigfork Valley Community Foundation. Fund Development Director Tim Johnson says that businesses donate to the foundation “first and foremost” for a cause they believe in. They also recognize, says Johnson, that a strong community helps their business.

    Whether in a large or small community, though, foundations are able to funnel local money to local causes. Local companies get it, says Fulton. “There is a limited pool of businesses in our communities to do good things and make it a better place.

    “Any local business wants people to understand that they do care about the community.”

N-K School Board discusses vaping, cell phones

January 01, 2020

    While the board worked its way through the approval of the 2019-2020 Nashwauk-Keewatin student handbook at last week’s school board meeting, two subjects came up that warranted further discussion: vaping and cell phones.

    District Superintendent Matt Grose said he had fielded a question about the inclusion of vaping in the handbook and the topic was added to the handbook last year. “Every time we hear some more news about vaping, it’s worse. That’s the best way I can say it in terms of its effects on people.” said Grose, adding that he did not think the importance of addressing the issue could be overstated. “Schools are all trying to get a handle on this so we can get this out of here the best we can. It’s a tricky one.”

    Board Director Barb Kalmi then said “I see the new wave is no cell phones in the classroom.” 

    “Yes, that was also added” said Grose. “Part of what we’ve struggled with to be honest with you has been enforcement.” Grose then gestured to an item hanging on the wall with several pockets, each about the size of a cell phone. He said that the district had purchased the items with the intent that students would place their cell phones in the pockets during class. He characterized the effectiveness as “so-so.”

    Referring to cell phones, Grose said; “At this point, these things are still a distraction to kids. If they’re not thinking about them, they’re thinking about that buzz that just happened. We are trying to take an appropriate view of technology.” 

    He briefly summarized the use of technology in the district. Grose said that the district was not trying to deny kids’ access to technology but needed a policy that was enforceable. “No cell before the bell is the mantra we’re trying to get,” said Grose.

    Teachers are on board with the direction the district is taking with cell phone usage but maintaining solidarity is tough. Students could wear individual teachers down and that had the potential to create discord among the teachers who are trying to hold the line. Grose said teachers had to repeatedly band together to hold the line on cell phone usage.

    There are other options available to students who did not want to use the pocketed storage item on the wall. Students could leave their phones in their lockers or take advantage of a locked store facility that the administration has set up at the high school specifically for cell phones.

    Grose concluded his remarks by saying the first few weeks of school were going to be tough. “If everybody can hold the line for the first few weeks, eventually it’s going to be better for everyone.” Grose added; “The students can’t imagine it being better. Eventually it will be better.” Approval of the student handbook passed unanimously.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved the hiring of three support staff, and two teachers and accepted the resignation of one para professional.

    • Approved the 2019-2020 ISHL contract.

    • Approved the Minnesota State High School coop sponsorship for boys wrestling between Nashwauk-Keewatin, Greenway and International Falls.

ISD 318 resorts to debt collectors to recover food service debt

August 22, 2019

    At last week’s ISD 318 School Board meeting, the District’s Food and Nutrition Director, Polly Podpeskar was on hand to make a presentation to the board. Podpeskar said that the food and nutrition had an annual budget of about $1.8 million, but that varied from year to year. She said that the program relied on three sources of funding: state reimbursement, federal reimbursement and local sources of revenue. She defined local sources of revenue as those monies that come from students who pay full price for their meals, ala carte services, catering and meals served to adults.

    Podpeskar said most of the money to support her department’s $1.8 million budget comes from about $1 million in federal funding. That number is supplemented by revenue generated from fully paid student meals at about $530,000 annually. Catering and ala carte sales generate about $188,000 per year and state reimbursements bring in about $113,000 per year. Food and payroll comprise the two largest expenditures and amount to about $1.17 million per year.

    It costs approximately $3.42 to prepare a school lunch, and students pay $2.45 at the elementary level and $2.75 at the secondary level per meal. State and federal reimbursements make up the difference and cover the cost of free and reduced meals, she noted.

    Podpeskar said there are benefits available to those who can’t afford to pay full price for the meals provided by the school. Students who qualify for free and reduced meals pay nothing for breakfast and nothing for lunch. Podpeskar said applications were recently mailed to every family in the district. The forms are also available online. All applications have to be processed prior to Oct. 1. Currently about 37 percent of the district’s students qualify for free and reduced meals.

    In the case of a revenue shortfall, the department relies on reserves that are dedicated to the food and nutrition program. If that amount of money is insufficient to cover any gaps, money is drawn form the general fund in the form of cross subsidies. She said that it hasn’t been necessary to draw funds from the general fund to cover food and nutrition expenditures during her tenure.

    Podpeskar concluded her remarks by noting that the amount of money owed the district for unpaid meals is growing. Board Director Pat Medure asked Podpeskar how much money the district was owed. 

    “It is at about $80,000 and that number is horrendous but families are beginning to understand that they can’t just ignore the food service debt,” said Podpeskar. She added that the debt cannot be covered by state and federal subsidies or food and nutrition reserves and ultimately has to come out of the general fund. Podpeskar also noted that the district has begun to employ the services of debt collectors, and that some debts were being paid as a result.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved the April, May, and June donations and gifts.

    • Approved the hiring of five teachers, one support staff, 10 ESP replacements, two coaches and accepted the resignation of two bus drivers and one ESP.

    • Approved the revised 2019-20 Career Pathways Coordinator services contract.

    • Approved 2019-20 ISD 318 handbooks.

    • Approved the professional services agreement with EIP for telepresence coordination services.

    • Approved the 2019-20 Invest Early Service agreement with IASC.

Effie City Council discusses sewer issues, sets proposed levy

August 15, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The Effie City Council met on Monday, Aug. 12 in a regular council meeting with all council members present. 

    A local resident was present who said that five vehicles were removed from his property under a blight ordinance unlawfully, and three were sold. He plans to sue for their return/payment. The council asked that he keep them apprised of his progress in resolving the blight issues. 

    Sandy Drewlow of the Rodeo Daze Committee was present to ask that the city return their organization to being a city committee and event. The council agreed, and ideas for the 2020 Rodeo Daze were discussed.

    A proposed levy amount of $40,000 was set. The levy payable in 2019 was $38,500. The final levy will be set in December.

    Kevin Odden, wastewater operator, presented a sewer report, noting that July was the first month this year that all measurements were within legal limits. The high inflow rates were down and the high fecal coliform bacteria counts were found to be a result of UV lights that needed replacement. Five of six have recently been replaced with a 12,000 hour warranty (approximately 2.5 years) per bulb. In addition, the Grand Rapids water lab closed at the end of July, necessitating taking samples to Hibbing. Inconsistent delivery times created a hold time in excess of that permitted for fecal coliform sampling. 

    The council authorized Odden to replace a recirculation pump with a new style that could handle rags and sludge. It also authorized quotes to add extensions to grinder station vents to prevent runoff inflows in the spring. Drone inspection of the roof vents at the old Effie School was tabled, and there was discussion of how to handle excess stormwater flows coming from the school into the sewer system.

    A funding workshop on the sewer system was held on July 9 with council representatives, wastewater operator, North Itasca Joint Powers Board representative and engineer Bolton & Menk to establish issues and possible solutions. A public informational meeting will be held this fall about the sewer system.

    In other business the council:

    • Approved July 2019 claims and payroll of $6,583.60.

    • Tabled an offer to buy trim from the old Effie School until a decision was made about the building. Councilor Jim Astry will investigate options for the school building and bring them to the September meeting.

    • Authorized seeking a quote to regravel the entrance to the community center parking lot. Mayor Greta Drewlow will speak again to the Minnesota Department of Transportation about the poor road condition at the intersection of Highways. 38 and 1.

    • Tabled discussion of the community center furnace until the sewer system issues have been resolved.

    • Awarded a building permit for a residential upgrade.

Toddler dies in hit-and-run incident

August 08, 2019

    A Nashwauk boy died at the scene of a hit-and-run on Aug. 1. The Minnesota State Patrol reported the incident took place Highway 65 in Itasca Township.

    Alexia Carroll, 16, was walking with a stroller pushing Logan Klennert, age 2. According to state patrol reports, a pickup truck crossed onto the shoulder and struck the pedestrian and stroller from behind.

    Klennert was pronounced dead at the scene. Carroll sustained serious injuries.

    The driver of the truck fled the scene, but it was later located. 

    Jake Michael Place, 38, of Nashwauk was arrested and charged with multiple crimes as a result of the incident, including criminal vehicular homicide. Controlled substance use is believed to be a factor in the incident.

    Place was released on bail the day following his arrest. 

