Public programs to explore dangers of vaping

November 14, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    Vaping – or e-cigarette use - has been in the news lately. And not in a good way.

    The most recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) release shows that as of Nov. 5 there were over 2050 lung injury cases from vaping that have been reported throughout the country. Over 50 of those were from Minnesota, including three deaths. What happens in vaping is a complex story that is just unfolding.

    Luka Kinard, a 16 year old from High Point, North Carolina began vaping at age 14 and eventually was even selling his clothes to fund a $150 per week addiction, according to an NBC news story. He was lucky because his parents intervened. He spent almost 40 days in a drug rehab program to get free from the effects, and now travels the country to share his story with other teens.

    Kinard will be at the Greenway High School auditorium at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19 and at Deer River High School Media Center at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21 to talk about his experiences. The programs are free.

    Kinard’s presentation is brought to local schools by Itasca County Public Health and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe through the Truth Initiative and the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids. For more information, call Kelly Chandler at 218-327-6144 or kelly.chandler@co.itasca.mn.us.

Effie looks at its historic school

October 17, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    To save or not to save? 

    There’s a discussion in Effie about what to do with the original Effie School, a three story brick structure that still holds childhood memories for residents.

    It’s one of the last three commercial structures in town from Effie’s history, explained resident and council member Jim Astry. In his childhood Effie was thriving, he recalled, with hundreds of residents. He detailed the stores along the main street: restaurant, small equipment sales and service, dry goods store, barbershop, post office, Skelly gas station, Big White grocery, garage, A&C Big Dollar store, bottle gas and feed store, a two story hotel. Many of the owner names are still family names in Effie. Now there is just the school, the Effie Fredheim Lutheran Church and the Effie Café.

    The school was built in 1910, with no plumbing or electricity at the time. The two main floors held two classrooms each with two classes combined in a room for first through eighth grade. Classrooms were originally heated with steam through radiators until it was transitioned to forced air. The ground level floor was a cafeteria; wonderful family style meals, recalled Karen Scanlon who was in the last 8th grade class, with bread and bowls of food on each table. In the 1960s a gymnasium was added, but the walls and floor were torn out to accommodate a water bottling company which rented it after the school closed. 

    Now just echoes of student voices remain; a roof leak has taken off part of an interior wall, and in the gym water runs through a roof drain that cracked during the winter. In places the floor tiles are split up and the dropped ceiling has some open spaces.

    “It was an awesome building – a grand building – at one time,” said Mayor Greta Drewlow. She came to town in high school, she explained, so she has no emotional connection to it, but she understands both sides of the issue. Even if the decision was made to demolish the building, she said, there would be a monument of some sort to commemorate the school.

    When an inquiry about purchasing some of the wood molding in the building came to the city council, Astry decided to see if there was enough historical significance to preserve the structure. To his surprise, there were no school records; they had been inadvertently destroyed during an administration move in the school district. He has been talking to older residents to build up a history.

    The council decided to open the building for tours. “I wanted people to see what it was like inside so they could make an informed decision,” Drewlow said. If the decision was made to demolish it, she didn’t want people to think the city was taking down a great old building without a reason. 

    Last Saturday all comers were invited to tour the building and make suggestions about how it could be used if it were kept. Forty-three people came to tour the structure with flashlights and leave their ideas on what it could be used for. Any use, said Drelow, would have to produce at least enough profit to maintain and heat the building and keep the electricity on.

    Any ideas, opinions or comments may be sent to the city council at P.O. Box 95, Effie, MN 56639 or by leaving a message at 218-743-6767. The next meeting of the Effie City Council is Monday, Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Effie Community Center.

Entrepreneur Fund named SBA Rural Lender of the Year

October 10, 2019

By Beth Bily

 

    The newly opened Rapids Brewing Company in Grand Rapids served as the venue Monday to celebrate the Entrepreneur Fund’s recent recognition at the Small Business Administration’s Rural Lender of the Year.

    Accepting the award on behalf of the Entrepreneur Fund, CEO Shawn Wellnitz said: “Access to adequate financing is one of the biggest challenges rural entrepreneurs face in Minnesota.”

    Nancy Libersky, Minnesota SBA district director, spoke to the impact the EF has had on the region’s small business climate. “The Entrepreneur Fund is definitely one of the SBA’s strongest partners,” she said, adding that the nonprofit is one of the top 20 microlenders in the country and assists with 56 percent of the microloans in the state of Minnesota.

 

    Aggregate loan totals for the Entrepreneur Fund have grown substantially in the last five years. In 2013, 79 loans totaling $2.7 million were dispursed through the Entrepreneur Fund. By 2018, those numbers had ballooned to 210 loans totaling $12.6 million. 

    Libersky said other statistics demonstrate the need for this growth. While 72 percent of the land in the U.S. is rural and 46 million Americans live in rural settings, rural communities face far more obstacles obtaining working capital, she said.

    In addition to posting strong numbers when it comes to loan dollars, the Entrepreneur Fund also has a proven track record with its lending and business assistance programs. Libersky reported that 89 percent of companies which receive assistance from the Entrepreneur Fund are still in business five years later. Rapids Brewing, another business that has received Entrepreneur Fund support has been open just six weeks, but is posting strong numbers, she noted.

    Also present to laud the Entrepreneur Fund’s accomplishments were U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R – Duluth, who said; “Our small businesses are the backbone of our country.” Ida Rukavina read a letter of support from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Entrepreneur Fund outgoing Chair of the Board Diane Weber noted, “thriving rural communities will always include healthy small businesses.”

    Those in attendance at Monday’s event also heard from regional business owners who received financing through the Entrepreneur Fund, and Wade Fauth, vice president of the v Foundation, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropic organization.

County receives MPCA sewage treatment loan funding

September 19, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, Sept. 10 with all commissioners present except commissioners Burl Ives and Davin Tinquist. In Commissioner Tinquist’s absence, Commissioner Ben DeNucci acted as chair.

    The county has received $500,000 in funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for a 2020 Subsurface Sewage Treatment System (SSTS) loan program.

        Environmental Services Administrator Dan Swenson will be the project representative for the program which allows residents to apply for 10-year low interest loans to upgrade non-compliant systems to best management practice systems. Qualifying residential projects must have been unable to get bank financing and have a cost limit of $50,000.

    Resident John Casper brought forward a request that individual county department Facebook pages retain and display all public comments. He said that his comments were an effort to hold public officials accountable, were a First Amendment right, and were not excessive nor abusive, but they had been removed. 

    County Attorney Matti Adam, who administers her department page disagreed, saying all his posts were still displayed. The request was forwarded to the county tech committee for review of the county social media policy, and to make it consistent across all department pages. 

     In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $2,011,109.19, which included PILT payments.

    • Accepted a one year Toward Zero Deaths grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety with a tentative amount of $18,721.

    • Accepted updated terminology changes in a seven county joint powers agreement for Delivery of Job Training Programs in effect since 1983.

    • Authorized the Environmental Services Department to seek contractor bids to provide temporary cover over part of the demolition landfill as part of a new MPCA permit.

    The next regular meeting of the Itasca County Board is on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 2:30 p.m. in the Itasca County Board Room.

Effie City Council sets public meeting on sewer issues, discusses future of school

September 12, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The Effie City Council met on Monday, Sept. 9 in a regular council meeting with all members present except Councilor Angela Walker. 

    The council set Monday, Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Effie Community Center for a public informational meeting on the issues around the sewer system. 

    Northern Itasca Joint Powers Board Community Coordinator Tim Johnson was present to discuss possible funding sources for repairing the system but will need an estimate from the city’s engineering firm Bolton & Menk on the costs. He asked if the council was interested in exploring a sewer line connection with Bigfork, which might provide long term benefits to both cities. 

    Councilor Tom Lamont pointed out that the city still had to make the repairs to keep the present system over the next year. Councilor Jim Astry suggested that knowing the options would help them make an informed decision. The council authorized Johnson to investigate funding and other details on both options.

    The written sewer report from Wastewater Supervisor Kevin Odden was reviewed including the recommended replacement of a dewatering pump with one that would handle sludge without clogging. The council authorized $1,700 to replace the pump. 

    Astry has been looking into the possibility of historic status for the old Effie School.  

 

    Official records have been lost, but the school was built in 1910, so does qualify on age. Johnson explained the process for acquiring historic building status, including a requirement to maintain the structure after restoration. Grants are very competitive, he said, and the council could expect up to 10 years to go through the process. Lamont expressed his opinion that it would be difficult to find commercial renters. Astry suggested that perhaps the gymnasium could be restored for community events. Residents would like to tour the building, so Astry and Mayor Greta Drewlow will set a date and time for this. 

    Johnson summed up the alternatives: pursue historic status; demolish the building and replace it with an interpretive historical exhibit; or do nothing and let the building decay.

    In other business the council:

    • Approved August 2019 claims and payroll in the amount of $4,440.35.

    • Awarded a building permit for a residential remodel.

    • Heard a request that residents post visible house numbers for the benefit of emergency services.

State Supreme Court sides with PolyMet on FEIS appeal

August 29, 2019

    The Minnesota State Supreme Court on Aug. 20 declined to hear a petition for environmental review conducted for PolyMet’s NorthMet copper-nickel-precious metals project near Hoyt Lakes.

    Two environmental groups sought review of a unanimous May 28 Court of Appeals decision that upheld the scope of the environmental review prepared for the project by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and rejected the groups’ request for the agency to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

    “This action effectively closes out any remaining challenges to the state related to the environmental review and allows us to sharpen our focus on financing, building and operating Minnesota’s first copper-nickel-precious metals mine,” PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry said in a company news release.

    Groups filing the petition were Twin Cities-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The Court of Appeals ruling covered three consolidated appeals filed in 2018. 

    The Final Environmental Impact Statement was published in November 2015 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

1st Nat’l Bank of Coleraine holds school supply fundraiser for Vandyke Elementary

August 22, 2019

    A new school year approaching brings much excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, for many area families it also brings financial strain. In the past, the Greenway community, including the First National Bank of Coleraine, has eased the burden of school supplies for many families by donating to Vandyke Elementary.

    “When families show up to Open House and express a need for school supplies, it is a great gift to be able to assure them we have donations to assist those in need. We not only use these supplies to start the school year but also use them to fill the need later in the year when classroom supplies get depleted. It is fun to see a child’s face light up when we can assure them they will have a backpack and supplies for the first day of school,” said Dawn Jenkins, MSSW, LICSW, Vandyke School Social Worker.

    Jenkins continued, “This year, some of the agencies who have helped families in the past are no longer providing backpacks to area children. Because of this, we anticipate a greater need than usual for the 2019-20 school year. We are so grateful to First National Bank of Coleraine for stepping up to help our students have a fantastic start to the new year!”

    Items that are needed are #2 pencils, backpacks, crayons, disinfecting wipes, dry erase markers, erasers, glue, hand sanitizer, multiplication and division flash cards, notebooks, pencil boxes, pocket folders, Post-It notes, scissors, tissues, washable markers, water paints, Ziploc bags, etc.

    Collection dates are Aug. 5 through Sept. 30. Drop-off locations are at First National Bank of Coleraine at 600 Powell Ave., Coleraine and at the LaPrairie branch located at 1220 East Hwy. 169. Monetary donations are also being accepted.

Greenway invests in new math curriculum

August 15, 2019

By Kathy Lynn, KOZY Radio

 

    The school board of Independent School District 316 has approved investment in a new math curriculum for fifth and sixth graders. Principal Jeff Britten asked the school board to invest almost $75,000 for a five year license to teach the program. 

    The new math curriculum is from the same company that supplies first through fourth grade math instruction. The vote was four to one, with Director Bob Schwartz casting the dissenting vote. Director Gary Gustason was absent with notice. 

    The board approved updated school handbooks for elementary, middle, and high school students. Some updates included vaping and canine searches. 

    The board approved a contract with Laurie Eide as Indian Home-school Liaison Coordinator, Nichole Mallum, Indian Home-school Liaison and Lowana Greensky as Indian Education Director. 

    Many items before the board at its July 31 meeting were annual approvals, including memberships in the Minnesota Rural Education Association, the Minnesota School Board Association, 321 Art, and the contract with Carole Burnett as Food Service Coordinator.

 

    Fall sports coaches and assistants were also approved:

    • Boys’ Football Head Coach 12 Bob Schwartz

    • Boys’ Football Booster Coach Mark Gibeau

    • Boys’ Football Assistant Coach 8 Jamie Guyer

    • Boys’ Football Assistant Coach 7.5 Joe Westlake

    • Boys’ Football B-Team Head 7 Nick Emanuel

    • Boys’ Football B-Team Assistant 5.5 Ben Sletten

    • Boys’ Football Middle School 3.5 Austin Hujanen

    • Boys’ Football Middle School 3.5 Josh Woodley

    • Girls’ Volleyball Head Coach 10 Rhaya Tomberlin-Anderson

    • Girls’ Volleyball Assistant Coach 7 Aaron Morhart

    • Girls’ Volleyball C-Squad 5 Sophie Rajala**

    • Girls’ Tennis Head Coach 8 Lew Smiley

    • Girls’ Tennis Assistant Coach 4 Chris Granley

    • Co–Ed Cross Country Head Coach 8 Will Floersheim

    • Co–Ed Cross Country Assistant Coach 1.75 Jeri Peterson

    **Pending Background Check

    *Pending Successful Licensure

Reimbursement rates tied to nursing home closures

August 08, 2019

By Ron Brochu

 

    The demand for skilled nursing home care is growing both in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but the money needed to build more facilities just isn’t available.

    Despite the growing need for skilled care, “We’ve seen a lot of nursing home closures,” said Christy Frye, administrator at Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center in South Range, Wis., about 15 miles south of Superior. So far this year, 11 Wisconsin nursing homes have closed down. That brings the total to 30 since 2016.

    Minnesota is experiencing the same problem, and the closures haven’t been evenly distributed. Of the 41 Minnesota nursing homes that have closed since 2007, 31 have been in rural towns, Minnesota Public Radio recently reported. Elderly persons who need that level of care not only are being removed from their homes, but from their towns or villages.

    According to a study released in July by the provider group LeadingAge Wisconsin, 17 of the state’s 72 counties will be at or above full capacity by next year. The problem is not specific to the Badger State. Minnesota has dropped from 45,700 beds in 1995 to 28,486 in 2018. Many nursing homes that have remained open have downsized or closed off units, Care Providers of Minnesota President and CEO Patti Cullen recently told McKnight’s Long Term Care News.

