Surprise birthday party honors First Responder Pat Hill

September 17, 2020

By Don Basista

 

    Diane Stay and Julie Hemphill are long-time friends of Pat Hill, and they decided to give her a surprise combined belated birthday party and appreciation for her public service, as Pat had turned 81 years young early this year.

    They both baked about 200 cookies, brownies, and provided the soft drinks.

    Pat grew up in Squaw Lake, later attended St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Rochester, graduating as a Registered Nurse (RN), and shortly after that, was one of several private nurses who attended the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was having medical issues with depression.

    In 1982 she moved back to Squaw Lake and began working as an RN at Northome Nursing Home, and then at Black Duck Nursing Home, retiring in 2010. She began working as a First Responder with the Squaw Lake Fire Department in 1995.

    Fire Chief Brian Williams along with Assistant Tom Kallio both commented that whenever an emergency call came in Pat was always the first one to respond, adding “She is a dedicated public servant.”

    Sheriff Vic Williams has known Pat for many years going back to when he was working at Deer River PD with Pat on many medical calls, said “The world is a better place because Pat Hill is in it, her care and compassion for her friends and neighbors is irreplaceable and her dedication to our public safety has been incredible.”

    Pat said “I had no idea of the party, I was very surprised, thanks to all involved and who attended.”

    Besides being a First Responder, Pat is Treasurer for Kinghurst Township, Secretary for the Itasca County Townships Association, Board Member with Black Duck Ambulance Service, and attends quarterly Emergency Medical Services meetings in Itasca County.

Bigfork Valley makes initial levy request of $700,000

September 10, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    At its Sept. 1 board meeting, Bigfork Valley voted to keep its preliminary levy request the same as last year at $700,000.

    The uncertainties in financial outlook due to COVID-19 was the main topic of discussion. Financial Analyst Dan Heinecke said that cash currently stood at about $10 million, but was projected to fall to $8 million by the end of the year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had prepaid estimated billings in April to help hospitals prepare for the pandemic, and was due to start taking that money back through withholding payments in August. That hasn’t happened, and when that will start is still unknown. Medicare reimbursement rates into the future are also uncertain.

    Inpatient and outpatient revenues have started coming back after being down as much as 70 percent. By July those revenues were still off 30 and 45 percent respectively. Net income for July was $145,000 with staffing rebounding to 162 full time equivalents.

    CEO Aaron Saude said that the hospital was reopening slowly. The fitness center was now open to employees and dietary was offering boxed meals to visitors, patients and staff. Adult Day Stay remains closed, and testing in the nursing home is being conducted based on positivity rate. Currently is it once a month, but could be as often as once every three days if the rate increases.

    As an expression of appreciation from the board, staff will each receive a $25 gift certificate to be used at a selection of local merchants. In addition, peer recognition awards were made to Jessica David, Frank Walker and Julie Neilson.

    Filing has closed for open board positions in the November election. Candidates will be: Bigfork Township, Clinton Cook; city of Effie, Tom LaMont; Itasca County Unorganized Townships (incumbent); Marie Lovdahl (incumbent) and Allysa Pitzen; Koochiching County Unorganized Townships, Greg Cook (incumbent); Marcell Township, Teresa Kittridge (incumbent); Pomroy Township, Gordon Rahier; Stokes Township, George Rounds (incumbent); and Wirt Township, Dean Sedgwick. No one filed for the city of Bigfork seat.

    In other business, the board heard that:

    • Mass COVID-19 testing is being planned in Itasca County two weeks after Labor Day.

    • CliftonLarsonAllen will be reviewing the revenue cycle audit.

    • The nursing home is expecting a rapid COVID-19 analyzer with 300 tests in addition to the one in use at the hospital.

    • Chair George Rounds and CEO Aaron Saude participated in filming for a National Health Resource Center education series for hospital board members. 

    The next board meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 9 a.m. For information on how to join the meeting as a member of the public, contact (218) 743-1772.

One-in-five small firms will close if conditions don’t improve

September 03, 2020

BusinessNorth Report

 

    The NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) Research Center released the latest COVID-19 related survey assessing the health crisis impact on small businesses. Congress is currently negotiating additional financial support for small businesses after the initial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan period expired on Aug. 8. If eligible, 44 percent of small businesses surveyed said they would apply or re-apply for a second PPP loan with another 31 percent saying they would consider applying for one.

    “As we continue to navigate this unprecedented health and economic crisis, we need to make sure we are supporting the people who keep Minnesota’s economy strong: small business owners,” said NFIB State Director in Minnesota, Mike Hickey. “While many small business owners have been able to safely get their employees and customers back and their businesses up and running again, others have not. There are many Minnesota small business owners who are on the verge of closing their doors. Congress needs to step up and help them out. If something doesn’t happen very soon, Minnesota stands to lose thousands of job creating, employee supporting small businesses.”

    Key findings from the survey include:

    • Most PPP borrowers (84 percent) have now used their entire loan, up from 71 percent in July. The remaining 16 percent of borrowers are likely not far behind on spending.    

    • Most PPP borrowers (81 percent) applied for the loan through the financial institution that they normally use for business purposes.

    • About 43 percent of borrowers plan to use the EZ form when applying for loan forgiveness. 

    • Thirty-five percent of respondents have applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) were approved for a loan and 9 percent were denied.

    About 18 percent still have not heard yet about the status of their loan application.

    • Of those who applied for an EIDL loan, 22 percent of loan applicants are “very satisfied” with the EIDL program overall and another 44 percent were “satisfied.”

    • Almost half of PPP loan borrowers (47 percent) anticipate needing additional financial support over the next 12 months.

    • If eligible, 44 percent of small business owners would apply or re-apply for a second PPP loan. Another 31 percent would consider applying for one. 

    • Sales levels remain at 50 percent or less than they were pre-COVID sales levels for about one-in-five employers. Another 28 percent report sales levels of 50-74 percent from pre-crisis levels. Half (50 percent) are nearly back to where they were with some (14 percent) exceeding pre-COVID sales levels.

    • About one-in-five (21 percent) of small business owners report they will have to close their doors if current economic conditions do not improve over the next six months. Another 19% of owners anticipate they will be able to operate no longer than 7-12 months under current economic conditions. Over half (61 percent) are better situated and do not anticipate any near-term problems. 

    • Most small business owners do not expect business conditions to improve to normal levels until next year at the earliest.

    • Only 19 percent of owners anticipate conditions improving to normal levels by the end of the year.

