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Wildfire consumes 1,400 acres near Nimrod

ALSO: St. John’s University picks first lay president; state park near Bemidji takes shape; paraphernalia bans questioned in Moorhead, Red Wing; and more.

Map of Nimrod, MN

The Minnesota National Guard sent two Blackhawk helicopters and 12 soldiers from St. Paul and St. Cloud Monday to help control a wildfire that has burned more than 1,400 acres of woods and brush near Nimrod in north-central Minnesota, the Associated Press is reporting in the Star Tribune.  Capt. Marc Rassler said the Blackhawks carry 660-gallon buckets. The wildfire was 80 percent contained Monday. Property losses have been limited to an attached garage and a mobile home used as a hunting shack. No injuries were reported. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation.

St. John’s University in Collegeville, which has been run by Catholic priests and monks since 1857, has chosen Michael Hemesath as the 13th president, the first lay person to serve in that role. Danielle Cintron of the St. Cloud Daily Times reports that Hemesath, an SJU alumnus, is a professor of economics at Carleton College and will begin his duties at SJU on July 1. He has a master’s and doctorate in economics from Harvard University, has been on the economics faculty at Carleton since 1989 and has been faculty president since 2009. Hemesath will replace the Rev. Robert Koopmann, who is retiring as president and returning to the faculty. In a Dec. 11 MPR story, Abbot John Klassen said the monastic community preferred a Benedictine monk for the job, but opened the search to members outside the community.

Department of Natural Resources officials are opening La Salle Lake State Recreation Area on May 15 on a shoestring budget and a 20-year strategic plan, writes Sarah Smith of the Bemidji PioneerOn Tuesday, a Citizens Advisory Committee made suggestions on the draft of the management plan. The new 990-acre park in northern Hubbard County, bought in late 2010 on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources, will be a mix of rugged accommodations along with “high amenity facilities.” It has two year-round cabins, a sauna, swimming pool, laundry facility, kitchen and 40-site campground. It will be managed as a satellite of Itasca State Park. The plan is to offer “low impact” activities such as hiking, camping boating, swimming, fishing, hunting and trapping with bike, snowmobile and ATV access coming later. The park has many rare native plants and endangered species. A fish survey has been completed for the 240-acre, 213-foot-deep lake that may reduce the bag limits on walleye, pike and bass. Jade Templin, principal planner of the DNR’s Division of Parks and Trails, said the plan, once approved, would go to the Legislature for funding or a bonding bill. Legacy funds may be available. “We need a clear vision,” he said. “Then we can chase the money.”

A law cracking down on paraphernalia that can be used to smoke pot has put a crimp in the number of paraphernalia stores in Moorhead, Sam Benshoof of the Fargo Forum writes.  The ban, which went into effect this year, outlaws items deemed to be drug paraphernalia – wares that at least five stores in the city were selling in the past year. Only two of those stores remain open: Mellow Mood and Mother’s, both of them downtown. Discontent owner Tom Tepley, an outspoken critic of the ordinance, is weighing his options as to what comes next after spending several months unsuccessfully fighting the measure. He said he plans to convert half of his store into a screen-printing T-shirt business, possibly changing the other half of the building into a tobacco sampling shop, for which he has already installed a ventilation system. Tepley is still not shy about saying he’d like to see the ordinance be tried in front of a jury. Getting to that point, though, would mean breaking the law, which Tepley said he doesn’t want to do.

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The issue is newer in Red Wing, where the city council approved a new drug paraphernalia ordinance Monday night that will face an immediate legal challenge, writes Brett Boese of the Rochester Post-BulletinMoe Wazwaz, 24, who owns Red Wing Smoke Shop, warned the council that adopting the new ordinance, which he feels is aimed at zoning out his business, would lead to a lawsuit. “I will not stop. This is my livelihood,” he said. The ordinance is modeled after language drafted by the League of Minnesota Cities that bans the sale or possession of drug paraphernalia. Wazwaz and his attorney questioned the constitutionality of the law. City attorney Amy Mace said the city’s legal ground is firm. Stacy Larson of the Goodhue County Chemical Health Initiative reported that 60 percent of high school seniors in the county reported marijuana use in the last 12 months. Additionally, the average age for trying marijuana is 13, with meth or other drugs at 12.2 years, according to a 2010 study.