Itasca County Board hears updates on Grace House, Great Northern Transmission Line

August 01, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    At the July 23 meeting of the Itasca County Board, Ron Oleheiser, executive director of Grace House, presented an annual report. Grace House is the only homeless shelter in the county, with area churches accommodating overflow. In the first half of this year, Grace House has provided more than 2,000 bed nights and served more than 1,700 meals. 

    In response to a question from Commissioner Ben DeNucci, Oleheiser stated that reasons for homelessness include mental illness, domestic violence and disability, and reasons for using the shelter include eviction, domestic violence, and drugs and alcohol.

    As well as overnight stays (averaging 23.5 days per stay), Grace House connects guests to services and resources, and helps with obtaining necessary documentation. 71 percent were able to find housing and 34 percent were employed on departure.     

    Last year there were over 125 volunteers. Strategic planning during September will consider the question of expansion; the shelter is presently running at 111 percent full. The annual dinner will be Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Timberlake Lodge. 

    Construction Manager Kyle Larson spoke on the progress of the Great Northern Transmission Line, saying that the line was ahead of schedule and within budget. 

    In other business, the board:

    Listened to citizen input from John Casper, who disputed that County Administrator Brett Skyles had met the higher standards expected for a salary increase.

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $1,220,608.99.

    • Approved warrants for the Health and Human Services Department for July of $1,029,753.38.

    • Recognized new employees Walker Maasch (Environmental Services Department) and Lisa Evans (Sheriff’s Department).

    • Approved a salary increase to Step 9 for County Administrator Brett Skyles following a July 16 performance review.

    • Heard an IMCare update on the transition from Disease Management to Population Health Management. The expectation is that with the new procedures early intervention can help mitigate chronic disease. The department is waiting for a response from the Department of Human Services on its plan, which was filed July 1.

    • Authorized provider participation agreements between IMCare and 23 customized living and adult foster care facilities.

    • Awarded a contract for 2019-2020 crushing, hauling and placement of gravel surfacing to Schwartz Excavating for $755,917.80. During board discussion, the request by the Transportation Department was made and accepted to spend up to the engineer’s estimate of $922,966 at the same rate, if needed. Project roads include county roads 132, 159, 195, 236, 553, 568, 569 and 588, and forest roads 3553 and 3755. Forest road work is paid by the US. Forest Service through a road project agreement.

    • Established a cartway in favor of Brian Burley and Catherine Peck-Burley in Sec. 24, T54N, R26W.

Zakobe speeds production, expands customer base

July 25, 2019

By Kitty Mayo

 

    Zakobe Metal Stamping in Bovey has found another way to flourish by adding speed and quality to their production.

    Securing a bank participation loan with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), Wade and Teresa Karnes upped the ante on their technological reach in order to bring Zakobe to an even wider customer base.

    The Karnes, owners of Zakobe, say the loan arrangement puts fifty percent of the borrowed amount under the bank’s auspices at a typical interest rate, and IRRRB sponsored fifty percent of the loan at just one percent interest.

    “That puts us at about 4 percent interest rate for the life of the loan, it would have been really tight and hard to keep up with bigger payments without the help of the IRRRB,” said Wade.

    The loan was used to purchase three pieces of equipment. The wire EDM machine is the new equipment with the “wow” factor for Wade, who lightly calls it “a pretty cool little toy.” Capable of simultaneously cutting top and bottom sheets of metal with different patterns, the wire EDM zips through work by sending out a lightning bolt of micro-sparks without ever coming into direct contact with the metal.

    “The new equipment allows us to cut all of our own tooling in-house, and to be competitive in the metal stamping industry, especially since most of our competitors already have their own EDM machines,” Wade stated.

    EDM, or electrical discharge machining, uses sparks to erode through metal. While EDM is a technology that has existed for some time, the use of computer numerical control (CNC) to operate wire EDM manufacturing has continued to evolve along with digital technology.

    A heat-treat oven and a small-hole EDM machine are the other purchases acquired through loan proceeds, once again speeding production by the ability to rapidly drill minute holes through hardened metal without having to ship it elsewhere. The heat-treat oven is anticipated to be put in to service in short order and, when it is, product run time will be even shorter.

    For those who’d like to learn the basics in metal stamping, Wade is happy to walk through the steps that explain why this new equipment is such a revolution for his company.

    Metal that is going to be cut needs to be soft, and that’s the form in which it arrives at Zakobe. Once formed into the appropriate design for a specific order, that soft, formed metal has until now been shipped elsewhere for heat-treating. After heat-treating, which hardens the metal, more work in fashioning a metal piece can only be effectively completed with EDM technology.

    Growing into their current facility in 2015 through a joint loan with the IRRRB, Zakobe went on to further growth through their acquisition of their affiliate company Cast & Color, LLC in 2017.

    Streamlining their manufacturing process is an ongoing theme for Zakobe, which took over an existing fishing lure manufacturer that had been shipping their product to five different places before selling. Now the design, pouring of lead, finishing and painting of the lures are all done in-house.

    Cast & Color, a fishing tackle company, has helped the firm grow from just the family to a larger employee crew, as well as gaining additional business from current customers.

    “Since then, we’ve moved from a two-man crew to 10 people in both full-time and part-time positions,” Wade stated.

    Zak Karnes has been working full-time alongside his parents for the past four years, and has rapidly been schooling himself in running the new equipment, with the wire EDM up and running since the beginning of the year.

    “This brings us a whole new ability to build our die sets and anneal a piece of steel, drill holes and tap, now we can make more complicated shapes,” Zak said.

    Explaining the drill EDM technology further, Zak says that manually drilling small holes in hardened metal was possible before, but that it required expensive carbide drill bits and took too long to make it sustainable.

    “This has cut our tool time down to a matter of seconds from what would have taken 20 minutes, and shaved off the cost of farming work out,” Zak stated.

    Zak takes the Tool & Die 101 even more basic, explaining that Zakobe makes their own tools (dies) that are then used to create the parts that they sell. Those tools have to be precisely designed, then manufactured themselves before the stamping can begin. It is those dies that Zakobe can now tweak to perfection with their EDM technology.

    Describing one of the primary parts that they manufacture at Zakobe, Zak notes that precision is everything in the industry, and the tiny pins that are on the back of your personal computer tower are no exception.

    “PC pins are tiny, less than the thickness of a hair and go into a battery or computer monitor and with those and other complex specialized parts our error margin is only .0002 of an inch. The error margin on a standard drill bit wobble can be .001, that’s not acceptable and the reason we had to send our dies out for EDM work before,” said Zak.

    Looking to the future of Zakobe and Cast & Color, Zak says that he sees endless possibilities in a niche market serving customers in the outdoors industry, with their fishing lures line, and three of their customers with Zakobe already in that industry.

    “The outdoors is what we enjoy, and I’d like to take Zakobe into becoming a prominent manufacturer of outdoor products with a name that is recognized throughout the state and even nationally,” said Zak.

Historic hotel gets hip new look

July 22, 2019

By Holly Henry

    Hotel Rapids brands itself as “boutique,” but other adjectives come to mind as soon as one steps inside its door. Think “hip,” “edgy” or just plain “cool.”

    Originally established as the Holiday Village Hotel in the mid-1950s, the hotel has been re-imagined into a mid-century, contemporary structure with angular, clean lines and a lingering hint of vintage.

    The renovated lobby includes a gas fireplace, games and books, a garage door opening to an outside patio and amenities such as free coffee and granola (in this case, the wittily named “Crapola” made in Ely). The rooms themselves offer up high-end coffee, remote blinds, with the usual amenities such as shampoos, conditioners and lotions in more spa-like quality and with what has been described as “magically luxurious” bedding.

    Owner/contractor Lewie Kellin likes to think of the
establishment as “somewhere between a bed and breakfast and a hotel.” 

“You can walk around in your sandals and play a game and have a beer,” he explained. “You don’t have to follow all the rules of a corporate hotel. There is a concept in Boulder and Lake Tahoe where they are taking old Budget Hosts and turning them into base camps for adventure. These properties are hubs that feel like home away from home at a drive-up hotel. That’s kind of what we are, even though we were well into our project when we discovered this.”

    And what a project it has been.

    Kellin and his wife, Megan, were living in Colorado deeply entrenched in family life and the corporate world. He went to work each day on the 31st floor of an accounting firm in downtown Denver. They had just had a baby.

    “My dad was always trying to get us back home to Grand Rapids, and he mentioned this run-down hotel that belonged to the bank and he thought we should put in an offer,” Kellin recalled. “We were just flipping a house in Colorado. I was sick of the corporate thing. I had a daughter and wasn’t getting home until 1 a.m. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I don’t like meetings. It was a good dose of why I wanted to work for myself. So we were kind of like, ‘What the heck.’ We put in an offer that was kind of low, and it went through. My wife likes to say we accidentally bought a hotel. There was nothing magical about it. It was more like, ‘Oh, expletive, I just bought a hotel’.”

