Bigfork Ambulance seeks volunteers

October 29, 2020

by Sally Sedgwick

    

    The Bigfork Ambulance Service Association is looking for new volunteers. 

    No experience is necessary, points out Susie Schmickle, a 30-year veteran of emergency medical services and PR officer for the group; current staff is from all walks of life and experience levels from construction to office workers and nurses. 

    Successful applicants will be trained as emergency medical responders (EMRs) with 60 hours of training. That’s about a $400 to $500 investment by the ambulance service. They also receive driver’s training for the two ambulance rigs the service runs.

    “It’s training that you will carry with you throughout your life,” says Schmickle.

    It’s also a crucial service, she points out. Bigfork is 40 miles from another medical center or ambulance service and serves 1,500 square miles centered in northern Itasca County. 

    Bigfork almost didn’t have an ambulance. A private service in Bigfork unexpectedly closed in 1986, and it was thanks to some civic-minded citizens who stepped in that the organization is in operation today as a basic life support transport which both picks up and stabilizes emergency cases for transport to Bigfork Valley or other hospitals and transfers patients between medical facilities.

    Sometimes the call can be challenging. Because of the area’s remote geography the patient could be located at a home – but also in the woods or even on the lake. It could be a trauma case from an accident on a trail or rural road. 

    It’s a challenge that also makes the run interesting. “You never know what the situation is going to be,” says Schmickle. “And a lot of the time they’re people that you know.”

    Being able to help the community and knowing what to do to help friends and family in critical situations is an important reward for the crews. Although staff are volunteers, there is a lot of value in the job.

    If the volunteer is interested, there is the potential of training up to an emergency medical technician, which is a 150 hour course paid by the ambulance association. Each run has at least one EMT and one EMR on it.

    The training is off-site, but if there are at least 6 new volunteers, classes could be held in Bigfork.

    Applicants do go through an interview process, which is important for them, explains Schmickle. Applicants need to know what to expect – and what their families can expect. Buy-in by the family is important when someone is on call and might have to leave immediately.

    Ambulance staff take 12 hours a week on call, and there is some weekend call. Ideally the volunteer will live within 10 minutes of the ambulance garage, but there is a call room with a full kitchen and bath for those who need to stay on site. 

    There are also two meetings a month: one business meeting and a training. The service is very progressive in training, says Susie, staying up to date with treatment capabilities and protocols. Dr. Eric Scrivner of Scenic Rivers Health Services is the medical director for the service.

    There are some perks in addition to the training. The state does have a retirement plan for volunteer ambulance personnel, and there is a small per run stipend. There is also the opportunity to work with a close-knit group of fellow residents and other emergency personnel. In fact, the fire department and ambulance service will get together to help with fundraisers for other organizations in the area and each Christmas for some good-nature rivalry in decorating. 

    The ambulance service is recruiting now. Interested people can contact people on the service, message the ambulance service on Facebook (@bigforkambulance) or email at bigforkamb@livecom to ask questions or ask for an application.

SBA anticipates another round of business assistance

October 22, 2020

BusinessNorth Report

 

    Small Business Administration (SBA) officials last week said more financial assistance programs will soon begin for companies struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

     “We’re hoping Phase 4 will start very soon,” Great Lakes SBA Regional Administrator Robert Scott said in Duluth. Phase 4 is the latest package being considered by Congress. Although Democrats and Republicans still have differences about the proposal, they are united in support of the SBA’s portion. “Many of these things have not been seen before and we hope there are more coming,” Scott said.

     They would potentially follow previous assistance packages including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). In addition, SBA has provided online training to ensure small business owners have good knowledge of business essentials. 

     Even though the country incurred $27 trillion in debt to address the misery, countless businesses were saved, Scott said, crediting the people and groups that worked together to make it happen.

     “When a crisis hits, you find out who your friends are,” said Shawn Wellnitz, chief executive for the Entrepreneur Fund, which works closely with the SBA. “When the effects of COVID hit, it was the SBA office that provided us working capital money to get out to local communities. That impacted thousands of businesses here.”

     The SBA began preparing for an onslaught of aid requests in March, said SBA District Director Brian McDonald, and worked with regional banks and resource partners including the Entrepreneur Fund and Northland Foundation.

     So far, the hospitality and entertainment industries have suffered the worst financial hardships, he explained, a trend that’s expected to continue because of the need for social distancing and the ongoing trend for people to work from home. “For example, 200,000 people who are employed in downtown Minneapolis still aren’t working from their offices.”

     Due to COVID-19, it’s likely that small firms will not have strong financial statements for the year 2020. To help them get loans in coming months, McDonald said banks may have to adjust their lending models. The SBA might need to step in if a large number of companies can’t meet private loan requirements.

     Earlier this month, the Duluth-based Entrepreneur Fund, which works closely with the SBA, released statistics addressing business highlights this year. They include: 

    • 405 new business loans

    • 247 Entrepreneur Fund clients accessed Individual Emergency Financing Loans (COVID-19 related)

    • 170 Entrepreneur Fund clients accessed COVID-19 related counseling services

    • 143 local loan programs created

    • 37 Paycheck Protection Program loans (CARES Act financing)

    • 21 new businesses opened in the region

    • 7 Ignite webinars provided information, resources and support.

Itasca County residents challenged to reverse COVID surge

October 15, 2020

    Three simple things can turn around surging COVID cases, said Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health, during a special briefing of media.  “Keep six feet of distance, avoid gatherings and wear a mask,” she said.

    “The schools have managed to control spread by doing these three things, and so can the community,” said Chandler.  “If we don’t stop the rise of COVID here in the next two weeks, our community spread will force schools to all go to distance learning.  And that also means no sports and activities.”

    As of Monday, Oct. 12, at 8 a.m., Itasca County has continued to see a significant rise in cases, due largely to social gatherings such as weddings, backyard barbecues, at bars and restaurants, and clusters in workplaces.  Over the past 14 days, the county has seen 223 new cases and an average of 46.1 cases per 10,000 residents.  