    • Six percent of owners say that conditions are back to normal now.

    Over half of owners (52 percent) anticipate it taking until sometime in 2021 and 20 percent believe sometime in 2022.

    • The CARES Act provided additional financial assistance of supplemental unemployment insurance benefits through July 31. The program presented a significant challenge to some small business owners.

    • About one-third (32 percent) of small business owners reported that the extra $600 per week unemployment benefit has hurt their business by making it harder to hire or re-hire workers. However, the UI program has also helped support customer spending, with 9 percent of owners feeling like they benefited from the program by putting more money in their customers’ pockets.

    • Three percent of owners said they had to offer a higher wage to encourage a worker to come back to their job, and 4 percent reported having an employee agree to continue working but only with reduced hours in order to also receive the $600 per week benefit.

    The threat of legal action against small business is a serious concern for 21 percent of owners and a moderate concern for another 34 percent of owners. Just under one-third (31 percent) are not too concerned and 14 percent are not concerned at all, likely due to limited contact with the general public or having few employees, if any.

    • About one-in-five (21 percent) of small employers have had an employee take COVID-19 related paid sick leave or family leave as mandated and offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

    • Only 30 percent of employers have claimed the tax credit or an advance refund for reimbursement of these costs.

    This publication marks NFIB’s 11th Small Business COVID-19 survey assessing the health crisis impact on small business operations, economic conditions, and utilization of the targeted small business loan programs.

N-K readies for in-person school year

August 27, 2020

By Beth Bily

 

    At last week’s meeting of the Nashwauk-Keewatin School Board, officials approved plans for in-person learning as the district prepares for the 2020-21 school year.

    Following guidance from the state, the N-K school district adopted an in-person learning model. State guidelines suggested an in-person model in areas with less than 10 cases per 10,000 residents. The most recent data available from the Minnesota Department of Health shows a county-wide infection rate of 5.09 per 10,000.

    While officials are preparing for in-person classes at both the elementary and high school levels, it won’t be business as usual. Precautions are being implemented such as personal protective equipment. The district also will be taking measures such as discontinuing large gatherings and eliminating volunteers in the school buildings, incoming Superintendent/Principal Brenda Spartz reported to the board.

    Board Director Barb Kalmi noted that all IASC (Itasca Area Schools Collaborative) members were opting for an in-person learning model with the exception of Deer River, which is implementing a hybrid model. Area districts are also making online learning available for families who wish to keep their children at home this fall.

    Spartz said that regional superintendents will be keeping in close contact and sharing information with one another as the school year unfolds. 

    Board Chair Lisa Peratalo emphasized the district’s commitment to its students and faculty. “The board is concerned for staff and for safety. We’re all in this together,” she said.

    Parents/guardians are being asked to help contain the spread of COVID-19 by screening their children at home. Any child with a fever of 100.4 or higher or other symptoms, such as a cough or shortness of breath, should be kept home.

    In other business, the board:

    • Watched an informational video on transformational coaching, which emphasizes athletics making a difference in a child’s life rather than “winning at all costs.”

    • Approved the school nurse contract.

    • Approved an updated school calendar for 2020-21.

One-in-five small firms will close if conditions don’t improve

September 03, 2020

BusinessNorth Report

 

    The NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) Research Center released the latest COVID-19 related survey assessing the health crisis impact on small businesses. Congress is currently negotiating additional financial support for small businesses after the initial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan period expired on Aug. 8. If eligible, 44 percent of small businesses surveyed said they would apply or re-apply for a second PPP loan with another 31 percent saying they would consider applying for one.

    “As we continue to navigate this unprecedented health and economic crisis, we need to make sure we are supporting the people who keep Minnesota’s economy strong: small business owners,” said NFIB State Director in Minnesota, Mike Hickey. “While many small business owners have been able to safely get their employees and customers back and their businesses up and running again, others have not. There are many Minnesota small business owners who are on the verge of closing their doors. Congress needs to step up and help them out. If something doesn’t happen very soon, Minnesota stands to lose thousands of job creating, employee supporting small businesses.”

    Key findings from the survey include:

    • Most PPP borrowers (84 percent) have now used their entire loan, up from 71 percent in July. The remaining 16 percent of borrowers are likely not far behind on spending.    

    • Most PPP borrowers (81 percent) applied for the loan through the financial institution that they normally use for business purposes.

    • About 43 percent of borrowers plan to use the EZ form when applying for loan forgiveness. 

    • Thirty-five percent of respondents have applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) were approved for a loan and 9 percent were denied.

    About 18 percent still have not heard yet about the status of their loan application.

    • Of those who applied for an EIDL loan, 22 percent of loan applicants are “very satisfied” with the EIDL program overall and another 44 percent were “satisfied.”

    • Almost half of PPP loan borrowers (47 percent) anticipate needing additional financial support over the next 12 months.

    • If eligible, 44 percent of small business owners would apply or re-apply for a second PPP loan. Another 31 percent would consider applying for one. 

    • Sales levels remain at 50 percent or less than they were pre-COVID sales levels for about one-in-five employers. Another 28 percent report sales levels of 50-74 percent from pre-crisis levels. Half (50 percent) are nearly back to where they were with some (14 percent) exceeding pre-COVID sales levels.

    • About one-in-five (21 percent) of small business owners report they will have to close their doors if current economic conditions do not improve over the next six months. Another 19% of owners anticipate they will be able to operate no longer than 7-12 months under current economic conditions. Over half (61 percent) are better situated and do not anticipate any near-term problems. 

    • Most small business owners do not expect business conditions to improve to normal levels until next year at the earliest.

    • Only 19 percent of owners anticipate conditions improving to normal levels by the end of the year.

    • Six percent of owners say that conditions are back to normal now.

    Over half of owners (52 percent) anticipate it taking until sometime in 2021 and 20 percent believe sometime in 2022.

    • The CARES Act provided additional financial assistance of supplemental unemployment insurance benefits through July 31. The program presented a significant challenge to some small business owners.

    • About one-third (32 percent) of small business owners reported that the extra $600 per week unemployment benefit has hurt their business by making it harder to hire or re-hire workers. However, the UI program has also helped support customer spending, with 9 percent of owners feeling like they benefited from the program by putting more money in their customers’ pockets.

    • Three percent of owners said they had to offer a higher wage to encourage a worker to come back to their job, and 4 percent reported having an employee agree to continue working but only with reduced hours in order to also receive the $600 per week benefit.

