About 50 people were stranded Monday on floating sheets on Upper Red Lake. Kyle Farris of the Bemidji Pioneer reports that no one was hurt. The people on the ice said it took about five minutes between hearing the first cracks and water surrounding their ice fishing houses, vehicles and caught fish. “Chris Freudenberg, who co-owns Rogers’ Resort and Campground, said the cracks formed last week and then closed, covered by wooden bridges as a precaution. The ice buckled and the cracks reopened Monday from warmer-than-average weather and a south wind. The chasm of open water eventually widened to about 300 yards. … ‘What a nightmare,’ said a man at the bar.”
Last year was one of the best early-season ice fishing years many people can remember. Tom Cherveny of the West Central Tribune writes that this year, many anglers in Western Minnesota are wondering when the lakes will ice over. Most area lakes in the Willmar area remain ice free. The median date for ice-up on Green Lake is Dec. 2, based on records from 1908 to 2014, Cherveny reports, while “records at the local fisheries office show the latest ice-up date for Green Lake to be Dec. 19, 2001. The DNR’s website lists Dec. 25, 2001, as the latest date for the lake.”
Ryan Draeger, owner of Barky’s Resort on Otter Tail Lake, has already had to cancel a handful of ice fishing reservations this season. Grace Lyden of the Moorhead-Fargo Forum reports that “at this time last year, ice fishing was well under way at Otter Tail Lake. On Monday afternoon, miles of murky water stretched out from a rocky shore. ‘It’s like being a racecar driver and not having any wheels on your car,’ said Ross Hagemeister, owner of Meister Guide Service. … ‘Nobody’s coming up,’ said Joy Perala, a bartender at the Otter Tail Supper Club and Lounge. ‘We don’t have no snow for snowmobilers, we don’t have no ice for the ice fishermen, and that really does have a lot to do with our business in the winter.’”
Low phosphorus levels in Lake Superior are producing an algae delicately dubbed “rock snot.” John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune reports that while most of the Great Lakes suffer from too much phosphorus, which can create troublesome algae blooms, Lake Superior is suffering from the opposite problem. “Max Bothwell, a researcher for Environment Canada, said the recent appearance of a gooey algae called Didymosphenia geminata in the St. Mary’s River at the outlet of Lake Superior is a sign that phosphorus levels in the big lake may be declining. … Scientists have determined that, unlike most algae that thrive in high phosphorus levels, didymosphenia — didymo for short, often called rock snot — thrives only in very low phosphorus conditions in clear, infertile waters. (Euan Reavie, a scientist at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute, said) infertile lakes are called oligotrophic. Reavie says Superior is so infertile it’s ‘ultra-oligotrophic.’ ”
The state is sending more money to schools, and in Austin the schools are giving a tax cut to homeowners. Jenae Hackensmith of the Austin Daily Herald reports that the Austin Public Schools Board cut the 2016 tax levy by about 1.6 percent. “During this spring’s special session, the state Legislature passed the Longterm Facility Maintenance Revenue, which will replace the former Health and Safety Revenue, deferred maintenance revenue, and alternative facilities bonding. ‘The bottom line is we receive more revenue as a school district in total, that’s the good news, and our property tax payers pay less than they paid last year, so it’s kind of a win-win situation for us this year,’ Finance and Operations Director Mark Stotts said. “Revenue goes up, property taxes go down.’ ”
Meanwhile, over in Albert Lea, the city has to pay the debts accrued from infrastructure improvements planned for next year, so the city is raising property taxes by 3.3 percent. Sam Wilmes of the Albert Lea Tribune reports that capital projects included in the 2016 budget include the reconstruction of Park Avenue along with water and sewer mains, road construction on Lake Chapeau Drive and Lakeview Boulevard from Hatch Bridge to Martin Road and Edgewater Drive, and neighborhood street improvement in the 5th and 6th wards. City Manager Chad Adams said cost savings will allow the city to add a full-time street department employee and police officer.
That giant sucking sound you hear is the increase in old people without a similar increase in young people in Owatonna and Steele County. William Morris of the Owatonna People’s Press took a look at new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and found that “the percentage of Owatonnans aged 60 or older grew from 19.9 percent in 2013 to 20.2 percent in 2014, while Steele County went from 20.6 percent to 21.2 percent. As that category grows, the younger cohort correspondingly shrinks. The share of Owatonnans under 25 dropped from 34.4 percent to 33.7, and Steele County inched down from 33.3 percent to 33.2. The most dramatic growth is in the age 85 and older category, which jumped in Owatonna from 2 percent (just more than 500 individuals) in Owatonna to 2.7 percent (nearly 700). Steele County as a whole jumped from about 750 in the 85-plus category to about 950 in the same time.
If Willmar is going to be Ground Zero for bird flu testing and research, it might as well have nice digs. Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune reports that ground will be broken next week on an $8.5 million expansion and renovation of the Minnesota poultry testing lab in Willmar. “The new facility will provide a stronger defense against future outbreaks of the avian influenza that resulted in the loss of 9 million birds this year in Minnesota. … When the 8,235-square-foot addition is completed next fall, the lab will be able to process samples for H5N2, as well as other poultry diseases. ‘It will put the ability to test for the disease in a timely manner closer to where the disease is,’ said (Dr. Dale) Lauer.” Lauer supervises the Willmar lab, which is operated by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.
Two good Samaritans have stepped forward after helping an injured 75-year-old man last week. Brad Phenow of the Northfield News reports that while the specific timeline is unclear, the man was injured while crossing Highway 3 Thursday night, most likely from a fall. “After the fall, a couple tended to the man and insisted on driving him home, but he chose to drive himself with the couple following him. (The man arrived home with cuts to his head and was unsure about what had happened.) Before a family member could thank the couple, they left. After going to the hospital for the cut above his eye, in addition to scrapes on his elbow and hands, a CT scan revealed the man’s brain was bleeding. He was then transported to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. According to the family member, everything seems to be stable.” The family wanted to know how he received his injuries and to thank the good Samaritans, so they put out a plea for the couple to come forward. Heidi Rubenstein and Chris Kauffeld, who are neighbors, said the man did indeed fall, as suspected by the family, and said a car was not involved.