News from Greater Minnesota
While the U.S. Postal Service has made no final decisions, it looks as though the Duluth, Bemidji, Rochester and St. Cloud mail processing centers will be closed, reports John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune. The USPS said Monday it is moving forward with plans to cut its budget by slowing local mail service and closing processing facilities across the country. “In Minnesota, the plan is to close the Duluth, Bemidji, Rochester and St. Cloud processing centers and sort all mail in the Twin Cities. That means a letter would make a round trip on Interstate 35 even if it was sent from and heading to a Duluth address,” Myers wrote. Pete Nowacki, Postal Service spokesman in Minneapolis, said “no actions will be taken until April at the very earliest,” when the Postal Regulatory Commission will issue an opinion. To save $3 billion each year, the Postal Service plans to close 252 of its 487 processing centers. Closing the Duluth center would cost about 58 jobs, local officials and union members said. The effect of slower local mail might be an annoyance for people sending greeting cards, but would still affect commerce. Duluth-based Minnesota Power officials said about 75 percent of its 146,000 customers still pay their monthly bills by mail. “Even a one- or two-day delay is going to increase our cost of doing business. And it’s going to change how customers have to pay their bills,” said Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokeswoman “But we’re going to be looking at some system changes (for billing), and encouraging more people to pay online.”
As the price of ag land continues to soar, farmers are feeling the burden of higher property taxes, reports Julie Buntjer for the Worthington Daily Globe. In Rock County, taxes on agricultural land are going up 10 percent to 15 percent. Now, just two months into the new sales recording year, Rock County Assessor Tom Houselog is already predicting another double-digit increase — at least 20 percent, and possibly up to 30 percent — in land values in 2012. Earlier this month, a 150-acre parcel in Martin Township sold for $12,400 per acre, far exceeding the previous record land sale of $9,050 per acre set on Aug. 24 for a quarter-section in Mound Township, Houselog said. Nobles County Assessor Byron Swart said ag land values were up 17 percent last April, and he’s estimating it will increase another 25 percent next April. Worthington auctioneer Jack Sliver has watched ag land prices continue to climb. “When it hit $4,000, we thought it couldn’t climb any higher, then it hit $5,000 and $6,000,” he said. “If these commodity prices hold up, I don’t think we’ve seen the top yet.” While commodity prices are good, people are also viewing agricultural land as a good investment. If they aren’t buying land to farm for themselves, they can rent it out and generate a decent income.
Kitchigami Regional Library Service commissioners have decided to cut rural bookmobile service to Beltrami County residents to save $15,000 from the budget. This means towns like Kelliher, Waskish, Red Lake, Debs and Pinewood will go without library service of any kind, reports Bethany Wesley of the Bemidji Pioneer. The funding entities for the KRLS include the cities of Bemidji, Blackduck, Brainerd, Cass Lake, Longville, Park Rapids, Pine River, Wadena and Walker and Beltrami, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Wadena counties. The cities have ponied up the money for next year, but the counties have yet to do so, forcing the $15,000 deficit. This is a direct effect of the decision by the state Legislature to cut Local Government Aid, which forces counties to cut services like book mobiles for rural areas. Wesley’s article goes into each county’s funding woes as they relate to the “maintenance of effort” each is required to maintain the library system, but suffice it to say that when money gets tight, quality-of-life services like a library system find it difficult to operate.
The Moezelborg arrived in the Twin Ports Sunday morning, the first ship to arrive loaded with bags of ceramic proppant, also called ceramic sand, for use in a controversial process to increase production of oil and gas wells called “fracking,” reports the Duluth News Tribune. The proppant, manufactured by the Russian firm FORES, was loaded aboard the Moezelborg in the Baltic Sea port of Ust Luga, Russia. From Duluth, the proppant will be loaded into railcars for the trip to western oilfields. Proppants are used in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In the process, a mixture of water, proppants and chemicals are injected under high pressure into rocks to create new channels to help extract oil, natural gas or other substances. Fracking is controversial because of concerns over its effects on the environment, including contamination of ground water, air pollution and potential movement of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals from deep underground to the surface.