    The threat of legal action against small business is a serious concern for 21 percent of owners and a moderate concern for another 34 percent of owners. Just under one-third (31 percent) are not too concerned and 14 percent are not concerned at all, likely due to limited contact with the general public or having few employees, if any.

    • About one-in-five (21 percent) of small employers have had an employee take COVID-19 related paid sick leave or family leave as mandated and offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

    • Only 30 percent of employers have claimed the tax credit or an advance refund for reimbursement of these costs.

    This publication marks NFIB’s 11th Small Business COVID-19 survey assessing the health crisis impact on small business operations, economic conditions, and utilization of the targeted small business loan programs.

Bigfork Valley closes Balsam Clinic, adds OB-GYN

August 13, 2020

    At its August meeting, the Bigfork Valley Hospital Board heard that the Balsam Clinic was closing and that an OB-GYN had been added to the Specialty Clinic. CEO Aaron Saude said that the decision to close the Balsam location was financial.

    In the financial presentation, the hospital had a net income of $241,168 in June, with $2.5 million for year to date net income. Those figures include the pandemic stimulus payment. Year to date operating loss as of June 30 was $2.3 million.

    The board heard an update from Tamara Lowney, CEO of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation about its activities in 2020 and efforts made to retain or sell the e2ip (formerly Bergquist) facility just north of Bigfork that is closing by the end of the year. A direct effort is being made to resolve the future of the facility before then in order to retain the workforce which has an average tenure of 16 years. The board voted to donate $2,000 to IEDC over the next two years.

    The effect of the closing of the e2ip plant and the recently announced closing of Thistledew correctional facility on the hospital and community was discussed, and an analysis for the hospital board was requested for its September meeting.

    Chief Medical Officer Ed Anderson addressed the board about the time spent by Scenic Rivers Health Services to learn about and prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the effort, he said, the clinic feels it is ready for any spike in local cases. From the public health standpoint, he asked everyone to support the effort to reduce virus spread by wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, staying 6 feet apart from anyone who doesn’t live in the household and avoid crowds. There was a discussion of the negative effects of “mask shaming” if people cannot wear masks for a health reason.

    There was a positive case of COVID at the Villa assisted living, resulting in testing for residents and staff. It was noted that people with home addresses elsewhere who tested positive while at cabins in the area would not be reflected as Itasca County cases.

    Board members were asked by chair George Rounds to bring opinions on the tax levy to the September meeting. Although there is cash on hand it is not known how much of the monies awarded will have to be repaid. At the same time, some district members are facing significant financial burdens. 

    The board recognized Jennifer Rissanen and Alex Cleath with peer recognition awards.

    In other business, the board:

    •Approved credentials with a six month provisional for an emergency room locum and without a provisional period for a cardiologist. 

    • Rescheduled the next Finance Committee for Friday, Aug. 28 at 3 p.m.

    The next hospital board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. For information on how to join the virtual meeting, call 218-743-1772.

Protesters buck regulations at Effie rodeo

July 30, 2020

By KBJR-TV

 

    The North Star Stampede draws thousands of spectators to the town of Effie each year.

    However, after last-minute changes to the number of people who could attend, rodeo fans became frustrated last week.

    The owner of the North Star Stampede, Cimarron Pitzen, said even though he was told to limit the number of people at the rodeo, he wouldn’t stop anyone from entering. 

    In fact, he waived the admission fee.

    Pitzen said he worked with the Itasca County Sheriff’s office to hold the rodeo while taking precautions against COVID-19. 

    He planned for social distancing and cleaning. The stadium normally holds 3,000 people, but state COVID-19 guidelines say only 530 people can be inside.

    Pitzen said the Minnesota Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office told him only 132 fans could attend. 

    Pitzen posted on Facebook last week, saying there would be no spectators at the rodeo, but he welcomed protesters instead.

    “I’m putting the rodeo on down here,” Pitzen said. “There’s people coming to protest this ridiculous government overreach, and they’re all on their own. I’m not going to stand in their way. Everyone here has the right to assemble and the right to voice their opinion.”

    Pitzen said the low occupancy limit was not enough to pay the bills anyway, so he waived the admission fee altogether.

    His Facebook post gained almost 600 shares. One protester said there is more than COVID-19 to be concerned about.

    “There’s a lot worse things to happen,” Jim Nordlund said. “One of them is losing your constitutional rights rather than getting the flu, and that’s what I worry about: the constitution.”

    In a statement Thursday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility, and his office is working with events to keep Minnesotans safe.

    Even though Pitzen said he has nothing to do with the protesters, he is grateful for the support. The rodeo kicked off Friday evening and ran through Sunday.

Some Minnesota employers happy to see extra jobless benefits end

July 23, 2020

By Mark Zdechlik, 

Minnesota Public Radio

 

    Wade Karnes is frustrated. 

    He runs two small businesses in northern Minnesota and can’t fill open jobs, even though unemployment is at near record highs.

    “We’re trying to hire right now,” Karnes said. “We just can’t find anybody.”

    Karnes makes fishing tackle and stamps metal for a variety of products.

    Before the pandemic, he had 10 employees. Six people work for him now, and he can’t keep up. 

    “We’re not making money. We’re not making product, and we’re getting further behind as we go,” he said. “So, it’s on myself and my wife and my son to put in extra time even just to try and get product out.”

    Karnes is convinced the extra $600 per week that the federal government added to unemployment benefits — not the COVID-19 pandemic — is to blame for the shortage of job applicants.

    “The problem is people are being rewarded just to stay home and not to work. That’s the biggest issue,” he said. 

    It’s a complaint many businesses are expressing. Plenty of people who are working low-wage jobs are also dumbfounded that others are making more money than they are collecting unemployment. 

    Chad Dohlen, president of Midwest Staffing Group, which links employers with employees for light industrial and office work, said his agency has more jobs than it can fill.

    “Literally, when we call candidates about that, they’ll sometimes as much as laugh at us and hang up the phone and tell us they can make more money on unemployment,” Dohlen said. 

    Even though the extra $600 per week benefit is about to end, Dohlen said he continues to see a lack of interest in returning to work. 

    “We’re tried to set that tone, that sense of urgency that this is going away at the end of July and kind of hoping that maybe we’d get some more people who want to go back to work, but it’s just not happening,” he said. “We’ve enhanced our referral bonus, we’re giving sign on bonuses, we’re doing everything we can possibly think of to try to get people back to work.”

    Dohlen thinks once the unemployment bonus is gone, many unemployed people will start looking for jobs. 

