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Health-care woes make Willmar’s credit rating drop

ALSO: Camo-clad mine guards offend Wisconsin lawmakers; crops catching up from late spring; what to do about manure; French farmers visit Northfield; and more.

Moody's determined that Willmar's Rice Memorial Hospital's operations are stable, but has assigned a negative outlook on the health care industry in which the hospital operates.

Despite selling $1.9 million in general obligation bonds to pay for street work, the Willmar City Council was told its credit rating has dropped from Aa2 to Aa3, resulting in a 0.1 percent interest rate bump. David Little of the West Central Tribune has the details: “The decrease in rating is due to the negative outlook by Moody’s Investors Service on the health care industry, which includes the city-owned Rice Memorial Hospital, explained Kathy Aho, president of financial consultant Springsted Inc., of St. Paul. … Despite the city’s strong finances as evidenced by a healthy general fund balance and a conservative financial management (policy), the city received the one-half notch rating decrease. In reviewing Rice’s finances, Moody’s determined that Rice’s operations are stable, said Aho, but Moody’s has assigned a negative outlook on the health care industry in which the hospital operates. One primary reason is the continuing downward pressure on medical reimbursements … .”

This isn’t technically a Minnesota story, but it reflects many of the same tensions between the mining industry and those who question the industry’s environmental history. John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune writes about two Wisconsin lawmakers who are asking Gogebic Taconite “to remove armed security guards from the company’s proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties.” A Gogebic spokesman says the company employed private security guards after teams of mining opponents “dressed in black and wearing masks violently attacked our drill site” in June. Myers writes, “Several photographs of armed guards dressed in military-style camouflage and combat gear, apparently working for the Arizona-based Bulletproof Securities Force, have appeared on anti-mining blogs in recent days. In one photo, one of the guards, armed with an assault-style rifle, appears to be masked. … Lawmakers Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, called the photos ‘horrifying.’ ‘These kinds of security forces are common in Third World countries but they don’t belong in northern Wisconsin,’ Jauch and Bewley wrote in a press release.”

Warm, dry weather helped Minnesota’s crops catch up on growing, writes the Associated Press in the weekly crop report. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture says a statewide average of 6.1 days were suitable for fieldwork last week, the most of any week this growing season. Temperatures were 2.9 degrees above normal while rainfall was 0.67 inches below normal. Crop development remains behind the normal pace due to a cold, wet spring that delayed planting. The average corn stalk was 30 inches tall by Sunday, compared with a five-year average of 46 inches. The average soybean plant height was 8 inches tall, which is 4 inches shorter than normal. But corn and soybean conditions both improved to 63 percent good or excellent.”

With the high cost of tillable land, many farmers looking to improve their profit margins are turning to livestock production, writes Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe. That means development in pork production, cattle feeding and expanded dairies, and with that comes managing manure. The Nobles County planning and zoning committee recently took up the topic “when a producer appeared before the commission due to manure flow into an intermittent stream. The producer was deemed to have a non-compliant feedlot, but just how many feedlots in the county with that designation aren’t known. It is thought to be a relatively low number. … ‘If a person is willing to come in and admit he has a problem — that’s the kind of producer we’d like to see,’ County Feedlot Officer Al Langseth said. ‘But there are producers who don’t want to spend any money,’ said Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Ed Smith. ‘They want to keep doing what they’re doing, but what they’re doing isn’t acceptable. The saying, “My manure only goes down river when it rains” isn’t an acceptable answer.’

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Northfield farmer Dave Legvold recently hosted a group of farmers from the south of France to observe conservation practices, writes Jerry Smith of the Northfield News. French farmer Frederic Thomas leads a group in France called Agriculture-de-Conservation. “Thomas and Legvold coordinated a field day recently on the Legvold Farm that began with local fare furnished by Quarterback Club. Mike Peterson of Twin Oaks Farm acted as host in guiding the group through the afternoon of viewing equipment and discussion. Kevin Kuehn of Environmental Tillage Systems in Faribault demonstrated various aspects of zone tillage and how soil quality is preserved. French farmers face significant challenges of depleted soil with its structure destroyed by decades of heavy tillage. The group Thomas brought to Minnesota seeks to rebuild soil by using cover crops and practically eliminating tillage. Legvold said he thinks these same techniques can be used in Minnesota to rebuild soil productivity and reduce erosion caused by heavy tillage.”

Two firefighters were injured battling a blaze in downtown Fergus Falls that left one building a total loss and damaged five businesses, reports Ryan Johnson of the Forum News Service. Fire Chief Mark Hovland said the department received a report of smoke in the hallway of upstairs apartments at 218½ W. Lincoln Ave. at 10:23 p.m. Sunday. Two Fergus Falls firefighters were injured, one falling down a set of steps and breaking his hand. The other treated at the scene for heat exhaustion. The fire was extinguished by early Monday morning. Hovland said the four apartment units and the three businesses on the building’s ground floor would likely be a total loss. Owner Doug Dietman said the setback is “not a problem” for Nice Threads Custom Embroidering, which shares space with Lake Country Graphics in one of the building’s two retail spaces. “Everything in there was replaceable,” he said.

Investigators said Monday’s fire at the former Coach’s Sports Pub in downtown Moorhead was the result of arson, Moorhead police said in a written statement released Tuesday, reports Dave Olson of the Fargo Forum. No one was injured in the fire; “the State Fire Marshal’s Office is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the fire. The Tip Hotline number is 1-800-723-2020,” he wrote. 

A Rochester Public Utilities crew came across an “old, rusty pipe bomb” Monday, writes Kay Fate of the Rochester Post Bulletin. “It was found near 18-1/2 Avenue and 18th Street Northwest, said Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson. RPU called police, ‘and we looked at it and concurred that it looked like a pipe bomb … (The officers) called the bomb squad and they also concurred.’ Peterson said. The Bloomington bomb squad detonated the device, Peterson said, ‘but it took three shotgun slugs to detonate it, so it wasn’t an extremely volatile one. … The bomb itself had obviously been there a considerable period of time; it was kind of overgrown with weeds. It was quite rusty and deteriorated, but nonetheless still a pipe bomb. … Chances are — and this is just total speculation — somebody threw it out a car window to get rid of it. It was clearly not put somewhere where it was going to blow something up.’ ”