    Industry executives agree the problem is largely linked to Medicaid reimbursements that are too low to pay nursing home costs.

    “The way that the reimbursement is set up right now, the only option is for nursing homes to close,” LeadingAge Wisconsin vice president of financial and regulatory services Brent Rapos told the trade publication Skilled Nursing News.

    On the other hand, the economic environment for expansion in the assisted living care market is positive. Contractor Darrel D. Johnson and his two business partners are planning to break ground this month on a 16,000-square-foot facility in the city of Rice Lake, Minn., just north of Duluth.

    “Baby boomers are coming to that age when they will need extra care. In our neighborhood in Rice Lake, we currently don’t have that to offer,” he said. When it opens next spring, that facility will offer care that ranges from assisted living to hospice. That type of development is popular because operational costs are far less than nursing homes. The partners have conducted two marketing studies that justify their investment.

 

A changing scene

    In today’s healthcare world, the success of providers is tightly linked to how they’re being reimbursed. Uninsured patients are charged the full prices for services, although some can’t afford to pay. Private insurers negotiate with healthcare systems to keep customers’ care costs as low as possible. That said, caregivers don’t pay at a rate below their actual costs. The same is not always true for public payers such as Medicaid. 

    “Medicaid pays a set rate no matter how complicated the case is,” Frye said. Medicare pays more than Medicaid and is preferred by providers. The difference can be as much as $400 per day, Frye said.

    There’s another factor involved. The patient mix has changed in a way that increases the portion of patients who depend on Medicaid. While elderly persons once were the primary customers, that picture today includes many younger patients who either lack insurance or personal financial resources to pay for treatment.

    “In the last three years, there have been a lot more younger people – those in their 40s or 50s. Some haven’t taken care of themselves or they have chemical dependency issues,” Frye explained. Because they are too young to receive Medicare, Medicaid or state-run medical assistance programs come into play with their low reimbursement rates. Nursing homes can lose $60 every day on every public pay customer, said Lori Ranta, administrator at Villa Marina Health and Rehabilitation Center in Superior.

    “Wisconsin has the lowest medical assistance rate in the country,” Ranta said. The issue, unfortunately, has become entangled in an ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans. In his first budget, Gov. Tony Evers fought to have the state accept expanded Medicaid eligibility – something that was rejected by former Gov. Scott Walker. It’s a perk offered through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). At present, the state is one of only 14 nationwide to reject it. The Democrat governor, however, could not overcome opposition by Wisconsin’s Republican legislature. GOP lawmakers have fought the plan because the costs eventually transfer from the federal government to the state, permanently expanding its budget. 

 

Assisted living growth

    There has been more investment in assisted living facilities than in nursing homes. That’s because assisted living developments have far lower cost structures than nursing homes, according to those in the industry, and the reimbursements they receive allow for better margins.

    Nonetheless, the supply of rooms falls short of demand; there are still long waiting lists to enter those facilities. Further, assisted living is geared toward customers who don’t need frequent care by skilled nurses, and it isn’t considered a replacement for nursing home care. 

    “When people just get out of the hospital, assisted living isn’t equipped to provide the care they need,” Ranta said, explaining that nursing homes are a more appropriate next step for some patients.

    But the Medicare system has a different view, Frye added.

    “Medicare doesn’t want to pay for people to stay in a nursing home. They want them to go straight home from the hospital,” she said.

    Additionally, some people need care that isn’t typically offered in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living setting. For instance, Frye explained, the healthcare system isn’t offering sufficient help for mentally challenged younger people. 

    “They don’t need full skilled nursing care, but assisted living is not enough,” she said.

    With the Affordable Care Act still a matter of intense controversy, it’s unclear when or if the situation might change. Meanwhile, with some presidential candidates advocating “Medicare for all,” a growing number of healthcare professionals are predicting the lack of sufficient reimbursement could spread to hospitals and clinics. From the viewpoint of an administrator who worries about nursing home closures, Frye offered a prediction: “There won’t be growth if reimbursement rates don’t go up.”

Great Northern Transmission Line on schedule

August 01, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The 225 mile Great Northern Transmission Line running from near Roseau at the Canadian border to a substation north of Warba is on schedule and within budget, according to Kyle Larson, construction manager. The 500 kV line is intended to bring hydro power from Manitoba Hydro into the Minnesota Power system. 

    Larson gave a report to the Itasca County Board at its July 23 meeting, explaining that the construction was largely complete north of Togo and was underway in the 47 mile corridor in eastern Itasca County. 

    The scheduled completion date is June 2020, but the project is targeting completion in March.

    All the tangent transmission structures that were being placed by helicopter are set; only a few remain that will be placed by traditional methods with a crane. Larson said that the helicopter will still be making weekly trips moving materials, however.

    A helicopter is also used to pull line, he explained. A bundle of 3 wires is attached to a cable, then to a rope which is fastened to the aircraft. Three to four miles of wire is pulled at a time.

    The line will terminate at the Warba substation, expected to be complete by the end of 2019. In response to a commissioner’s question, Larson indicated that a continuation of the line to Duluth was not planned at this time. 

    Courtesy of the WATTS News.

School Board updated on elementary building progress

July 25, 2019

    Kent Koerbitz provided the Independent School District 318 Board with an update on the elementary schools project at last week’s board meeting. 

    He began his presentation by noting that there may be a perception that progress is slow, however, he pointed out that about $3 million dollars in bills had accumulated since the start of the project.

    Koerbitz said all permits were in hand for the two new elementary schools as well as Cohasset with the exception of a building permit from the city of Cohasset, which was expected to arrive within days. However, he did note that permits in general were slower to materialize due to the expansion in the number of construction projects around the area and level staffing levels at permitting agencies. Koerbitz added that permitting has slowed the project slightly.

    There were some concerns about pre-cast concrete early on in the project but those concerns had been allayed. He said bids for the three components of the project were purposely staggered by two weeks between each bid so that companies who won bids at more than one site had time to complete work in a timely manner.

    A committee had been formed during the design phase of the project to ensure the buildings were ADA-compliant. He said that a third party review of that committee’s work was underway to ensure that the letter of the law was being met as well as any practical considerations.

    Koerbitz reported the project is still on budget. He said there were significant cost overruns early in the project, particularly in dirt work. If cost overruns did occur in projects, dirt work was usually the culprit, he said. He then briefly summarized the progress at each school. Precast concrete gymnasium walls were set to be installed beginning the week of July 22 at the east elementary site. Concrete work for classroom foundations is underway at the east site, as is masonry work for kitchens and the cafeteria. 

    At the west elementary site, concrete work for the cafeteria, kitchen and commons area will began the week of July 13. Concrete work for classroom foundations starts the week of July 20, and earthwork is ongoing. Plumbing at the west site will commence the week of July 20 as well.

    At the Cohasset elementary site, Koerbitz said that planned demolition of a house east of the school was complete. Underground utility work was ongoing and scheduled to be complete the week of July 20. Parking lot construction was set for the week of July 13.

    At the conclusion of his presentation, Koerbitz asked for questions. Board chair Pat Medure asked Koerbitz whether any of the construction firms were running into worker shortages. Koerbitz said that wasn’t a problem currently but that it could become a problem when inside work commenced in the fall. He said that glazing and tile work were areas where he expected labor shortages if they were to materialize.

    In other business, the board:

    • Accepted the retirement of one bus driver, the resignations four coaches, two staff members, and authorized the hiring of two teachers, one staff member and two coaches.

    • Approved the 2019-2021 contract between ISD 318 and the Special Services Director.

    • Approved the 2019 short-term interim Superintendent contract.

    • Approved permission to post Braillist ESP for 2019/2020.

    • Approved permission to post for the position of Safe Routes to School Coordinator for 2019/2020.

    • Approved permission to post additional FTEs for 2019/2020.

    • Approved bids for milk, bread, and food vendors.

    • Approved a resolution for participation in the 2019/2020 Minnesota State High School league.

    • Approved MSBA membership for 2019/2020.

    • Approved a joint powers agreement with ISD 316 to provide educational services on North Homes property.

    • Approved a one year lease agreement with the City of Grand Rapids for Legion Baseball Field and the Grand Rapids Sports complex.

    • Approved a three year lease agreement with the city of Cohasset for use of Portage Park fields.

ISD 318 names short-term superintendent

July 05, 2019

    The ISD 318 School Board held a special meeting on June 27 to appoint Sean Martinson, Murphy Elementary Principal, to serve as Superintendent for District 318 Grand Rapids/Bigfork. Sean is filling this position on a short-term basis until the board is able to select an interim superintendent. Minnesota Department of Education guidelines require that a licensed Superintendent leads the district at all times. An interim Superintendent will serve throughout the duration of the 2019-2020 school year. 

    The School Board will begin the process of searching for an interim Superintendent for the 2019-2020 school year immediately. The process for selecting a permanent Superintendent will begin later this winter.

Regional manufacturers dissect survey findings

June 28, 2019

By Nik Wilson / BusinessNorth

 

    The manufacturing industry in Minnesota faces some unique challenges that business executives are combating via creative and flexible strategies. 

    A panel of representatives from Minnesota manufacturing companies shared their experiences and reactions June 20 at Duluth’s Kitchi Gammi Club regarding The State of Manufacturing 2019 Survey. 

    More than two dozen dove into their concerns about the industry. The survey was conducted March 5-20 among 400 metro manufacturing executives, as well as 123 additional interviews outside the Twin Cities area. 

    While 93 percent of survey respondents claimed to be confident in their company’s financial future, optimism rates among manufacturers regarding economic expansion dropped in the Initiative Foundation (-11 percent), West Central (-23 percent) and Southwest (-26 percent) regions from last year.

    The survey respondents also rated their levels of concern about nine different factors. While healthcare coverage costs was the top concern at 58 percent, other factors received attention. They include issues of attracting qualified workers (46 percent), retaining qualified workers (37 percent) and developing future leaders (23 percent). Out of the people who listed those factors as concerns, 66 percent claimed to be “highly concerned” about one of them. 

    GPM Chief Executive Peter Haines said that exposing young people to manufacturing is one way to increase the number of qualified employees. 

    “I look at the age of cell phones and social media and video games and so forth, then you look at the curriculum in the school, you look at how they backed off on auto mechanics, even though every one of those kids is going to drive, and they have nothing on welding, plumbing, electrical” Haines said. “So how are these kids supposed to get exposed to that?”

    Even just one experience can make a difference, explained Haines, who leads the Duluth manufacturing firm. 

    “Case in point, I took one of my kid’s buddies to GPM, and for the first time ever, he was exposed to welding. He said ‘Hey, can I try that?’ So, our welder said, ‘You bet.’ We got him equipped, put on a big leather apron,” Haines said. Now, the kid plans to go to a welding school after college.

    These experiences are important and could help address the lack of people who know how to operate machinery, which is a concern for Dave Dickirson, general manager of Plastech Corporation. 

    “I would say the areas that we’re really, really struggling, as you mentioned, are the skilled trades. It’s the maintenance, and when I talk about maintenance, I’m talking about hydraulics, high-voltage, air conditioning … that’s the difficult part,” Dickirson said.

    He noted their company has started partnering with two-year colleges and high schools to help get younger people exposed to this machinery. But it’s not just young people who are vital to the success of these manufacturers. Employers are making their work plans more flexible to accommodate the needs of older workers.

    Area Partnership for Economic Expansion (APEX) President and CEO Brian Hanson has explored options regarding childcare to help employees who have families. 

    “We have assembled a list of childcare providers that are multi-location providers, that are seeking growth and in particular, yeah we looked at Twin Cities-based firms, but we looked at ones that had also branched out, maybe went to St. Cloud, maybe went to Rochester and those are the ones that we’re going to be talking to,” Hanson said. 

    Haines said he’s started creating plans in which their experienced senior employees have the options to work fewer hours, and they specifically spend their time training the next generation of workers.

    This creative energy is helping CEOs find ways to accommodate the needs of potential employees. Hanson hopes the effort will unveil more potential employees, including labor that isn’t currently being tapped regionally.

ISD 318 School Board adopts revised, proposed budgets

June 28, 2019

    The ISD School Board convened for its regularly scheduled meeting at the Bigfork High School on Monday, June 17, where District Business Manager Pat Goggin updated the board on the budget process. 

    Goggin said that the budget planning begins in the fall with enrollment projections, and proceeds into the winter with budgeting for individual departments and individual buildings. The budget culminates with finalizing the budget for the just-completed school year.

    A slide show presented to the board illustrated the ISD 318 fund balance, including a two year projection. The fund balance had nearly a $10 million balance in 2016 but has steadily declined since that time. Continued deficit spending would put the ISD 318 fund balance below $3 million by 2020 based on prior projections. Goggin told directors that if the 2020 projection were reached, it would put the fund balance below the board’s minimum stated goal.

    The budget adopted last June had about $802,000 in deficit spending in the general fund but through various means, including efficiencies, the actual amount of deficit spending was about $455,000. “Kudos to our administrative staff to keep those efficiencies going,” said Goggin.

    A discussion on food service fund revealed there was very little difference between the amount budgeted and the amount spent. The same was true of the transportation fund and the community services fund.

    Goggin next turned his attention to the construction fund where there was a very large discrepancy between the budget adopted last June and final budget being submitted. He attributed the discrepancy to timing as the board did not have the $67 million in hand at the time of the 2018 June budget meeting. He also noted that the bonding money had earned over $2 million.

    The debt service fund was described by the business manager as “money we receive from the tax payers to pay for our bonds.” Goggin characterized the debt service as a “pretty set number” adding “after the levy cycle each year, we know what we’re going to receive and we know what our payments are.”

    Goggin briefly touched on the insurance fund and reported that the self-insurance fund was breaking even as it should.

    The OPEB trust fund also was discussed. Goggin described this fund as a pool of money that the district used to pay retirees. Actual expenditures were slightly higher than the amount of money budgeted last June. “Eventually this fund will be gone. Hopefully it’s gone about the same time we stop paying for retirees,” he said.

    Next year’s budget shows a slight increase in spending over this year. There would continue to be deficit spending but that it would be reduced to about $250,000. Budget numbers for 2109/2020 did not include any raises for staff as contracts were still being negotiated.

    Goggin concluded his presentation with an update to the chart he started his presentation with. The chart showed the projected fund balance to be above the minimum balance that the board had previously established as a goal. He attributed the change to reduced deficit spending. The board approved the 2018/2019 revised budget as well as the 2019/2020 proposed budget.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved the hiring of four Special Education teachers, three support staff members, and accepted two staff resignations, one school bus driver resignation, and one ESP resignation.