    Economist Louis Johnston, who teaches at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, said the data is mixed about people choosing enhanced unemployment benefits over work.

    “I think it varies by the industry,” he said. 

    More specifically, it varies by wages. With that extra $600 a week, workers on the lower end of the wage scale — roughly under $25 an hour — are making more money staying at home than they were making at their jobs. But research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests only about 1 in 4 Minnesotans is in that situation. 

    Still, Ted Chalupsky, the president of another Twin Cities employment agency called The Right Staff, is also convinced unemployed people are poised to flood the job market.

 

    “There will be more candidates than there will be jobs, but then that will start to even out over the course of the next six to eight months based, again, on what our clients are telling us,” Chalupsky said, adding this advice to people who plan to return to work. “Get started now, because in August there is going to be a flood of candidates out there and if they really do need to get back to work, it’s going to be a first-come, first-served situation, at least for the next few months. So I would suggest they start doing it today and not wait until the end of the month or the first few weeks in August.”

    Johnston agrees jobs could be increasingly difficult to come by, but not because scores of people will be driven back to work by decreasing unemployment benefits.

    Johnston said he worries the spread of the pandemic will shrink the economy just as it appeared that it was beginning to turn around. 

    “For example, in southern California they’ve shut down all the restaurants and bars again,” Johnston said. “How’s that going to affect companies like Hormel in Austin which has a large food service component? That might end hurting the jobs that are available there or at some of the other packaged food companies.”

    Listen to MPR at 100.5 FM in Duluth, 89.3 in the Ely area, 89.7 in the Grand Marais area, 107.3 in the Grand Rapids area, 88.3 in International Falls and 92.5 in the Hibbing-Virginia area.

COVID-19 cases tick up in Itasca County

July 16, 2020

    As of 9 a.m. on Monday, July 13, Itasca County is up to 76 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of eight residents since last Friday.

    According to Kelly Chandler, department manager for Itasca County Public Health, several additional tests conducted over the weekend remain pending. Itasca County deaths related to COVID-19 remain at 12. 

    “We definitely are seeing an increase in Itasca County cases of residents in their 20s,” said Chandler. “We also are seeing some cases from contact over the Fourth of July weekend and will continue to see the impact from those situations in the next week or two.”

    Itasca County Public Health staff will reach out to newly positive cases and determine who may have been close contacts. County staff will provide information and support to those diagnosed, as well as those with whom they have had close contact and now may need to self-quarantine. 

    For those seeking testing in Itasca County, the following facilities are available:

Bigfork Valley and Scenic Rivers

    In Bigfork, COVID-19 testing is available through collaborative efforts between Bigfork Valley Hospital and Scenic Rivers Health Services Clinic. Curbside testing is available by appointment from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

    Tests sent to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in accordance with their testing requirements have a turnaround time of three to four days. Due to the increased demand for testing in the state, results sent to Bigfork’s third-party lab, LabCorp, may have a turnaround time of seven to eight days.

    Urgent testing for emergency room transfers, hospitalized patients, symptomatic senior services residents and tenants, surgical patients, and ill healthcare workers at Bigfork Valley may be eligible for in-house testing with a minimum turnaround time of 15 minutes. Rapid testing is supply-dependent and may be extended to additional patients if supplies become more readily available. Patients with questions about whether they should be tested for COVID-19 should contact their primary care provider. 

 

Essentia

    SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) testing is performed at all Essentia Health hospitals, including Essentia Health Deer River. Essentia Health continues to follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for testing which includes specific state travel requirements and asymptomatic patients that may have been involved in community protests, including First Responders and volunteers. 

    Essentia partnered with Mayo Clinic Laboratories for send out-testing. Currently, an extended delay in result times of up to five days has caused some surgeries to be rescheduled or further delayed. Rapid testing has been restricted slightly due to limited supplies. Serology testing for antibodies is also available and is also sent through the Mayo Clinic Laboratories, with a turnaround time of two to four days, depending on volumes. Essentia Health Deer River offers daily curbside testing by appointment from 10 a.m. to noon. To assure efficient and timely care, Essentia Health encourages patients to contact their primary care provider for guidance on testing and screening options. 

 

Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital

    Those experiencing symptoms common with COVID-19 (shortness of breath, fever of 100 degrees, new cough, new aches or pains) or those who have been exposed to someone known to have COVID-19, may quality for a COVID-19 test at Grand Itasca in Grand Rapids. 

    Testing is conducted curbside seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call the appointment line at 218-326-7344 to schedule a telephone visit with a Grand Itasca provider. If the provider determines that a patient meets the qualifications for testing, they will be given instructions for curbside testing. Tests are sent to the laboratory at M Health Fairview and results are back within 72 hours (more typically within 48 hours). Patients should self-quarantine until receiving test results. Rapid in-house COVID-19 tests are also being conducted at Grand Itasca, but due to limited supplies, they are reserved for very limited cases. Those with questions about testing at Grand Itasca, may call the main line at 218-326-3401.

    Itasca County’s Message Center is available for those with COVID-related issues and needs at 218-327-6784. Response calls will be made between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Minnesota deaths, ICU cases from coronavirus continue to slow

July 09, 2020

Minnesota Public Radio

 

    Minnesota health officials on Monday reported three more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the state total to 1,474 but continuing a two-week trend of days with deaths mostly in single digits. 

    Intensive care cases (125) also remained relatively flat at late-April levels even as overall current hospitalizations (133) rose from Sunday.

    Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases — more than 8,300 since the pandemic began. The median age for cases has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old.

    As investigators last week probed new clusters of Minnesota cases focused around bars in Mankato and Minneapolis, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm cautioned young adults to not let their guard down.

    Of the 38,569 confirmed since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of people infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. 

    Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had underlying health problems.

 

Walz eyeing statewide mask mandate

    As several U.S. states mandated mask-wearing statewide amid the recent upticks in new cases, Gov. Tim Walz last week said he is concerned enough about potential outbreaks that he’s considering a statewide mask order.

    While he didn’t give an indication on when he’d decide, the governor said such a move would offer public health benefits while helping businesses that are struggling to enforce their own mask rules.

    Meanwhile, a few Minnesota cities have mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces, and several more are considering a similar measure. Medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department said they are backing a statewide mandate.

    “It is our advice from the Health Department’s perspective that this is so important and so effective and the evidence has gotten more and more clear on this point,” Malcolm said last week. “We do recommend that it become a requirement at the statewide level.”


