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Rural broadband: DEED to begin taking grant applications July 22

ALSO: Counties eyeball new buffer program; Lots of corn, beans in the ground; IBM puts Rochester campus up for sale; Duluth cops ready to deploy ‘less-lethal’ weapons.

State matching grants of up to $5 million will be available to upgrade high-speed internet in rural areas. The Forum News Service reported that the Department of Employment and Economic Development will begin taking applications for the money on July 22. The total approved by the Legislature is $35 million. It is targeted to build more broadband systems in unserved and underserved areas. DEED officials estimate the $35 million will improve access for about 12,000 Minnesota households.

Landowners, like those in Nobles County, want more information about the state’s new waterway buffer program. Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe writes that while questions about funding and enforcement are hashed out, the Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District is waiting for the Department of Natural Resources to update the official public water inventory map that will show where 50-foot average buffers along streams and 16.5-foot buffers along public ditches will be required. Nobles County SWCD manager John Shea said the map should be ready this week. He told the county Board of Commissioners that enforcement of the rules requires money, and money requires an appropriation from the state which is hung up in a budget bill that hasn’t yet been enacted. He said a special session on the state’s budget should help answer some questions.

This story isn’t specific to Minnesota, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Reuters reports that U.S. farmers have planted more corn and soybeans than initially expected. Good weather and a better futures market have led to corn stocks that are the biggest since 1988 and soybean stocks that are the third-biggest ever. Soybean plantings were at 83.688 million acres, up from the March forecast of 82.236 million acres. Soybean stocks as of June 1 were 870 million bushels. A year earlier, soybean stocks stood at 627 million bushels. Corn plantings were at 94.148 million acres, up from the March forecast of 93.601 million acres. Corn stocks came in at 4.722 billion bushels, up from 4.453 billion a year ago. Both the corn and soybean stocks figures topped the high end of analysts’ forecasts.

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Speaking of acreage, Jeff Kiger of the Rochester Post-Bulletin asks the question, will IBM go from being a property owner to renter in Rochester? In May, IBM said it will sell two-thirds of its campus at 3605 North U.S. 52 and consolidate operations into eight buildings on the east side of its campus. Last week, Jones Lang LaSalle of Chicago placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal listing 3.1 million-square-feet of buildings and more than 490 acres of land for sale in Rochester. The ad showed a photo of one of the IBM buildings. The ad stated “substantial leaseback,” meaning a buyer could acquire the campus and lease the eight buildings to IBM. The Realtor referred questions to IBM and IBM didn’t respond to questions. Meanwhile, Hamilton Real Estate in Rochester is working to lease space in at least six IBM buildings. Any space that is leased could make the property more attractive to buyers. 

In an effort to bridge the gap between the use of a Taser and a gun when having to subdue an aggressive suspect, Duluth police have purchased six “less-lethal” launchers. Tom Olsen of the Duluth News Tribune reports that the launchers fire a 40-mm sponge projectile that hits the suspect with the kinetic energy of a baseball thrown at 90 mph. The launchers are effective between 10 to 75 feet, whereas a Taser is only effective at up to 21 feet, and even then doesn’t always work depending on the suspect’s physical and mental state and the amount of clothing worn. The best thing about the “less-lethal” weapon is that it doesn’t penetrate the skin. While the launchers won’t replace firearms, police say they will be useful in situations like mental health crises and arrests of potentially dangerous suspects. “This is so we don’t have to use deadly force,” Lt. Bob Shene said. “With the increase we’re seeing in mental health cases — my gosh, we can save someone who is having a crisis and not have to put ourselves in that position (of using a firearm).”

Two juveniles are awaiting charges after they were caught smashing mailboxes in Morrison County. The Brainerd Dispatch reports that more than 60 mailboxes were damaged in Little Falls, Agram, Pierz and Buckman. Deputies, aided by Little Falls police, found a car with two 17-year-old males who admitted to damaging the mailboxes with a baseball bat.

The University of Minnesota is interested in discovering what feeds blue green algae growth on Madison Lake. Kristine Goodrich of the Mankato Free Press reports that while there are many varieties of harmless algae in Minnesota, most types of blue green algae produce toxins that cause skin irritation and upper respiratory problems and in rare cases can lead to death, and there is no way to tell by sight whether the algae is dangerous. Madison Lake has some blue green algae, but not an excess, and the lake’s good overall water quality was part of the reason it was chosen for the research project, University of Minnesota Extension educator Shahram Missaghi said. Researchers have placed high-tech equipment on the 1,300-acre lake to collect weather data ,including air temperature and wind speed. A probe in the water takes measurements, including bacteria, nutrient and oxygen levels at multiple depths.  

Plans for a brand-new, $40 million Park Christian school in Moorhead have been scrapped after organizers failed to raise enough money to pay for it. Rick Abbott of the Fargo Forum reports that school officials have shelved the plans and sold the land to pay for a nearly $1 million renovation of its current facility. “Everyone loves to be in a house, but sometimes you have to go live in an apartment first,” said Austin Schauer, Park Christian director of community relations. “It’s just a matter of dollars.” The current school, at 300 17th St. N., is at capacity with about 430 students so a portable classroom will be removed in favor of three permanent classrooms on the school’s southwest corner. Park Christian officials are now eyeing a $10 million project to add a two-story wing of classrooms and a new gymnasium, and renovate the cafeteria. Schauer said the school is doing well financially and that land it co-owns with Oak Grove Lutheran School will be sold in part to help pay for the $10 million project.

Here’s an item, verbatim, from the Brainerd Dispatch: BOMB—Report at 8:43 a.m. Monday of a suspicious item left at a front door on the 8300 block of Brandon Road, Baxter. The item was a stuffed bunny and was safe.

The Albert Lea community is supporting the family of Sophie Stultz, 8, who died Saturday in a car-bicycle accident. Colleen Harrison of the Albert Lea Tribune reports that at about 11:31 a.m. Saturday, a 2003 Mercury Mountaineer driven by a 70-year-old Albert Lea man hit Stultz while she was on her bicycle. Stultz was taken to Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea where she later died. The incident remains under investigation. A GoFundMe page that was started to raise $8,000 raised over $11,000 in less than 24 hours as of Sunday afternoon. Her mother, Sarah Stultz, is the managing editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. She and her husband, Jason, also have a son, Landon.