    • Approved the 10-year facility maintenance plan.

    • Adopted a resolution authorizing board control over student activity funds.

    • Approved contracts for updating refrigeration at the high school and a safe egress door at the Reif Center.

    • Approved a ventilation contract for work to be performed at the middle school.

    • Approved the 2019/2020 Minnesota Rural Education membership.

ISD 318 Superintendent announces retirement

June 20, 2019

    ISD 318 Superintendent Joni Olson has announced her retirement effective June 30, 2019.

    “I am so proud of all that we have accomplished together at ISD 318 in the past two years,” said Olson. “And, I will do my best to ensure a thorough, positive transition for future leadership.”

    The school board held a special meeting on Monday, June 17 at 12 p.m. to accept her retirement. At that meeting, the school board began the process of filling the role on an interim basis. After an interim superintendent is appointed, the board will begin work on the plan for the hiring of a permanent superintendent.

    “There will be no interruption to district activities during the transition period,” said Board Chair Pat Medure. 

Two teens die in Nashwauk car crash

June 13, 2019

    Two teenagers died as the result of injuries sustained in a June 8 accident at the intersection of  Highway 169 and Highway 65 in Nashwauk.

    According to the Minnesota State Patrol, a Honda Accord was traveling north on Highway 169 in Nashwauk when a left-hand turn was attempted on to Highway 65 North. The vehicle was struck by a southbound Chevy Cobra Camper traveling on Highway 169.

    The driver of the 2005 Honda Accord, Tyler Allen Farnsworth, 17, and passenger Jordan Junior Farnsworth, 15, were treated for non-life threatening injuries. Passengers Aiden Patrick Hall, 16, and Trent Casey Salminen, 13, died at the scene. Three of the teens were listed by State Patrol as residents of Hibbing. State Patrol did not have a city of residence listed for Hall.

    The 1994 camper was driven by Daniel Richard Alsaker, 61, who sustained no injuries. Passenger Terry Marie Alsaker, 59, was treated for non-life threatening injuries. Both are listed as residents of Chisholm.

    The accident is under investigation. Alcohol was not a factor  in the incident.

County board discusses Warba garage, hears data request concerns

May 23, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, May 14 with all commissioners present.

    Four Square Construction of Superior was the recommended bidder on the new county Transportation Department building in Warba. The building will be shared with Environmental Services staff operating a canister site. County employees completed site preparation, and Commissioner Leo Trunt pointed out that the bid amount will be less than half of what was anticipated initially. Commissioner Burl Ives asked whether a fall bidding process would lead to lower pricing and pointed out that a well, fence and septic would be additional. He asked the bidder’s representative to employ local workers. The project was approved to move forward by a vote of 4-1. 

    Resident Jim Casper addressed the board regarding the lack of responsiveness to data requests. He proposed a committee of one board member, one staff member and two public members to hear and resolve data request compliance complaints. Commissioner Davin Tinquist said the board would take his comments under advisement, but cautioned that staff had to prioritize their workloads. Casper replied that transparency should be most important and suggested that a new hire could handle such requests.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $666,145.22

    • Welcomed new employees Jackson Purdie (Health and Human Services), Dustin Nelson (Assessors Department), Noel Danielson (IMCare), Melissa Fairchild (IMCare).

    • Appointed Angela Forconi to the Park and Recreation Commission

    • Authorized the bid process for the Itasca Resource Center Roof Replacement project.

    • Approved 2019-2020 annual road maintenance agreements with 30 townships and 4 cities.

    • Approved a timber stand improvement contract with Champion Forestry Services to brush and weed planted sites for $17,955.

    • Approved a grading and base construction contract for CSAH 45 from Birch Drive to S. Club Lake Rd. with Hoover Construction Co.

    • Awarded an earthen material lease to Hawkinson Construction on a high bid of $1.50/cu. yd. to March 1, 2024 on a pit in Sec. 7, T55N, R25W.

    • Signed a final sponsorship of the Len Hardy Memorial ATV Trail (Nashwauk Connector) 

    • Approved a lease on tax forfeit land with the Deer Lake Association (Deer River) for use as an Aquatic Invasive Species Station, a public self-service location to clean boats.

    • Approved a joint powers agreement with the state of Minnesota and a resolution to participate in the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

    • Approved agreements with the construction manager (Contegrity Group) and architect (Klein McCarthy & Co.) for the new jail.

    • Accepted a grant of $11,560 toward equipment to be used for recreational boating safety activities

    • Heard a summary of recommendations of the Itasca County Mental Health local advisory council. Some needs, such as psychiatric beds, crisis placement for children ages 7-12, and intervention training for providers have been addressed. Other needs remain, such as additional adult foster care focused and parent/child support, housing for homeless, rural transportation and training for caretakers under 25.

    • Heard that a Corps of Engineers wetlands permit needed for construction of CSAH 45 and applied for in 2017 had still not been approved.

Medical industry turns to remote workforce

March 16, 2019

By Kitty Mayo

 

    A nationwide shortage of medical coding staff in the health care industry has providers in the region looking for creative solutions.

    So far at Grand Itasca Hospital and Clinic only one department has staff working remotely, but the new approach has proven to be a fruitful one.

    Medical coders translate what the doctor, nurses and other treatment staff have to say into insurance-ese. Taking case notes from a patient’s records and translating into the language of insurance ensures payment for services. The coding world is a complexity of technical jargon, and workers in this field are highly sought after.

    Heading the only department at Grand Itasca with a remote workforce, Director of Revenue Cycle Gretchen Danielson said so far it has been a great success.

    “Coders tell the story of a doctor’s visit, why the patient was seen and apply to insurance for payment of claims,” she said.

    Danielson said they have worked very hard to set up the ability to work remotely as an incentive to keep their coders on staff. The recently formed partnership with Fairview Hospital has given Grand Itasca access to technology allowing coders to work from home last May.

    “I had staff who were commuting to Grand Rapids from Hibbing, Cass Lake and Remer, and this was a way to offer them really big employee satisfaction,” she said.

    Clinic coders still come on-site about once a week to stay connected with facility staff. Nine coders, including emergency room charts, day surgery, inpatient, and charge-capture coders all telecommute.

    Another unexpected bonus came to light with the recent cold snap that lasted through an entire work week, and left many workers in the region unable to make it to work because of schools being closed, or vehicles that would not start.

    “Through this cold snap we didn’t lose any productivity, unlike many other departments, and that is really important to business since coders drive all the revenue,” Danielson said.

    Somewhat surprisingly, she noted, overall productivity increased dramatically by moving the workforce to the home – an outcome believed to be the result of fewer distractions at home than at the office.

    “They are able to get so much more work done at home,” she said. “They just get on their computer and work without the interruptions of meetings and answering the phone,” she said.

    Grand Itasca has laid out structured protocol for its remote team. Guidelines are set out to ensure a secure and private work space with agreements signed by staff.

    “It’s considered a privilege, and this group of staff really enjoys the opportunity,” said Danielson.

    Director of education and talent development for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) Roy Smith said recruitment of individuals already living in the area is the primary focus, with customized training by hiring companies.

    “People are looking for a job that helps them consolidate two part time jobs with family-sustaining wages, these remote jobs can do that,” stated Smith.

    Another challenge to telecommuting health care workers is broadband, or the lack thereof.

    “We have jobs going unfilled because of not having proper broadband connectivity, that is why a good deal of agency dollars and partnership with area agencies like Blandin Foundation are working to expedite bringing more broadband to the area,” said Smith.

    Looking to the future Anthem Health Insurance is formulating what they think will be the right ratio of “at home” workers to on-site staff. Currently, Anthem has about 50 customer service associates working out of their homes, comprising about 25 percent of its workforce in Gilbert.

    Telecommuting at Anthem is a privilege earned after some time spent in-office with good attendance and high performance.

    Nonetheless, accessing robust broadband has been a barrier that has limited Anthem’s work-at-home numbers.

    “Our commitment to adding staff to work at home has not waivered at all,” said Dan Larsen, Anthem’s Gilbert location customer care manager. “Staff have great job satisfaction for the time they get back into our lives without a commute, and it has been a positive experience for the company.”

    Limitations in internet speed and strength have been an issue keeping Blue Cross Blue Shield from turning to more work from home solutions, until recently.

    According to Penny Erchul, director of customer service, Blue Cross Blue Shield Virginia office, there have been improvements within the last year, both with access to high speed internet in some areas, as well as strengthening the company’s internal system.

    “Our customer service workers are now able to access the needed broadband, and we have moved 74 of our reps to work from home since last March,” she said.

    Bad weather throws a wrench into the economic flow of business pretty regularly in the Northland. However, Erchul said the impact of recent cold spells and major snowstorms in January and February were mitigated by having staff based at home.

    “It is working really well on days like today with bad weather, and we are finding that work from home staff can carry on with their regular hours, and even pick up extra so office staff can come in late or leave early as weather dictates their drive,” Erchul said.

    The biggest benefit comes in the form of what Erchul called “internal engagement” and really fluffs out to be happier, more productive, longer-lasting employee.

    “This allows a different level of flexibility we have not had before, and it’s turning out to be a real benefit,” she said.

    Open enrollment is a season at Blue Cross, running from Oct. 1 to mid-February every year. During those months staffing needs switch to full weekend coverage with Medicare’s requirement to provide customer service seven days a week. Fortunately, the company had been able to create a morphing schedule with telecommuting workers that has proven to be very popular.

    Some staff are happy to work every other weekend during open enrollment, with a rotating schedule that gives them five days off in a row, in order to go back to regular hours Monday through Friday during the other months.

    Erchul noted broadband deficits are still an issue in outlying areas, and if remedied would allow providers to enrich their workforce further.

    “Broadband is still a need in rural areas, it becomes more of a challenge further out and puts limitations on staffing,” Erchul said.

    Currently about 20 percent of Blue Cross’ Virginia staff work from home, but it is going so well the company hopes to soon increase numbers to 30 percent telecommuters.

Mining Industry: Support wild rice protection based on science

February 05, 2019

By Lee Bloomquist

 

    Science.

    That’s what northeastern Minnesota’s mining industry says is needed to best determine how to preserve Minnesota’s wild rice.

    For years, debate has dragged on over how to protect wild rice, a significant spiritual, cultural and nutritional crop important to Minnesota tribes and the economy.

    Still unresolved is at what level to set the state sulfate standard for water that’s discharged into lakes and rivers that contain wild rice.

    In 1973, based on research done in the late 1930s and early 1940s by Dr. John Moyle, a state sulfate standard of 10 milligrams per liter (10 parts per million) was established. Moyle was a Minnesota Department of Conservation biologist.

    However, controversy over exactly what the sulfate standard should be and the impact of sulfate on wild rice has in recent years become one of the state’s most debated topics.

    The issue remains critical because permitted water discharges from northeastern mining operations and municipal wastewater plants throughout the state are sources of sulfate. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) sponsored and independent research on 31 treatment technologies has found numerous challenges in removing sulfate from water. The most effective, but hugely expensive, is reverse osmosis.

    Industry officials say installing reverse osmosis sulfate reducing equipment at mining operations, municipal waste water plants and power plants, could cost industry and taxpayers hundred of millions of dollars.

    Yet MPCA studies and other modern research agree on one finding. It’s high levels of sulfide, not sulfate, which poses potential danger to wild rice.

    Sulfate in sediment water where wild rice is rooted, can be converted to sulfide by bacteria.

    “Researchers agree sulfate has little to no direct impact on wild rice,” read a Governor’s Task Force on Wild Rice report issued Jan. 3, 2019. “Instead, the pollutant that impacts wild rice is sulfide in the sediment pore water.”

    A 2014 Minnesota Chamber of Commerce study, confirmed by the MPCA in other work, determined that sulfate is not toxic at levels encountered in Minnesota.

    Sulfide – but not in all bodies of water – pose a danger to wild rice, according to the task force report.

    “As a general rule, as sulfide levels in the sediment increase, the likely presence of wild rice decreases,” said the report. “However, there are wild rice waters that do not fit this relationship where wild rice thrives,” said the report.

        “The rate at which sulfate is converted to sulfide, and how wild rice plants are affected is an active area of scientific discussion,” the report claimed.

    A recent MPCA study found that sulfide levels above 120 milligrams per liter in the pore water (sediment waste) where wild rice grows, has a detrimental effect on the presence and density of wild rice. Sulfide levels can be affected by the amount of sulfate in the water, the amount of organic carbon in the sediment and the amount of iron in the sediment.

    So, after years of differing studies and disparate findings, there’s still disagreement on what a standard should be or how it would be established.

    There is some agreement, however, that the task force report is a solid starting point for further discussion.

    “From my perspective, I think the task force report came out with some good recommendations,” said John Rebrovich, United Steelworkers District 11 assistant director and a task force member. “Obviously, there are some differing opinions on the science and what should be done, but I think let’s start with the low hanging fruit and do some restoration. Getting these 500-year (rain) storms every other year kind of wipes out a crop.”

    Mining industry representatives say the Jan. 3 task force report is a step forward.

    “It’s positive that everybody worked toward finding some agreed upon ways to protect wild rice, because I think everybody from every walk of life agrees that it should be protected,” said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, which represents non-ferrous (base and precious metals) mining companies in the state. “It’s just how to do it without causing a cost to industry that may or may not benefit wild rice.”

    The report offers seven recommendations:

    • Create a wild rice stewardship council (including members from a wide range of interests).

    • Expand and support tribal consultation (pass legislation to require and fund tribal consultation and tribal-state relations training).

    • Promote sulfate minimization - (MPCA should develop sulfate minimization guidance for water permit holders).

    • Improve MPCA variance process - (Improve effectiveness, efficiency and clarity of variance process.)

    • Provide point source implementation grants for sulfate (Use a grant program to fund local government infrastructure projects to meet requirements, protect water quality and reduce sulfate discharges).

    • Declare the first week of September as Wild Rice Week (Conduct activities to raise awareness of wild rice value).

    • Invest in wild rice - (Legislature appropriate adequate resources to achieve the above recommendations). 

    The mining industry supports formation of a wild rice stewardship council and inclusion of all stakeholders on the council, including tribes, government, industry and other stakeholders.

    Ideas about wild rice restoration and other recommendations in the report are wonderful and parties from all perspectives should continue talking, said Ongaro. However, imposing significant costs on industry and communities to meet the widely-debated standard without supporting modern scientific evidence, shouldn’t occur, he said.