Meatpacking hot spots remain

    Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

    That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 952 confirmed cases as of Monday.

    Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing. 

    While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

    Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,669 confirmed cases Monday with six deaths. About 1 in 13 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

    Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

    Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,371 with 19 deaths.

    Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. As of Monday, the Health Department reported 573 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Sunday. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

    Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (316 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall. Cases the past few weeks have also grown in Cottonwood County (136 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, but the counts there have stabilized.

    Listen to MPR at 100.5 FM in Duluth, 89.3 in the Ely area, 89.7 in the Grand Marais area, 107.3 in the Grand Rapids area, 88.3 in International Falls and 92.5 in the Hibbing-Virginia area.

Some Minnesota employers happy to see extra jobless benefits end

July 23, 2020

By Mark Zdechlik, 

Minnesota Public Radio

 

    Wade Karnes is frustrated. 

    He runs two small businesses in northern Minnesota and can’t fill open jobs, even though unemployment is at near record highs.

    “We’re trying to hire right now,” Karnes said. “We just can’t find anybody.”

    Karnes makes fishing tackle and stamps metal for a variety of products.

    Before the pandemic, he had 10 employees. Six people work for him now, and he can’t keep up. 

    “We’re not making money. We’re not making product, and we’re getting further behind as we go,” he said. “So, it’s on myself and my wife and my son to put in extra time even just to try and get product out.”

    Karnes is convinced the extra $600 per week that the federal government added to unemployment benefits — not the COVID-19 pandemic — is to blame for the shortage of job applicants.

    “The problem is people are being rewarded just to stay home and not to work. That’s the biggest issue,” he said. 

    It’s a complaint many businesses are expressing. Plenty of people who are working low-wage jobs are also dumbfounded that others are making more money than they are collecting unemployment. 

    Chad Dohlen, president of Midwest Staffing Group, which links employers with employees for light industrial and office work, said his agency has more jobs than it can fill.

    “Literally, when we call candidates about that, they’ll sometimes as much as laugh at us and hang up the phone and tell us they can make more money on unemployment,” Dohlen said. 

    Even though the extra $600 per week benefit is about to end, Dohlen said he continues to see a lack of interest in returning to work. 

    “We’re tried to set that tone, that sense of urgency that this is going away at the end of July and kind of hoping that maybe we’d get some more people who want to go back to work, but it’s just not happening,” he said. “We’ve enhanced our referral bonus, we’re giving sign on bonuses, we’re doing everything we can possibly think of to try to get people back to work.”

    Dohlen thinks once the unemployment bonus is gone, many unemployed people will start looking for jobs. 

    Economist Louis Johnston, who teaches at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, said the data is mixed about people choosing enhanced unemployment benefits over work.

    “I think it varies by the industry,” he said. 

    More specifically, it varies by wages. With that extra $600 a week, workers on the lower end of the wage scale — roughly under $25 an hour — are making more money staying at home than they were making at their jobs. But research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests only about 1 in 4 Minnesotans is in that situation. 

    Still, Ted Chalupsky, the president of another Twin Cities employment agency called The Right Staff, is also convinced unemployed people are poised to flood the job market.

 

    “There will be more candidates than there will be jobs, but then that will start to even out over the course of the next six to eight months based, again, on what our clients are telling us,” Chalupsky said, adding this advice to people who plan to return to work. “Get started now, because in August there is going to be a flood of candidates out there and if they really do need to get back to work, it’s going to be a first-come, first-served situation, at least for the next few months. So I would suggest they start doing it today and not wait until the end of the month or the first few weeks in August.”

    Johnston agrees jobs could be increasingly difficult to come by, but not because scores of people will be driven back to work by decreasing unemployment benefits.

    Johnston said he worries the spread of the pandemic will shrink the economy just as it appeared that it was beginning to turn around. 

    “For example, in southern California they’ve shut down all the restaurants and bars again,” Johnston said. “How’s that going to affect companies like Hormel in Austin which has a large food service component? That might end hurting the jobs that are available there or at some of the other packaged food companies.”

    Listen to MPR at 100.5 FM in Duluth, 89.3 in the Ely area, 89.7 in the Grand Marais area, 107.3 in the Grand Rapids area, 88.3 in International Falls and 92.5 in the Hibbing-Virginia area.

ISD 318 School Board adopts budget, acknowledges Martinson

June 25, 2020

    At the June 15 meeting of the ISD 318 School Board via Zoom, officials approved the revised 2019/2020 budget and adopted the 2020/2021 budget. 

    The district will be deficit spending in the coming school year, but Board Chair Pat Medure noted that deficit spending is trending down by about $600,000. Medure and Business Manager Kara Lundin indicated that the board would be looking for ways to eliminate deficit spending after two more years.

    The evening marked the last board meeting over which interim Superintendent Sean Martinson would preside. Martinson stepped in as Superintendent when Joni Olson resigned last July. He has navigated the district through personnel issues, the death of a student, the construction of two new schools and the renovation of a third and a pandemic. He will return to the new West Elementary, while Matt Grose will take over as Superintendent. 

    Martinson thanked the board for the opportunity and said that while he enjoyed his tenure as superintendent, he is looking forward to returning to a position where he will be in closer contact with staff and students. All board directors offered praise to Martinson and thanked him for his service during a tumultuous time.

    In other business, the board:

    • Voted in favor of hiring nine teachers, three staff, one coach, and accepted the resignations of one staff, one coach, and one teacher.

    • Increased adult food prices for food service meals by ten cents for 2020/2021.

    • Approved a memorandum of understanding with Kootasca for the school readiness programs.

    • Approved the Arrowhead Regional Computing Consortium invoice and specific services contract for fiscal year 2021 in the amount of $192,528.59.

    • Approved the Legion baseball field and Grand Rapids sports complex lease agreement with the city of Grand Rapids.

    • Approved the 2020-2022 Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) 2 year membership renewal in the amount of 4,250.

Library receives Legacy funding for nature mural

June 18, 2020

    The Grand Rapids Area Library unveiled a new nature-inspired mural from artist, Adam Swanson, featuring a larger-than-life chickadee. Months in the making, this mural was funded by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund - as awarded by Arrowhead Library System - with additional support from the Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission.

    Following the lead of recent installations of large-scale community art, a committee selected Swanson for his unique approach to the juxtaposition of humans and the natural world. 

    “I made this design with the idea of a larger-than-life chickadee, a hearty little animal who enjoys all of Minnesota’s seasons. I included a family in the distance, enjoying some time outdoors near one of the northland’s precious bodies of water. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my work at the inspiring Grand Rapids Area Library,” he said.

