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Snowmageddon looms

Siezed properties hit 20-year high in Minneapolis; two firms switch big rigs to natural gas; Capella University feels the pinch; 36 vehicles go through the ice; and more.

Admit it. Somewhere deep down in your twisted reptile brain you were hoping for an episode of Snowmageddon. Paul Douglas says, “ … it’s still going to snow Tuesday and Wednesday — of that I have little doubt. Now the burning question is: a mere 6″ of slush, or over a foot of traffic-snarling, airport-delaying, field-rejuvenating, trail-smothering (glorious) snow? … Rarely is the scenario ever a true black and white situation — it’s almost always some nebulous shade of gray. So it is with our potential mega-storm Tuesday into Wednesday. Latest ECMWF (European) model runs, which tend to do a better job than NOAA’s GFS model overall, are hinting at a slightly more northerly storm track, into southern Minnesota — which means a surge of dry air (the dreaded ‘dry tongue’) may poke into southern counties, possibly lowering snowfall amounts from the Twin Cities metro on south. Two complicating factors: a possible change to sleet Tuesday PM hours + dry tongue on Wednesday. Both factors would lower expected snowfall amounts from MSP on south to the Iowa border. I still suspect the heaviest zone of snow, the east-west deformation axis, will set up north/west of the Twin Cities.” Can he say “dry tongue” on the internet?

The number of properties seized for failure to pay property taxes is at a 20-year high, and most are in north Minneapolis. Randy Furst of the Strib says: “Last year, the county paid $465,000 to cut grass, plow snow, remove trash and provide security for the glut of more than 600 vacant houses and lots, 255 of which were forfeited last year alone. The county says it tries to avoid forfeiture by negotiating payment plans with property owners. But if that fails, the county tries to sell off the parcels at auction, often at bargain-basement prices, to get the property back on the tax rolls. The city of Minneapolis, meanwhile, has acquired about 60 of the tax-forfeited properties since 2007 as part of its effort to demolish substandard and decrepit housing.”

The bargain-basement price of natural gas has at least two local companies switching their big rigs over from diesel. The Strib’s David Shaffer writes: “Seven of the alternative-fuel trucks will be put in service this week by Andersen Windows of Bayport and its hauler, Dart Transit Co. of Eagan, executives of the companies told the Star Tribune. It is the first cargo-hauling operation in the region to switch to compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel, which offers potential fuel savings of $25,000 a year per truck, according to industry officials. Thanks partly to the shale-gas revolution, natural gas costs the equivalent of $1 to $2 per gallon less than diesel fuel. About a quarter of the nation’s trash trucks have made the shift, and freight trucks appear to be next. ‘Natural gas transportation is starting to hit a tipping point,’ said Rob Brown, an analyst for Craig-Hallum Capital Group of Minneapolis, who sees more companies turning to the fuel. Brown said it’s driven partly by new, better truck engines designed strictly for natural gas.”

Related … Mary Juhl of the Winona Daily News reports: “Recently, as city of Winona staff proposed changes to the way the city issues permits and regulates businesses handling frac sand, residents turned their attention to the most visible daily reminder of the industry — the 40,000-ton pile of sand on Second Street that some have dubbed ‘Mount Frac,’ the Winona Daily News reported. … The connection between Sierra Frac Sand and Winona Aggregate initiated cooperation among several local businesses to mine, wash, store and transport silica sand in the city of Winona. The city now has six active sites where sand is either mined, shipped or processed, with at least two more locations proposed. The increase in demand for silica sand has created new opportunities for those working at Modern Transport. ‘It’s maintained jobs and created jobs,’ said general manager Tony Wasinger. The company has added four jobs since the demand for silica sand skyrocketed about 18 months ago, Wasinger said.”
For-profit Capella University is feeling a pinch. James Walsh of the Strib reports: “When the company announced its 2011 results earlier this month, a number of once-unfamiliar trends were apparent. Nearly a third fewer students signed up than the year before, and profits were down. Meanwhile, the company’s stock has lost more than half its value from the 2010 peak. The reasons are many, including a weakened economy, increased competition and new regulation. Capella executives insist they have a strategy to get things moving in the right direction at the company, which remains one of the nation’s larger for-profit universities. But observers say the landscape that enabled Capella’s explosive growth has changed — perhaps for good. Students who flocked to Capella and its online rivals are growing more wary of spending money on programs that won’t necessarily lead to significantly higher incomes.” … Which makes the debt thing even funkier.

