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Red River near Oslo close to record crest

Also: Teen suicides, educator wins national space education award, more refuse-derived fuel; and more.

News From Greater Minnesota

You can’t write about Greater Minnesota without writing about the weather, so it seems appropriate to note that the crest on the Red River north of Oslo, Minn., is breaking records, according to the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks. Stephen J. Lee of the Grand Forks Herald reports that this year, the Red produced the second-largest flood in terms of flow, or volume per second. Here’s Lee’s report: “At the cresting moment, 10 a.m. Thursday, when it reached 49.87 feet in a quick 15-minute spike, the Red’s flow was 90,296 cubic feet per second. … Since European settlement here 135 years ago, that high and fast a Red is second only to the 1997 flood, when it flowed at the rate of 137,000 cfs at crest time. … The 1897 flood had a top flow of 85,000 cfs.”


Teens die near Marshall; New London mourns two more
The Marshall Independent reported Sunday that two 14-year-old girls were found dead in a residence in Island Lake Township. No foul play is suspected. School officials said Tuesday that Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz, both 14, died by suicide.

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Meanwhile, more than 250 people attended a talk at the New London-Spicer High School auditorium Sunday night. David Little of the West Central Tribune said the event was in response to the deaths of two teens who took their own lives in separate incidents. Rick Lee, CEO of a community mental health center in Willmar, said most suicides are the result of mental illnesses, most commonly depression. New London-Spicer school superintendent Paul Carlson said the school has programs and activities to educate students and staff. “It is important to educate our students, parents, staff and community about suicide warning signs and what we can do.”

Census shows residential, economic segregation in Northfield
In a nice piece of enterprise reporting, Jerry Smith of the Northfield News crunched the latest U.S. Census numbers and found that Hispanics in Northfield tend to live in neighborhoods where other Hispanics live. The figures have varied little since the 2000 Census, he reported. While some self-segregate so they can be around people of similar heritage and values, Smith turned up this disturbing piece of information: “According to the American Community Survey, the median household income in Northfield is $63,810. When race is introduced, the difference becomes stark: The Caucasian household median is $66,505, the Hispanic median is slightly more than half that, $34,602.”

Albert Lea teacher wins national space education award
Ken Fiscus, a 20-year teacher at Albert Lea High School, received the Space Educator Award from the National Science Club in Washington. He was honored at a banquet where he was joined by astronauts and national military leaders, reports Kelli Lageson of the Albert Lea Tribune. The award,  selected by a panel of experts from across the aerospace and defense industries, recognizes the importance of teachers in motivating high school students in space science and technology.

Xcel may buy more trash-derived fuel
As the anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico approaches, stories like this take on more importance: The Prairieland compost facility in Truman may be close to inking a deal to provide more refuse-derived fuel for the Xcel power plant in Mankato, reports Jenn Brookens of the Fairmont Sentinel. The devil is in the details, said Prairieland Executive Director Mark Bauman, but he was confident the contract could be reached and be profitable for both companies. He noted that the facility may need to bring in more garbage. There has been some preliminary contact made with Sibley and Le Sueur counties, he said.

Owatonna schools, feds reach agreement
Lawsuits over a fight that broke out at Owatonna High School between white and Somali students 17 months ago have been put to bed, reports Derek Sullivan of the Owatonna People’s Press. Officials traced the fight to papers written for English classes that were “inflammatory and very disrespectful” of Somali students. Both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights became involved. The school district avoided a federal investigation by promising to revamp how it educates its students and staff on harassment. At Monday night’s school board meeting, the board promised to establish a work group to assess the district’s effectiveness in putting into place anti-harassment program and consult with students and parents. The work group, now named the Action for Equity Council, has 22 working members. The district’s Somali and Hispanic liaisons are in the group.

Mankato protesters want Wells Fargo to pay more taxes
Most tax protests decry what individuals pay, but 10 protesters in Mankato on Monday gathered outside a Wells Fargo Bank branch to claim that the bank doesn’t pay its fair share. Dan Linehan of the Mankato Free Press wrote that the protesters cited a report that claims Wells Fargo paid 7.5 percent of its pre-tax income of $19 billion on federal taxes in 2010. A company spokeswoman disagreed, saying Wells Fargo’s 2010 annual report showed an effective tax rate of 33.9 percent.

200 come to celebrate Lao New Year in Brewster
Not only does Saksady Xaisongkham like to celebrate the New Year, but he hopes to keep the Laotian tradition alive for future generations of southern Minnesotans, reports Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe. While Saksady took part in the celebrations, his son did not. At age 20, C.J. said he’s coming to the point in his life where he will need to make a profession of faith of sorts for his culture. “Here, they are all so busy with their job,” said Bounlorm Soumetho, another Laotian leader. He said families don’t have time to teach their children the native language and would like to see Laotian taught in the local schools.

Sirens fail to sound in Fergus Falls
Here’s a bummer: Six of the eight severe weather sirens failed to sound during a test last Thursday in Fergus Falls, the Journal reported. All of the city’s sirens underwent maintenance Friday, according to the Fergus Falls Police Department, and were working by the weekend. Officials say the problem might lie with the radio signal from the Otter Tail County Dispatch that triggers the alarms.

Fatter passengers means fewer tourists
The U.S. Coast Guard announced recently that it will boost its standard weight for the average boat passenger to 185 pounds, up 25 pounds from the early 1960s, reports Candace Renalls of the Duluth News Tribune. That’s because studies show that 34 percent of adults older than 20 are overweight. The passenger weight standard means tourist ships in Duluth’s Vista Fleet will be reduced: The passenger limit for its Vista Star will be reduced by about 30 passengers and the Vista Queen by about 10 passengers. But everything’s going to be OK, Vista execs say. They haven’t been selling to capacity for years. “We made the decision years ago that for quality of experience, we would never go to our maximum passengers. Boats would be too crowded to be comfortable. And what good is it if it’s not an enjoyable trip?” said John Goldfine, a Vista Fleet spokesman.

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Seven accordion players form band
It’s rare to have more than one accordion in a band, so accordion players tend to be like bobcats: wary of sharing their territory. That’s why it’s unusual that seven accordion players have joined forces with a horn player to form the Blue Earth Accordion Band. Jodelle Greiner of the Fairmont Sentinel said the band made its debut in December and will play Sunday at the east parlor at St. Luke’s Lutheran Home and Care Center. “We don’t charge anything,” said Joanna Hocker. “It’s just having a good time.” The group includes Hocker, DeEtta Klatt, Joann Lesch, Jeanne Wiggins, Verlus Burkhart, Gary Olsen and Dick Miller, all on accordion, with Owen Fellersen on horn. They play old-time music like “The Wabash Cannonball,” polkas, waltzes, hymns and sing-alongs, including some in Norwegian.

John Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist and longtime Minnesotan who lives in Buffalo.