    Swanson, a painter and muralist, currently is a member of the Twin Ports Art Science Collaborative - where researchers from Lake Superior and the SPRUCE climate change project in Grand Rapids have inspired his work.

        He has been commissioned to paint a number of public murals around the Midwest-that engage communities and visitors. He lives and works with his wife and two children in Cloquet, Minn.

    The Grand Rapids Area Library is located at 140 NE 2nd Street in Grand Rapids.

Arvig installs fiber cable in multiyear project through Bigfork and Marcell areas

June 11, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    Perhaps you’ve seen the trucks with the green and black Arvig logo on the doors. Or perhaps you’ve seen the big orange reels of fiber cable along the roads. 

    It’s part of a multi-year upgrade to the Arvig telecommunications system in the 743 (Bigfork) and 832 (Marcell) exchanges that Arvig serves in northern Itasca County.

    Scheduled to be complete by the end of the construction season next year, Arvig is undergrounding cable that can offer gig speed in the future, explained Lisa Greene, director of marketing and public relations for the company. It’s part of an ACAM (Alternative Connect America Cost Model) expansion under a federal program that helps finance the buildout of broadband Internet to rural or underserved areas.

    When complete, Arvig will have installed approximately 329 miles of cable. There are 1,465 eligible underserved structures in the Bigfork exchange and 1,438 structures in the Marcell exchange as identified by the government for the project. 

    Currently, the company is working on installing basic infrastructure along the roads. After that is complete, potential customers will be contacted about services. The federal level required is 25 Mbps in download speed and 3 Mbps upload, but the state is aiming for 100 down and 10 up in the future, said Greene. 

    Bigfork recently was named the first Telecommuter Forward! city in Minnesota, supporting digital needs of telecommuters. Although there is no connection to the Arvig project, what is being done will definitely support that, said Greene. 

    Arvig is a family and employee-owned company based in Perham. Over the years it has acquired a number of smaller telecoms and now has customers from Bigfork to Grand Meadow near Rochester, offering service to Internet customers in over half the counties in Minnesota. 

    For more information about the broadband project, call the company at 888-221-0550.

County board grapples with use of the Fairgrounds for public events

June 04, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    Twelve residents wrote to the Itasca County Board to support use of the Fairgrounds and racetrack stands in staging a graduation parade and ceremony recognizing ISD 318 graduating seniors. The board took up this question, reopening county facilities in general to public use and return of county employees to work onsite in lengthy discussions at its May 26 board meeting.

    Commissioners agreed with Sheriff Vic William’s comments that if the trailhead at the Fairgrounds is open, the Sheriff’s Department does not have the authority to disperse vehicles. The use of the grounds for staging a graduation parade through Grand Rapids was approved. 

    Use of the racetrack stands, however, led to a variety of opinions. Commissioners were sympathetic to the effort to provide some sort of ceremony marking graduation. Commissioner Burl Ives pointed out that people were OK with teens working at local businesses and that stands could be marked to allow for social distancing. However, Public Health and Health and Human Services pointed out that the governor’s orders prohibited gatherings of over 10 people no matter what location. The request was denied.

    Kelly Chandler, manager of the Public Health Division presented the Return to Work Policy. Some provisions include: daily screening for temperatures above 99.5°F and new symptoms, masking for all public interactions (even behind barriers) and where social distancing isn’t possible, designated entrances and exits, and work from home where possible. Ives pointed out that work policies for things like OSHA compliance, risk and insurance will have to be revisited for those working from home. Together with Commissioner Leo Trunt, he expressed the opinion that the board needed to be able to meet in person for upcoming decisions. 

    Administrator Brett Skyles said that most meetings would continue as virtual meetings for the immediate future based on the governor’s direction that a vaccine was needed before restrictions were lifted, and pointed out that it would be better to limit those returning to the office because one positive COVID test would send everyone in a department to a 14-day quarantine. 

    Regarding use of public grounds for events, the board decided to use the normal application process with a requirement to include a plan on meeting current public health guidelines. Application would be submitted to the Land Department which would consult with other departments such as Public Health and the Sheriff’s Department before approving.

    Commissioner Terry Snyder reported on the work being done over the last week and a half by area and state economic development agencies in response to a notification that e2ip technologies (formerly GGI Solutions) was planning to close its plant north of Bigfork and consolidate it with its Montreal operations.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved payment of commissioner warrants of $2,899,416.15, of which $2,209,899.86 was the first half fiscal disparities payment to St. Louis County.

    • Approved payment of May Health and Human Services warrants for $1,038,506.99.

    • Heard an update on COVID-19 from Public Health Division Manager Kelly Chandler on statistics, Emergency Operation Center scale back, expansion of those who can be tested to anyone showing symptoms and governor’s orders partially opening some businesses.

    • Approved the 2019-2021 Attorney Employees’ Association Collective Bargaining Agreement with the removal of Candidates for Elective Office Leave of Absence section.

    • Approved a set-up renewal for Little Winnie Resort and new on sale and Sunday liquor license for Golf on the Edge.

    • Approved an addendum to a contract with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota not affecting the budget.

    • Approved a decrease in daily rate with Northland Counseling Center – Healing Foundations Therapeutic Shelter.

    • Approved a utility easement with Great River Energy over three tax forfeit sections.

    • Heard that unused equipment from the Transportation Department, including tandem trucks, loader and tractor, and ASV will be sold at the June 22 Pike online auction.

    • Accepted an update on the status of 2020 Transportation projects.

    • Approved a lease agreement with West Range Racing, Inc. to use the racetrack at the Fairgrounds with a plan for safely opening the Fairgrounds to racing. Currently racing is on hold in the state until the governor provides a letter granting state approval.

    • Heard that the county must move forward with its previously approved contract with Morton to repair seven trusses in the Fairgrounds cattle barn. Although only those trusses will be warranted, MCIT will insure the entire building if returned to pre-claim condition.

    • Approved the IMCare first quarter 2020 financials and the IMCare Risk Based Capital plan. The board also approved a five year contract with Change Healthcare to administer prior authorizations for an annual cost of $44,347.29. 

    • Heard that Jacobson Days at the end of August have been cancelled.

    The next regular session of the Itasca County Board will be June 9, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.

Grad plans, outdoor activities discussed at COVID briefings

May 21, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    Graduation plans and outdoor activities available in Itasca County were summarized in two press briefings hosted by Itasca County Public Health last week. The briefings have focused on issues brought up in stakeholder meetings on the pandemic response in the county.