    At an average of 50 cases per 10,000 residents, State of Minnesota guidelines suggest a shift to    distance-only learning, which also would mean most school sports and activities would stop.

    “Sports are important because that’s one way we make friends, have motivation for good grades, learn how to be leaders on and off the court, and set the highest of goals for ourselves and our teams,” said Natalie Haley, a senior volleyball player at Bigfork High School.

    Classmate Jared Lovdahl agreed, saying, “Without sports, students could lose that high school experience, and for Natalie and me, it would be our senior year of sports, the year we’ve been looking forward to our entire sports career.  We would be heartbroken, not only for ourselves but for our teammates who are now family because our last year together would get cut short.”

    Deer River senior football player Blake Fox also weighed in.  “Last spring, I missed out on baseball.  I really don’t want to miss out on a full year of sports being it’s my last year.  I’m trying to do the best I can to keep the community safe so we can continue with sports.”

    “It’s vital for kids to continue with social interaction, and with school moving to hybrid we’re probably on the verge of complete distance learning,” said David Kuschel, president, Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association.  “Sports are really important right now so that kids can still see their friends and have social interaction.”

    Jeri Shaughnessy is the parent of a Greenway varsity basketball player looking forward to her senior season.  “My daughter missed out on her junior prom and softball last spring,” she said.  “I saw back then what it was doing mentally to the students.  We tried to keep their hopes up, and they worked to do their part.  For seniors, especially, it takes a toll for those looking for athletic and academic scholarships. I think it’s really important that they are able to stay in their school activities and sports.”

    To support community members in showing their commitment to wear a mask, maintain 6-foot distance from others and avoid gatherings, volunteers have formed #MaskUpItasca.  The initiative has taken a positive approach, providing “thanks for wearing a mask” signs, conducting a back-to-school mask-making campaign, and now offering social media tools for individuals to show that they pledge to do their part to keep schools open.

    Itasca County has created a local dashboard with current local data, including positive COVID cases by ZIP code.  It can be found at: https://www.co.itasca.mn.us/798/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Information

    Itasca residents with questions or concerns may leave them at the Itasca County COVID message line, with calls returned 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday. The Itasca COVID line number is 218-327-6784.

Enrollment, job placement rates high for NHED healthcare students

October 01, 2020

By Lee Bloomquist

 

    Interest in healthcare as a career is thriving at Northeast Higher Education District (NHED) colleges.

    Healthcare program enrollment at NHED campuses is as strong as ever as the schools are a little more than a month into the first semester, according to nursing program directors at campuses in Hibbing, Eveleth and Grand Rapids.

    “It’s been a mainstay of our school for over 50 years,” Sandy Gustafson, nursing program director at Hibbing Community College, said of the nursing program. “The school is very good about supplying us with everything we need and making sure we have cutting edge supplies. We’re doing very well for a rural area.”

    Healthcare is the largest program at HCC. This semester, 64 first-year students and 78 second-year students are enrolled in the college’s healthcare programs.

    “As far as nursing, we are full,” said Gustafson. “Because we are full, we did have to turn away 10 students, which is rare, so we’re doing good that way.”

    Typically, the program has about 78 to 85 second-year students, depending on how many students successfully complete their first year, said Gustafson.

    First semester programming has been adjusted with distance learning opportunities. However, students are still able to utilize the school’s on-campus high-tech simulators and nursing education facilities.

    The number of new students in Hibbing’s medical lab technician and medical coding and scribing programs has more than doubled compared to last fall, said Aaron Reini, HCC interim provost. Enrollments in a dental assistant and certified nursing assistant program are comparable to previous years, Reini said.

    “Across the board, the faculty in our healthcare programs have done an exceptional job in innovating this past year, ensuring that students who are entering the healthcare sector continue to receive the best possible education and training,” Reini said. 

 Area hospitals, which for months were not permitting nursing students to work on clinicals at hospital campuses, are again allowing students into hospitals for clinical work, Gustafson said.

    “We’re just waiting on nursing homes now,” said Gustafson. “We usually don’t start with that (clinicals at nursing homes) until fall.”

    Demand for healthcare workers in northeastern Minnesota is projected to grow, Gustafson said.

    “Especially up here with the elderly population we’re going to see a need for more and more workers,” said Gustafson. “We haven’t heard of any student having trouble getting a job.”

    At Mesabi Range College in Eveleth and Virginia, Jeff Torrel, director of nursing, concurs.

    “Enrollment is good,” said Torrel. “Our classes look a little different. We’re face-to-face the first part of the week and then we have the students off campus on Thursdays and Fridays.”

    Enrollment this semester in Mesabi Range’s practical nursing program is 33.

    “That’s similar to last year,” said Torrel. “We usually have in the low 30s to upper 30s.”

    Another 30 to 40 students are enrolled in the school’s nursing assistant program.

    “We generally have about 100 students per year in that program,” he said.

    Mesabi Range’s practical nursing graduates primarily land jobs in long-term care, assisted living and mental health facilities. Some go on to become registered nurses. 

 “We can’t put out enough practical nurses for what the demand is. I would expect it to become even higher because of all the baby boomers retiring,” Torrel said.

 Mesabi Range’s placement is 100 percent for its practical nursing graduates, he said. The program takes about a year-and-a-half to complete.

    Mesabi Range students perform clinical work at area healthcare facilities such as the Cook Hospital, Range Mental Health, Essentia, Fairview Range, Waterview Woods assisted living facilities, and others.

    “We are doing well,” Torrel said. “We always would like to see more students come here because demand is so high, but our numbers are healthy. If people want to work when they get done here, they will be able to work.”

    At Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, 37 students are enrolled this semester in the practical nursing program, according to Lynette How, nursing director. That’s about the same as previous years, she said. The school’s nursing assistant program is full. Graduates have a 100 percent placement rate.