    “A lot of work is ahead in addressing the real issue,” said Ongaro. “Over the last seven years, all the Mining Minnesota member companies have recognized the importance of wild rice to Minnesota’s culture and the economy and support protecting it through modern water quality standards, but they have to be based on science. We support treatment technologies if needed. But again, any new standard that’s developed has to be done with modern scientific research and the appropriate public consultation.”

    PolyMet Mining, the proposed copper-nickel project near Hoyt Lakes is in the final stage of permitting and plans to start construction this year.

    PolyMet will meet the 10-milligram per liter standard, said Ongaro.

    “In the non-ferrous world, there’s only one company (PolyMet) out there and they just got their new permits,” said Ongaro. “They had to demonstrate that they would meet the standard and they did.”

    Northeastern Minnesota’s taconite plants, which produce iron ore pellets used to make steel, want to protect wild rice, said Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota.

    But the industry wants all potential factors and solutions to be examined and considered.

    “We want to be doing it in a way that’s going to actually benefit wild rice,” said Johnson. “What often comes up is that there are so many factors they’re not sure exactly sure which factor is the culprit.”

    Environmental groups and tribes have pointed at industry, including taconite plants and electric power producers, as a major source of sulfate. Industry says a number of factors beyond sulfate may be affecting wild rice habitat, such as water levels, pH content, invasive species and water temperature.

    Even beavers, which build dams in bodies of water, are a problem, Johnson said.

    “Beavers are surprisingly problematic,” she said. “They can inadvertently make the water in lakes and marshes where wild rice is growing fluctuate at such a level that wild rice doesn’t grow.”

    Having a variety of stakeholders participate in the task force was important, she noted.

    “The best thing that came out of it was seeing all the stakeholders around the table to take a holistic look at the issue to discuss the financial and the actual causes of wild rice habitat degradation. If there are some financial avenues the state can take that everybody around the table could discuss on how to best spend those resources, it would be good. It behooves us to investigate further any kind of wild rice habitat concerns.”

    Minnesota is the only state and U.S. territory that has a sulfate standard.

    In Minnesota, the issue isn’t restricted just to the northeast, Johnson noted.

    “Ironically, it’s not just something that affects northeastern Minnesota. It would affect us in a different way than the rest of the state, but the sulfate levels in the water itself is much higher in southwestern Minnesota, primarily due to the type of rock and geography in that part of the state.”

    In Wisconsin, the state DNR is having success restoring wild rice habitat by removing invasive species, maintaining water levels and re-seeding, Johnson said.

    “They are seeing some significant turnaround with the wild rice habitat restoration efforts that they are conducting. I think that is something we should consider too.”

    Where the issue goes next isn’t totally clear.

    Mining industry representatives say all stakeholders can use the report as a foundation to continue talking.

    “The most appropriate and prudent thing at this point would be to evaluate the recommendations made by the task force and work with other stakeholders to ensure that some of those recommendations are taken into consideration and pursued,” said Johnson. “But I really think it’s going to be up to all stakeholders at this point.”

    Additional debate and proposals are likely to emerge during the current Minnesota legislative session.

    Mining industry officials say they want to work openly with all stakeholders on a Wild Rice Stewardship Council and move toward science-based solutions.

    “We don’t really know what we don’t know,” said Johnson. “Until we know what we know, we’re still kind of scrambling to try to figure out what’s going on with wild rice. To point fingers this early in the process without the required scientific research, I don’t think that’s necessarily the right path either. I think there needs to be continued research into what those factors might be. To get it done right is more important than to get it done quickly.”

    “As different solutions are proposed, everybody’s going to have to have an open dialogue and discussion about what they are, whether they provide benefit and what the impacts are both cost and otherwise,” said Ongaro. “Until such time, the state shouldn’t require or impose those costs until it’s determined that the technology needed and the cost of the technology needed to meet the standard actually benefits wild rice.”

    Meanwhile, the debate goes on.

    “Before we order industry or communities to put in millions of dollars in technology–reverse osmosis is the only way to handle it–I think we have to A. figure out what’s causing it for sure and B. once we extract the sulfate, what to do with it,” said Rebrovich. “If we get everybody together, I think we can get some solutions rather than just pounding on each other.” 

PLAs, wood kiln, county economic inventory on first 2019 county board agenda

January 24, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    At its Jan. 15 meetinvg The Itasca County Board authorized County Administrator Brett Skyles to work with the Itasca Economic Development Corporation and Community and Economic Development Associates to complete a county-wide inventory using the $80,000 budgeted for special economic development projects. “You can’t sell something to someone unless you know what you have,” noted Commissioner Terry Snyder. 

    The board emphasized the need for communication and transparency on the use of county money in IEDC operations.

    There was a large audience present for discussion of project labor agreements (PLAs) in all future county projects including road and bridge work in excess of $350,000. The Attorney’s Office pointed out the ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals which limits blanket PLAs and which is binding unless the law is changed. After discussion, the board decided that the current policy of deciding case by case for eligible projects would stand.

    The design and building of a kiln for the Wood Works community service program in the Probation/Parole department was discussed. The firewood program supplies both local heating wood and campfire bundles which are distributed out of the local area, and the kiln is necessary under new regulations on transport of firewood that must be certified AIS free. 

    The Itasca Community College Engineering Department would design and construct the wood-fired kiln which would be fueled by scrap from the operation. Commissioner Burl Ives asked about conflict with local business; the closest identified source for certified campfire bundles is Little Falls. New grant sources have been identified and applications were authorized. 

    Other decisions after discussion included:

    • A recommendation to amend county Honeywell contracts to include outcome based services (OBS) for predictive maintenance and energy efficiency monitoring was deferred to the Jan. 22 work session to allow time for MIS Department comments. The increase in cost will be approximately $11,700.

    • A post-and-frame option will be added to the bid documents for a new steel maintenance building in Swan River to replace the Warba garage. 

    • The current Code Red county-wide emergency notification system will be migrated to Everbridge when the current contract expires on Jan. 25. 

    • A Mutual Aid Agreement was approved for Region 2 Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Region 2 includes 11 counties, 5 tribes and one city of the first class. The agreement will allow services to be requested from FEMA in case of emergency.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $1,672,959.37. 

    • Approved Health and Human Services warrants for December of $1,524,748.19.

    • Recognized 11 employees who have retired, transferred, been promoted, hired or resigned. Included were retirees Kay Mueller (Health and Human Services), 31 years; James Sweeney (Probation Department) 34 years; John Benton (Sheriff Department), 21 years; and promotion of Michelle Tessin (Health and Human Services) to social services supervisor.

    • Approved an increase in camping fees for Bass Lake Park Campground from $10 to $15 per night. Revenue from this park is approximately $13,000 per year. 

    • Approved five repurchase resolutions for tax forfeit land.

    • Accepted a $154,340 Juvenile Justice Screening Grant.

    • Approved a joint powers agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for forest management projects.

    • Approved a recreational trail license agreement over Mesabi Metallics Company land after four years of coordination efforts.

LaPrairie swears in new mayor

January 17, 2019

    The first order of business at the Jan. 7 LaPrairie City Council meeting, was to swear in newly elected mayor Jonathan Bolen and newly elected Councilor Scott Olson. Returning councilors Joe Abeyta and Mike Nelson also took the oath of office. 

    Nelson and Abeyta were appointed to vacated Council seats in October of 2017 and July of 2018 respectively. Both won election bids this past November. Bolen took over for Mayor Vic Moen who filled the remainder of Lynn O’Brien’s term after she abruptly resigned in June of 2018. Bolen will serve for two years. 

    After swearing in elected officials, the council filled various posts. Councilor Mike Nelson will continue in his role as Mayor Pro Tempore. With respect to legal matters, the council voted to assign civil cases to attorney John Licke while criminal matters will be handled by attorney John Dimich. The official newspaper for the city will be the Scenic Range NewsForum and First National Bank (of Coleraine) will serve as the official depository. The city’s audit firm will be Walker, Giroux & Hahne. Engineering tasks will be handled by SEH. Committee and delegate appointments were also made before the council moved on to its regular agenda. 

    During the regular agenda, the council:

    • Awarded outgoing clerk Jean Panchyshyn the city’s healthcare plan for retirees.

    • Increased the sanitary sewer metered water base rate by $3 on previously overlooked accounts.

    • Approved a contract with Advantage Systems Group Security Monitoring Service at a rate of $36/quarter.

    • Approved the renewal application for LMCIT worker’s compensation coverage.

    • Approved adding Mike Nelson as an authorized bank signer and removing Vic Moen as an authorized bank signer.

    • Reviewed and confirmed the out-of-state travel policy.

    At the conclusion of the regular meeting, Councilor Mike Nelson took the opportunity to address those in attendance on the subject of infrastructure. Nelson said that the council had set up an economic development meeting to discuss the city’s aging infrastructure. He added that the council would look to various means and measures to address the issue. That meeting took place on Monday.

Coleraine certifies election results, holds public hearings

November 22, 2018

    At last week’s Coleraine City Council meeting Mayor Pro Tem Peg Smith started the meeting with Street Commissioner Harry Bertram’s report that the company hired by the city to inspect and maintain the municipal water tank has gone out of business and subsequently, the inspection reports made by that company are now invalid. 

    The city needs to find a new contractor to maintain the storage tank. Winterization of hydrants is in progress, and working short handed, city crews continue to race the clock to finish the hydrant prep. Bertram also asked for volunteers to help check and change light bulbs on the Christmas decorations for Roosevelt Ave.

    Coleraine City Clerk Briana Anderson presented the 2018 election results to city council for inspection and approval. A roll call vote was taken and the results were approved. Anderson reported 928 walk-in voters and 176 mail-in voters with a total of 80 percent of registered voters in town, which is likely a record turnout according to the city clerk’s office. Election results compiled by the Coleraine precinct are public information and available for viewing at the clerk’s office.

    The council held the required public hearing at 5 p.m. before moving forward to amend the rental ordinance. The proposed amendment was not challenged and the hearing was closed. A roll call vote was initiated by Anderson and the amendment was passed unanimously. Any sewer system not connected to a public system must be inspected and meet the specifications of the Itasca County Zoning Ordinance (Article II and sections 3.2 and 3.3) as well as Minnesota Statute 7080-7030 which apply to SSTS. The Itasca County Sanitation Ordinance and MPCA chapters 7080-7083 will apply to rental properties and be enforced at permit renewal time. The City of Coleraine and the Itasca County Environmental Office will be responsible for enforcement.

    A second public hearing at 5:30 p.m. brought City Engineer Bob Beaver to the forefront to answer questions from concerned residents. The hearing was closed and a roll call voted was taken to approve the resolution to tax eight residents of Hawkins Avenue and two residents of Sebenius Street a 10-year assessment of $2,050.44 for water main rebuilding.

    Police Chief Lonnie Mjolsness requested a resolution to purchase a new M&P 15 Assault Rifle chambered in 5.56 NATO for $625, which would be equipped with a one-power-prism scope for another $265 as well as a Streamlight TLR-1 long gun kit for $149. The mounting bracket for the squad car costs $449.99 for a grand total of $1,488. City councilors approved the purchase using police forfeiture money. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Agreed to advertise for a part time / temporary worker for the Street Department with the minimum requirements being a class B driver’s license with an air brake endorsement.

    • Voted to accept a donation from Lake Country Power and Arrowhead Shield616 for a ballistic police vest and helmet for the Greenway School Resource Officer.

    • Voted to accept the only bid of $1,005 for a seized 1994 Harley Davidson motorcycle.

    • Agreed to start the process to hire a full time employee for the Public Works Department.

    • Permitted city crews to transport a broken 11-foot snow blade for evaluation and possibly repair.

    • Voted to close the street sweeper account and transfer the balance to the city of Bovey. 

    • Approved the order of 10 new fire number signs for old 440 / new Autumn Lane. Zoning Officer Lloyd Anderson said the new addresses have been sent out to the US Postal Service and Waste Management.

Ugrich announces commissioner write-in campaign

November 01, 2018

    Troy Ugrich has announced his intention to seek the District 3 County Commissioner seat on a write-in campaign.    

    “I am officially announcing my campaign for District 3 Itasca County Commissioner. My goals as commissioner include transparency of county government, supporting sustainable growth within our county, and to restore fiscal responsibility,” Ugrich said in a press release. 

    The candidate said he was prompted to seek the office following a recent vote by seated Commissioner Leo Trunt to reimburse a sheriff’s office employee for the legal defense of felony criminal charges. 

    “While I do not favor last minute write-ins in a two-person, general election race, Leo Trunt is currently running unopposed. I would like to give the citizens of District 3 an alternative option where there currently is not one.

 

    “As your District 3 County Commissioner I will be ready to hear your concerns and lead accordingly. I want to hear your ideas on how we can work together in the best interest of the citizens of Itasca County.”

    A Coleraine resident, Ugrich is 48 and a life-long resident of Itasca County. He has spent numerous years in law enforcement. He served as a Bovey police officer for one year and chief of police for two years. He also worked for 19 years as a county sheriff’s deputy. 

    Other law-enforcement related experience/affiliations include: law enforcement field training officer, Itasca County Sheriff’s Office honor guard member and a Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association (LEMA) honor guard member.

    Other work experience and affiliations include: working as a Training/Safety Coordinator for Southeast Directional Drilling, being a member of IUOE Local 49 and a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

    “When elected as District 3 Itasca County Commissioner I pledge to serve the public with honesty and integrity, to facilitate essential services through an efficient use of the county’s resources and to be accountable to the citizens of Itasca County,” he said. “I also plan on being transparent to the citizens of the county by attending local township meetings, city council meetings, and various civic groups to hear your concerns to work together to improve our county.” 

    His priorities, if elected include: community growth, sustainable businesses, countywide, broadband/high speed internet, and improved roads and infrastructures. 

    “I plan on protecting our natural resources, parks, and all our trails in Itasca County by working with local ATV/snowmobile clubs and assisting them with grants to help maintain and improve these areas. I look forward to building strong community relations with all the citizens in the county.”

Minorca USW members unanimously authorize strike

September 20, 2018

BusinessNorth Report

 

    VIRGINIA – It’s unanimous.

    United Steelworkers (USW) members who work at ArcelorMittal Minorca in Virginia, on Monday unanimously voted to authorize a strike if USW and ArcelorMittal negotiators fail to reach agreement on a new labor contract.

    Harold Anderson, president of USW Local 6115 at ArcelorMittal Minorca, said the message was clear from voting members.

    “We’re tired of taking concessions,” said Anderson. “Everybody wants a wage increase and to keep our pensions and health care.”