Education response

    Schools have found some positive results and opportunities from the need to do distance learning. Superintendent Pat Rendle of Hill City, for instance, noted that there was a deeper connection between teachers and student families. “There are some things I think we’re going to keep in the toolbox,” he said.

    Matt Grose, superintendent of Deer River and Nashwauk-Keewatin recognized his staff as they built a new way to deliver education and meet community needs with food and child care. He had found parent challenges to be balancing lives and work, being a teacher and motivating their children in learning. 

    Districts are providing student meals either at curbside or by delivery. In Greenway, that means 400 to 1,000 meals per day. Deer River as of last week had passed the 50,000 meal mark and in Nashwauk, the 10,000 meal mark. 

    Ensuring mental health services are provided is also a focus of the districts. When families are under stress, said Grose, mental health support becomes more important. Students previously signed up continue to receive services, but schools need families to recognize new needs and reach out, pointed out Sean Martinson, superintendent of Grand Rapids/Bigfork. “We’ll find the resources,” he said.

    Some grading has been relaxed. Grose said that there is an emphasis in his districts on what student work looked like up to the pandemic. Dr. Rae Villebrun, superintedent of Floodwood said that her district was using pass/incomplete grading for grades 5-12 unless the student had an “A.”

    Bart Johnson, provost of Itasca Community College, said that ICC was focused on continuity in the academic experience, and that the college staff had accomplished five years of development in course curriculum in two weeks. He said that there was state clearance to resume some in-person classes this week for essential career paths such as nursing assistant.

    Graduation ceremonies have been tailored to each school. Small schools feel like pandemic rules could be managed, pointed out Rendle, “but COVID doesn’t know what size your school is.” Plans and graduation dates follow:

    • Bigfork, isd318.org: May 30

    Drive up ceremonies where graduates will be able to cross the stage before immediate family. Streamed live on Facebook.

    • Deer River, isd317.org: May 31

    Drive up/drive through ceremony being planned with seniors and community.

    • Grand Rapids, isd318.org: May 29

    Parking lot ceremony where graduates will receive diplomas in front of immediate family. Streamed live on Facebook.

    • Greenway, isd316.org: May 30

    Drive through graduation followed by virtual program.

    • Hill City, isd002.org: May 20-29

    Ceremonies at each senior’s home with fire and law enforcement escort.

    • Nashwauk-Keewatin, isd319.org: May 30

    Drive up/drive through ceremony being planned with seniors.

    • Northland Community Schools, isd118.k12.mn.us: May 28-29

    Plans still underway.

    • Itasca Community College, itascacc.edu: May 11-14

    Graduation ceremonies through the week and Zoom large graduation on May 14.

Outdoor Activities

    Organizations with a focus on outdoor activities participated in an update on opportunities available in Itasca County for exercise. In response to a question, Dr. Dan Soular, CMO at Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital suggested joggers try to wear a mask, especially if running with a group. 

    Matt Wegworth, Grand Rapids Public Works director said that all trails and green spaces are open as well as the new pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River. The dog park at Veteran’s Park is open also, restricted to one household user at a time.

    Megan Christiansen, executive director of Visit Grand Rapids, had a number of recreational suggestions, including the Legion Trail starting at the high school, and Suomi Hills and Simpson Creek trails. All ATV/OHV trails are open, although there are some soft areas near Bigfork and Balsam. Equipment for paddle sports can be rented at Paddlehoppers on Highway 2 west, and Tioga Recreational Area is open with terrain for all ages and abilities. The recreational area is accessed off Tioga Beach Rd., south from Highway 2 on County 63. Bike rentals are available at Ardent bikes. All boat landings, resorts, motels and hotels are open, she said.

    For students keeping up their training, it’s old school, said Bigfork High School coach Chad Lovdahl. Push mow the grass, play golf, run outside. For non-joggers, there’s another option: gardening. Betsy Johnson and Anna Johnson of Get Fit Itasca pointed to community and student gardens. The Grand Rapids Farmer’s Market has a Facebook page to order ahead. Johnson also noted that the University of Minnesota has a new healthy foods webpage, Real Life Good Food (reallifegoodfood.umn.edu/eat/nutrition) .

    Tom Saxhaug and Lel Ollila of the Itasca County Trails Task Force noted that with 1100 lakes, there are many fishing opportunities – at a fishing pier or fishing bridge even if anglers don’t have a boat. In Itasca County there are lots of places to explore and see, they said.

Cliffs CEO: Second half of the year will be ‘fairly strong’

January 01, 2020

    BusinessNorth Report

 

    Cleveland-Cliffs reported revenues of $359 million, compared to the prior year’s first-quarter consolidated revenues of $157 million. Cost of goods sold was $356 million compared to $126 million reported in the first quarter of 2019.

    The corporation significantly increased its footprint between the two years when Cliffs worked to acquire AK Steel Holding Corp. The quarterly report this year includes the operating results of AK Steel for the period from March 13 through March 31, 2020.

    The company recorded a net loss of $49 million, or 18 cents per diluted share, which included $66 million, or 22 cents per diluted share, of acquisition costs, severance and inventory step-up amortization. This compares to a net loss of $22 million, or 8 cents per diluted share, recorded in the prior-year quarter. For the first quarter of 2020, the company reported adjusted EBITDA of $23 million. Of that amount, $81.8 million originated from mining and pelletizing with losses of $11.1 million from steel and manufacturing and $48 million from corporate and eliminations.

    “Despite the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting lives and economic activity, we were able to successfully integrate AK Steel into the Cleveland-Cliffs way of doing business. Over the past two months, we took action to preserve the long-term health of both our employees and our company,” Cliffs’ Chairman, President, and CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in the report. “Our actions in the early days of the pandemic included, among other things: enacting strict social distancing on the job; continuous cleaning of all facilities; enhanced safety procedures at all operations; closing or idling facilities, and extending outages at several operations; cutting capital, operating, and overhead costs; instituting temporary executive and salaried pay decreases throughout the organization with disproportionately high contribution from the top of the organization; temporarily suspending the construction of the HBI plant; discontinuing the payment of dividends; and raising additional capital as insurance. As we start the path to return to normal levels of business in the second half of the year, we are confident that we have the ample liquidity and all other means to remain comfortable through whatever uncertainty that remains.”