    At the time, the rooms were renting for a meager $117 per week.

    “It was banked-owned three times over,” Kellin said. “They sold it and got it back three times. It had been neglected. I’m a hands-on person and it had good bones, so I knew I could tackle it. As a kid I would hand my dad screws and tools. I enjoy seeing things transformed. I enjoy being dirty and feeling sore at the end of the day. We saw this and the price was right and we saw the potential. I got myself through college with my landscaping business, and every summer I squirreled away enough money to pay for the next year. I get how business works, but honestly I have no hospitality experience whatsoever.”

    From there Kellin began the overwhelming task of renovating the rooms, one by one, toilet by toilet. “We were bootstrapping it to save up to buy 15 toilets at a time so we could get a bulk rate.”

    Along the way, he made a few rookie errors that played out in his favor.

    “OK, so I’ve had guests offer to buy the bed they slept in on the spot because we spared no expense on those. Same goes for the bedding. I’m not sure how that’s going to pay for itself, but it was something I felt was important.”

    After recent completion of gutting and renovating the rooms, Kellin’s next plans to put the finishing touches on the lobby, with an upgraded common space and bistro. He’ll be add a bar and dining area where guests will be treated to a complimentary breakfast of crepes, fruit salad, yogurt, granola and “good coffee.” 

    “Every time I stay in a hotel, I forgo breakfast,” Kellin said. “The bread has a four-week shelf life. The food just isn’t good. I want to take a different approach that is fresh and inviting.”

    He also has plans for a yurt outside where folks can enjoy board games and beer in the evening and a mimosa or bloody Mary at breakfast.

    “The whole lobby concept is going to have lots of seating areas and spill-out onto the patio with more seating and heating elements,” Kellin said.

    His vision, which will be completed in August, is inspired not by his quest for perfection, but by something to “make the community a better place to be.”

    Kellin’s brother has Down syndrome, and as part of the community vision, he would like to staff the bistro with young people facing such challenges. 

    “I truly feel like I want to change some people’s lives. I might get lucky and turn a profit, but, in the meantime, we want to contribute to the community. We want our staff to feel like they are lacing up their skates and are part of the team. It’s really easy to knock something over and start from scratch, but to breathe new life into something historic is incredibly rewarding.”

County recognizes 2019 Itasca Farm Family

July 05, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    At the June 25 meeting of the Itasca County Board, Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker presented the MN Safety Council Governor’s Award for 2018 to Itasca County. 

    The award looks at three years of injury data compared to national industry statistics, a 100 point safety program evaluation and implementation of a comprehensive safety program.  It has been awarded since 1934.  

    There were 294 employers honored; 170 of which were meritorious achievement winners, including the county.  “The award is a direct result of Itasca County employees making a choice to be aware of their surroundings and work safely each and every day,” he said.

    Brynden and William Lenius from Bryndlewood Gardens have been selected as the 2019 Itasca County Farm Family of the Year.  They will be recognized on Thursday, Aug. 8 at Farmfest and on Friday, August 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the Itasca County Fair, Trailhead Building. The award was presented by Conley Janssen, chair of the Itasca County Extension Committee. The farm produces fruits, vegetables, plants, cut flowers and eggs.

    A quarterly update on activities of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation was given by Tamara Lowney, president, and staff and consultants, who spoke on progress toward the IEDC goal of county awareness of what the organization does, where it is located and resources it has available. 

    Lowney anticipates award of a federal Economic Development Administration grant of $190,000 partially directed toward hiring of a recovery specialist and said a new IEDC website would be active during the first week in July.  J.M. Longyear is expected to aggressively market its site at the former Itasca Eco Industrial Park at the end of July.  Sarah Carling of Community and Economic Development Associates spoke on the 11 communities she is visiting, the asset inventory of business properties and a commercial rental study.  

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $17,873,373.55 of which about $16,860,000 were apportionment payments.

    • Approved June warrants from the Health and Human Services Department for $1,405,997.28.   In response to a question from Commissioner Burl Ives, HHS Director Eric Villeneuve said that the county was on track for an annual total close to last year.

    • Recognized Jackson Purdie who has transferred from Health and Human Services to the Land Department.

    • Applied and accepted Minnesota Department of Public Safety Reimbursement of $94,005.38.

    • Accepted and will act as fiscal host for Essentia Equipment and Health Supports Grant to Deer River Schools of $8,000

    • Accepted three grants totaling $15,750 toward the Wood Kiln Project: $1,000 from Lake Country Power Operation Round Up, $9,750 from Minnesota Department of Agriculture Value Added Award and $5,000 from TransCanada Energy Community Investment.

• Approved a 5-year operating contract for the county transfer station and demolition landfill with Waste Management.

    • Approved the crossing agreement with Enbridge Energy and encroachment agreement with TransCanada/Great Lakes Gas for CSAH 93 road construction project. 

    • Approved a utility easement with Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation across tax forfeit trust land in Sec. 13, T 56 N, R 23 W.

    • Approved the 2019 lease agreement with Northern Minnesota Swap meet and Car Show.

    • Approved an amendment to     the Nashwauk Tower agreement with AT&T to replace equipment with 5G/firstnet compliant equipment.

    • Approved and accepted the 2019-2020 Housing Support Agreements for corporate, individual and supplemental services.

    • Approved a letter of support for the city of Coleraine application to designate Mount Itasca as a park of regional significance.

    • Heard a tobacco compliance educational plan.  Commissioner Ives spoke to the need to change the mandatory presentation.  Attorney Adam said county ordinance 065 would need to be amended to change the procedure.  Commissioner Ben DeNucci pointed out that no changes in the current store training procedures were described.  The plan was accepted on a vote of 4-1.

    • Adopted a resolution to submit Itasca Medical Care as the county’s choice for a Managed Care Organization for Families and Children and MinnesotaCare.

    • Held a closed session to discuss the ERP Iron bankruptcy.

Heliene breathes new life into Range solar plant

June 20, 2019

By Kitty Mayo

 

    The story of solar photovoltaic module production in Mountain Iron, Minn. has entered a new chapter this year with Ontario-based Heliene revitalizing a plant started there in 2011.

    The Mountain Iron facility was built and operated originally by Silicon Energy with high hopes of energizing the region’s economy at the beginning of a new era of renewable energy. Those hopes faltered as Silicon struggled to make a go of it, and by 2015 Heliene began contract manufacturing there.

    Ultimately, Heliene took over operations in 2017, and in 2018 the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation board (IRRR), along with the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), gave loans totaling $3.5 million. The loan was split equally between IRRR and the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development.

    Matt Sjoberg, director of business development for IRRR, said despite other failures in the solar panel business, the IRRR has faith in Heliene’s efforts.

    “They are up and running with more people working there now and they are making more panels than the prior tenant ever made. We are very happy to have found another company that would use that facility for what it was constructed for, with the added bonus of a much higher production capacity,” said Sjoberg.

    Currently the only solar module or solar panel manufacturer in Minnesota, Heliene has the full support of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA).

    Liz Lucente, MnSEIA communications director and general counsel, believes the ongoing demand for solar is not slowing and could give rise to more manufacturers moving into the state.

    Looking back, Lucente said legislation called “Made in Minnesota” was a robust policy giving rise to several solar module manufacturers in the state. 

    “A couple years ago there were four or five solar manufacturers here and when that program ended they all eventually shut their doors, with some of them moving out of state. It was disheartening,” Lucente said.

    According to MnSEIA, Heliene is filling a booming demand with a total of about 1,000 megawatts of solar installations underway, and a full half of that being community solar projects.

    Currently running with nearly 70 employees, the company hopes to continue to add staff within the next couple of months.

    An extremely strong year in 2017 is what prompted Heliene to expand into Minnesota permanently, then the tariffs of 2018 and the affected Chinese market with higher prices for solar component parts brought a very tough year.

    Despite fluctuations in the solar industry, Scott Mclorie, Heliene’s vice president of sales and business development, said the future for solar remains bright with very high demand, especially in Minnesota, but also across the country.

    “Regardless of policy, by and large the fundamental economic case for solar nationwide is very strong and that allows us as a North American manufacturer to grow,” said Mclorie.

    He said the perceived labor costs savings in a more rural location are not very evident, with competition from the mines bringing those up. However, he noted the welcoming atmosphere across the board in Mountain Iron and Minnesota from governmental agencies had the strongest pull.

    “The largest advantage had been that the region and state have been extremely supportive as our partners in diversification of the economy and adding another set of skills to the area,” Mclorie said. The second advantage in Mountain Iron has been an intact, trained workforce.