    ArcelorMittal Minorca, a 2.8 million-ton-per year taconite plant in Virginia, employs 307 steelworkers. USW-represented workers at ArcelorMittal facilities across the United States also took strike authorization votes Monday. With the vote complete, USW leaders return to Pittsburgh on Thursday to resume negotiations with ArcelorMittal.

    “We’re going back out there at the end of the week and I guess well see what they say,” said Anderson. “Our membership is ready.”

    Wages, pensions and health care costs remain major issues in the negotiations.

    Negotiations between ArcelorMittal and the USW have been slow since starting in July.

    Prior to Monday’s vote, the USW issued an update to its ArcelorMittal members.

    A three-year labor agreement proposed by ArcelorMittal would wipe out any pay increases with proposed changes in health care premiums, require new hires to enroll in a high deductible plan, and increase health care premiums for active members and retirees, according to the update.

    According to the update, other proposals from ArcelorMittal include increased contributions to a Steelworker Pension Trust Fund, elimination of a hot-rolled steel bonus program, incentive ineligibility for employees in Labor Grade 1, a cap on vacation pay, elimination of supplemental unemployment benefits for members with less than three years of service, and a requirement that steelworkers outside of their regular work day and work week attend safety meetings.

    The USW says its wage proposals are in line with manufacturing sector gains. The union says it has no intention of going backwards on health care and needs improvements in dental coverage.

    USW members have waited more than three years for a wage increase, sacrificing from 2015 to 2017 when market conditions were depressed due to unfair foreign trade, said the union.

    USW labor contracts with ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel expired Sept. 1. The labor contract with Cleveland-Cliffs expires Oct. 1.

    ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel steelworkers continue to work under contract extensions as negotiations continue.

Chisholm pilot program hopes to bring back educational dollars

September 13, 2018

    By Kitty Mayo

 

    One school district is fighting back in the battle of online learning, which has taken students and dollars out of Minnesota’s bricks and mortar classrooms in recent years.

    Chisholm School District was awarded $700,000 to develop a digital access to classes designed to compete with online schools.

    The grant award was approved by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board in late August for a pilot project that will target students who are not currently attending classes in the school district, allowing them to connect digitally from any location.

    The Chisholm District hopes that their pilot, once developed successfully, could be shared with other districts that are also facing competition from online schools outside the region.

    Dr. Janey Blanchard, Chisholm superintendent, says that the project could keep educational dollars in the district, while increasing graduation rates and reducing absenteeism.

    The digital education project is planned in phases over the next four years. In the first year of the project all students in grades 4 through 12 will be given chromebooks to use as part of their classroom experience.

    Phase two will encompass the largest cost of adding the technology infrastructure into the classrooms.

    Blanchard expects years three and four to be spent evaluating what has worked well, and finding solutions for any challenges found along the way. During the fourth year an educational consultant will be brought in to assess if goals for increasing attendance and graduation rates have been met.

    “With more kids going online to learn this will reach out to homeschool kids, and other kids that don’t have to come into the building to take digital classes,” Blanchard stated.

    According to Blanchard this increased technological access to Chisholm classes can help meet the need of students who are struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, an issue that Blanchard says is on the rise in the district with five students this Spring struggling with attending classes because of anxiety.

    With a total of 735 students in grades kindergarten through 12 last year, Blanchard says the goal is to gain 10 more students in the district each year.

    One area of concern that Blanchard wants to assess is whether students have the ability to connect to the internet at home.

    “We need to know how many kids can connect from home, and if that is a barrier what we need to do to overcome that,” Blanchard stated.

    Deer River School District has a mature technology program with many of the kinks already worked through, a wealth of knowledge that Chisholm hopes to use to their advantage. Using the 1 to 1 initiative for the last six years, Deer River superintendent Matt Grose says that their technology program was one of the first of its kind up and running in the area.

    “We are prepared to partner and work with Chisholm to give them any help possible in getting their initiative ready and running,” Grose said.

    Initiation of the project will begin during the 2019-2020 school year.

BusinessNorth, Scenic Range owners purchase Lake Superior Magazine

September 06, 2018

    Two longtime, Duluth-based media organizations with a combined 66 years in existence are now under the same ownership, following the Aug. 31 sale of Lake Superior Magazine and its associated books and merchandising operations to the publishers of BusinessNorth and Scenic Range NewsForum.

     The glossy magazine has featured beautiful lake-related photography and articles since its first edition – then called Lake Superior Port Cities – in March 1979. The magazine was acquired in 1984 and was renamed Lake Superior Magazine shortly thereafter by Cindy and Paul Hayden. In addition to publishing six issues a year, the Haydens expanded the brand over the years to include the annual Lake Superior Travel Guide, Lake Superior Circle Tour map, books, merchandise, its LakeSuperior.com and several other websites, e-newsletters and more.   

     BusinessNorth, which has covered business news in Northern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin since 1992, has been owned by Beth Bily and Ron Brochu since 2010. The monthly publication is complemented by an annual Directory of Business & Industry, a three times a week e-newsletter and BusinessNorth.com. Bily and Brochu have also owned the weekly Scenic Range NewsForum community newspaper in Coleraine since 2013.

     “For 36 years, Paul and I have loved working with our talented staff, photographers, contributors and advertisers to bring Lake Superior’s beauty and stories to everyone who cherishes this big lake,” said Cindy Hayden. “We’ve thought about retirement in recent years, but we weren’t going to until we found the perfect fit. Beth and Ron share our passion and we’re excited to leave this business in their experienced hands.” 

    “Beth and I have long appreciated the Haydens’ dedication to consistently publishing high quality, award-winning products,” said Brochu. “Lake Superior Magazine’s loyal readers and customers won’t notice any changes, because it already serves its readers well. Its focus will continue to be on Lake Superior while BusinessNorth will continue to focus on the region’s entrepreneurs and economy.”

     “The demand for niche publications remains strong,” added Bily. “We look forward to meeting our many new subscribers and customers.”

     For the past few years, BusinessNorth’s offices have been adjacent to Lake Superior Magazine’s at 310 E. Superior St., which is also the storefront for merchandise sales. Brochu said BusinessNorth’s six employees and Lake Superior Magazine’s eight employees will all be retained. Cindy and Paul Hayden will be working with them during a transition period. 

     Lake Superior Magazine has won more than 200 industry awards, including Magazine of the Year from the Minnesota Magazine Publishing Association in 2013.

     Financing for the acquisition was through Alerus Bank and the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund. The phone number for Lake Superior Magazine remains 218-722-5002. BusinessNorth’s is 218-720-3060.

Programs help determine whether senior citizens should be driving

August 23, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

    One of the hardest things adult children of aging parents face is asking them to hand over their car keys. Chronic medical conditions, failing eyesight, medications and declining cognitive processing speed can all contribute to compromising the aging driver’s safety behind the wheel. How to broach the topic of taking away what is practically the American right to freedom through driving is so tough that some people never even try.

    Others face endless arguments that can include statements like, “I’ve been driving since before you were born!” 

    Ann Forrest Clark, driving evaluator and instructor, says that two necessary elements are needed, and are too often lacking: actual data and the right kind of support for new non-drivers.

    “This is not for the faint of heart to deal with. It’s highly emotionally charged, and I’ve learned never tell someone they can’t drive if you are not at the same time telling them how to get out in the community to meet their needs,” Forrest Clark said.

    While public safety is at the forefront of these difficult decisions, the risk of restricting an older person from driving, Forrest Clark says, is creating isolation that impacts their physical and mental health.

    An occupational therapist who completes clinical skills driving assessments for St. Luke’s “Drive Safe” program in Duluth, Forrest Clark is also a certified driving rehabilitation specialist and a state-licensed driving instructor. With more than 30 years of experience in driving rehabilitation, Forrest Clark says she is the only person north of the Twin Cities with certification to conduct driving evaluations for people with impairments and disabilities.

    “I get people coming to me from Brainerd, International Falls and throughout northern Minnesota because there’s no one else doing medically based driving assessments,” Forrest Clark said.

    In Northwestern Minnesota, individuals in need of driving evaluation and retraining might have traveled to Fargo for a qualified program. Now, Sanford Health in Bemidji is developing such a program, expecting to be able to begin clinical assessments before the end of summer. 

    According to Lindsey Wangberg, marketing director for Sanford, the program is now taking client names for their waiting list, and behind-the-wheel evaluations will also be offered with occupational therapists working with clients who are amenable to improving skills.

    Most of the time, she said, in-clinic evaluations and (then) behind-the-wheel evaluations end there, with a recommendation for restrictions or a cessation of driving.

    Less often, when abilities are not waning, Forrest Clark can uniquely offer driving rehabilitation through behind-the-wheel training for those with a medical impairment that is anticipated to improve.

    Vision, reaction time and thinking skills are measured in the clinic, and if the client meets what Forrest Clark calls the “critical threshold,” they move on to the behind-the-wheel testing. She also takes into account medical issues, and whether the person has seizures or is on medication that could affect their functioning.

    St. Luke’s no longer owns the vehicle used for behind-the-wheel evaluation. Forrest Clark is now an employee of Northland Driving School during that portion of the testing, which follows a standardized route.

    Both Minnesota and Wisconsin allow drivers to retain their license with restrictions if necessary, including daytime driving only, distance within a certain radius of home or speed restrictions.

    “Ninety percent of driving ability has to do with visual information and processing, and visual acuity slows down with age, so driving can be safe at reduced speeds to accommodate slower visual processing for seniors,” said Forrest Clark.

    Sticking to roads with lower speed limits, says Forrest Clark, can allow elders to continue to drive safely in terms of their reaction times, and stay connected with their communities.

    Many of Forrest Clark’s clients are elders having concerned relatives; others are older folks who have received a moving violation and are then required by the state to obtain a medical fitness test to resume driving.

    “Doctors usually find it difficult to determine if a patient can drive safely. They need information from standardized tests, and that need is growing,” Forrest Clark said.

    While the clinical testing is typically covered by medical insurance, behind-the-wheel costs are several hundred dollars out of pocket.

    Only a half dozen states, not including Minnesota or Wisconsin, require physicians to report cognitive or medically impaired drivers. However, doctors are encouraged to report impaired drivers to the DMV in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and they can recommend restrictions.

    Essentia has just announced the start up of their driving evaluation program after a three-year hiatus. The service gap came with the retirement of a long-standing evaluator and the lack of a qualified replacement. 

    Janelle Fresvik, manager for Essentia Health-Polinsky occupational rehabilitation program, says they are now partnering with SafeWay Driver Fitness Center to offer behind-the-wheel evaluations.

    After almost a decade of working with a driving instructor through the Courage Center, Fresvik says that the last three years without the program has created increasing pressure to replace that service. Essentia physicians are running into the need for assessment in making clinical decisions on a more frequent basis. 

    “As our physicians see patients in the clinic, they are telling us they need the resources that provide the information they need to make an informed decision about restricting driving or not,” Fresvik said.

    Usually on the heels of concern from a family member, elderly patients are first evaluated by Polinsky’s occupational therapists in clinic.

    “One of the hardest parts of my job is the driving piece. It’s emotionally charged and very hard to have to restrict someone from driving,” Fresvik said.

    That’s why support through Polinsky’s occupational therapy program is so important following a driving restriction or cessation decision. Clients might be referred back to Essentia’s occupational therapy program if they are expected to be able to make improvements. An acquired brain injury, such as a stroke, or traumatic brain injury could leave the person with deficits that may improve over time with occupational therapies, however, Essentia will not be offering behind the wheel training.

    “Our therapists will work with the person to look at how to problem solve through alternative transportation. We want to help them continue to maintain independence through public transportation or ride sharing,” Fresvik stated.

    “It’s a great need in our area as our population is aging, especially because many people are aging well and we want to make sure they are staying healthy and active even after they stop driving,” Fresvik said.

    As part of the “sandwich generation,” with aging parents living farther away, Fresvik understands the need for such services in a personal way.

    “We have to connect with elderly parents whose driving skills I can’t observe because they don’t live nearby, and find programs doing these kinds of driving evaluations to make sure they are still driving safely,” she stated.

Despite objection, LaPrairie City Council moves ahead with overlay project

August 15, 2018

    Discussion on Fuhrman Avenue overlay project dominated discussion at last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting. 

    The council has been torn over what to do with the project ever since it was introduced during a public hearing in April. At the initial hearing, there was widespread opposition to the project from residents living on the street. Since that time, opposition has primarily come from one Fuhrman Ave. resident.

    At the July 16 council meeting, City Engineer Jayson Newman announced the results of bidding that was conducted earlier in the day. The bids were to reflect a “bare bones” version of the original project. Newman announced two bids at that meeting. Hawkinson Construction was the low bid at $46,994, more than $6,000 above the construction estimate that Newman had submitted to the council previously. At the July 16 council meeting, officials voted to table the project so that the city engineer could look into whether or not some cost savings could be achieved by combining the project with another project during the 2019 construction season. 

    At the Aug. 6 meeting, Newman reported that the average parcel would receive an estimated assessment of $22.04 per month over 10 years. He stressed that the number would not be finalized until after construction was complete. Fuhrman Avenue resident Terry Taylor asked what the interest rate would be. Acting Mayor Vic Moen said that number would be set by the city council at a future meeting.

    Moen asked for input saying he would like to bring the matter to a conclusion. Councilor Mike Nelson said, “I guess looking at the last meeting, we were deliberating whether or not we could piggy-back this with yet another project next year to reduce some mobilization expense.” 

    Referring to a memo from Newman, Nelson continued, “By reading what you submitted here, this week, it really doesn’t look like the offset between that and administrative costs that would pop up on the next project would allow us to recoup any of these savings so I’m thinking at this time, we either do it now or we don’t do it.”

    Councilor Margie Ritter made a motion to proceed with the project and Joe Abeyta seconded the motion. Moen asked for further discussion before the vote. Said Ritter, “This has been a contentious project partly because it’s a dead-end street. I’ve had a lot of experience as a business owner and as a resident of this community and I would have been really happy to pay $3,000 for any of those things.” Ritter added, “You’re at least getting a really good street out of this.” 

    Taylor responded saying; “We have a good street now. There’s nothing wrong with it. There are a lot more of them that are worse.” 

    Taylor returned to this notion twice more before Moen intervened saying, “I agree with you, Terry, there probably are and those are streets where we are going to have to do a full tear-up and be a lot more expensive. That’s what we’re trying to avoid doing on Fuhrman. We can do an overlay, which is about half the price.” Moen ended the discussion and a vote was taken and the motion passed unanimously.