    Regarding business outlook, Goncalves said, “Although the pandemic effect led to automotive plant shutdowns over the past six weeks, the timing and pace of production restarts as well as consumer sales data have both exceeded our expectations. If the automotive manufacturers continue to restart production as they have indicated to us and already started to do, our operations will normalize throughout the balance of the second quarter, with a fairly strong second half of the year.”

    He added that construction of Cliffs’ HBI plant will resume soon, as stay at home restrictions are eased. 

    “The pandemic and associated manufacturing stoppages have created a severe scarcity of scrap in the marketplace that further increases demand and magnifies the value of our HBI,” he said.

Greenway mulls grad ceremony options

May 07, 2020

By Kathy Lynn/KOZY

 

    Graduation ceremonies across the state are being planned virtually but some district’s are hoping a traditional ceremony is still possible. Independent School District 316’s school board heard an update from Principal Jeff Britten at its meeting on April 29. Britten told board members that the virtual program will have all the pomp and circumstance of a live event. “We just don’t really know what the future holds for us.” A committee is being formed to discuss how the district could still host an in-person program, using social distancing. The district has accepted some donations for vinyl banners, featuring senior his school photos, to be hung within the district from city light posts. On Tuesday, high school seniors picked up their cap and gowns. 

    Schools are helping families fill the gap between breakfast and supper by offering free grab and go lunches Monday through Friday. 

    The $11 million dollar heating, ventilation, and air quality renovation at Vandyke Elementary has begun. Because the buildings were closed prior to the end of the year, crews were able to get into the buildings earlier than expected. The lower level on Vandyke has been completely emptied and the upper level will be emptied this week. The board approved payments of $34,189.55 to JK Mechanical Contractors, Inc. and $49,918.32 to Johnson Controls, Inc. 

    The summer Learning Academy is on-hold. Superintendent David Pace told board members, “With school closures, the Minnesota Department of Education has not made a determination on whether any type of summer school within buildings is possible at this point in time. That also affects our PSY, our programs for our special education students. Both those programs are sitting in the same boat, waiting for clarification.” 

    The board approved actuarial services with Hildi, In for a cost of $6,400 - $6,900. Also approved was the contract for fiscal year 2021 for Leadership of Community Education between districts 318 and 316. 

    ISD 316 adopted a new school board policy during the board meeting for telemedicine. Telemedicine services are provided to students for the purpose of consultation, evaluation, and service delivery in the areas of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Mental Health, School Psychology and Speech/Language Pathology. 

    Parents are being encouraged to fill out a survey about distance learning. The results will give the district feedback on how distance learning is going and how the district can help support you.

https://forms.gle/

XcNvFHCSN4Kxg68u9 

NE MN unemployment still climbing

April 30, 2020

    From April 19 to April 23, an additional 1,881 workers in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) seven-county Northeast Planning Region applied for unemployment, according to DEED statistics. That brings total unemployment applications for the seven counties to 31,774 since March 15.

    Within St. Louis County, 1,292 additional workers filed for unemployment during the April 19 to April 23 time period. The increase means a total of 20,184 workers in St. Louis County have filed for unemployment since March 15. The total is 19.5 percent of St. Louis County’s 2019 annual labor force.

Bigfork in final running for MnDOT demo project

April 16, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    Minnesota Department of Transportation District 1 received funding for a summer demonstration project; the Bigfork street design is one of two projects which could be selected. 

    The demonstration project would try out some modern ideas using temporary paint for parking and street design in anticipation for a major street project scheduled for 2023. A committee, including councilors Paul Gustafson and Ben Maxa, a member of the Public Works Department and representatives of main street businesses, was proposed to work with MnDOT if the project was chosen. Business owners who want to participate should contact the city at 218-743-3782 or cityclerk@bigfork.net.

    Joe Sutherland of Widseth Smith Nolting Engineers discussed the funding challenges for the Ash Street project. An updated engineering estimate increased project cost to about $1 million, so engineers are looking at ways to reduce the scope and costs by a quarter. Bituminous driveway aprons, ped ramps and curbs have been removed. Road width for Ash St. and Rajala Mill Rd. have been reduced by two feet and Rajala Mill Rd. (the exit road for trucks which have been unloaded) will be reclaimed vs. new construction, although it will retain its 10-ton status. Drain tile has been removed where there is not adequate right of way. The company is still looking for additional grants.

    The council discussed a new development agreement between the city and Mike Kocian regarding the Scenic Estates development. All but one property has been sold. The council decided to table the agreement until some issues were clarified on the outlots and homeowners’ association, and uncertainties because of the pandemic are resolved.

    In other business, the council:

    • Approved March 20 and April 3 payroll, and claims paid and claims for payment of $38,025.35.

    • Suspended water shut offs and late fees for water and sewer bill payments due from March 24 to the end of June to help those financially affected by COVID-19. 

    • Extended the local state of emergency concurrent with the governor’s declaration, allowing the council to meet remotely, and the mayor, clerk and staff to carry out any actions necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the city. 

    • Authorized Hubbard Electric to install LED lights and do some minor work at the Fire Hall while onsite installing the washer and dryer.

    The next city council meeting is scheduled for May 12 at 5:30 p.m. Venue will be announced.

Flying Flett denied Junior National Championships

April 09, 2020

By Susan Kavanagh

 

    Casey Flett, 2020 Central Division Champion in the U16 class, came off a strong season looking forward to competing at the 2020 Junior National Championships in Steamboat Springs, CO. With his bags packed and gear ready to go he got the heart breaking news. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Junior National Championships had to be cancelled.

    Casey Flett is a 15 year old Ski Jumper from Keewatin who jumps for the Itasca Ski and Outing Club Ski Jump Club in Coleraine. Flett would be joining fellow ski jumpers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois to compete as part of the Central Division Team at the Junior Nationals. He had been training hard and was looking very favorable.

    This is Casey’s last chance to compete in the U16 class as next year he moves up to the U20 class which is a great deal harder. Flett is ready, however, to handle the challenge. Throughout the season Flett showed great improvement as he tackled most of the big hills in the Central Division. He competed on 60 to 90 meter hills throughout the Central Division and recorded his longest jump of 86.5 meters (284 ft.) on the 90 meter Suicide Hill in Ishpeming, MI. That is almost as long as a football field. There is a glimmer of hope in his eye as they are talking about possibly holding the 2020 Junior National Championships this coming summer as the venue is equipped for summer jumping.

    The Itasca Ski and Outing club is proud to have Casey Flett representing them and of his accomplishments this season.

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