    “There was a workforce in place there from the previous plant and the city wanted to continue with solar manufacturing, being able to keep incredibly talented key personnel definitely played a part in driving us to committing to this area,” he said.

    Cautious growth seems to be the byword for Heliene’s success. Starting with its main office and original factory in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in 2010, the move to Minnesota was a measured one that happened in phases.

    “This market is so fast-paced that manufacturers have to respond and be reactionary in a challenging environment. Now the market has jumped back up and we are running full bore at Mountain Iron,” Mclorie said.

    Despite overseas manufacturers having the advantage of low cost of capital, Mclorie said Heliene’s competitive advantage lies in working smarter, not harder.

    “It is challenging, but we compete by having better logistics costs, and a much smaller sales organization that forms close partnerships with developers and installers,” he said.

    Even with the recent fall in global solar module prices, Heliene’s production calendar is nearly full for 2019 going into 2020. Nonetheless, ongoing uncertainty over how the application of additional tariffs will be applied is a cause for concern.

    “In the last six months our market has been challenged by the current administration’s tariffs, and the latest tariffs have still had an exemption for a certain number of cells imported to assist in supporting domestic production. Now there has been a walk-back on the safeguard of cells and a lack of clarity on how these things will be enforced and we are struggling with how that applies to us. It’s always easier to do business when you know the rules,” said Mclorie.

Bigfork Valley Hospital seeks to fill two vacant board positions, discusses strategic planning

June 13, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The Bigfork Valley Board of Directors met on Tuesday, March 5 for its regular board meeting with all directors present except Wirt and Koochiching Unorganized townships. During public comments, Ken Porter, director from Bigfork Township, said he felt leadership should acknowledge the retirement of long-time senior companion LaRue Hocking.

    Dr. Ed Anderson presented six providers for credentialing with a six month provisional status and three to be credentialed without conditions. 

    Board Member Joann Krickhahn, representing the city of Effie, has resigned effective June 1. Diane Bakke, city of Bigfork, will assume her position as chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. The board will appoint a replacement to serve until this fall’s election when the remainder of the term through 2020 will be on the ballot. Letters of interest for this position and a vacant position for Pomroy Township will be accepted at the hospital until July 1, 2019.

    The strategic planning process, specifically a conversion to a 501c3 nonprofit, was discussed. John Licke, board counsel, said community questions to him had included: what is a 501c3, how does it fit into the current structure and what would it do that the current board could not?

    unTapped Inc. (Ed Zabinski and Laura Connelly) was selected to facilitate the board strategic planning in the fall for a proposal cost of $15,450. The board discussed the need for an understanding of national health care trends and local dynamics. The Strategic Planning Committee will locate an expert in the current health care environment to supplement the presentation.

    A contract from CliftonAllenLarson was accepted for an estimated cost of $12,500-15,000 for modeling of projected financial data if there were a conversion to a 501c3, including possible changes in the health care environment. “It is still a guess,” explained Aaron Saude, CEO. “Everything put into it is based on assumptions…but it’s a better guess.”

    In his CEO report, Saude spoke about the Home Visitor program’s new staff, Wilderness Health and the Make It OK initiative to remove the stigma of asking for help with mental illness. Through the efforts of the Safety Committee, the Mod (Modification) factor applied to workmen’s compensation premiums had been reduced since 2015 from 1.87 to 1.16 with a $70,000 impact on cost. State nursing home surveyors have certified that all deficiencies have been addressed. The National Rural Health Association has awarded a 2019 Top 20 Critical Access Hospital Patient Satisfaction award to Bigfork Valley, making it the hospital receiving this award the most times.

    The board recessed into a closed meeting regarding litigation with Paul Bunyan Communications and its contractor.

    In other business the board:

    • Approved the financial report showing a loss of ($95,358) for the month ending April 30, 2019 and a year to date loss of ($364,450). The 2018 audit report will be available by the June 25 Finance Committee meeting and will be reviewed at the July 2 board meeting.

    • Noted that there were 40-50 attendees at the World Café, and that the Strategic Planning Committee would be reviewing the results.

    • Heard about a recent Supreme Court decision and separate presidential proposal which would increase reimbursement to rural hospitals.

    • Authorized directors to attend the Minnesota Hospital Association summer trustee conference.

    • Expressed appreciation to the Safety Committee for its work in lowering the Mod factor and awarded an employee appreciation award to LaRue Hocking, retired senior companion.

Federal agencies renew Twin Metals leases

May 23, 2019

    Twin Metals Minnesota (TMM) announced the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), has renewed TMM’s federal mineral leases, held in good standing for more than 50 years. 

    The leases cover land nine miles southeast of Ely, which TMM said is “one of the world’s largest untapped deposits of copper, nickel, and platinum group metals.” It includes the area where TMM is preparing a proposal for an underground mine.

    The announcement was made last week by Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Mineral Management Joe Balash. Congressman Pete Stauber (R-Minnesota) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota) attended the announcement.

    The renewed leases add new conditions, including higher annual royalty payments, project milestones, and additional environmental requirements.

    “This lease renewal is a critical step to allow us to present a proposal for our underground mine project,” said Kelly Osborne, TMM chief executive officer. “It’s very good news for us and for the communities in northeastern Minnesota who look forward to the hundreds of jobs and major economic development this mine will bring.”

    In coming months, TMM will submit its mine proposal to state and federal agencies for environmental and scientific review by regulators. TMM is already working with the BLM, USFS, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and other government regulatory agencies to facilitate the process.

    TMM said it has more than $450 million already invested in the project and is committed to developing these resources in an environmentally safe and sustainable manner.

Nashwauk Home Show set for this weekend

April 11, 2019

    Whether you’re looking to purchase new lawn equipment or just want to peruse the products and services offered by local businesses, the Nashwauk Home Show is likely to have something that will appeal.

    The 34th annual Home Show, which is set to take place on Friday, April 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will include displays from more than 60 vendors. 

    In addition to all day food service from local restaurants, nonprofit organizations and vendors, attendees can help support local emergency service organizations by visiting the Friday Fish Fry or Saturday’s pancake, egg and sausage breakfast. The Friday Fish Fry, which runs all evening on Friday, is put on by the Nashwauk Fire Relief Association. Saturday’s breakfast begins at 9 a.m. and continues while supplies last and is sponsored by the Nashwauk Ambulance Association.

    Numerous drawings will take place throughout the show and prizes include a barbecue gas grill donated by Pokegama Lawn & Sport, a $100 gift certificate donated by 5 Star Pest Control & Cabin Care, $100 in Chamber bucks donated by Schweiby’s Concessions and a $50 basket of goodies donated by the Nashwauk Chamber. Kids activities also will take place throughout the event.

    Admission to the annual Home Show is free. 

Bond refinancing to result in substantial savings

March 16, 2019

By Kathy Lynn / KOZY Radio

 

    More than one million dollars. That’s how much Independent School District 316 is expected to save after voting to refinance four bonds during the school board meeting on March 5.

    Michael Hoheisel of Baird Financial Services told the board they could realize savings of between $1.125 and $1.756 million dollars over the life of those bonds. The criteria for refinancing bonds varies, but establish a minimum return and a maximum cost. The specific bonds approved include taxable general obligation OPEB refunding bonds and general obligation alternative facilities refunding bonds. The board also agreed to enter into a lease-purchase financing and to issue refunding certificates of participation. Hoheisel said the bonds will go to market in the next few weeks. He also said that residents with a $100,000 home could see a savings of up to $20 a year.

    Natasha Maninga gave a presentation on her first five months teaching Agricultural Sciences. Maninga’s classes in 2018-19 include Forestry, Introduction to Agriculture, GIS, Leadership and Animal Science. So far, 146 middle school students and 95 high school students have signed up for her classes. She said her focus is on 7th, 8th, and 9th graders and is working on collaborations. One collaboration will include a garden club at Itasca Community College. Produce from the project will be donated to the food shelf. She recently received a grant allowing her to work another 20 days with students during the summer. 

    Maninga also started an FFA team. According to the mnffa.com website, the National FFA Organization remains committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. About 15 students participated this year. She said the team was just a few points shy of making it to the state competition. 

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved a lane change for Carter Berkelman, BA 30 to MA and a lane change for Josi Rahne, BA 45 to MA.

    • Accepted the resignation of Ashley Becicka, special education paraprofessional

    • Accepted the resignation of Kayla McInerney, special education paraprofessional

    • Approved the retirement of Susan Schrunk, speech language pathologist 

    • Approved the replacement hire of Patrick Kobal, special education paraprofessional

    The board meeting was originally scheduled for Feb. 27, but, was rescheduled due to a sports conflict.