    In other business, the council:

    • Approved spending $7,596 to seal cracks on several city streets and the bike trail.

    • Voted to rebuild the city’s website and continue to utilize free software.

    • Voted to contact at least three firms for the purpose of auditing the city’s 2018 books.

Grand Rapids Arts Commission partners with non-profit to foster a robust public art ecosystem

August 08, 2018

By Manja Holter

    The city of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Arts and Cultural Commission (GRACC) are at the cusp of a process that will soon call all local artists interested in public displays to become engaged.

    In 2015, the commission developed a strategic plan (which was adopted into the city’s comprehensive plan) titled “GRMN Creates – an arts and cultural roadmap.” It explored, in part, how public art can benefit a city’s physical environment, contribute to the local economy and create excitement among community members.

    Three years later, the GRACC received a $28,500 Downtown and Business Corridor grant from Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for a first wave of art installations grouped around the city’s Central Business District, with the Historic Central School at its heart.

    Planned are the installation of three large murals on building facades, concrete-stamped sidewalk poetry, three sculptures and numerous lamp post banners that will distinguish three sections of downtown from each other (Old Mill District, Arts District etc.)

    The first poem for the sidewalk project is already selected and a yearly contest will determine the next poet.

    “The downtown arts installation project is another important step in creating an inviting public realm that capitalizes on our growing interest and appreciation for the arts. Creating spaces and activities where people want to be brings our local residents and visitors to the downtown, which benefits our businesses and strengthens our community,” said Grand Rapids’ Director of Community Development Rob Mattei.

    “The commission is grateful for the ongoing support from the IRRR and is working with city staff to make sure our new public processes for commissioning art are transparent to and with the local art community,” said Sonja Merrild, Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission chair.

    The need for transparency when selecting artists is the reason why the GRACC decided to partner with Forecast Public Art, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that has pioneered in provided consulting services for communities nationally and support for artists regionally. 

    Jen Kava, creative services manager at Forecast Public Art, explains that their partnership will span over the next few months, leading well into 2019. 

    First, they will assess the gamut of public art currently in place. 

    “We’ll be looking at the existing public art map and do some locational analysis to understand what other parts of the city would be conducive to public art projects of all media and types and durations. Then we will explore what sort of themes could weave into public art projects over the next three, five and seven years.”

    Forecast Public Art was also hired to demonstrate and instill the steps of a proper RFQ process to the GRACC.

 

    Kava explains that an RFQ (request for qualification) is a call for artists who are interested in a project to submit a letter of interest, along with a resume and some work samples that will show that they are qualified to do the project.

    “It’s really an educational opportunity to help the GRACC understand what the process looks like so they then have the tools that they need in order to facilitate those processes for projects in years to come.”

    Another way Forecast Public Art is assisting the GRACC in its quest for artists is by providing training for individuals in the Grand Rapids region. It will help persons who are interested in making public art but lack experience, background or body of work. The hope is that, with some guidance, those artists can become competitive for the RFQ process and that the city of Grand Rapids can foster and draw from their very own pool of local artists in the future.

    “We are trying to raise the capacity of the entire city – of all different groups – so that everybody can move forward and have a really robust public art ecosystem in Grand Rapids,” Kava said.

    “At the direction of the city of Grand Rapids, the Arts and Culture Commission is excited to be taking tangible steps toward elevating and displaying public art to further animate our downtown. It is our hope that more locally created art in the downtown streetscape will promote our area’s distinctive identity and contribute to the vitality and economic strength in the city,” Merrild said.

New product fuels growth for Nelson Wood Shims

July 26, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

   Ubiquitous in home remodeling work, wood shims are invaluable for incrementally positioning large building elements in innumerable construction projects. Nelson Wood Shims, the largest shim manufacturer in North America, has taken an old standby and made a market breakthrough with their patented Beddar Wood shims.

    Calling recent developments a  feel-good story  Brian Peterson is positively enthused when relaying the details of Nelson’s growth.

    Starting at the company 11 years ago, Peterson, Nelson’s chief financial officer, says at that time Nelson’s was importing about 55 percent of their product, mostly from China. Now, close to 90 percent of production happens in Cohasset. Employee numbers have also more than doubled in the last six years, with recent years seeing the biggest increase -  leading Cohasset to a workforce of 50.

    A mixed wood species, shims were being sold to do-it-your-selfers, with a larger market in construction contractors.

    Seven years ago, with their market being squeezed more and more by a Chinese influx and a deal brokered by a big box store that cut Nelson’s out, Peterson says they decided they had to do something different to survive. The realization that locally grown wood species would make a fine shim was the lightbulb moment that launched a sea change in the company, and the industry.

     “We’ve found that through ingenuity and faster, more efficient production, we can make a wood shim that is more cost effective than overseas products,”  Peterson stated.

    At first you might think that Peterson’s claim that they pulled out the original Nelson wood shim machine, made with hockey pucks and washing machine parts, no less, was an exaggeration for good effect. Ask again and you will soon find that he’s not joking. They were so pressed for time and technology that they did that very thing, and it was made with those very parts decades ago in Wilbert Nelson’s garage.

    Cedar shims have long been a tradition, but apparently, one of those traditions that don’t necessarily equate to a quality experience. Shims made from cedars became  “a thing,”  Peterson says, because they represented a waste by-product that could be put to use. However, the leftovers from cedar shingles or siding are often just that: reject material with knots, or rot.

    “We took a different approach for a quality kiln-dried product from local species that cut easily, and doesn’t split as much,”  Peterson said.

    Still, it was a tough sell at first to get contractors to give up their cedar habit. The challenge primarily lies in the clear wood of local species Nelson’s is using, unfortunately making it look similar to a much inferior pine product that leaks sap and splits easily.

     The knee jerk reaction was ‘I don’t want a pine shim’,  Peterson said.

    Transforming that attitude into making the product now the #1 contractor preferred shim took some doing, with Nelson’s giving away lots of their new local-species shims at trade shows. Over two years, that bet paid off, with Home Depot being the last hold-out, but now demonstrating a 28 percent increase in sales.

    With sales going great guns, Nelson’s faced a new challenge: getting enough logs to keep up with demand. Originally they bought pre-cut board from other mills, but with sales growth nearly doubling year to year, they were teetering on the thin line of fading supply and growing demand.

    Without enough logs to make the new kind of shims that were blowing up the market, Nelson’s felt forced to start their own sawmill three years ago.

    How to enter the mill market as an unknown mill was another tough hurdle, one that Peterson says required aggressive tactics to win over the trust of loggers. Maintaining positive relationships with local loggers is imperative to Nelson’s, who are reliant on a 150-mile radius for local species lumber.

     “We knew we had to do whatever was in the best interest of loggers to win them over, so we pay them faster than anyone in Minnesota, and we listen to them,”  said Peterson.

    Feedback from loggers has translated to using stick scaling instead of a weigh scale because loggers reported local species drying out fast in the summer, and hearing that Nelson’s was hard to get to during the busy season when large companies’ orders are filled first, they converted to a 24/7 drop zone reliant on an honor ticket. 

    “We’ve never once had to give a logger a call (on an honor ticket measurement), and it’s worth the convenience it gives them with the option to run hard and heavy during the winter,”  Peterson said.

    Wait, there’s more. Hearing that their up-to-16-inch requirement made sorting too difficult, loggers can now deliver any of the desired local species over eight inches. Bonuses are offered for loggers outside of 50 miles, with a tiered bonus system rewarding distances at 90 and over 100 miles.

    And we are not done yet. Nelson’s wanted to give small operators an advantage on sales, where sometimes they make a purchase to log a piece of land in the future, but a drop in prices can make it a financial loss. So Nelson’s has adopted a policy of guaranteeing a purchase, giving loggers confidence to make bids, and Nelson’s the assurance that a certain number of cords are coming in.

    “It’s exciting to produce a product here in Cohasset that has good jobs with health benefits, 401k, and a company that cares about people,”  Peterson stated.

    Founded in 1960 as a one-man show, Nelson’s has grown considerably with a nationwide reach to many small distributors, and larger distributors including Ace Hardware, Lowes and The Home Depot. Their products are also carried in Australia and Mexico.

    Scott Sundvall, development staffer for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), says that Nelson Wood Shims’ latest expansion was easily in line with their mission. 

    “Nelson’s fits right into the type of manufacturing businesses that we typically support. They are a good, solid company to deal with and we hope to do business with them in the future,”  Sundvall stated.

    The Nelson’s project was supported by IRRRB for equipment purchase through a development infrastructure grant, and a low-interest bank participation loan.

    Growth is still in the cards, according to Peterson, who says their wood demand has nearly doubled again, pushing them to consider moving their logging radius to 175 miles. He says they are actively looking for their next product.

    “We are never settling, and going to challenge ourselves to grow,”  stated Peterson,  “And we believe we need to help each other out, because we’ve been helped as much as we’ve helped others.”

Greenway Picked for Hockey Day Minnesota 2019

July 19, 2018

By John Nalan

 

    The Greenway high school hockey program has been selected to participate in Hockey Day Minnesota on the shores of Lake Bemidji on Jan. 19. The Raiders will face Bemidji in the feature high school game of the weekend.

    Hockey Day Minnesota is an annual outdoor hockey event that is sponsored by the Minnesota Wild, Fox Sports North television and Wells Fargo. The Greenway game against Bemidji High School will be telecast across Minnesota live on Fox Sports North. The game will be Greenway\Nashwauk-Keewatin’s first appearance on statewide television since they finished third at the 2001 Class AA state tournament.

    The Raiders’ high quality of play the last few years and strong hockey tradition were big factors in Greenway’s selection for the game. Tom Kuesel is the chairman of Bemidji’s local organizing committee for Hockey Day. 

    “While the teams for Hockey Day Minnesota are ultimately chosen by the Wild and Fox Sports North,” Kuesel said, “Our committee was given the opportunity to have some input. Greenway was the one team we strongly advocated for. They have a great hockey history, one that is well respected in Northern Minnesota hockey circles.”

    Raider head coach Grant Clafton is thrilled that his team was selected.

    “It’s for the kids,” he said. “It’s a reward for the hard work that they’ve done and that the community has done over the last eight years to get the program back. I think it’s nice that those efforts have been recognized.”

    Eight years ago the Greenway hockey program was barely keeping above water. There were hardly enough players on the team to fill the roster. Although the team had won several state titles over the years and made nine state tournament appearances between 1962 to 2001, the program was in danger of going away. The improvement the last eight years has been impressive. The Raiders have won sixty-one games the last three seasons and played in the last two Section 7A championship games.

    “It’s good to see the state acknowledging the hard work all of the kids have put in the last eight years or so,” Clafton continued. “It’s not a secret right now that we have a pretty good team and good kids coming through the program.”

    Clafton feels the talented group of players coming through the program right now helped Greenway get selected for Hockey Day. 

    “I know they look for teams with young kids that are some of the better players on their team,” he said. “They want to help keep those kids playing high school hockey. Giving Hockey Day Minnesota to a team like that is something that might help those kids stay in high school hockey.” 

    Greenway certainly fits that profile. Donte Lawson and Niko Rajala, juniors on last season’s team, were two of the top players in the state last season. Lawson was second in the state in total points and Rajala had thirty-three assists in twenty-seven games. The sophomore class included two United States Hockey League draftees, Christian Miller and Ben Troumbly, as well as high scoring Mitchell Vekich. Goaltender Ville Hyttinen, another sophomore and exchange student from Finland last season, had seventeen wins last year. His eligibility status for next season, however, has not been determined yet by the Minnesota State High School League. 

    The players are already getting excited for the trip to Bemidji. Donte Lawson summed it up this way.

    “It is a huge honor being able to play on the biggest stage next to the state tourney,” he said. “There are only a few teams with the opportunity to play at Hockey Day. I know every single player on our team is beyond excited to play in this event, but at the same time we are not going there to just play in it. We are going there to win!”

    People in Bemidji are just as excited for the game that will help re-establish a rivalry between the two schools that used to energize both communities. Bemidji’s Tom Kuesel cited the traditional rivalry as one of the main reason he wanted to see Greenway at Hockey Day.

    “Bemidji and Greenway high schools had a long-time rivalry game that ended each regular season,” he recalled. “After a few down years, Greenway’s hockey program has roared back and is a force to be reckoned with again. We wanted to rekindle the rivalry, and we wanted to showcase another Northern Minnesota hockey hotbed.” 

    Bemidji is planning to build a 3,000 seat outdoor rink for Hockey Day on a vacant lot just west of the Sanford Center, which is the home of the Bemidji State hockey team. Situated on the south shore of Lake Bemidji, the site will have overhead lighting and feature video boards. The Raiders are scheduled to play at 4:30 p.m. as the sun is starting to set over downtown Bemidji. The high school game will be followed by a college hockey game between Bemidji State, coached by Coleraine native Tom Serratore, and Michigan Tech. 

    One of the first local Hockey Day events will be a golf tournament at Eagle Ridge Golf Course on Sept. 9. The event is a fundraiser for Hockey Day expenses and is being held in conjunction with Eagle Ridge, the Raiders’ Hockey Day corporate sponsor.

    “We know the whole community is coming to Bemidji in January to support the Raiders,” said Kuesel. “We can’t wait to drop the puck! We couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Grant Clafton and his team to Hockey Day Minnesota-Bemidji 2019.”

Naturalist talks at Scenic State Park

July 12, 2018

by Sally Sedgwick

 

    Looking for a way to make Saturday a special family day?

    Consider a drive up Scenic Highway 7 to Scenic State Park, 7 miles south of Bigfork. There’s a sand swimming beach, hiking trails, kayak and canoe rentals, fishing and lots of history. Vehicle permits are required and cost $7 for the day ($35 annually).

    On Saturdays, there is also a free naturalist talk at 3 p.m.

    This summer the naturalist talks are led by Mara Salfer, a sophomore at University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Between Scenic State Park and the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center in Marcell, Salfer gives four unique presentations each week, and they have all been developed by her to interest both kids and adults.

    Did you know there is a pair of lucky seven dice embedded in one building and marbles in the chimney of another? They are the “signatures” of Civilian Conservation Corps members who worked on the park and built its structures from mid 1933 through 1935. 

    Part of a recent naturalist talk on the history of the park, other Saturday topics in July will include Ample Amphibians (July 14), trees of the park (July 21 and birds of prey (July 28). Saturday talks will continue through Aug. 25.