Some fun crime newsA Winona man was found at 5 a.m. Saturday in the office of a local fertilizer company wearing only boxers and socks. A driver arriving at Anderson Fertilizer found a bloody, broken window in the office entry and a nearly nude young man inside, his hands bleeding. The man bolted and nothing was taken from the business. His description reminded officers of an incident just hours before when police had been called to a disturbance at a residence where they recovered a wallet, sweatshirt and pants abandoned by Ryan Joseph Heinlen, 18, according to identification found in the wallet. Acting on a hunch, the officers went back to the residence. As they were talking, they heard an engine rev and a blue Honda accelerated rapidly away from the house. The officers, knowing Heinlen drove a blue Honda, gave chase and took him into custody. Security video from the fertilizer plant showed a man who matched Heinlen’s description. He now faces charges of fourth-degree burglary, criminal damage to property, fourth-degree drunken driving, third-degree test refusal, and underage drinking.

Another tidbit from the Winona Daily News reveals that the city wrote 2,342 alternate-side parking tickets this winter, which has yielded $54,740 for the city’s general fund. The number of tickets issued is about average: In the past nine years, the lowest number of tickets issued was 2,121 in 2007-08, and the highest number was 2,654 in 2005-06.

Todd Snell, president of Snell Motors in Mankato and Minnesota director of the National Auto Dealers Association, met a famous person on his recent flight from New York to Minneapolis: former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. “It was actually three guys headed to Alaska for a fishing trip that pointed out to Snell who he was sitting beside,” Mark Fischenich of the Mankato Free Press wrote.

“ ‘I didn’t even recognize her,’ Snell said. ‘She had a hat and glasses on. So incognito.’ ” The fishing buddies ended up in an extended conversation with the other Todd — Palin’s husband — about fishing in Alaska. Snell had a brief conversation with Palin. “I said hello, a few words,” he said. “The hat and the sunglasses suggested she didn’t want a lot of in-flight attention. She was probably trying to be pretty low key,” Snell said.

Seven Echo residents met in the town’s grocery store last week to found the Echo Community Hospitality Organization to explore the possibility of rebuilding the Echo Restaurant and Bar that burned down last August, writes Steve Browne of the Marshall IndependentThe meeting was a result of a March 20 community meeting when people began looking into replacing the institution that stood at the center of Echo’s civic life for decades. “We’re very early in this process,” said Rick Hanson — there is a corporation to be formed, money to be raised, and someone to put some money into the project and run it, he said. “It’ll take about $500,000,” said committee member Chris Borning. Kathy Busack said the committee will next explore ways to raise the bulk of the money, including volunteer labor and material donations. “We should try building it and offering a year lease with an option to buy,” Busack said.

Economy on the march: An Austin-based drug store is buying six pharmacies in southern Minnesota and one in Iowa, writes Adam Harringa of the Austin Daily Herald. Astrup Drug announced Tuesday it has bought two pharmacies in Rushford, along with ones in Harmony, Spring Grove, Caledonia and La Crescent. Astrup also announced last week it bought Lutz Pharmacy of Altoona, Iowa. This brings Astrup’s total to 18. According to Astrup’s website, its 11 other drug stores are in Adrian, Albert Lea, Austin, Buffalo, Byron, Fairmont, Faribault, Hastings, Owatonna, Worthington and Osage, Iowa.

The Duluth News Tribune is asking Minnesotans to do a very un-Minnesotan thing – disclose their salary to the public: The newspaper writes “Just hear us out before you say no. We want to run your salary on the front page. …  You know the annual “What People Earn” issue in Parade magazine, right? They run pictures of ordinary and famous people from across the country with brief information about their jobs and salaries. We’d like to do a local version of “What People Earn” in the News Tribune on the same day. … It’s not bragging, and it’s not whining. Think of it as participating in a social study, helping your fellow citizens better understand the community.” Good luck with all that.