County board updated on state legislation, sets tax and highway meeting dates

March 07, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, Feb. 26 with all commissioners present except Leo Trunt. 

    The Itasca County Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting was scheduled for Monday, June 17 at 3 p.m. with a second meeting (if needed) on Monday, June 24 at 3 p.m.

    A meeting to review the Five Year Plan for highway improvement projects was scheduled for Tuesday, March 12 at 3 p.m. or immediately following the county board meeting in the Itasca County Board Room.

    Board members held a conference call with Rep. John Persell, DFL - Bemidji and lobbyist Loren Solberg for an update on legislation affecting the county. 

    Persell is the chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee in the House. Current bills were discussed. Commissioner Burl Ives asked whether there had been discussion about the effect on counties of DNR land purchases and subsequent removal of those lands from the tax base. He noted that Itasca County is approaching two-thirds public land. In response, there has been discussion about increasing PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) by 30 percent or assessing land values 30 percent higher. 

    Solberg spoke of the governor’s gas tax increase proposal, pointing out that Minnesota is $10 billion behind on road and bridge work. He was asked by the commissioners how much of the road and bridge budget was dedicated to rural northern Minnesota – rural monies appear to go to communities closer to the Cities. Solberg suggested that one of the criteria is traffic count, which tends to keep grants closer to urban areas. 

    Commissioner Ben DeNucci attended the House Transportation Finance hearing in St. Cloud and pointed out that Highways 14, 23 and 371 had active advocates, something that is needed to push the Highway 169 extension.

    Persell suggested that there might be a bonding bill this year, which would benefit Deer River where wastewater infrastructure is critically in need of upgrading. 

    An update on IMCare was provided, listing the various audits the department was subject to for data, timeliness, claim compliance and more. IMCare passed all audits last year.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $924,558.29.

    • Approved Health and Human Services February warrants of $1,018,332.78.

    • Recognized changes in county personnel. Included were new employees Anne Kruger (Probation) and Bryan Hopkins (Transportation); and transferred employee Kristin Isaacs (within Health and Human Services). Lori Petermeier has retired from the Health and Human Services Department after 32+ years.

    • Awarded site preparation contract to Future Forest, Inc. For $65,052 and Tree Planting Contract to Champion Forestry Service for $25,757.60

    • Authorized easement acquisitions across county tax-forfeit land for CSAH 52 project.

    • Approved the 2019-21 Mine Inspection Services Agreement with St. Louis County.

Youso will depart Grand Itasca

January 17, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

    Michael Youso, president of Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital will be resigning his position as of April 2, 2019. The announcement was made by the hospital last week. 

    “He has been an excellent leader for Grand Itasca,” said Colleen Nardone, chair of the Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital Board of Directors. “He has done some creative things like adding the pharmacy. He’s been a leader to hospital staff and the board, and he and his wife have become important to the community.”

    Jean MacDonnell, vice president of clinic services will become the interim president while a search continues for the top position.

    “Her selection as interim president was a unanimous board decision,” said Nardone, “and we have every confidence in Jean going forward.” 

    Youso began his career with Grand Itasca in 2010. During his tenure, he negotiated an affiliation with Fairview Health Services which began in January 2017, increased the number of specialties available locally, and opened a walk-in Rapid Clinic and another outreach clinic at the YMCA, among other initiatives.

    In February 2017 a “Close to Home” campaign was launched to build a new cancer and infusion center on the Grand Itasca campus. By August of that year the $2 million goal had been reached and the new center opened its doors the next February.

    “The hospital will miss his leadership and the community will miss the contributions of the Youso family,” said Nardone.

Nashwauk Fourth of July committee resigns

November 01, 2018

By Beth Bily

 

    The Nashwauk City Council will once again need to fill all the seats on the city’s Fourth of July Committee.

    At last week’s council meeting, officials accepted the resignation of all members of the committee which included: Maria Bauman, Ben DeNucci, Kelly DeNucci, JoDee Lopez and Lisa Peratalo. In the committee’s joint resignation letter, they cited councilors failure to approve a budget as the reason for the parting of ways.

    

    “As discussed in planning last year, this (the budget) is not a decision that can be left for the last minute as this takes months of organizing and planning to provide a fun and family friendly celebration for our community members and business,” read the resignation letter.

    Former committee members also suggested in their resignation letter that councilors with ideas about how the committee should be run were welcome to implement them. “After careful consideration and observation of the way the council is handling this, we as a committee have decided to resign from the committee effective immediately. We have heard comments from sitting council members about how they would like to see it run. Here is your chance!”

    The council accepted the resignations, thanking committee members for their past efforts. 

    This is the second consecutive year the city’s Fourth of July committee has resigned. In February of 2017, the entire Fourth of July committee resigned, citing “inaccurate and demeaning comments” made by a city councilor or councilors as well as spending decisions that were made by others not on the committee.

    In other business, the council:

    • Approved an agreement for reimbursement between city and East Itasca Joint Sewer board.

    • Approved resolution in support of executing an agreement with EIJSB

    • Accept resignation of Paul Tweed from the Public Utilities Commission. The city will send a letter thanking him for his service.

    • Declined a request for use of the campground for off-season storage.

    • Authorized the city administrator to complete the process for a new city logo. The logo was designed by Treasure Bay Printing in Grand Rapids.

    • Passed a resolution adopting ordinance supplements.

Design phase underway for new elementary buildings

August 23, 2018

    At the Aug. 13 meeting of the ISD 318 Sal Bagley from Wold Architects was on hand to give the board an update on the design phase of the two new elementary schools. Bagley said the design team has recently been engaged in a process called schematic design which she characterized as setting the philosophy and big picture design of the building, as well as identifying goals and priorities. 

    Bagley said the architects would next move into the design phase of the project which brings detail to the building’s rooms. The final leg of the design phase of the project will produce construction documents which are the basis for contract bids.

    Bagley said that topics discussed during the schematic design phase of the project include site safety, security, shared use spaces and acoustics. Each building would have five classrooms each of K-5, two Applied Labs, a special education suite, music room and a media center. In addition, each of the two new buildings will have a gymnasium, Adaptive PE gym, an administrative suite, kitchen/cafeteria, a receiving area and a boiler and mechanical room.

    The east and west design teams met together to discuss concepts that the two new sister buildings should have in common. Many of these characteristics were shared by the Cohasset team as well. Some of the guiding principles of all three design teams include space for future expansion, locating common activities in the same part of the building(s), multi-use facilities that can accommodate diverse school activities as well as community events, and a media center that is central to the building. At Cohasset, additional consideration will be given to entrances to the community center and daycare center, as well as separation from school-only areas.

    Bagley displayed a preliminary drawing of each K-5 building. Each building would have three wings with classroom space. The ground floor would have space for K-3 classrooms. Classrooms for 4-5 would be situated on a second floor directly above grades 2-3. Kindergarten would have its own wing with no second story above it. Adjacent to the classroom space would be space for special education and administration. The main entrance would be adjacent to a music room, the gymnasium and the cafeteria. The media center is at the heart of both buildings in the diagrams. Bagley said that the building’s exteriors would likely be brick with some stone, while incorporating as much daylight and glass as possible.

    At Cohasset, many of the same themes will be woven into its renovation. Space for the gymnasium, cafeteria and music room will be separated from classrooms by a centrally located media center. These spaces will be designed to be flexible so that they can accommodate both a diverse range of school activities as well as community events. The Cohasset building will be different from the two new K-5 buildings in that it will have space for a daycare center and community center and it will borrow from existing architecture.

    In other business, the board:

    • Accepted the resignations of one custodian and one staff member, and approved the hiring of four replacement ESPs, one marching band advisor, and a contract reduction request from one teacher.

    • Approved a request to add one middle school coach if needed.

    • Approved the 2018-2019 ISD 318 handbooks.

    • Approved the heating fuel bid from the lowest bidder.

    • Approved the diesel fuel bid from the lowest bidder.

    • Approved a contract with Hammerlund Construction for repairs at RJEMS pond.

    • Approved a contract with Hammerlund Construction for asphalt repairs.

    • Approved the 2018-2019 Invest Early service agreement with IASC.

    • Approved the athletic training program services agreement with Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital.

Peterson and Kleven named Outstanding Senior Volunteer Award recipients

August 09, 2018

   The Outstanding Senior Volunteer Selection Committee is pleased to announce that Judy Peterson and Jerry Kleven, both from Grand Rapids, have been named as the 2018 Itasca County Outstanding Senior Volunteer Award recipients.   