    From Mankato, Salfer is studying environmental education and interpretation, a field in the College of Natural Resources at UWSP. It includes coursework over a wide field; “as a naturalist,” Salfer said, “you have to talk about a lot of things.”

    The program covers general sciences such as biology, botany and ornithology; communication; historical perspectives; recreation; nature center management; and more. Hands-on experience is emphasized: UWSP has its own 280-acre nature preserve, where Salfer volunteers. 

    As a student looking ahead toward a career, she pointed out that the program can feed into a variety of different positions from tour guide to visitor center staffing. 

    The learning is two way. This summer she is absorbing information on the northwoods as she works. Her favorite programs? Outdoor programs where she can point to what is being discussed, or programs where she can incorporate a fun craft like animal track stamps.

    One of the best things about developing your own programs? “Punny” titles. Watch for “Don’t Ruffle My Feathers” (ruffed grouse), “Otters Are Otter This World,” and “Fowl Call” (waterfowl). 

    Salfer presents programs at 11 a.m. on Thursdays, Friday and Saturdays at the Discovery Center just north of Marcell on Highway 38, and at 3 p.m. on Saturdays at Scenic State Park. To contact the Discovery Center, call (218) 832-3161, and Scenic State Park at (218) 743-1362.

Greenway school taxes to remain unchanged

July 05, 2018

By Kathy Lynn, KOZY Radio

 

    Independent School District 316 residents will not see an increase in the school portion of their property taxes next year. Last Wednesday night, the school board voted to reauthorize its referendum authority and extended the collection of $300 per pupil per year for another five years.

    The board approved library service agreement with the city of Coleraine, a services agreement with Children’s Mental Health for Behavior Interventions Specialist, a professional services agreement with the city of Coleraine for police liaison services, a professional services agreement with ISD 6070, IASC for other health disability services, and a facilities use agreement with the Greenway Joint Recreation Board for the 2018-19 school year. 

    Meal prices for the upcoming school year were approved at the May board meeting. Elementary breakfasts will cost $1.85 and lunches will be $2.25. For secondary students, breakfasts will be $1.95 and lunches will cost $2.50. At the June meeting, the board approved the district’s Unpaid Meal Charge and Debt Collection Procedure. The district encourages families to apply for free/reduced-price meal benefits anytime during the school year. Meal applications are distributed to all families in the district prior to the student’s first day of classes. In addition, applications are available during school hours in the main offices of Vandyke Elementary or Greenway High School, the food service office, or can be printed from the district website. If household income or size changes, families can apply for meal benefits anytime during the school year.

    The board approved the revised fiscal year 2018 and proposed fiscal year 2019 budgets. The board also approved the substitute pay rates for the 2018-19 school year. Substitute teachers will receive $105 per day. Substitute retired teachers will earn $120 per day. Substitute paraprofessionals, $11.21 per hour. Substitute custodians will earn $12.73 per hour. Substitute secretary will earn $12.91 per hour and substitute food service workers will receive $11.31 per hour. 

    The period of filing affidavits of candidacy for the office of school board member of Independent School District No. 316 begins July 31 and remains open until Aug. 14, 2018. 

Minnesota PUC backs Enbridge Line 3, sets route

June 29, 2018

By ELIZABETH DUNBAR and DAN KRAKER/Minnesota Public Radio​

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved a new Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline after an emotional day of deliberations over replacing corroding infrastructure versus limiting future risks to water resources and the climate.

The decision came with several conditions, including a decommissioning trust fund to ensure the new pipeline will be retired responsibly decades from now. Enbridge will also be required to follow through on a promise to landowners to remove portions of the old Line 3 upon request.

While commissioners voted 5-0 for the certificate, they were divided over the route. Late Thursday afternoon the panel in a 3-2 vote agreed to run the line along Enbridge's preferred route with modifications to avoid Big Sandy Lake.

It's not clear whether that change will change minds.

It's a defeat for environmental groups and tribal leaders who had uniformly backed an alternate route that went much farther south. They can challenge the PUC decision in court. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa said late Thursday it was prepared to appeal.

The route decision capped a long day of deliberations for the panel.

PUC Chair Nancy Lange broke down at one point, grabbing a handful of tissues and expressing how conflicted she was about allowing fossil fuels to cross the state for decades to come.

"How would I feel if I woke up in five years and that line had leaked?" Lange said, referring to the possibility that the old Line 3 would continue operating, despite safety risks, if commissioners denied the proposal to replace it.

The conditions placed on the certificate of need — and a later decision about the new Line 3 route — will influence whether and how soon the company can move forward.

Lange said the commission has "limited authority over the transportation sector in Minnesota," in contrast to the commission's oversight of electric utilities and forcing them to embrace clean energy.

Commissioner Katie Sieben, a former DFL state senator and the commission's newest member, said she believes approving the pipeline is in the state's best interest. She stressed that the alternative would be allowing a 1960s-era pipeline to remain operating and put Minnesota's water resources and Indian reservations at risk.

The old Line 3 "has similar integrity issues as other pipelines that have failed," Sieben said.

The pipeline is in "horrific condition," added Commissioner Matt Schuerger, an engineer who lists no political affiliation. "It is clear, and it is unrefuted."

Commissioner Dan Lipschultz agreed with the others that, like it or not, they were forced to say yes to the new pipeline.

"It feels like it's a gun to our head," Lipschultz said of the threat the old Line 3 posed.

But Lipschultz, a Democrat, also encouraged those in the room to move beyond the "doom and gloom" and remember how Minnesota's electricity sector has been transitioning away from fossil fuels.

"If you think about the changes in the electric utility industry, I think you have to look ahead at what is possible in the transportation sector," Lipschultz said, adding that the market, not just policy, now favors renewable energy in a lot of circumstances.

Sieben and Lipschultz voted against Enbridge's preferred route, even with the modifications, citing the tribes' preferences. Sieben said she would have wanted the line to mostly follow the existing Line 3 route.

Tribal leaders and activists vowed to fight the pipeline despite Thursday's decisions.

"Commissioners, this is our future, and we will not let it stand," Brent Murcia, a member of the Youth Climate Intervenors, said just before the PUC recessed for lunch. Murcia was part of activists in their teens and 20s who have had an official seat at the table during the Line 3 proceedings because climate change will disproportionately affect them.

The fifth day of hearings over the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline began early Thursday with passionate supporters and opponents lining up before 5 a.m. for a chance to witness an historic decision over the future of oil transportation in the state.

One protester was cited by police for blocking traffic by suspending himself in the air above a structure roughly resembling a teepee with the message, "Expect Resistance."

Pipeline supporters were also out in force, wearing bright colored T-shirts and their "Minnesotans for Line 3" bus parked nearby.

Bob Schoneberger, who works for United Piping and also represents the group Minnesotans for Line 3, applauded the decision.

"It was nice to hear the commissioners agree with what we felt pretty strongly about all along," he said.

"You can't close the valve and make this go away," he said of the country's oil needs. "To the extent we can make reliable supply, it helps keep energy prices low, it keeps it affordable for those who struggle, and closing the valve is going to hurt people."

Outside the commission hearing room, White Earth tribal member Dawn Goodwind said the proposed pipeline route will travel through lands covered by an 1855 treaty.

"This is our time to assert those rights, and make them honor our treaties," she said. "Our treaties are guaranteed under the Constitution. It's the supreme law of the land. And they don't get it, they don't want to get it. and we're all prepared to stand up for our rights."

After the vote, Gov. Mark Dayton urged people to express themselves peacefully and said the PUC decision "only allows Enbridge to begin to apply for a least 29 required federal, state and local permits ... construction cannot and will not begin unless Enbridge receives all required permit approvals."

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.

Birchbark canoes are crafted by hand at Hafeman Boat Works

June 14, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick

 

    “It’s the original variable speed paddle,” quipped Ray Boessel in his boat works near Bigfork, Minn. “A modern invention from the 1600s.”

    He was talking about the otter tail, a smaller, less efficient paddle used by the voyageurs which had the great advantage of not wearing out the men who might paddle for 16 hours at 60 to 70 strokes per minute.

    Boessel has studied the lore of his craft, the making of birchbark canoes, for the last 37 years. Over those years he has made 338 of them, from 13 feet up to the 26-foot freight canoes.

    He learned the craft from Bill Hafeman, who came to live on the Big Fork River in 1920 and made his first canoe from elm bark. It was rough and it was heavy. He credited a local Scotsman, Fred McClean, with introducing him to the birchbark canoe. 

    Hafeman had made a number of canoes, learning techniques, when during the Depression someone asked to buy one. He was paid $30 – a month’s wages – and it became a career. 

    During the next decades, his fame grew and his canoes went home with personalities such as Charles Kuralt, Gov. Elmer Anderson and Ladybird Johnson. An immense 37-foot canoe sits in the Minnesota History Center, a canoe that would have traveled the Great Lakes with 10-15 men and 3.5 tons of freight during the fur trading era.

    Hafeman’s granddaughter Christie started helping him in the shop when she was 13 years old, building smaller scale models. Growing up, Christie married Ray Boessel and he also began working with Hafeman, doing everything from collecting spruce roots to splitting cedar ribs to peeling bark, and of course, learning the lore.

    In 1984, Hafeman was in an accident and Ray had to carry on alone. “That,” he recalls, “was when I found out how much I didn’t know!”

    And there is a lot to know. Each canoe is unique because each tree is unique. Birchbark can only be collected in certain places with permission, and only certain trees are suitable. The bark can’t be too white, for instance, because it will separate, or too dark or it will be susceptible to cracking. There’s even an art to peeling just enough thickness to maximize tree survival. It takes Ray 3-4 hours to peel enough for one canoe, and he might climb as high as 30 feet into the tree. He will pack out with about 50 pounds of bark. 

    He will also need to collect 500 feet of black spruce root for the stitching and white cedar for the wooden parts of the canoe – like gunwales, planking and ribs. Fine cedar strips are formed by first splitting the cedar with a froe, then gradually making finer strips by hand with a knife.

    And that’s it. The canoe will take shape in the boat works from just these materials: birchbark, spruce root and white cedar wood. 

    The only commercial product used is the pitch. The voyageurs used bear grease, charcoal and tree sap to seal the seams, but they also repaired the pitch daily. Impractical today, Ray uses a rubberized sealant.

    Ray and Christie have often demonstrated canoe making at educational events and sports shows. During one show, Ray recalls an urban visitor explaining to his wife, “They’re just pretending for the show. They can’t really do that!”

    Ray just smiled.

    Although he will make canoe styles and lengths to order, the boat works standard canoe is the 16-foot Chippewa Long Nose. The shapes of the ends distinguish the work of different tribes, Ray explained, and the boat works will also do nose styles in Malecite, Tetes de Boule, Algonquin and the high nose freight canoe styles. The high nose of the freight canoes served two purposes: breaking through lake waves and raising the canoe when flipped on its side so that the men could sleep under the boat.

    Birchbark canoes are historical and lovely; they often hang on walls. But Ray prefers customers who invest in a canoe personally, and use and care for them.

    Why use a birchbark canoe? The great advantage is weight. Dry, a 16-foot canoe will weigh only about 55 pounds, and after taking up water only about 60-62 pounds. And despite the light weight, birchbark canoes are long lasting. One 16-foot canoe from the Wabanaki Confederacy, now in a Maine museum, has been dated to the mid-1700s.

    In the spring, a 15-minute soak on the lake and the canoe is ready to use. Far from wanting to keep dry, birchbark canoes gain strength from their moisture content. 

    That’s also the answer to another question: why aren’t birchbark canoes white? The outer white bark repels water, explained Ray, and it would break on rocks. The moisture content held in the inner bark keeps it flexible, so that mellow gold layer is on the outside.

    Canoes may be durable on the water, but Ray has had bad experience with forklifts in shipping. As a result, the couple delivers the canoes themselves across the country or they may be picked up at the shop. Orders placed early will be completed this summer.

    Visitors are welcome to watch the process of building a canoe and learn the lore of the birchbark canoe at the Hafeman Boat Works, 59520 State Hwy. 6, about 30 miles north of Deer River. The boat works operates Sunday through Friday, although Ray may be in the woods collecting material. To check that it will be open, call Ray at (218) 743-3709 or email rcboesl@bigfork.net

Wells Fargo to close four regional offices

May 10, 2018

By Lee Bloomquist

 

    EVELETH – Wells Fargo is closing four regional offices in the next four months.

    The bank on Eveleth’s main street will close at noon July 11, according to John Hobot, Wells Fargo Upper Midwest corporate communications. Others in Silver Bay, Blackduck and Bemidji also are closing.

    “We continuously evaluate our branch network, and our physical distribution strategy is driven by customer behavior, market factors, economic trends and competitor actions,” said Hobot. “While branches continue to be important in serving our customers’ needs, our investment in digital capabilities has enabled us to seamlessly serve our customers across channels and provide choice in how they bank with us. Based on customer behavior, we’ve made the difficult decision to close the Eveleth location.”

    The closure is a significant blow to Eveleth’s main street and to the small Iron Range community.

    “The bank on that corner has been an icon for as long as I can remember,” said Robert Vlaisavljevich, Eveleth mayor. “To have a major player like that close hurts from an economic standpoint, but I don’t think that building will be empty for very long because it’s a turn-key operation.”

    Five positions at the Eveleth branch will be eliminated, said Hobot.

    “It’s possible that plans may change, but at this time, our positions are being eliminated,” he said. “Our team members can apply for other positions within the company for which we (sic) are qualified, and Wells Fargo will offer job search resources and other support as they transition to the next phase of their careers. If team members are unable to find another job within Wells Fargo, they may be eligible to receive severance benefits, including salary continuation pay, based on years of service with the company.” 

    Eveleth customers were notified the first week of April about the closure, said Hobot.

    Accounts of customers at the Eveleth branch won’t be affected, said Hobot. Eveleth customers can continue to bank at the Virginia branch or any other Wells Fargo bank, he said.

    After the bank closes, Wells Fargo will sell the building.

    Vlaisavljevich said the bank was remodeled a few years ago. There’s already potential purchasers interested in the building, he said. Operating banks in small communities is getting tougher, said Vlaisavljevich, forcing consolidations and closures. 

    The Wells Fargo branches in Silver Bay and Bemidji will also close July 11, said Hobot. A branch in Blackduck is closing May 16, he said. 

    “As the population gets smaller and smaller here, it’s a numbers game,” said Vlaisavljevich. “We just don’t have the numbers.” 

    Wells Fargo provides banking, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through 8,200 locations, 13,000 ATM’s, the Internet, and mobile banking. The company has offices in 42 countries and territories.

