53 years after request, final stretch of Hwy. 60 gets 4-lane approval

The final stretch of Highway 60 to be converted from two-lane to four-lane has been approved by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe reports that the move comes 53 years after the Highway 60 Action Corporation was established to push for a four-lane highway in southwest Minnesota from the Iowa border to the Twin Cities. Construction on the last two-lane stretch from Windom to Mountain Lake will be in 2017-2018. The completed road will have cost $200 million since the first shovel fell in 1985 and will provide businesses and residents from Worthington and Windom better access to the Twin Cities.

FEMA has dropped Duluth’s repayment bill from $1.54 million to $8,566. Peter Passi of the Duluth News Tribune reports that after the 2012 flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the city failed to comply with affirmative action guidelines when awarding cleanup contracts. The city appealed and took steps to remedy the problem. It was successful on all but one contract: cleanup of brush and debris behind the Lake Superior Zoo. The city agreed to repay the amount of that contract — $8,566 – and FEMA agreed to waive or make exceptions on the rest of the $1.5 million award.

Property is hot in Moorhead, and that apparently makes some taxpayers hot under the collar. Adrian Glass-Moore of the Moorhead Forum reports that a handful of residents, including Steve Scheel, CEO of Scheels All Sports, attended Monday’s City Council meeting to complain about skyrocketing taxes and property values. “My wife and I opened up our tax statement, and our valuation is up 31 percent on our property over last year, and our taxes to the city of Moorhead are up 39 percent,” said Scheel, whose home value went from about $900,000 in 2014 to just shy of $1.2 million in 2015, according to city property records. Council Member Nancy Otto called the housing market “red hot.” City Manager Michael Redlinger said, “What’s occurred in Moorhead has been of course a lot of robust sales.” The median-value home in Moorhead has risen from $139,900 in 2012 to $155,000 for 2016, Glass-Moore reports.

After a tough year, University of Minnesota Duluth Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Andrea Schokker has resigned. The Duluth News Tribune says that she has been the executive vice chancellor since January 2012, overseeing “all academic programs, admissions, financial aid, registrar, IT, library, continuing education, international programs, students in transition, and research institutes,” UMD reported. Last December, UMD failed to meet a deadline to recertify its unique dual-licensure integrated elementary and special education program, leaving 24 December graduates unable to obtain a standard teaching license. In April, the Minnesota Board of Teaching found UMD had submitted inaccurate information and suspended the college’s ability to enroll new students into its teacher preparation programs until next April, although current students could continue to pursue their degrees. In October, 13 of the students from the December graduating class filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and misrepresentation in connection with the compliance problems in its IESE program.

Austin and Albert Lea schools are looking to collaborate on their service for children with special education needs, and they want to raise money to do it. Sam Williams of the Albert Lea Tribune reports that the two districts will ask voters for a 2.2 percent tax increase – an $8 per year increase on the owner of a home valued at $100,000 – to refurbish the Corcoran Center in Austin and create the Austin-Albert Lea Special Education Cooperative. Albert Lea’s Special Services Director Sarah Kloecki said the program would serve students with low cognitive ability and high behavioral needs as well as students with emotional behavioral disorder. She said Albert Lea has about 10 students who would qualify for placement. Plans were scrapped in August for a possible collaboration between Albert Lea, Owatonna, Faribault, Austin and Northfield school districts, Williams reported.

The expansion of the Faribault Foods plant has topped $100 million, bringing relief to city leaders who were afraid the plant might be closed. Daniel Borgertpoepping of the Faribault Daily News reports that despite jumping from an original prediction of $60 million to now more than $100 million, Faribault Foods has not asked for any incentive package or public money. Faribault Foods was bought in 2014 by La Costena of Mexico and city leaders were afraid the factory would be consolidated with another plant. Faribault Economic Director Deanna Kuennen is thankful that the company is investing in the plant rather than shuttering it. Company officials say the difference is the plant’s ability to make its own cans. Most canning factories don’t have that ability.

The new owners of the 115-year-old Conley-Maass Building in Rochester will be able to bring new life to the structure after the Rochester City Council on Monday agreed to establish an economic development and tax-increment financing district and to enter into a $400,000 development assistance agreement. Andrew Setterholm of the Rochester Post Bulletin reports that Traci and Hunter Downs purchased the building at 14 Fourth Street SW in June. They plan a $3 million restoration project to rehabilitate the blighted building and create space for a restaurant and offices. Work is expected to begin this month.

Owatonna’s own “Zombies: The Movie” has moved to post-production and its director hopes to have it in theaters in spring. William Morris of the Owatonna People’s Press reports that local filmmaker and entrepreneur Hamid Torabpour shot in and around Owatonna. “It’s more than just a zombie movie, it’s a movie that will change people’s lives, which is what I wanted. It’s a movie that will change hearts and minds.” The film is currently being edited by Torabpour’s brother and will go to music, CGI and sound, he said. Everything is going so well that his original release date of fall, 2016 has been pushed up six months. “April 29, our goal is.” 

A Milan man’s soon-to-be ex-wife proved to be his undoing. Tom Cherveny of the West Central Tribune reports that Thomas Joel Owen Graff, 40, of Milan, is charged in Chippewa County with felony counts of aggravated robbery in the first degree and assault in the second degree in the Nov. 27 armed robbery of a Casey’s in Montevideo. Graff was taken into custody after his wife, from whom he was separated, told Montevideo police she suspected he was responsible. She became suspicious when Graff took her to Wal-Mart in Montevideo on Thanksgiving Day and shortly after to Prairie’s Edge Casino, using small bills at both places. When asked, he told her he won them the previous day at Prairie’s Edge Casino. Graff is alleged to have received over $1,200 in small bills from the cash register and safe of the Casey’s.

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