 

   With a great sense of humor and deep compassion, Judy Peterson is bundle of energy and an exceptional volunteer who combines her organizational skills with sincere compassion to make great things happen for people in need. Judy gives her time to Itasca Hospice, Ruby’s Pantry, Open Door Coat Rack and others, but Judy’s volunteering extends far beyond simply doing the work. She stands out as a volunteer who coordinates almost 200 other volunteers doing impactful work across Itasca County. Judy oversees the receptionist volunteers at Itasca County Tax Aide, who assisted more than 1,100 income tax preparation clients during the 2017 tax season, and most recently accepted the role of organizing 90+ volunteers for the Grand Rapids Area Library’s annual used book sale. Most notably, since Judy has coordinated ElderCircle’s entire free grocery shopping and delivery program, it has tripled in size from 8-10 clients each week in 2011 to now serving 30-33 clients every week. As a letter of recommendation stated, “Judy is fiercely dedicated to doing whatever it takes to best serve clients and volunteers.” Another letter stated, “Judy’s humble, generous spirit and heart for people in need drives her steadfast commitment to serving others.”

    At 91-years young, Jerry Kleven is generous with his time and resources and is genuinely passionate about the community as a whole. He gives his time to Grand Rapids Rotary Club, Zion Lutheran Church and Itasca County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, among others. Jerry has volunteered for the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank and Grand Rapids Food Shelf since the late 1990’s, during a time that might be described as some of the most difficult changes a board of directors can face—the illness and death of the founding and current executive director, the search and hiring of a successor, a capital campaign and building a new facility. The Food Shelf survived and thrived during that time due in part to the dedicated work of the board of directors, including Jerry Kleven.

    In addition to being an integral part of the Food Shelf’s transitions, years later, Jerry was the first donor to Grand Itasca Foundation’s “Close-to-Home” capital campaign that brought a new cancer clinic and infusion center to Grand Itasca to better serve the medical needs in the local community. He served on the steering committee that helped raise more than $2 million for the capital campaign, and was an outspoken voice who constantly “rallied the troops” throughout the fundraising effort, never losing sight of the vision. 

    Jerry Kleven doesn’t hesitate to ask people for help with something that is close to his heart. When he sees a task that needs to be completed, or catches the vision of a community-wide project, he takes the bull by the horns and soon has an army of people working alongside him to complete the mission. He is well-respected, is a positive influence and mentor to many, and at 91-years young, Jerry is an inspiration to all who know him.

    The annual Itasca County Outstanding Senior Volunteer awards ceremony will be held during “Senior Day at the Fair” on Friday, August 18 at 12:30 PM to honor all nominees. Representing Itasca County on a state level, Peterson’s and Kleven’s nominations have been forwarded to the Minnesota State Fair for consideration for the Minnesota Outstanding Senior Volunteer State Award, which will be presented on Thursday, August 31 at the State Fair. 

Beefy Lawson’s legacy lives on

July 26, 2018

    Members of the Beefy Lawson Memorial Fund recently presented their entire fund worth $118,000 to the Greenway Area Community Fund Advisory Committee. The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation Community Giving To Community campaign provides matching funds for all donations to Community Funds through a $1M grant from the Blandin Foundation, will double the amount of the gift.

    “We are overwhelmed with this generous donation, and the opportunity we now have to learn from this great Beefy Lawson Memorial Fund group,” says Greenway Area Community Fund Advisory Committee chair, Casey Venema. “We are obviously new at this, yet we have generated more than $40,000 over the past year through fund raisers, donor letters, celebration of Giving Tuesday and word of mouth. This substantial donation really helps us reach our $200,000.00 goal faster and allows us to start giving to some worthy local causes.”

    Beefy’s son, Bob Lawson, explained why the board decided to give their fund to the Greenway Area Community Fund: “You look in the mirror and realize it’s time to do this,” states Bob. “We worked hard to grow our fund, and realized at this point in our lives, the best way to ensure the fund would continue to be maintained and benefit the area, was to transfer it to the Greenway Area Community Fund.” One of the stipulations for the transfer of the fund was to ensure youth activities remain an important part of the annual granting by the Greenway Area Community Fund Advisory Committee, with a permanent seat on that committee provided to a member of the Beefy Lawson Memorial Fund board. 

    Beefy Lawson started the Greenway Recreation Board in 1978 and established an annual hockey event where local law enforcement and fire departments played against their Hibbing counterparts as a popular fundraiser for youth hockey. An Itasca County Deputy Sheriff for more than 11 years, Beefy was killed in the line of duty in 1981 while protecting children. Beefy was born and raised in Taconite, Minnesota, and was well known for his involvement in community activities that benefited area youth. 

    Upon Beefy’s death, many gave memorials in his honor, so his son Bob Lawson and Tom Peltier established the Beefy Lawson Memorial Fund in 1982. The Beefy Lawson Memorial Fund continued to grow for the past 36 years, giving annually to youth athletics and law enforcement activities. Until recently, the board also awarded a yearly scholarship to an area student graduating from the Hibbing Community College Law Enforcement Program. 

    Board members of the Beefy Lawson Memorial Fund, in addition to Bob and Tom, include, Don Hoey, Pat Medure, Diane Gross and Lefty Kane. Since the mid-80’s, the Beefy Lawson Memorial Board has -raised money and granted more than $200,000 to youth recreation throughout the county in memory of Deputy Lawson.

Exploring the life of ‘the little giant of the North’

July 12, 2018

By Beth Bily

 

    Iron Range college instructor, blogger, political activist and commentator Aaron Brown has a new project in the works – a book that explores the life and achievements of Victor Power, a man who Brown describes as the first successful populist in Iron Range history.

    Power was the mayor who “built” Hibbing, according to Brown. One of his most notable achievements was his mining taxation policies, the revenues from which were responsible for much of the meteoric growth of the town at the time. In his blog, Brown wrote of Power: “He and his brother Walter were the first Iron Range leaders to defy the mining company on civic improvements, taxation, and damages owed to the victims of mining disasters.”

    Power, an attorney by profession, held the office of Hibbing mayor (or at the time, village president) in the 1910s and 1920s. In a telephone interview, Brown described his tenure as a “very big part of the American story at the time.” Yet while his contributions to the Iron Range were significant and many, there are nonetheless gaps in the historical telling of Power’s life and times.

 

    “You’ll also see that Vic Power is listed among the famous Hibbing residents enshrined with ‘honorary’ street signs along Howard Street. But chances are there are more pictures taken of Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale or even Gary Puckett’s sign than old Vic,” wrote Brown on his website. “For a man who dreamed of granite inscriptions bearing his name, Power found his greatest works bulldozed into an endless hole on the north side of town. His exploits and his portrait are prominent in the Hibbing Historical Society Museum, but tell me — if I didn’t tell you, would you know where to find them?”

    To understand Power’s significance, one needs look no further than Hibbing High School. 

    “Anyone who’s seen Hibbing High School knows why it’s worth mentioning. Built in 1922 of the finest materials, this building was the most expensive public school in the country at the time of its construction….To see the high school after driving Hibbing’s “Beltline” along the Highway 169 industrial park is an exercise in flipped expectations. How is it possible!” wrote Brown. “The mines, we say. The mines built it. And they did. But missing in that story is an important detail. ‘Why’ did the mines build such a pearl cast before the working classes of this isolated mining village? They didn’t do it out of love. They were making a deal, a profitable one at that. The Oliver Mining Company built the school because a recent strike had scared the company. Because they were asking an entire town to move. Because an uprising would disrupt the future of the world’s largest corporation. But specifically, the mine built the school because Victor Power cut the deal.”

    Brown hopes to change Power’s modern status and perhaps return this important city builder to his rightful place in history. He spent the better part of 2017 and into 2018 researching and gathering stories of the man he has called a “remarkable figure” of the time. His sources include journals during his tenure as mayor and newspaper articles of the time. He also is actively seeking input from Iron Range locals who may be able to offer insight into the life and contributions of Power. He encourages anyone with a Power or related story to contact him through his blog, minnesotabrown.com.

    Writing about Power isn’t Brown’s first book endeavor. He also penned “Overburden, Modern Life on the Iron Range,” which published in 2008. This time around, however, the author hopes to find a larger publishing house for the completed work. He plans to spend the remainder of this year researching. 

    The completion and release date for the book are yet to be determined.

LaPrairie mayor resigns

June 14, 2018

   At last week’s meeting of LaPrairie City Council, officials once again took up the topic of the Fuhrman Ave. proposed improvement plan.

        

   There was widespread opposition to the initial plan from Fuhrman Ave. residents, prompting Mayor Lynn O’Brien to discuss with residents the possibility of returning it to a gravel road. With widespread opposition to that concept as well, O’Brien asked City Engineer Jayson Newman to return to the council with a “bare bones plan.”

