Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Austin Packaging Co. cutting half its jobs

ALSO: Monticello nuke plant may require upgrades; sequestration forces St. Cloud Airport tower to close; ACGC schools to continue four-day week; and more.

pizza assembly line
The Austin Packaging Co. makes frozen pizzas
and premade gravy and sauces.

The Austin Packaging Co. is sloughing off half of its work force — 125 jobs will be cut within the next two weeksreports Adam Harringa of the Austin Daily Herald. The company, founded in 1998, makes frozen pizzas and premade gravy and sauces. Management says it’s eliminating the frozen pizza portion of the business due to a significant drop in customer demand for the product. “APC doesn’t disclose which frozen pizzas it manufactures, but trucks for Nestlé-owned pizzas such as Tombstone and DiGiorno can be seen regularly at the facility. APC did say it only packages pizzas for one company,” Harringa writes. “APC will lay off employees at every level, from line workers and mechanics to managers and supervisors. … The company met with city of Austin employees, Riverland Community College and Workforce Development Inc. to set up skills analysis and training for laid off employees. Mayor Tom Stiehm, who was in the meetings, said the reduction is a significant blow for Austin.

Article continues after advertisement

Two respiratory infections and one gastrointestinal bug are making the rounds in southwestern Minnesota, reports Steve Brown of the Marshall Independent. One is the respiratory synctial virus (RSV), which brings on flu-like symptoms, said Jo Debruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated Community Medical Centers in Willmar. RSV is spread when people cough on surfaces or wipe their runny nose and touch a surface other people touch. The gastrointestinal bug is norovirus; it causes fever, chills, muscular aches and diarrhea. Though miserable, neither RSV or norovirus offers serious health concerns except for people whose immune systems have been compromised. More serious is a variety of coronovirus.   “It’s very similar to RSV — runny nose, cough and sore throat,” Debruycker told Browne. “The danger is adults can get pneumonia from it.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of the respiratory pathogens are identified as flu, 20 percent as RSV and 10 percent as coronovirus. The cure? Eat well, rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Over at the St. Cloud Daily Times, Kristi Marohn looks at new rules issued in the wake of the near meltdown at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant that was battered by an earthquake and a tsunami in 2011. She says there are 31 reactors with similar ventilation systems, including Xcel Energy’s nuclear power plant in Monticello. However, Xcel officials say it’s too early to tell what effect the rules will have on the Monticello plant. The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s containment systems were damaged in the disasters, leading three of the plant’s reactors into near meltdown. In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewed the 104 U.S. nuclear reactors and now requires upgraded vents at the 31 reactors with similar ventilation systems. The Monticello plant opened in 1970 and its operating license was renewed in 2006 for another 20 years.

One of the effects of sequestration that took effect March 1 was that 149 air traffic control towers nationwide would be closed. One of those towers is at St. Cloud Regional Airportreports David Unze of the St. Cloud Daily Times.  The tower will close April 21. “We take this as it’s closed indefinitely,” said Airport director Bill Towle. “Once you lose funding like this, it’s difficult to get back. But we’re certainly going to fight for it. I’m hopeful.” The airport’s only commercial carrier, Allegiant, recently announced it will suspend flights from St. Cloud to Arizona, but Towle said he didn’t think the tower closure would have much effect on whether Allegiant resumes flights later this year. Pilots are trained to fly without the aid of a tower and many airports in the country don’t have operational control towers, including Brainerd, Bemidji and Hibbing, Towle said. “We’re not going to be any safer by not having that air traffic control tower,” he said.

Because it was financially strapped, the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City school district applied and received permission two years ago to begin a four-day school week. That application was renewed for another three yearswrites Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune. Superintendent Sherri Broderius heard rumblings that Gov. Mark Dayton doesn’t like the four-day school week and the Department of Education might not renew ACGC’s application next year, so she was proactive and applied for renewal one year early. The four-day week is entirely a financial creation so ACGC can save money. It has worked: The district saves about $100,000 each year by operating on a Tuesday-to-Friday schedule, Broderius said. But she is proud of the way the district has turned a financial liability into positive results for students, she said. The district uses Mondays for student enrichment and teacher professional development that is designed to increase student achievement.

The Environmental Protection Agency has upgraded emissions standards for the power generators cities use during times of peak electricity usagewrites Alyson Buschna of the Worthington Daily Globe. The new standards go into effect May 3 for any generator with an engine of 300 horsepower or more. To meet the emission standards, catalytic converters are being added to the generators. Windom has three diesel engines that are 2,600 horsepower each, said Windom City Administrator Steve Nasby. The upgrade will cost a total of $200,000, and since there are no federal funds available for the project, the cash will come from the city’s electrical fund operational reserve. Luverne has four generators, said City Administrator John Call.

The estimated walleye take of 93,007 pounds on the Minnesota portion of Upper Red Lake was more than double the catch from the previous winterwrites Brad Dokken in the Bemidji Pioneer. The winter creel survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, taken between early December and Feb. 28, compared this year’s take to last year’s, when anglers kept 44,862 pounds of walleyes. This is the first winter since walleye fishing on Upper Red resumed in 2006 that the DNR allowed anglers to keep walleye less than 20 inches and one longer than 26 inches as part of their four-fish limit. A low walleye harvest and strong walleye test-netting surveys convinced the DNR to relax the winter slot limit, said Gary Barnard, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji. The DNR still requires anglers on Upper Red to release walleye from 17 inches to 26 inches from the May fishing opener through mid-June. But since 2009, the DNR has allowed anglers to keep walleye up to 20 inches, with one “keeper” longer than 26 inches, from mid-June through the remainder of the open-water season.