    In the first quarter of 2018, Wells Fargo consolidated 58 branches, according to the company’s first quarter report.

    Wells Fargo was founded in 1852.

Elementary schools question passes, plans moving forward

April 19, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

Voters in Grand Rapids School District passed a referendum to build and renovate their elementary schools in a close vote last week.

Coming out of a years-long process to deal with overcrowded and outdated classrooms, the district eventually rallied more than 200 residents who joined in elementary and activity task force groups to hammer out the details.

Superintendent, Joni Olson, says she is pleased to have come on board at a time when so many community members were working on the plan.

“This is a plan that makes the most sense for our kids and taxpayers, and it was great timing for me to be involved with so much great volunteer spirit,” Olson said.

In separate line items, a $68.9 million referendum was approved, while a second $5.1 million question was shot down.

The portion that did receive approval will be used to build two new elementary schools, as well as renovating the Cohasset elementary school.

The passing vote was a close one with 3,248 votes in support of the elementary proposal question, and 3,187 opposed. For the second question regarding the athletic facility upgrades which did not pass, 3,532 people voted against it, with 2,883 voting in support.

Question No. 2 that failed to pass would have improved athletic facilities for the school district. Voters declined to approve funds that would have put in new artificial field turf at the Grand Rapids High School, and new lockers and a weight room at Bigfork.

Jessica Setness, communication coordinator for ISD 318, says that the next steps will include beginning the process for selecting an architect.

“Design teams wills start this summer looking at specific schematic designs, then user groups made up of teachers will look at things like color schemes and storage,” Setness said.

A steering committee of staff and community members will meet regularly throughout the process.

Despite the close call, with obvious disagreement by many voters, Olson remains confident that moving forward with the referendum is the best decision.

“At this point we need to maintain our focus on what our students need and the affordability of this plan,” Olson stated.

That affordability, Olson says, is linked to three specifics: an allocation by IRRRB, and partnering with the cities of Cohasset and Grand Rapids.

An IRRRB grant of $4.7 million, and land swap deals with Cohasset and Grand Rapids have significantly reduced the costs of building.

Previously a 2015 referendum of $80.1 failed to gain voter approval, and the Elementary Facilities Taskforce had recommended a $74 million plan.

Preferred sites for the new schools are just west of the hospital and near the sports complex. New facilities will include full gyms and improved technology infrastructure, with a 750 student capacity each.

Construction is likely to begin in 2019, and updates on the plan will be available for viewing at: http://www.isd318.org.

N-K School Board extends superintendent contract

March 01, 2018

At last week’s meeting of the Nashwauk-Keewatin School Board, officials voted to extend the contract of its shared superintendent for two years. The district currently is under contract with the Deer River school district to use the services of its Superintendent, Matt Grose. 

In email correspondence with the newspaper, Grose said that shared superintendent services are being explored by a number of districts. 

“I don’t have any data to back a claim that shared Superintendents are gaining in popularity, but anecdotally I would say it is a trend. (Board Director) Barb Kalmi recently attended a session at the Minnesota School Board Association conference regarding shared Superintendent services and it was well attended by districts both doing it and exploring it,” Grose said. “Sharing takes a number of forms. Sometimes it means the superintendent is doing additional jobs like principal or business manager within the same district; sometimes it means the superintendent is shared with another district. There are also many retired superintendents coming back to work in districts.”

Grose has been the superintendent at N-K since late 2016 and has served as the Deer River Superintendent since 2006.

On Wednesday evening, the board voted to extend Grose’s contract for two years from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2020. Under terms of the agreement, Nashwauk-Keewatin will pay the Deer River district a sum of $7,490.00 per month. Both districts will review the effectiveness of the agreement in December of each year.

The agreement further specifies that Grose is to receive no benefits from ISD 319 and that any liability incurred by the actions of Grose while acting on behalf of ISD 319 are the sole responsibility of ISD 319.

While there have been discussions about a shared superintendent model for the entire county, Grose said several things would need to take place for that to become a reality.

“There have been many conversations about this, both publicly and privately, and in many ways it makes sense. The biggest challenge I see is working the school board dynamics out,” he said. “Currently there are four school boards in Itasca County.

Without changing the board structure, a shared superintendent would spend pretty much all their time managing school board related issues, which would take him or her away from the leadership that would be required in a district that would be serving over 6,000 students and covering over 2,500 square miles. It could be done, but would require all of the current districts/boards to give up some local control.”

In other business, the board:

• Accepted a vote of concurrence from the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee that the school board and district are compliant with laws directed at the program and that the school board and district are meeting the needs of American Indian students.

• Approved a resolution for polling places in 2018.

• Approved hiring one teacher, one coach, two paraprofessionals, and two staff members.

• Granted two leaves of absence. 

School districts partner to open ‘career pathways’

February 08, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

Three area school districts are collaborating with Itasca Community College to help high school students explore career options and gain real-world job skills through a Career Pathways program.

Matt Grose, interim superintendent at Nashwauk-Keewatin superintendent at Deer River school districts, says that the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) also is working to use parts of the model in all its schools.

“The goal is to help kids explore their interests and passions on a relevant career path, and to engage them in a meaningful educational experience outside of the school,” said Grose.

A 2016 Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board grant intended to germinate career pathways program in the three areas of Healthcare, Process Operations and Advanced Manufacturing, and in some cases will confer college credits.

The focus of the grant-funded program is for the taconite relief area which includes Grand Rapids, Greenway, Nashwauk-Keewatin, but Grose says discussion is being held for how to expand beyond those boundaries to include other schools.

Regional STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) coordinator for the project, Claire Schumacher, says each pathway will offer a sequence of classes that aligns with a particular career field.

Starting next Fall high school courses for the healthcare Career Pathways will begin with an introduction course detailing potential careers in healthcare. All three pathways are in the registration guide for next year.

Students in 8th through 12th grades will also be able to engage in experiential learning while they explore healthcare jobs, such as working in area clinics shadowing a variety of healthcare providers. 

Schumacher says that trained healthcare workers are in high demand at every level in the region, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, EMTs and CNAs.

In partnership with ICC, the Process Operations pathway is a transformation of the college’s previous paper and power programs. Those have been combined those to widen the scope of students preparing for jobs in industrial technology positions.

The Advanced Manufacturing pathway is a combination of core competencies including welding, metalworking, machining, and basic fabrication.

“It’s all about helping students in 9th and 10th grades have experiences that help them find their own identity for their future,” Schumacher stated.

About a year ago Grand Rapids High School partnered with ICC to bring what Schumacher calls a “hot skid” into the high school industrial arts area. A simulation model for piping, valves and heat exchangers that looks like what you would find inside an industrial operation like a power plant, Schumacher says it’s a valuable asset to the Pathways program.

“The real value in it beyond theory is that it looks exactly like what you see in the real world, without having the chance to study it in person it’s easy to get lost in the maze,” Schumacher said.

Used along with a software package that simulates operating the system from a computer in a control room, students can troubleshoot problems such as a failure causing a tank to overflow necessitating shutdown of a specific valve.

A cohort of students from ICC have been using the simulator since May, and an extension for the software has just been purchased so that all three Career Pathways high schools can use it, with field trips planned to interact in person.

Another parallel career pathway in education careers that IASC is developing is in response to the national teacher shortage.

“We are working on developing a career pathway to grow our own teachers locally, and really focus on diversifying our teacher workforce,” Grose.

Given the complexities of obtaining teacher certification, Grose says that too many students veer away from that course. The education pathway would not only remove barriers of transportation, and paying for certification tests, it would align students with mentors.

“We want to put mentors together with students at every stage of their process, from high school, to college, and after that until they get their licensure done,” Grose said.

Making connections with professionals is something that Grose hopes will give students a head start on their career, as well as giving them a means to base career decisions on some direct experience before spending money for secondary-education in a field they have not tested.

In order for the Career Pathways program to be impactful, Grose believes that the issue of removing transportation barriers must be addressed. With students participating in the IASC program from multiple schools, how to get them to shared courses, as well as to experiential learning opportunities in the community, transportation will be a concern.

“We have to be realistic and creative, we need to rethink engagement of our comfort level with moving kids around during the school day,” Grose stated.

Vandyke 'beating the odds' with test scores

January 25, 2018

By Kitty Mayo

 

Vandyke Elementary is closing the achievement gap with its performance on the 2017 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA’s).

Recognized for continuing to make great strides in math and reading, despite socioeconomic barriers, a recent report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune listed Vandyke Elementary as one of 75 schools in the state exceeding expectations.

Sue Hoeft, Vandyke elementary principal, says that Vandyke was one of only 15 schools statewide that performed better than expected based on poverty rates on both math and reading.

Identified by the Star Tribune as “beating the odds,” they say their statistical analysis calculates an expected proficiency rate for each school in reading and math, while considering the variable of poverty levels in a school. In the analysis, if the school has scores that are at least 10 percent higher than expected, they are recognized on this list.

Poverty is often recognized as a primary factor in variations of test scores between schools.

Other high-poverty schools in the state had a combined average math proficiency of 35 percent.

Part of ISD 316 Greenway School District, Vandyke elementary MCA scores in reading showed 70 percent proficiency, despite being predicted to score in the 53 percentile. Math scores reflected an 80 percent proficiency, with 49 percent predicted based on their poverty rates.

Hoeft attributes the improved academic growth to a variety of initiatives and efforts at the school. Meeting basic needs of students to ensure they have food, warm winter clothes and school supplies is the first step through several community connections. Third and fourth graders were tested in reading and math during last year’s school season (2016-2017). 

Being identified as a high-poverty school has some advantages, according to Hoeft. Specifically, she says that Vandyke is designated as having schoolwide Title 1 funding, rather than a targeted population for funding. That designation, says Hoeft, provides the resources they need for strategic interventions when students struggle.

“If any student needs help in math and ready we have the resources to intervene, and to track those interventions so we know if they are making progress,” Hoeft stated.

Calling the expectation to have low proficiency rates because of higher poverty a stereotype, Hoeft says it’s possible to reverse those trends if staff have high expectations for students, along with the financial support to address individual learners’ needs.

“Being identified with high rates of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches doesn’t mean we can’t achieve and perform better than the state average, as long as we have high quality core instruction in place,” Hoeft said.

Getting to know a newer reading curriculum has taken a couple years, but Hoeft says the rigorous research-based reading strategy is paying off, and that scores should continue to rise as that familiarity increases. 

Meanwhile, Hoeft says Vandyke has been strong in math for many years, but nonetheless is looking at ways to improve there as well. Curriculum resources and alternate teaching strategies are being explored.

At Vandyke a plan is put in place for every student to monitor reading performance, and provide individualized interventions. A key facet of success, says Hoeft, is meeting each student where they are at academically.

“This system allows us to determine the effectiveness of our interventions so that we can have the maximum impact,” said Hoeft.

Hoeft says that over the last decade a demographic shift has increased the numbers of students that qualify for free or reduced lunches, the primary way that socioeconomic disadvantage is measured. However, being part of a smaller school district can also be an advantage, allowing the nimbleness to adjust quickly to meet students’ needs based on their performance.

“In the case of Vandyke I would say that through partnering with parents, community organizations, and with our incredibly resourceful, committed staff we have been able to offer more options for our students,” Hoeft said.

As a literacy coach for Vandyke, Jennifer Inglebret says that teaching staff focus on not only applying good strategies for teaching math and reading, but perhaps more importantly, are flexible in their approach and switch methods if one approach is not working.

Conscious of the variables that can hinder students with low-income backgrounds from learning, Inglebret says the school works hard to serve the “whole child,” ensuring that they have breakfast, or someone to talk to about emotional issues when the need arises.

“We are not just in school to learn to read, but to become a respected, loving member of our community,” Ingebret said. 

DNR releases PolyMet draft permit

January 11, 2018

BusinessNorth Report

 

PolyMet’s proposed nonferrous mining project took a significant step forward last Friday when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a draft permit to mine. Public meetings are scheduled on Feb. 7 and 8, when persons who have objections can file them in writing. Written comments can also be submitted by standard mail or through the state’s project portal.

The permit ensures that a mine is developed in a manner that facilitates future land uses, according to the DNR. A permit to mine also includes provisions that govern wetland impacts and mitigation. It is the key permit for setting financial assurance requirements for the open pit mine, which would be located near Aurora/Hoyt Lakes.

“We believe our mine design meets all necessary requirements to construct and operate the mine in compliance with state law under the published draft permit conditions,” Jon Cherry, PolyMet president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “Public comment on these conditions is the last step before DNR makes its final decision.”

Separately, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced the Feb. 7 and 8 events also will serve as public meetings on the draft air and water quality permits for the proposed mine, which is formally known as the NorthMet project. Draft air and water permits, including related conditions, will be available at www.polymet.mn.gov.

“Today’s release of the draft Permit to Mine is a historic achievement for the NorthMet Project and the state. It builds on our rich iron mining heritage and is a catalyst for a new era of responsible mining,” said Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition of labor and industry groups that support the copper-nickel-precious metals project. “Copper-nickel mining offers substantial private investment and long-term economic returns that will sustain families and communities and benefit our entire state. More broadly, the project will provide the crucial minerals we require as a part of our daily lives.”

Public comment on the DNR’s conditions is the last step before the state agency makes its final decision, according to Cherry.

“After many years of hard work we look forward to the opportunity of opening the first copper-nickel-precious metals mine in Minnesota. We recognize the significance of this opportunity and the responsibility we have to do it right,” Cherry said.

The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools also lauded the decision.

“The glow in the sky over the communities of Aurora and Hoyt Lakes is a reflection of the smiles of those dedicated and optimistic community leaders who have suffered through more than a decade of delays on this project and finally have reason to smile again,” the group said. “This project will only add another chapter in the history book on the Iron Range that tells the story of how the Range was truly the “mining center of excellence” in all of North America.”

The public comment period will close on March 6, after which regulators will consider comments before making final permit decisions.

Unlike some prior public hearings, there are specific guidelines addressing who can file objections. They must either own property that will be affected by the proposed operation, be a federal, state or local governmental agency having responsibilities affected by the proposed operation or raise a material issue of fact for which the DNR has jurisdiction. Verbal testimony will not be accepted.

Unless someone calls for a contested case hearing, the DNR will make its final decision on the permit to mine. Guidelines must be met before such a hearing is authorized by the DNR commissioner. They include submission of a petition that shows there is a material issue of fact in dispute.

If a contested case hearing is held, DNR will defer its final permit to mine decision until after the conclusion of that process.