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Drought intensifies in much of Minnesota

Plus: MnPass to become part of E-ZPass electronic toll system; major freeway project through St. Paul starts this weekend; Khalid El-Amin hired to coach St. Thomas Academy’s basketball program; and more.

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REUTERS/Mike Blake
Cody Matz at FOX 9 reports: The state experienced its third driest and hottest June on record, which set the stage for a quickly expanding drought. River levels are near record lows in the northern half of the state, with well below average stream flows in the south. Lake levels are falling and now some crops are beginning to fail. All signs pointing to a severe and extreme drought. … Most of Minnesota needs 6-9 inches of rain just to see some improvements. But remember, this can’t just fall in one spot or another. The ENTIRE area, every single square mile, has to receive at least 6 inches of rain.”

The Pioneer Press’ Nick Ferraro writes: “Minnesota is linking its MnPASS system with the larger E-ZPass network starting next month — a move that coincides with the state’s plan to add more express routes, including one on Interstate 35W between Roseville and Blaine in the north metro. MnPASS will become E-ZPass on Aug. 2, allowing customers to use the same pass in 19 states, including Illinois and Indiana and several on the East Coast, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said Thursday. … Besides a different electronic tag, express route users won’t see much of a change with the switch while traveling the metro area’s E-ZPass lanes….”

The Star Tribune’s Jean Hopfensperger writes:Three months after his historic Minneapolis church was destroyed by a massive fire, the Rev. John Kutek now faces another unforeseen challenge: his tiny religious community must quickly raise up to $75,000 to comply with the city’s order to raze the church. Minneapolis city inspectors have ordered Sacred Heart of Jesus Church to be demolished for public safety reasons by July 29. If it isn’t, the church could be condemned and authorized for demolition by the city, which ultimately would bill the congregation. But the Polish National Catholic congregation, a fixture in northeast Minneapolis for more than 100 years, doesn’t have enough money to tear down its beloved spiritual home — much less rebuild or renovate a new one.”

Says Tim Harlow of the Star Tribune, “Drivers traveling through downtown St. Paul will get their first taste of two years of challenging commutes Sunday night as the Minnesota Department of Transportation begins a major freeway repair and resurfacing project. Crews will close the two left lanes in both directions of Interstate 94 between Western Avenue and St. Peter Street at 10 p.m. and won’t reopen them until Aug. 21. Lanes on Interstate 35E and Interstate 94 also will close Sunday. And that’s just the start of the $27 million project that will bring lane and ramp closures on I-94, I-35E and local roads for the rest of the summer and all of next year.”

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For KBJR-TV in Duluth, Briggs LeSavage writes, “A Duluth man pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to a COVID-19 relief fraud scheme. According to The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Jared Fiege, 34, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Between April 2020 through August 2020, court documents show Fiege fraudulently obtained more than $250,000 in COVID-19 relief through Unemployment Insurance and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. According to an indictment filed in March, Fiege reportedly used the names, birth dates, and social security numbers of at least 25 people. The U-S Attorney’s Office said he also invented fake businesses, had fake passports, and used fake bank accounts to withdraw large amounts of money.”

In the Pioneer Press, Josh Verges writes: “An Eden Prairie family is suspected of stealing $504,000 from the U.S. government by obtaining fraudulent business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. Harold B. Kaeding, his wife Zoraida Franco and their adult son Ben Kaeding are named in a civil forfeiture filed this week in U.S. District Court in Minnesota. The government already has seized an SUV and some $223,000 from 10 bank accounts, which prosecutors say are connected to wire fraud. No related criminal charges appeared in a search Thursday of the federal court’s records system. According to the civil filing, the three applied for at least seven PPP loans starting in April 2020, soon after the coronavirus business relief program became law.”

For KARE 11, Danny Spewak reports: “This month, the [Minneapolis] city council answered that call by approving at least $6 million over two years for 24/7 Mobile Behavioral Health Crisis Response Teams, to be operated by Richfield-based Canopy Mental Health and Consulting. The city selected Canopy over three other candidates who had responded to the proposal for mobile crisis teams. In a presentation to a city council committee on Thursday, Canopy’s Jimmie Heags described his firm as a majority Black-owned business that specializes in providing mental health services to marginalized and vulnerable communities. … It should be noted that these mobile crisis teams will be an addition to the co-responder model already in place in Minneapolis, where mental health professionals respond to calls with police officers. Also, Hennepin County already utilizes crisis teams through a program known as Cope. It is unclear how these programs will all interact with Canopy’s 24-7 crisis teams.”

The AP reports: “Police say an armed man was arrested Thursday after a nearly five-hour standoff with police that started when he barricaded himself inside a Fargo motel room. Authorities said the 59-year-old Moorhead, Minnesota man was armed with a knife. Other guests at the motel were evacuated and the Red River Valley SWAT team was called to help police during negotiations. The man is facing charges of terrorizing, preventing arrest and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. He was also wanted on two unrelated warrants. No injuries were reported.”

Josh Skluzacek reports for KSTP-TV: “A Minnesota high school basketball icon and former University of Connecticut star has been tapped to coach St. Thomas Academy’s basketball program. St. Thomas Academy announced Thursday that Khalid El-Amin will be the school’s next head basketball coach. El-Amin led Minneapolis North High School to three consecutive state titles in the 1990s and was named 1997 Minnesota Mr. Basketball. He then went on to star at UConn, where he won the 1999 NCAA Championship.”

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