    “There is a critical need for nursing assistants and practical nurses,” said How. “They are being recruited while still in school.”

    An August 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics report ranks Itasca’s practical nursing program seventh in the state “with an impressive 100 percent NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination) pass rate as of August 2019.” 

    NHED includes Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Mesabi Range College, Rainy River Community College, and Vermilion Community College. 

    Healthcare is one of the highest employment occupations in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Northeast Planning Region. However, healthcare employment took a hit in recent months as routine appointments and elective surgeries were postponed.

    From February to July, 2,960 health services and education jobs were lost in the region, according to Carson Gorecki, DEED Northeast Regional Analyst. 

    But healthcare employment is now bouncing back. Unemployment claims for health practitioners and technical within the region have fallen from a peak average of 1,550 per week in early May to a weekly average of 309 at the end of August. Unemployment claims for health care support workers peaked at an average of 1,276 per week in early May and dropped to 676 weekly at the end of August.

    Although difficult to predict precisely, demand for health care workers within the region is expected to grow, said Gorecki.

    Within the Northeast Planning Region, 617 registered nurses, 425 home health aides, 166 nursing assistants and 79 licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses will be needed in the next 10 years, said Gorecki.

    Nurse practitioners, home health aides, surgical technologists, nurse anesthetists, phlebotomists, surgical technologists, exercise physiologists and massage therapists are also among healthcare occupations projected to show strong job growth in the region, according to DEED.

    “We do seem to be trending back to where we were with a tight labor market,” said Gorecki. “We have an aging population and we have more people leaving the labor force. I think demand for these workers will be high in the future.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 12, 2018

By Beth Bily

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaPrairie mayor resigns

June 14, 2018

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

        

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In other business, the council:

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

    • Was updated on Veterans Park Trail connector.

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

Interior Dept. reinstates mineral leases denied in 2016

May 10, 2018

BusinessNorth Report

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill addresses property tax rates for electric utilities

April 12, 2018

By Sally Sedgwick

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Efforts improve grad rates in Itasca County

March 15, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating 100 years of 'Grace'

February 15, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winning moves

February 01, 2018

By Sally Sedgwick

Jordan Heindl does things by the hundreds.

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

Then it’s time for dinner.

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

Then it’s usually bedtime.

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

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

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

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

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

He won. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge rejects MPCA’s wild rice proposal

January 18, 2018

Photo courtesy of MPCA

By Kitty Mayo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food co-op support growing steadily

January 11, 2018

Pictured from left to right are: Mary Witte, Sarah Verke, Brynden Lenius, Annaliesa McCartney and Emil Slack. - Photo submitted

By Sally Sedgwick

 

“I can’t say enough good things about the impact co-ops have on their communities. It goes beyond just food, it is about building community and relationships…It’s a business built on trust.”

Speaking was Stuart Reid, executive director of Food Co-op Initiative, a nationwide support nonprofit to help fledgling groups

organize successful food cooperatives. Right now the group is working with about 140 initiatives across the country. A handful are in Minnesota. And one of them is right here in the Grand Rapids area.

In 2015 a group of friends started discussing how to have better access to local food and organic food in this area. For the first six months they researched the possibility of having a full service, 7 days a week grocery store in the cooperative model where community members themselves would own and support the store.

 

Ideally, it would have all kinds of benefits, explained Sarah Verke, who now serves as board chair. Not only would it provide local access to shoppers for fresh local products, but also an outlet for local growers, wellness and food source education, and good jobs. But it would still be a business and would need to successfully sustain itself.

Most importantly, it would have to have community support.

The group decided on a name, Free Range Food Co-op, and set out to research support. Would enough people share its vision to create a viable base? Was there enough of a market for the idea in the Grand Rapids area? How big should a store be, and what should it offer?

First it set an ownership goal. Through its website freerangefood.coop, and outreach like events, programs and networking it offered member equity shares for a one-time $100 lifetime contribution. Its goal was 1,000 members. Already that number stands at 416. 

As memberships grew, business development goals needed to grow. At 300 members, the group contracted to complete a professional market study supported by a Seed Grant through the Food Cooperative Initiative. The results were positive. There would be enough sales potential, according to the study, to support a full-line natural foods co-op store.

The study also concluded that a store should have about 4,000 square feet of selling space, offer an extended deli/prepared food section and be located on the Highway 2/Highway 169 south corridors.

Educating shoppers on the relationship between food, the environment and health was also emphasized in the study, and this is a goal shared by the group. It used a recent Community Sustainability Initiative grant from the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability to partner with the MacRostie Art Center in showing a series of film documentaries at the Grand Rapids Area Library.

Part of food education is transparency, believes Verke. To some, locally grown is most important, others also want organically grown. “When shoppers come to the store,” Verke said, “no one should have to guess, they should know what they are buying."

“Organic” can be a subjective term. Most people would rather purchase local food where the grower is trying to do the right thing, Reid believes, than selecting a distant brand that needs to be shipped long distances but carries a certification. Since food can’t be labeled “organic” unless it is certified, this means that there needs to be a learning process for the shopper.

The term “local” can also be subjective. “Local” might cover a larger area where there is a short growing season, Reid explained. But, he added, people may be surprised to find out just how much locally grown food there is, particularly when methods to extend food shelf life are considered with storage crops, processed foods, and indoor crops like herbs and tomatoes.

Local production may also grow if there is a market. One co-op in the Cities, for example, now processes meats for other cooperatives, Reid pointed out.

 

Looking forward

The co-op will need about 700 members to start looking for store locations and 1000 members before the doors open. But meanwhile, there are lots of ways to support the development of a food cooperative after joining as an owner and before there is a bricks and mortar store. Volunteer teams range from awareness outreach to grant writing and developing grower relationships for the future.