    The revised plan called for 1 1/2” of bituminous instead of the standard 2” overlay, no tree planting, and no widening of the driving surface or turn-around at the north end of Furhman Ave. Installation of driveway ramps to meet the new driving surface remained part of the plan. 

    

    At last Monday’s meeting, Newman said the cost of the project now stands at $40,700 compared to the original cost of $57,000.

    At the conclusion of the discussion, officials passed a resolution ordering the revised improvements on a 5-0 vote. 

    O’Brien expressed satisfaction with the council’s efforts to reduce the cost of the project. “I’m glad we took a step back and we talked with the residents on Furhman and got their ideas, and I think we’ve made a really good compromise.”

    At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor O’Brien submitted her resignation, effective June 4 at 9 p.m. She took the opportunity to thank residents, past and present council members and past mayors for allowing her to serve the residents of LaPrairie. 

    O’Brien cited ongoing health concerns as the reason for her resignation. Said O’Brien, “…due to continued health issues, I feel it is best for the city and for me personally, that I resign.”

    The council accepted O’Brien’s resignation, and then moved that Mayor Pro Tem Vic Moen would serve as acting mayor. 

    Moen previously served in that role for a four month period this past winter. Moen’s move to fill the remaining time of O’Brien’s appointment leaves a vacancy on the city council.

    O’Brien was elected Mayor in November of 2016. Prior to that she served as a city councilor.

    In other business, the council:

    • Heard a presentation on cost estimates for Martin Street improvements.

    • Was updated on Veterans Park Trail connector.

    • Received estimates for ditch erosion protection on Glenwood Street ranging from $13,000 - $17,350.

Interior Dept. reinstates mineral leases denied in 2016

May 10, 2018

BusinessNorth Report

 

    The federal government has reinstated two long-time mineral leases that it now admits were incorrectly denied in 2016 due to a legal error.

    Twin Metals Minnesota began the process to renew two of its existing exploration leases in 2012. They previously had been renewed in 1989 and 2004. On Dec. 15, 2016, the U.S. Forest Service indicated it would not consent to a third renewal. The move, which came in the final days of the Obama administration, was felt by some to be a political decision to prevent non-ferrous mining in Northeastern Minnesota. For example, Sixth Congressional District U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer called it a “misguided, last-minute” action.

    That decision was reversed one year later by the Office of Solicitor, who decided the earlier denial was incorrect. It was under pressure from Twin Metals, which had filed a lawsuit challenging the move, and Emmer, who sponsored a bill that came to be known as the Minnesota Economic Rights in the Superior National Forest (Miner) Act, which was approved last November. DFL Rep. Collin Peterson (Seventh Congressional District) and Republican Rep. Jason Lewis (Second Congressional District) co-sponsored Emmer’s legislation.

    “As we continue to correct the politically motivated missteps of the Obama administration, I remain committed to bringing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars back to Minnesota and putting our local communities on a path of economic prosperity for years to come,” Emmer said last week.

    A trickle down effect emerged during the halt. It impacted drilling firms, lodging firms, restaurants and other companies, said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a trade group that represents the non-ferrous mining industry.

    “This is really good news,” he said. “This decision will benefit this region as early as this summer. It will translate into jobs for many companies.”

    The federal mineral leases are important components of the underground mine project proposal that Twin Metals is preparing for review by the state and federal governments.

    “Twin Metals is pleased with today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to reinstate Twin Metals’ federal mineral leases held in Northeast Minnesota. The formal reinstatement of the leases is an important step in the lease renewal process, as described and affirmed in the December 2017 DOI legal opinion,” the company said in a prepared statement. 

    “Today’s reinstatement will also allow Twin Metals to resume environmental study and project development activities on the federal leases yet this summer. Twin Metals looks forward to working with federal agencies in the coming months to complete the proper process of renewing the company’s federal leases.

    Although Twin Metals was at the vortex of the disagreement, Ongaro noted the 2016 decision also impacted several other companies in the Rainy River watershed. But Twin Metals and its predecessor firms probably had invested the most into mining precious metals regionally. The publicly held corporation said it has invested more than $400 million in acquisition, exploration, technical, environmental, and other project development activities.

Bill addresses property tax rates for electric utilities

April 12, 2018

By Sally Sedgwick

 

It’s not expected to pass this year, but a bill moving through legislative committees for the second year gives an indication of what’s to come for local units of government hosting electric facilities.

Those units of government benefit from property tax charged utilities on the value of equipment to produce and distribute electricity. But, explained Loren Solberg, lobbyist for Itasca County, this value can fluctuate. It can, for instance, go down with depreciation or go up with improvements to the equipment. 

That fluctuation is bad for budget making, both for the government unit and for the utility. 

Over recent years, Itasca County has seen the overall valuation from the four unit Clay Boswell plant in Cohasset decrease about two percent per year because of depreciation, said Jeff Walker, county auditor/treasurer. 

To complicate matters, older plants like Clay Boswell pay tax on machinery while most of the machinery in newer plants built since 1994 have been exempted from personal property tax through individual state laws. Boswell’s newest unit 4 was completed in 1980.

House bill HF1985 and senate companion bill SF2193 would change the method of valuing personal property for electric utilities.

 

The valuation would be made up of several parts: electric generation capacity valuation (based on nameplate capacity in kilowatts), electric production valuation (varies with kilowatt hour production), spent fuel (tons stored on nuclear plant site), substation valuation (based on megavolt-amperes of transformers), transmission and distribution line valuations (based on miles of line). 

The tax is based on these known quantities times a set rate, rather than adding up individually assessed amounts on equipment. That makes the overall valuation and annual tax estimate relatively stable. For generation and production capacity, the rate is tiered so that the lowest rate is used for hydroelectric and the highest for fossil fuel. The production capacity rate is adjusted annually by changes in gross domestic product for nonresidential investment. 

Investor owned utilities would be affected. Municipal and rural electric cooperative distribution systems, and municipal generators would be exempt. A generation and transmission cooperative like Great River Energy could make a one time election not to be subject to the new valuation system. 

The last part of the bill addresses replacement aid for those communities that lose tax base under the new valuation method, for instance when a plant closes and stops generating electricity. The aid would be paid out of the state’s general fund. 

It’s this discussion that has stalled the bill in committee, explained Solberg. How long would it be granted, how fast would the amount change…there are moving variables that need to be worked out.

“Itasca County is watching this closely,“ Rep. Sandy Layman said. “And, as it currently stands, I believe the county would be happy with this change in taxing method as would the city of Cohasset.”

As to the future, “I would expect legislation will not move forward until all stakeholders are either in support or neutral on the new structure,” she explained. 

Minnesota Power, which owns and operates Clay Boswell, sees an advantage to that new structure. The bill is “not trying to lessen the tax,” explained Pat Mullen, senior vice-president, external affairs for ALLETE, the parent of Minnesota Power. “It’s just redistributing it so it’s more predictable. It would still benefit local communities.”

Efforts improve grad rates in Itasca County

March 15, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

State graduation rates have reached an all time high, with most schools in Itasca County still outperforming the average.

Overall high school graduation rates in the state have reached the highest ever on record at 82.7 percent. Though that is only a slight increase over last year, that slow upward trend has climbed 4.3 percentage points since 2012.

Greenway School District held steady, graduating about 95 percent of their high school seniors last year, and Grand Rapids remained fairly constant with a 91 percent graduation rate.

Reducing the disparity of graduation rates between white students and students of color has been a priority for the Minnesota Department of Education, which reports that measures taken to close that gap throughout the state are slowly taking hold.

For the past five years students of color in Minnesota have showed greater gains in graduation rates, reducing the 27 percentage point gap between students of color and white students graduating to a closing disparity of eight percentage points.

Deer River Superintendent Matt Grose says that American Indian students there saw another gain in 2017 of 2 percent in graduation rates for a total of 73 percent graduating, a healthy step ahead of the 51 percent state average.

“We are proud of that slow and steady progress, that is the kind of growth that is sustainable,” said Grose.

Grose says the district hopes to continue making gains for all graduating students with a newly implemented alternative learning program at Deer River.

“We’re really focusing on kids that are discouraged with a traditional approach, and are offering them a different approach to make up missing credits toward graduation,” Grose stated.

That non-traditional approach has staff that students are already familiar with rotating through a program with a more flexible schedule. Around a dozen students are already participating this year. 

Overall, Deer River posts grad rates just under 90 percent, a gain of about 3.5 percent over the last three years. Grose says he believes that the addition of a second counselor to the school has played a part in helping to keep students on course.

