Although there’s still open water in the Twin Ports, the last saltie floated under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge last Saturday, marking the end of the deep-water shipping season. The Duluth News Tribune reports that the 436-foot, Antigua-flagged Palmerton will be the last to make the 2,342-mile trip from the Twin Ports to the Atlantic Ocean this year because both the Welland Canal, between lakes Erie and Ontario, and locks on the Lake Ontario-Montreal section of the St. Lawrence Seaway are scheduled to close Dec. 31. This year saw 69 oceangoing salties, nine more than 2013. Laker traffic will continue for four more weeks as the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, won’t close until Jan. 15.
Despite a shaky start, the year turned out to be a good one for the Port of Duluth-Superior. An icy March and April combined with the well-documented overabundance of oil trains could have meant trouble for the port, but year-to-date shipments are nearly at last year’s total of 32.4 million tons through November. Vanta Coda, Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director, told the News Tribune that higher water throughout the system allowed ships to draft deeper. Iron ore shipments are up nearly 6 percent to 15.3 million tons. So far, a total of 786 ships — salties and lakers — have called on the local port this season compared to 793 in all of the 2013-14 season.
Everything is bigger in Texas. A bank robbery that began in Hope, Minnesota, ended in Texas after a chase that reached speeds of 150 miles per hour, writes Josh Moniz of the Mankato Free Press. And if that weren’t impressive enough, the suspect made the trip from Minnesota to Texas in a tidy 16 hours. The Steele County Sheriff’s Office says Alfredo Alvarez, 39, is suspected of robbing the First National Bank in Hope at 8:30 a.m. Friday. A witness had a description of the black Charger used in the heist, which Steele County officials knew was soon to be repossessed. They linked the car to Alvarez, then issued a national alert. At 12:37 a.m. Saturday, an Oklahoma trooper saw a car matching that description. The vehicle fled from the trooper into Texas, reaching speeds of 150 mph before being stopped. Police reportedly identified the driver as Alvarez and said he was wearing clothes that matched the description of the bank robber and had a large amount of currency that was consistent with the money taken from the bank.
Getting all-day kindergarten up and running in Owatonna was absolutely the right thing to do, says Tom Sager, director of finance and operations for the Owatonna school district. However, it’s going to cost the district between $400,000 and $500,000 this first year, reports Kim Hyatt of the Owatonna People’s Press. The state, led by Gov. Mark Dayton, pumped hundreds of millions into starting all-day kindergarten throughout the state last school year, and the Owatonna district received its fair share. However, with the additional cost of seven new teachers, two new portable classrooms, and training and materials, Owatonna came up short. “We’re providing better, greater opportunities for kids and it is more expensive,” Sager said. “Everybody knows that all-day kindergarten is the best thing for kids. It also comes with an expense. But that’s an expense we believed to be well worth the investment.”
Other districts that have already made these investments aren’t in such bad straights. Hyatt looked at the Steele County districts in Medford and Blooming Prairie. Blooming Prairie has offered all-day kindergarten for about a decade and Medford has had the program for 17 years. Despite bring underfunded until this year, these districts believed all-day kindergarten was worth the investment. Now that the state is providing full funding for the program, they are channeling the money into other services and curriculum, said Medford Superintendent Rich Dahman.
It’s a rare day when the creek outside your house runs green, but that’s what happened Monday to homeowners along Merritt Creek in Duluth, reports Brady Slater of the News Tribune. Tim Pohl, who lives along the creek, summed it up: “This isn’t normal. It’s as green as green can be.” The culprit was construction at the Northwood Children’s Services’ West Duluth campus. A fire suppression pond on the campus had a hole in its liner, so the subcontractor dropped environmentally safe dye into the pond to find the leak. “We had to see where the water was going,” said Matt Lunde of Ulland Brothers Inc. The dye is non-toxic.
Twelve hospitals in Minnesota have been penalized by Medicare for high complication rates this year. One of them is Sanford Health Bemidji Medical Center, writes Zach Kayser of the Bemidji Pioneer. Medicare is targeting the hospitals that rank in the lowest 25 percent in the rate of preventable complications patients experience at the hospital. An example of a preventable complication would be a catheter-associated urinary tract infection. While Medicare will penalize the hospitals a just 1 percent of Medicare inpatient payments, it’s the stigma that hurts the most. Joy Johnson, chief operating officer of the Sanford Bemidji region, said the hospital has known the numbers for a while and has taken steps to alleviate the problem. “It’s not a significant financial hit, but on the other hand, it’s all about improving our quality for our patients,” she said. “Although the finances might not be significantly impactful, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to us.”
And then there’s this from the Winona Daily News: “12:59 p.m. — Lonnie Edward Johnson, 34, Winona, was cited for fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia at the intersection of Huff and Belleview streets. Police officers met him there after he inadvertently texted the coordinator of Winona County’s drug court program, which he graduated from in September, to arrange to buy drugs. In Johnson’s clothes, officers found baggies with white powdery residue that was believed to be synthetic drugs, a hypodermic needle, and the bottom of a soda can with a white powdery residue. Johnson was taken into custody on a felony hold for court warrant.”
The Duluth School Board is awash in controversy, some of which was resolved Monday night, reports Jana Hollingsworth of the News Tribune. The board voted 6-1 to censure member Harry Welty. Welty himself voted for the censure – the lone negative vote coming from Art Johnston. The censure comes after Welty wrote on his blog about the purchase price of the former Central High School before a purchase agreement was signed, which is against state statute. Welty has since acknowledged that doing this was a mistake. The censure also cited Welty’s public disclosure of a letter from a school district attorney that falls under attorney-client privilege. The letter had to do with an investigation into fellow board member Johnston. Welty didn’t apologize for revealing that letter, saying he disapproves of the investigation and the results.