The general feeling that Verke has is that there is growing support. Currently owners come from a wide area from Hibbing to Deer River. 

“It’s the right time,” she said. “The community is supporting it. I feel good about what we’re doing.”

For more information, visit freerangefood.coop, email at freerangefoodcoop@gmail.com or visit the co-op on Facebook. Current board members include: Verke, Carrie Barsness, vice chair; Corinn Tiwari, records officer; Hope Wilson, treasurer; Annaliesa McCartney; Emil Slack; Megan Brekke; Sam Friesen; and Becky Semmler.

County takes first steps in opioid lawsuit

December 21, 2017

By Kitty Mayo

 

Following authorization by the Board of Commissioners in late November, Itasca County has moved a step closer to pursuing a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of opioids. County Attorney Jack Muhar said the first step is to engage a primary law firm to pursue a lawsuit. He is currently in the process of taking further steps to determine which firm he will recommend. 

Seeking compensation for damages related to opiate abuse and addiction, Muhar is looking for a larger specialized law firm with national standing that deals with mass torts and complex multi-jurisdictional lawsuits.

Some estimates measure the opioid epidemic by the 200 percent increase in opioid overdoses nationwide since 2000, with overdoses from opioids in Minnesota at a 430 percent increase. Opioids include prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, as well as illegal substances like heroin.

Last month St. Louis County Commissioners passed a resolution to file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors, claiming that they are the first county in Minnesota to start that process.

In other states about 60 counties have brought similar lawsuits, including Douglas County, Wis. Some cities and states also have filed similar suits.

Still in the early stages, Muhar says the lawsuit will take time, and that the county will have no financial liability for the costs. Any law firm chosen by the county to proceed would do so under a contingency agreement.

“The county will end up with no costs other than in-house costs for staff gathering information and data, and if there is a recovery, the law firm would be reimbursed from that,” Muhar said.

The law firm ultimately retained will investigate, research and validate the basis of the claim. Their next step will be preparation, and determining whether the suit should be initiated in state or federal court.

In Muhar’s mind the havoc that opiates have wreaked on the lives of many people in Itasca County is undeniable.

“There’s just no question, we’ve seen a number of deaths in the county from overdoses, and the majority of those have been prescription opioid-based,” said Muhar.

In addition, he says that demand on law enforcement has risen in response to drug related activity and arrests. Another financial burden on the county and its residents has been an increasing need for chemical dependency treatment either for prescription drugs, or heroin.

Many people addicted to heroin have arrived by route of a legal prescription for painkillers. According to the National Institute on Drug abuse around 75 percent of people in treatment for heroin first used a legal opioid with a prescription.

Muhar says that legal liability for opioids is based on the premise that their addictive nature was known to the manufacturers and wholesalers, who still marketed and recommended their use in a manner that led to addiction.

Muhar identified some of the manufacturers that could be named in a county lawsuit including; Purdue Pharma Companies, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Cephalon Inc. Prominent distributors include McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Drug Corporation.

“In many ways it’s similar to the theory in tobacco litigation, the addictive nature was known but promoted as safe in certain uses. The high potential for addiction was pushed to the back,” Muhar stated.

From a wider perspective executive director Julie Ring at the Association of Minnesota Counties says that many counties in the state are considering taking similar action. Ring says that many counties are looking at their options of possibly working together on a lawsuit. AMC plans to assist any counties with lawsuits by providing assistance in gathering data to support the claims.

“We’ve seen increasing impacts of people abusing opioids that plays out in Minnesota counties in a couple ways, including impacts on budgets and human lives,” Ring stated.

Ring says that momentum in Minnesota has began to increase as local governments across the country sue manufacturers and distributors of opioids for the harm caused by addiction.

Human Service caseloads, including child protection and chemical dependency cases have been on the rise across the state.

Always the biggest percentage of any county budget, Health and Human Services across the state have experienced greater strain from out of home placements of children that many attribute to rising opiate use.

“Out of home placements, interventions with families, and mental health placements are completely unpredictable, and can be vexing budget busters,” Ring said.

In addition to recouping costs from the harm of opiate addiction and preventing further addictions, Ring says AMC wants to see drug companies change their behavior.

“Our concern is the damage to our budgets and communities, and pursuing litigation may change what seems like bad behavior of these companies. The social cost is a tragedy in terms of out of home placements where there is no way to quantify the costs such as when families can’t be reunited,” Ring said.

Progress made, concerns remain about AIS

December 07, 2017

By Kitty Mayo

 

Curly pondweed, spiny water fleas, and zebra mussels. These are a few of the exotic species names we’ve learned as aquatic invasive species (AIS) have become a growing issue in Iron Range waterways.

Itasca County AIS Coordinator Bill Grantges says that despite the recent announcement that funding from a DNR grant program has been cut, he is optimistic that those dollars will be picked up by another grant program.

Funding by state legislation is allocated to counties based on their number of boat launches and watercraft trailer parking spots. Receiving the second highest allocation in the state, Itasca County received $572,784 for 2017 and $621,124 for 2018.

“Itasca County is known for our programs, we are held up as an example for what other counties could do,” Grantges said. While he feels like the county is well positioned to handle the impact of AIS, more needs to be done to protect uninfested waters.

Success stories include the eradication of flowering rush within 24 hours of detection in Spider Lake in 2014. “That was because of early detection, and the only crews in the state that are actively searching during the summer. Early detection is the only way we are going to beat AIS,” Grantges said.

Grantges points to the AIS inspection programs as another area of improvement. Started in 2014 with a 32 percent fail rate, last year’s 18,000 inspections had only 3 percent of boaters failing to pass inspection, and he anticipates this year’s 25,000 inspections to do as well.

“Everyone has to learn how to stop the spread of AIS, it’s the only way we can beat it,” Grantges said.

To that end, Grantges says that more funding is needed, along with volunteers, and buy-in from the people the issue affects the most.

