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Red River sets record

ALSO: Fire destroys Moorhead building; “plant food” drug explodes in Winona; changes come to St. Cloud parishes.

News From Greater Minnesota

The Red River at Moorhead set a record Sunday when it was over flood stage for 62 consecutive days, breaking the previous record set in 2009. A story in the Fargo Forum stated that as of Saturday, the river stood about 19.2 feet and is expected to remain above flood stage of 18 feet for at least another week. The river crested at 38.75 feet on April 9, the fourth-highest flood on record in Fargo.

Also in Moorhead, fire crews Monday night battled to save the historic Park School Apartments after a severe storm whipped through the area. The former elementary school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Moorhead Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Wallin said there were no injuries and the cause of the fire remained unknown.

In an exhaustive story, Amy Pearson and Jerome Christenson of the Winona Daily News tackle the appearance of the new street drug called “plant food.” The main ingredient, mephedrone, produces euphoria as well as hallucinations, heart palpitations and other effects that could lead to death. The drug has been banned in Europe but is legal in Minnesota until July 1. Since it was first documented in Winona last fall, its prevalence has skyrocketed. The five-year average for local detox cases is 63. In less than five months this year, officers have taken 47 people to detox. One Winona defense attorney said that since January, she has been unable to finish a court hearing without one of her clients referencing plant food. “It was just crazy,” she said. A bill signed into law last week by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will ban the sale or possession of plant food effective July 1. “It is the scariest thing since the meth scene,” Winona County judges Mary Leahy said.

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Here’s an entry to restore your faith that not everyone is a drug abuser: The Fargo Forum reports that the attempt to set the Guinness world record for the number of people rubbing their bellies and patting their heads at the same time has been canceled. Students at Ellen Hopkins Elementary school in Moorhead had hoped to break the record of 872. No makeup date has been set.

Changes are coming to Catholic churches in Central Minnesota. Frank Lee of the St. Cloud Times reports that a reassignment of priests, retirements and a lack of available pastors will require changes in one-third of area parishes beginning next month. Forty-seven parishes will have new leadership or clustering arrangements. Go to the story for a complete list of those parishes affected.

The U.S. Postal Service has announced it will close 10 post offices in Minnesota. A story Thursday in the Austin Daily Herald looks at the effect the closure will have on Kenneth, Minn., population 50. “I really didn’t think they would close it,” said Dave Groen. “On a cold winter days, what do you do in a small town? You meet at the post office, talk for a while, get your mail and go back home. It’s a nice little meeting place.” The U.S. Postal Service lost more than $8 billion last year and is on track to lose another $7 billion this year, said Pete Nowacki, a spokesman for the service in Minneapolis. He said postal officials plan to cut 7,500 employees.

This week Duluth will play host to the world’s top big-lake researchers. John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune writes that the 54th International Conference on Great Lakes Research will draw more than 600 scientists from around the world to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Writes Myers: “Featured presenters include Marianne Moore, aquatic ecologist from Wellesley College, who co-leads a team of Russian and American scientists studying 60 years of data from Lake Baikal — the oldest, deepest, and most ecologically diverse lake in the world. Sally MacIntyre, oceanographer from the University of California-Santa Barbara, will talk about climate-related changes in Africa’s biggest lakes. John Goss, the Obama administration’s Asian carp czar, will talk about his team of federal, state and local agencies working together to prevent Asian carp from establishing populations in the Great Lakes,” among other presentations.

Here are several stories about college-age drinking that might brighten your day. First, Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune reports that calls to Duluth police for loud parties have declined dramatically this May. During the last two weeks of school at the University of Minnesota Duluth, police were called to only seven parties, and issued 10 underage consumption tickets and eight social-host tickets to tenants of the properties. In May 2008, there were 116 calls to police related to party and music complaints; in May 2009, there were 101, and in May 2010 there were 86. Duluth police Lt. Eric Rish credited the improvement to several initiatives, including police sharing their records with school officials and notifying property managers and owners when they have to respond to a nuisance property complaint.

Meanwhile, Dan Nienaber of the Mankato Free Press reports that police are using a new ordinance that gives police officers an option to cite or arrest someone for being a nuisance while drunk in public. Most of the “disruptive intoxication” citations, put on the books in April, have been issued in Mankato’s downtown entertainment district while the bars are busy. “It just gives us another tool to use at night because disorderly conduct didn’t fit,” said Cmdr. Craig Frericks. “This works better with what we deal with downtown.”

Employment stats are looking up in Fergus Falls, according to Ryan Howard of the Fergus Falls Journal. Minnesota state statistics show 6,662 workers were employed during the month of April, the most since 6,713 people were employed in July of 2009. The city’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in April, one percent lower than the 8.1 rate a year ago. “We’re dipping back down to more of a normal range in unemployment, more of that 5 or 6 percent range,” said Rick Schara, business services specialist with the WorkForce Center in Fergus Falls. Another positive sign is that more people are looking for work in Fergus Falls. April’s numbers put the city’s labor force at 7,170, the highest it’s been since August 2009, when there were 7,283 eligible workers in town.

TaLeiza Calloway of the St. Cloud Times really threw her back into a story about how the Cold Spring Brewery is expanding to join the craft brew trend. The company plans to invest up to $10 million to increase the facilities from a two-vessel brewhouse to a five-vessel brewhouse with brewing vessels, fermentation tanks and finishing tanks. Cold Spring brews about 125,000 31-gallon barrels of beer annually. With the improvements, it will be able to produce an extra 100,000 to 125,000 barrels per year, he said. Overall, the company produces about 25 million cases of product including beer, waters, juices and energy drinks. Currently, the brewery brews, cans, bottles and packages under contract with other companies. There are about 1,700 breweries in the United States. Of them, 97 percent produce less than 6 million barrels a year and are independently owned. Cold Spring Brewery may be joining others in Minnesota that have become destinations. Dave Hoops, master brewer for Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, said the boom in interest in local and craft beers can be attributed to the flavor, the detailed process to create craft brews and local support. Range of choice is another draw, said Ted Marti, president of August Schell Brewing Co. in New Ulm. Beer drinkers have moved beyond the traditional lager that dominated 20-30 years ago. Brooklyn Center-based Surly Brewing Co. is planning a $20 million brewery, restaurant and entertainment center in the Twin Cities. Cold Spring Brewery is not pursuing on-site pint sales.

Jodelle Greiner of the Fairmont Sentinel marked the passing of an institutional landmark when the last game of bingo was called Sunday at the VFW hall in Fairmont. The hall has been sold because of the expense of the large building’s upkeep. The post will relocate to a new building but the traditional bingo nights won’t make the move. Darla Guritz, gambling manager for Fairmont Youth Hockey Association, said the group won’t sponsor bingo as a fundraiser. “Since the opening of the casinos along the border, the attendance at our bingo sessions have declined,” she said. Customers weren’t happy about the change. Sandy Lindgren of Fairmont said they’d “had bingo since I was young girl, probably 50 years ago.” Jeffrey Bahrenfuss of Truman figured he’d spend more time fishing instead of laying bingo. Vicki Myers of Truman said she’d been coming to the VFW “as long as they’ve been open here, at least 20 years,” she said.

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