Not content to sit on their laurels, Summerfest planners hope to increase the festival to two full days in 2012, reports Ryan Howard of the Fergus Falls Journal. “Summerfest is typically held on a Saturday in June, and its events often spill over into the surrounding days. In 2012, however, the committee is expanding the event into two whole days: June 8 and 9 (a Friday and Saturday),” Howard wrote. A tentative schedule would keep the traditional parade on Saturday, but the battle of the bands and a street dance would be on Friday evening. Food vendors and activities would be open earlier in the day on both days, requiring some streets to be closed on both Friday and Saturday. A beer garden is also being considered.
I love this kind of story, just as a reminder of the doofuses who live around us. Fritz Busch of the New Ulm Journal writes that police on routine patrol Thursday night observed a red Chevy Cavalier with a loud exhaust northbound on Broadway. They stopped the car and identified the driver as Tyler J. Rowley, 19, of New Ulm. Among the items found in the car and trunk: illegal fireworks, a plastic bag of Kronck Spice synthetic marijuana, a Megellan Roadmate GPS unit, a quarter-full bottle of Bacardi Limon, a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon, a pair of Swift Audubon 8.5×44 binoculars, various hunting supplies, deer antlers, a Motorola flip cell phone, a Kenwood car stereo with CD player, 5 Kinco working gloves, a Knight & Hale grunt tube, a scent wick, two boxes of Winchester 12 gauge shotgun shells, a Rapalla fillet knife with a leather sheath, a folding wood saw, a notification card deer tag and a 2006 resident deer license made out to a New Ulm resident. When asked if he was a deer hunter, Rowley said no. He was arrested. Police contacted the New Ulm resident listed on the deer license, who said some of the items were stolen from her and her neighbor’s garages about two weeks ago. On Friday, Rowley was charged with gross misdemeanor stolen property possession, plus misdemeanor synthetic cannabinoid and alcohol possession under 21. A state’s attorney told Judge John Rodenberg that Rowley was an admitted substance abuser, a suspect in nearly 30 area burglaries and asked for $20,000 unconditional and $5,000 conditional bail release. Rodenberg set Rowley’s unconditional bail at $12,000 and set no conditional bail release.
Meanwhile, Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels has commended five people for rescuing a Willmar man who probably would have died from injuries suffered last week when he was pinned and lay bleeding under an all-terrain vehicle, writes David Little of the West Central Tribune. Wyffels said the actions of Michele Ward, Janet Gunderson, Cheryl Baumgartner, Andrew Kodet and Tony Halls in lifting the heavy ATV off 35-year-old Jed Watje in the driveway of his home last week saved Watje’s life. The accident occurred at about 10:48 a.m. on Nov. 21 when Watje was moving to his new residence on West Norway Lake. Watje was driving the ATV up a ramp onto a pickup truck. He got the front wheels on the tailgate when the ramp gave way, causing the ATV to flip backward with the handlebars pinning him across his face on the driveway. “I couldn’t budge it. I tried to scream and my throat kept filling up with blood,’’ said Watje, who was treated at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Ward, who lives one block from Watje and had never met him, saw the ATV with Watje lying under it. Watje had been lying on the frozen sidewalk for at least half an hour and had already lost a large amount of blood. Wyffels said that had Ward not noticed Watje, the chance of him surviving would have been nonexistent. Ward tried calling 911 but the call didn’t go through due to operator error. Then she flagged down neighbor Janet Gunderson, who flagged down Baumgartner and enlisted the help of Kodet and Halls, who were driving a Hennen Furniture truck. Lifting the ATV was not difficult, said Gunderson, because the Hennen workers “were pretty big guys.’’ Watje crawled out on his own and the Hennen workers placed a furniture throw over him. Watje was taken by Willmar Ambulance to Rice Hospital and then to HCMC, where he had surgery for a broken facial bone and received more than 200 stitches. “If it hadn’t been for those people, I wouldn’t be here today to talk about it,’’ Watje said. “It’s amazing how many good people there really are out there. People are so willing to help and they’ll drop everything to save somebody else.’’
John Fitzgerald is a longtime journalist who lives in Buffalo.