“People need to take ownership and be vigilant on the lakes they are on, get educated on what to look for, and call our office or the DNR right away if they see something,” Grantges stated.

Solutions like the potential for emerging research on the zebra mussel genome may eventually be viable, but Grantges warns they are many years off.

“AIS is spread by humans, and more are going to keep popping up unless humans understand how to prevent it.”

While the news of zebra mussels in North Star Lake has been disappointing, Grantges says that it is not the end of the story. “It will eventually change the biodiversity of the lake, but we have not necessarily seen a decline in property values in other lakes in Minnesota that have this problem,” he said.

The first noticeable change with zebra mussels is increased water clarity, a result of plankton being removed from the water. Akin to removing the bottom rung of a ladder, this loss of the base of a lake’s food chain eventually affects all the fish. Increased water clarity can also lead to warming waters that are less hospitable to certain fish species.

Unlike other counties that have experimented with restricting access or instituting special requirements, Grantges is adamant that the AIS program support the county’s tourism economy. “I don’t believe in measures that could hurt tourism dollars, instead we have to work proactively with the public.” That includes training and public outreach to organizations like youth groups.

Taking a longer view is Itasca County commissioner Burl Ives, who sees a concern with potentially falling lakeshore property values could negatively impact the county’s budget.

While supportive of the efforts of the county’s AIS department, Ives worries that the influx of water to Pokegama Lake via the Mississippi River will eventually bring in AIS - despite best efforts. Zebra mussels have been found in Lake Winnibigoshish and the river.

Through a series of dams, both up- and downstream from Pokegama, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages water levels in an attempt to keep any one area or community from becoming flooded.

With property values around Pokegama contributing significantly to the county’s tax base, Ives believes a more proactive approach is in order. 

“My number one concern is that the county is going to suffer if we don’t stop AIS from coming into Pokegama Lake,” Ives stated, adding that Big Sandy Lake downstream, where a significant tax base exists, would be the next to be affected.

A long-time homeowner on Pokegama, Ives says that he does not believe public education alone will be enough.

“The only thing that’s going to stop it 100 percent is if you built a dam, and no longer used Pokegama as a flood zone,” said Ives.

According to Megan Christianson, executive director of Visit Grand Rapids, early notification for resort owners is a key piece to success.

“From our perspective early notification is crucial for lodging properties on lakes that have been identified as having AIS,” Christianson said.

Once resort owners with lake accesses have the right information, Christianson says they are very motivated to inform guests.

“Resort owners are very diligent to communicate with their guests, they don’t want AIS to impact their livelihood and take as many precautions as they can,” Christianson said.

Christianson noted that other areas in Minnesota that have had zebra mussel infestation for the last five years have not seen a detrimental impact on tourism.

“However, that doesn’t mean we should leave anyone out of this information, but we want people to know we are not closing boat accesses over this,” Christianson said.

Christianson says that working together with the Itasca County’s AIS program is important to up the ante on keeping waters free of AIS. Collaborating with Grantges whenever VGR hosts a fishing tournament, Christianson says that wash stations are provided pre- and post-tournament.

“It’s a great educational opportunity to communicate to the community the best ways to keep from spreading AIS,” Christianson stated.

ISD 318 ayes April referendum

November 23, 2017

SRNF Report

At the Nov. 14 meeting of the ISD 318 School Board, Superintendent Joni Olson recommended April 10 as the date for the district’s referendum. 

The District wants voters to approve an elementary school plan that includes two K-5 schools with a capacity of 750 students each and a revamped 300 student school in Cohasset that also will serve K-5 students. 

Olson said that the District had considered several time lines but she was recommending the date be moved from February to April based on updated information that would allow the officials to address several factors:

• The April date would allow more time to fully explore partnerships and to quantify a dollar amount for the bond. The district has submitted a grant to Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board requesting $11 million to assist with construction costs, should the referendum be successful. That request will be considered by IRRRB in December. 

• The District needs additional time to educate the community in terms of its space needs. 

• Community advocacy groups need time to present their work as well.

• The District needs more time to assess trends and enrollment in its elementary schools.

• Additional time is needed for the activities facilities task force to receive feedback from the community regarding its proposal to improve the athletic and marching band areas in Grand Rapids and locker room facilities in Bigfork. If a question regarding activity improvements were to appear on the ballot, it would be separate from the elementary school question.

At the conclusion of Olson’s remarks, Board Director Molly Miskovich asked whether pushing back the referendum date would delay the opening of the new schools if the referendum were to be successful. Olson responded that the April date would not slow down construction because bidding and construction would stay in a relatively similar time frame. 

Board Director and former district business manager Ben Hawkins added; “By moving it to April, we’re going to be borrowing less to make first year payments.” The board voted unanimously to adopt April 10 as the date for the referendum.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the donations and gifts for the time period of July, August, and September.

• Approved the hiring of six coaches, two custodians, one support staff, two school bus drivers, the resignations of two coaches, three school bus drivers, one support staff, one custodian, and the retirement of one support staff.

• Denied a request for leave of absence from sixth grade teacher Alexis Geisler.

• Approvedt contracts for district principals which include salary raises at 3 percent for the first year and 1 percent for the second year of a two-year contract.

• Approved Superintendent Joni Olson as Local Education Agency representative for purposes of title funding and budgeting.

• Adopted a resolution supporting IRRRB School Collaborative Funds grant submission, in which $11 million dollars is requested to assist in construction costs should a referendum be successful.

• Accepted the first reading of revisions to a policy regarding waste reduction and recycling.

• Accepted the first reading of revisions to policy regarding drug-free workplace/drug-free school.

• Accepted the second reading and approved revisions to the graduation requirements policy.