While there is no silver bullet to solve challenges that interfere with graduation, Grose believes there are variables that can be adjusted to make improvements. Part of the success in closing achievement gaps at Deer River, he says, is finding innovative options to meet the needs of students where they are.

“Learning needs to be constant, but time can be a variable,” said Grose, adding that giving students opportunities for tutoring both during and after school can help them master information needed to retake a test. “I think the key is that they finish and get that diploma, it’s fine if it takes an extra semester.”

While critics may say that personal accountability is lacking under that approach, Grose counters that giving students every opportunity to learn with individualized support is real learning. He also credits improving graduation rates at Deer River to a school culture that is inclusive of all students.

“You can feel the positive energy if kids want to be there, and feel like they can be themselves,” Grose stated.

At Nashwauk-Keewatin, where Grose also is superintendent, a slight slip below state average graduation to 79 percent means a redoubling of efforts to improve rates is in the works there, with a refocusing on their alternative learning program as well, he said.

Celebrating 100 years of 'Grace'

February 15, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

From a small photography shop in 1918 Bovey a picture called “Grace” became a legend. Now, 100 years later, the Itasca County Historical Society celebrates its humble beginnings.

Announcing its annual grand opening of exhibits for 2018, Lilah Crowe, ICHS executive director, says this year’s event kicking off the season will open with the centennial celebration of the picture “Grace” on Feb. 22.

The exhibit will detail how the photographer, Eric Enstrom, found his way to Bovey and his fortuitous decision to ask a passing salesman to sit for a staged photograph in 1918.

That salesman was one Charles Wilden. While he left an indelible mark on the hearts of many through his image, little is known about him.

What is known is that in 1926 Wilden accepted $5 in exchange for any claim on the photograph and then rapidly disappeared from the Range’s history books. Crowe says that research revealed that Wilden later died in Nebraska.

Remarkably, Enstrom’s first attempt at sharing the photograph with a wider audience was scarcely appreciated. 

“He entered the photo into a state contest, but all the people told him it didn’t have a light source,” said Crowe, who added that Enstrom then used a special tool to alter the photograph by adding a window for a source of light on the humble scene.

Later, Enstrom taught his daughter, Rhoda (Enstrom) Nyberg, how to hand-tint the photographs to create a color version. 

While Enstrom maintained a steady business of selling framed prints of the photo from his little Bovey shop, worldwide sales rapidly shot up when the copyright was sold to Augsburg Publishing in 1950. In 1995 Augsburg let the copyright expire, moving the famous picture into the public domain.

The only state in the union to have an official photograph, “Grace” was voted by the state legislature to be Minnesota’s official picture in 2002.

The Historical Society has one of the original black and white photographs of “Grace,” as well as on colorized picture done by Nyberg in the 1930’s.

“We want to tell people that if they have a picture at home to bring it in and we can tell them what era it came from,” Crowe said. 

As the colored photographs gained popularity, Crowe says that many people got rid of their black and white or sepia toned copies, leaving a rare few of them in circulation.

Attendees of the grand opening will be able to view a video comprised of a production that is still underway by A+B Productions, showing fifteen commentaries from people sharing how the picture has affected their lives. 

“This collection of oral histories started last summer with an intern, and is inclusive across many generations and immigrants talking about what the picture meant to them,” Crowe stated.

Another phase of the project is an initiative to have all exhibit signage also in braille for visitors who are blind. The impetus to increase accessibility for sight challenged visitors was also brought about last summer’s intern, Wesley Sisson, who is himself blind.

“This is the first time we are putting anything into braille, but Wesley’s idea and testimony of what “Grace” meant to him inspired us,” said Crowe.

Crowe says that next year’s exhibits currently being planned will feature the many historical camps throughout the area. Already planning for 2020, ICHS’s 100th year, Crowe anticipates featuring the centennial of the 19th amendment, and the active role that Range women played in achieving the right to vote.

The annual grand opening will take place Thursday, Feb. 22, from 4 to 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Winning moves

February 01, 2018

By Sally Sedgwick

Jordan Heindl does things by the hundreds.

After school, he describes his training routine as stretches, then a hundred each: pushups, situps, pullups, jumps and squats.

Then it’s time for dinner.

After dinner there is wrestling practice with his sparring partners and coaches. Following is 15 minutes of cardio exercise, and then they learn and practice new moves. The training finishes with a stretching routine.

Then it’s usually bedtime.

Sometimes, he adds, they do it twice: 200 each.

Jordan Heindl is only eight years old, but his dedication and hard work have placed him at the top of his wrestling age group in the region. He has won three of the four Midwest Nationals and will try for a sweep in two weekends. Winning all of them will place him in the Midwest Wrestling Tour Hall of Fame, something achieved by just a dozen youth, or less than one percent of participants last year.

The Midwest wrestling circuit includes tournaments in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa that draws youth from around the country. And wrestling, says Jordan’s father James, is very big business. Jordan’s parents take him to tournaments whenever they can, and at those tournaments they always find at least 500-1,000 participants. The national tournament Jordan went to recently in Tulsa, Okla. had 1,400 kids; 27 in Jordan’s weight (49 lbs.) and age (8 and under) alone. His brother James also wrestled in the tournament. 

Jordan came in fourth, but it’s the medal he treasures most.

Jordan has been wrestling for just over two years. He tried out the sport first in a tournament in Nashwauk in 2015 without knowing any wrestling moves, said James. 

He won. 

His parents encouraged his interest, taking him to practices in Nashwauk and Grand Rapids at first. Now it’s a family activity. His sparring partners are his brother James (11) and sister Kendra (12), and his coaches are his parents, Kayla and James. 

Coach James did some wrestling in school, but he has expanded his knowledge to train Jordan, spending time doing research on moves and techniques. Their practice gym is in their home where they have two wrestling mats. 

It isn’t all about sport. Jordan has made friends all over the country in the tournaments. “Other kids follow him around,” laughs Kayla. 

He has a profile online with USA Wrestling and so far just this year it has over 13,500 views.

(trackwrestling.com,browse>profiles>search>Jordan Heindl). Listed under his picture and wrestling name (Jordan ‘The Freak’ Heindl), are seven tournament championships won last year. He also has received a plaque for being listed in the top 10 youth competitors in Minnesota.

As wrestling great and Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable is widely quoted as saying: “The 1st period is won by the best technician. The 2nd period is won by the kid in the best shape. The 3rd period is won by the kid with the biggest heart.” 

In that case, Jordan might be the whole package: “He can’t get enough,” says James. “He lives for training and competing, day and night.” 

And then there’s Jordan’s own slogan on his profile page: “Train while your opponent is asleep.”

Judge rejects MPCA’s wild rice proposal

January 18, 2018

Photo courtesy of MPCA

By Kitty Mayo

 

A Jan. 4 court ruling by a state administrative law judge rejected the Minnesota Pollution Control’s proposal for changes to the wild rice sulfide rule. In an unusual coalition of sentiment, both mining and environmental organizations are publicly stating they are pleased with the court’s decision.

Mary Connor, MPCA water quality information officer, was reached but declined to comment on the ruling.

“Unfortunately, we are not in a place where we are able to talk about it (the ruling) right now. We need to read and analyze it before discussing,” said Connor.

The ruling came after months of public hearings held around the state, review of research and a period allotted for public comment.

The new rule would have individualized sulfate discharges to each body of water, amending the current 10 milligrams of sulfate per liter of discharge water to 120 micrograms of sulfide per liter in sediment, making the standard more responsive to local conditions. 

The MPCA predicted this would affect at least 130 permitted facilities, including many small cities throughout the Iron Range. With costly reverse osmosis systems the only option for removing sulfates from water, early estimates of how this would affect local wastewater facilities were staggering.

Paula Maccabee, representing Water Legacy, a group opposing sulfide mining in Northern Minnesota, said that the proposed standard would have overall weakened protection of wild rice with its new formulation based on iron and carbon in soils, undue financial strain on utilities that could not afford to comply, and by reducing the number of wild rice affected lakes listed.

“The MPCA proposal would have gutted the protection against sulfide and would have put a new impact on utilities,” Maccabee said.

Maccabee says Water Legacy members are pleased that after reviewing thousands of pages of exhibits the judge came to the conclusion that the current standard should be retained.

“The judge did say the old standard is in effect, and for the first time a well-considered opinion by a neutral third party has deemed it necessary,” Maccabee stated, “This report by Judge Schlatter is an important validation of science and safe law.” 

Meanwhile, the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota (IMA) sent out a press release lauding the judge’s decision.

“The IMA and our supporters are pleased that the Administrative Law Judge heard our message and understood that the MPCA’s proposed rule is flawed and would result in dire consequences for the iron mining industry and Minnesota communities,” said IMA President Kelsey Johnson.