While we wait to hear if alcohol played any role in this story, Gitte Lasby of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes: “Anglers in the annual Lake Winnebago ice fishing contest over the weekend found themselves instead scouting for their modes of transportation after 36 parked vehicles went through the ice, authorities said Sunday. … Tournament organizers for the Battle on Bago reportedly warned people about parking on the ice Saturday, but some had trouble finding spots elsewhere and parked on the lake anyway. Of about 50 cars parked on the ice, four were submerged more than half way, 18 went partially under, and 14 sunk to the top of their wheels, according to the sheriff’s department.”

GOP Rep. Carol McFarlane is prepared for a brawl. Tom Scheck at MPR reports: “ … McFarlane, R-White Bear Lake, announced on Sunday night that she’s running for reelection. Her decision puts House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, in a difficult position. Dean, the second highest member of the Minnesota House, now has to decide whether he wants to challenge a member of his party to come back to the Minnesota House. The new political boundaries paired McFarlane and Dean in the same district. McFarlane hedged on whether she would run for reelection until today. She emphasized that she represents the bulk of the new district.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a lot of problems on his plate. Journal-Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice isn’t impressed with how he’s handling it all. “[I] asked four public relations officials — two Democrats and two Republicans — to discuss Walker’s handling of the secret criminal investigation. Most see a lot of room for improvement. ‘He’s been very inconsistent with his narrative,’ said Scott Becher, a Madison-based Republican public relations consultant. ‘The narrative keeps changing.’ For instance, Walker maintained for months that he knew nothing about anything in the investigation. He said he didn’t know that authorities seized the computer of longtime aide Tim Russell. He said he was unaware — until the Journal Sentinel reported it — that his spokesman had taken immunity in the probe. He said he was in the dark as to why the FBI raided the home of staffer Cindy Archer. But now he emphasizes that his campaign has been cooperating with Milwaukee County prosecutors for more than a year, having turned over thousands of emails and voluntarily offered to sit down with District Attorney John Chisholm. In addition, Walker has said repeatedly that he expects to be cleared by the investigation, citing the values he learned as an Eagle Scout and as the son of a Baptist preacher.” Oh great, now the Eagle Scouts are going to take a hit by association.

Now, this one could get out of hand really fast. KFGO radio host Mike McFeely blogs about “Western North Dakota’s Biggest Singles Party” … scheduled for late May on 110 acres near the gal-starved oil patch.  “Williston, N.D., truck driver Troy McKinley is promoting what he hopes will be ‘the biggest bash anybody’s ever seen around western North Dakota.’ And … he wants women to come to his party. Lots and lots of women. … He’s calling his get-together the Party in the Patch. It’s scheduled for May 25-26 on a 110-acre chunk of land 23 miles south of Williston along Highway 85. Billed as ‘Western North Dakota’s Biggest Singles Party,’ McKinley hopes to play match-maker for thousands of single, companionship-starved men who have descended on the booming Oil Patch in recent years. The plan is to have beer, bands, dancing and other entertainment to help boy meet girl. Not that it should be that difficult to play Cupid – ‘There is something like 50 men for every woman out here. It’s tough,’ McKinley said. McKinley hopes to attract anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 women. The hook for the fairer sex is not only droves of available lonely young and middle-aged men, but lonely young and middle-aged men who have money.” That ought to be quite the party … .