Night sky preservation effort underway

November 16, 2017

By Kitty Mayo

 

Let there be light may be one of the best known catch phrases in our age, but many are beginning to dispute the wisdom of letting light reign around the clock. Calling light one of the most pervasive environmental alterations, scientists, elected officials and artists are surging to the light pollution movement.

Fifty miles up the North Shore from Duluth, the little town of Beaver Bay is trailblazing night sky preservation. Mayor Linda Malzac says her campaign to make the town “the most star friendly city in the U.S.” is a grassroots effort. A viewing platform at the highest point in the city is being planned, and streetlights have been modified to shine downward. 

“The idea started with our comprehensive city planning meetings with residents, and we are asking homeowners and businesses to use star friendly lighting to cut down on light pollution,” Malzac said.

Paul Bogard, author of the book “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light,” says the tension between safety and nighttime lighting is one of the primary hurdles in the dark sky debate. Bogard says it’s our ancestral fear of the dark talking to us, but that science contradicts what we think is common sense. 

“We think the bad guys are there in the dark, but a lot of wasted light is shining in our eyes, and casting shadows where the bad guys can hide,” said Bogard, who adds there is no research to support the suggestion that brighter lighting creates an environment more secure from crime.

Unnecessary light can actually decrease security, and Bogard says it’s poor economics. Energy and money is being wasted on lights shining in every direction, and far above our eye level.

 “Let’s have light where we need it and not anywhere else. We need it to shine down on the ground where we are walking and driving,” Bogard said.

Malzac added that in Beaver Bay, the most compelling information they learned dispelled myths about lighting safety. 

“We all just think brighter lights outside are safer, but we found that’s not always true,” Malzac said of a striking demonstration that shocked city residents.

“We were shown a picture of a backyard at night with a very bright garage light and the yard was empty, but when that same picture was taken in lower light, it was such a surprise to see a person standing there,” said Malzac, who is now advocating shields to point light down, along with the installation of motion detectors and less blue light to keep her city safe.

A science just at the dawn of its existence, the initial studies on the effects of artificial lights at night have revealed some disturbing results. According to the new World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, one-third of the planet’s inhabitants cannot see the Milky Way, and more than 50 percent of the U.S. land surface is affected by light pollution.

Disruptions in circadian rhythm through chronic exposure to light is a known health hazard, contributing to sleep disorders that are tied to many major diseases. Humans are especially sensitive to blue light, the wavelength of light emitted from our electronic devices, TVs and many LED streetlights.

Randy Larson, organizer of Duluth’s week-long “Celebrate the Night” event last month, said that while the first generation of LED street lighting brought with it a massive improvement in energy efficiency, it brought a very blue light to city streets. 

“The technology has improved, and now we can have the efficiency without as much blue wavelength, but we need to look at how to change the color temperature of LEDs where they already exist,” said Larson, who is advocating shields to adapt currently installed blue LEDs.

Mary Stewart Adams, director of Michigan’s Headlands International Sky Park, says they have received an overwhelmingly positive response from residents, and are drawing thousands of people each year from around the world.

The 600-acre dark sky park was only the sixth of its kind when it was formed in 2011. Now, there are over 40 dark sky parks in the country, and with popularity growing, they have built a new waterfront event center and observatory to handle the influx of visitors.

“It’s a huge draw for tourism, especially being on a Great Lake where people love the freshwater that does something to the mood of the soul quite differently than the ocean,” Stewart Adams said.

A self-described star lore historian, Stewart Adams believes that protecting wilderness areas from light trespass is critical for quality of life. 

“We need to be close to that natural night sky. It’s one of the reasons people come to Duluth, it’s part of our human need to see the stars for artistic and scientific inspiration,” she said.

She defines light trespass as light that is spilling into a space where it is not needed, like into your bedroom window from a neighbor’s yard light, or into the wilderness from a city many miles away.

“The dark sky movement is not saying light isn’t needed, but we need to do the right kind of planning, decision making, and creative touch for lighting,” Steward Adams said.

Larson, a member of the Dark Sky Duluth chapter of the International Dark Sky Association, said that astro-tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in the tourism industry. Cities like Reykjavik, Iceland, are turning down the lights to attract visitors.

“As the rest of the world becomes brighter, our darkness becomes more valuable,” Larson said. Strategically set with the backdrop of Lake Superior providing a sea of darkness, the North Shore is one of the darker places east of the Mississippi.

“It’s an incredibly complex system, and we need to look at all the aspects of efficiency, city planning, health implications and environment impacts,” Larson said.

Most important to Bogard are the environmental effects of light pollution. 

“There are dire impacts of unnecessary light on ecology. So many creatures depend on darkness for moving, feeding, mating that it’s making it that much harder for them to survive,” Bogard said.

“There’s something very special in northern Minnesota that a lot of places no longer have, and there’s no reason to waste or lose that,” said Bogard, who sees this as an opportunity for the region to save money spent on energy and capitalize on a mecca for natural sky viewers from around the world.

Beaver Bay hopes to have a stargazing platform in place by next summer, and Malzac said they want to inspire other North Shore communities to join them. While Malzac admits that developing a positive reputation is good for business, she emphasized the importance of taking action to preserve the natural state of the night sky for everyone’s well being.

“It’s good for people and the environment, animals and the trees. They all need their rest!” Malzac said.

Training targets opioid addiction problem

November 09, 2017

By Kitty Mayo

 

    Training sessions around the region are aimed at saving lives from opiate overdose using the drug naloxone, also called Narcan.

 

    Narcan can save a life by blocking, or reversing the deadly effects of opioids, like oxycontin, darvocet, and heroin.

    Part of the $675,000 grant received earlier this year from the Minnesota Department of Health, the funding is intended to target the opiate crisis in rural areas. The St. Louis County Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Initiative (SAPII) is the program acting as a pass-through for the funding.

    Jeff Polcher, SAPII’s substance abuse prevention social worker, says his Hibbing office is emphasizing the need to not only train people to use Narcan to stop overdoses, but also to de-stigmatize asking for Narcan from pharmacies and doctors.

    Formed in 2013, Polcher says that SAPII is a result of significant funding being earmarked by St. Louis County to address rising addiction rates. “The board recognized there was a serious problem in our county, and they made a commitment to the resources,” said Polcher.

    Polcher, who carries Narcan with him at all times, in the same way he always has his wallet, says that it is a common myth that an opiate addict using drugs like heroin intravenously could be picked out of a crowd.

    “The stereotype of an IV drug user is disheveled like they are living on the streets, but that’s TV stuff. We see business owners and professionals, you do not know who the next person is going to overdose,” Polcher stated.

    Part of the initial $675,000 grant has been used to increase the number of inpatient treatment spots specifically for opioid addiction. Six beds have just been added at the Center of Alcohol and Drug Treatment (CADT) in Duluth dedicated to help those with opiate addiction.

    “Detoxing from opiates is a very traumatic experience, and this medically assisted treatment program can keep people alive,” Polcher said.

    While a prescription is no longer needed in Minnesota to get Narcan, there are few pharmacies that are currently carrying it, and some are yet unaware that it is legal to buy over the counter.

    Polcher is encouraging community members to contact him with any questions about addiction issues, including talking about finding treatment for yourself for a loved one.

    “We have the most current information about where there is space in treatment facilities, and we can help guide people through that process,” said Polcher. That guidance could include helping someone get a Rule 25 Assessment needed to enter treatment, with children, pregnant mothers and IV drug users given priority for open beds.

    This first round of training is for medical professionals and will provide them with continuing education credits to learn the proper administration of Narcan in an opioid overdose. Physicians, pharmacists, dentists, advanced practice nurses and physician assistants are encouraged to attend.

    Trainings for medical professionals coming up are at Vermilion Community College, Ely on Nov. 13, and Fairview Plaza, Hibbing on Nov. 20.

    More Narcan training events are planned for the general public, starting in Duluth on Nov. 30, and more sessions being added throughout the region in coming months.

    The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting 376 deaths in the state by opioid overdose, and Polcher says the numbers will be higher for 2017.

    Polcher wants to further dispel the false idea that heroin is the only big danger, saying that prescription painkillers are also taking many lives.

    “The easiest place to find opiates in the medicine cabinet, we have to all take an inventory and clear out what we are not using,” Polcher said.

    Laura Palombi, pharmacist and assistant professor with the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy - Duluth campus, is organizing the trainings with the support of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation. She has experienced first hand the need to increase awareness throughout the medical community about access to Narcan.

    “Some pharmacies aren’t aware that they can be carrying this over the counter yet, or that we should be encouraging everyone who might need it to have access to it. That’s what we are trying to change through education and outreach,” said Palombi.

    To further engage the wider community about Narcan use, Palombi says she is working with local community coalitions throughout northeastern Minnesota to build understanding and availability of Narcan.

    “We want to increase prescribing of naloxone (Narcan) by doctors and dispensing it by pharmacies,” Palombi stated.

    For more information or to register for the trainings, call Laura Palombi (218) 726-6066, or Jenna Blomberg (218) 474-7613.

    For any questions or help finding help addiction treatment contact Jeff Polcher at (218) 262-6045 or polcherj@stlouiscountymn.gov. 

Charger completes all-electric highway

November 02, 2017

Submitted photo

Pictured from left are Jeff Sheldon, manager of energy services & business development, Lake Country Power; Matthew Blackler, CEO of ZEF Energy;  Fran Crotty, the electric vehicle state program administrator with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency;  Jimmy Kroon, owner of Doc’s Sports Bar & Grill (cutting the ribbon), and  David Ranallo, leader of marketing & member services at Great River Energy.

By Jessica Brochu

 

    The newest electric vehicle (EV) fast-charger, the charger that completes Minnesota’s all-electric highway from the Twin Cities to the North Shore, was unveiled Oct. 18 in Sturgeon Lake.  Officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), ZEF Energy, Lake Country Power (LCP), Great River Energy (GRE) and Doc’s Sports Bar & Grill, were on hand to mark the occasion.

     The EV quick-charger charger now completes the link that allows travelers to recharge quickly at various points along the way to the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior. It also provides a retail shopping stop for EV owners at Doc’s Sports Bar & Grill in Sturgeon Lake, just off I-35.

     The concept is off to a small start. Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEV) for 2016 in the United States totaled 86,731. That’s out of 17.6 million cars and trucks. China and the United States combined make up 60 percent of the global electric car stock. In 2016, this country accounted for 200 vehicles in the global electric bus stock.

    The Duluth Transit Authority began operating two 35-foot hybrid electric buses in 2007. By the end of 2017, Duluth will have six all-electric buses (manufactured by Proterra) being delivered for use. The Proterra all-electric buses get 20.8/MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). 

    ZEF Energy, owner of the Level 3 DC fast charger, worked with the MPCA, GRE, LCP and Doc’s to complete the final EV charging link between Duluth and the Twin Cities. ZEF Energy has a fleet of fast chargers covering the I-35 corridor. The new charging station provides electric car drivers with an important link on their travels along I-35 to and from the Twin Cities.

    “We expect a lot more businesses across the state to be putting them in as time progresses,” said Tami Zaun, public relations coordinator for Lake Country Power, adding that it provides convenience and draws in more consumers.

     “The best deal around is really the off-peak program. Commuters can charge their vehicles while sleeping” when at home, she said. At night, electricity is available at a discounted rate, said Zaun.

    Lake Country Power offers an off-peak program for co-op members to charge their electric vehicles during overnight hours, those hours being 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

    Lake Country Power is among utilities that will come in and install an electric panel at the home with a meter that enables its user to have daily, in-home access to charging at the discounted, off-peak rates.

     “As more Minnesotans make the switch to electric vehicles, I’m certain we’ll see even more charging stations pop up throughout the state to offer a convenient way to charge up,” said Jeff Sheldon, manager, energy services and business development for Lake Country Power. 

    “Convenience is great, but the best deal around is when co-op members go on our off-peak program to charge their vehicle. When consumers charge during the overnight hours on off-peak, they’ll pay a reduced electric rate.” 

    Great River Energy participates in Drive Electric Minnesota, a coalition of groups that work collaboratively to bring electric vehicles and plug-in charging infrastructure to this region. 

    Promoters say that electric vehicles hold significant potential for improving local air quality, reducing carbon emissions and stimulating electricity demand. According to analysts at Argonne National Laboratory, electric vehicles will make up 58 percent of the light vehicle market by 2030. Customers with electric vehicles use nearly 60 percent more electricity than the average customer. For electric utilities, it’s an opportunity to increase load.

    GRE and LCP will also be participating in the electric vehicle-utility industry nexus conference Dec. 11-12 in Anaheim, Calif. It will address critical considerations, opportunities and challenges regarding electric vehicles from the utility perspective and include case studies from Puget Sound Energy, Duke Energy, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Southern California Edison, and Avista. 

    More information is available at www.plugintomn.com, including charging station locations sorted by public stations, high power stations and in-use stations not only locally, but nation-wide.

Evidence said lacking on MPCA proposed 'wild rice' rule

October 26, 2017

The ramifications of doing the wrong thing would be devastating to the region, Hoyt Lakes Mayor Mark Skelton told a news conference 

By Ron Brochu

    A proposed state rule that would vastly increase the cost of treating water should be withdrawn from consideration until more detailed scientific information is obtained, Iron Range representatives said last Thursday.

    The rule, designed to protect waters in which wild rice grows, would affect the treatment of water discharged from wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, including taconite mines.

    The Wild Rice rule, proposed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, would be an “onerous standard that has been on the books since 1973 but has never been enforced,” State Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said at a news conference in Virginia. And the standard, which limits sulfide discharges, does not need to be enforced, he added.

    “The WLSSD has said it could potentially cost half a billion dollars to comply with this standard. That’s just in Duluth. Between operations at Minntac and Keetac, it could also cost half a billion dollars for them,” Tomassoni said.

    Forty-four years ago, Minnesota instituted a water quality standard to protect wild rice from elevated levels of sulfate. It was based on observations that wild rice grew in waters with lower sulfate levels, and didn’t in waters with elevated sulfate. The existing rule limits sulfate to 10 milligrams per liter in water. The MPCA’s new research indicates that sulfide contained in sediment, rather than sulfate, is the pollutant of concern. The proposed rules are designed to limit sulfide to 120 micrograms per liter. One microgram is one thousandth of a milligram.

    “This would not only kill jobs, but it could impact industry in such a way that it might not ever be able to recover,” said the Chisholm lawmaker.

    Tomassoni said the MPCA has not conducted research to determine the costs to industry.

    “I think we need to slow this down or even stop it. It has been proven this is not necessary,” he said. “We don’t know, and MPCA cannot say, that if we actually initiate a standard that it will make a difference for wild rice.”

    The MPCA is soliciting public comments on the proposed rules now. Public hearings are scheduled between Oct. 23 and Nov. 2. Lacking the cost of treatment data, it’s too early to hold hearings, said Steve Giorgi, executive director of the Range Area Municipalities and Schools.

    Hoyt Lakes has suffered the impact of a mine closure, said Mayor Mark Skelton. After the LTV mine closed, residents regained some hope for the future through the development of nonferrous mining. During the past 11 years, he explained, numerous public hearings have been held and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent toward that goal, and new regulatory obstacles have continually been erected. He said the sulfide/sulfate matter “could be the issue that breaks the camel’s back.” It would cost $5 million to bring the city’s sewage treatment plant up to the new standard.

    “The ramifications of doing the wrong thing would be devastating to our region,” he said. “If that should happen, we won’t have to worry about sewer plants because there’s not going to be anybody left to use the sewer plant. I’m told it would also affect six of our taconite plants. Then we could say we are truly a mining region without a mine.”

    State Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said it’s irresponsible for the MPCA to move forward with a rule-making process when there’s no evidence it will improve the wild rice crop. He intends to introduce legislation that would instruct the MPCA to stop advancing the rule. Taxpayers, he added, are tired of funding expensive mandates that don’t solve problems.

    Iron Mining Association President Kelsey Johnson said the MPCA’s own peer review panel admits the possibility of error in its recommendation is 20 percent, which is high for such research.

    “We’re opposed to this rule because it’s based on bad research. It’s unacceptable for the MPCA to expect regulated entities in private industry to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment technology based on an equation with such a high error rate,” she said.

    The only known method to reach the proposed standard involves reverse osmosis filtration. That process not only removes sulfates, but also the good nutrients needed to grow wild rice, she explained. 

    The remaining effluent can only be disposed of in deep water wells, and that is illegal in Minnesota, Giorgi added.

    Further, ongoing treatment costs would be in the millions each year, noted Hibbing Chamber President and CEO Lory Fedo. Businesses and municipalities would have to pay that cost.

    “I’d like to see some common sense go along with the science,” said Jason George, political director of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 49. The MPCA plan, he said, is missing input from the Iron Range residents.

    “Communities up here are not being listened to. Their voices are not being heard.”

    Jobs for Minnesotans Director Nancy Norr told attendees not to be disheartened.

    “Don’t give up on taking the high road. Don’t give up on staying engaged and being willing to participate in this process. Don’t give up on holding our agencies accountable, however, for continuing to base this regulatory process on science and fact and not emotion,” Norr said.

Enbridge rebuts Commerce Department findings

October 19, 2017

    BusinessNorth Report

 

    Last week, Enbridge disputed the lack of need to replace its Line 3 – a conclusion drawn by the Minnesota Department