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Persistent rainfall delays crops, plumps up rivers

News From Greater Minnesota

I’ve caught a head and chest cold and it’s because of this cold, wet weather. But I’m not the only one suffering. Corn and soybeans are stunted this season thanks to below-average temperatures and above-average rainfall, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an AP report printed Monday in the Star Tribune. Corn had reached an average of 10 inches compared with 20 inches last year and 18 inches for the five-year average. Soybeans are at an average height of 3 inches, compared with 6 inches last year and a 5-inch average. Wheat, barley and oats are also growing slower.

Rivers are having trouble, too. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the southern Red River Valley. The NWS is expecting up to 4 inches of rain by the end of the week. The flood warning was issued for the Red River at Wahpeton, N.D., and Breckenridge, Minn., and in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The Red River could rise to 24 feet in Fargo-Moorhead. Moderate flood stage is 25 feet.

Meanwhile, the Mankato Freep (that’s Free Press to the rest of you) issued this interesting headline last week: “Tubers rescued on rising Cottonwood River.” Why would anyone worry about some potatoes or lily bulbs during a flood? I asked myself. Turns out that after heavy rains, the Cottonwood has jumped 7 feet in two days in New Ulm, forcing the rescue of two people tubing down the river. A man became separated from his tube and a woman got hung up in brush along the river. A construction crew repairing a gas line nearby rescued the pair. The Cottonwood was at about 6 feet late Tuesday afternoon and rose above 13 feet by Thursday afternoon.

The New Ulm Journal (what do we call this paper? The Nuj? The Nujour? Suggestions are appreciated) is reporting that the crummy weather has created a shortage of bug repellent. Josh Moniz of the Nuj reports that retailers have people waiting at the door when restocking shipments come in. He writes: “Gnats have been the most numerous insects showing up at the moment. Consequently, the biggest selling repellents have been unusual items that are seen as especially effective against gnats: Absorbine Jr. and white vanilla extract. … In New Ulm, Walgreens has sold a record-breaking 850 units of Absorbine Jr. in seven days. … Hy-Vee and Wal-Mart sold several hundred units also. Additionally, all three stores sold over 100 units of white vanilla each.” The cause? Gnats usually hatch in May, but lower temps delayed the hatchings. They also lay eggs in running waters, so flooding bumped up the population. The infestation should disappear in the next two weeks.

Over at the Indy (the Marshall Independent, of course), Steve Browne chronicles the discharge of human sewage into an unnamed creek in Tracy after heavy rains last week. Tests showed a high concentration of fecal coliform bacteria, but that’s no cause for alarm, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said. The city started bypassing the sewer system last Tuesday after heavy rains caused the system to back up. Brad Gillingham, pollution control specialist with the MPCA Marshall office, said the discharge was into a ditch which does not flow into any lake where people swim and has no drinking-water intakes. The sewer effluent was diluted by rainwater and sunlight will begin the natural process of disinfection. Tracy “had a 25-year precipitation event – a five-inch rain in 24 hours. With the tightest system in the world you’re still going to have to bypass,” Gillingham said.

The folks in Armstrong marked the one-year anniversary of the tornado that tore through their town. Sarah Stultz and Kelli Lageson of the Austin Daily Herald (The Aud? The Austin DH? Again, help me out here) spent a lot of time interviewing survivors and chronicling the compassion people felt for their neighbors as they put their lives back together.

Like blind men describing an elephant, newspapers across the state spent the week trying to prepare the reading public for the potential state government shutdown. At the Freep in Mankato, Tanner Kent brought some sunlight to the K-12 funding debate. Put simply, the GOP says it raised the amount districts get to educate each student. They found the money by capping the amount districts get to teach special-education students, students in poverty and in accounts meant to promote integration. With integration, the GOP was especially pleased because they believed it helped stem an imbalance between metro schools with lots of minority students (read Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth) and outstate districts. They say cash meant for integration goes to other budget items and that this offends them. Here’s where Kent dropped the hammer on the story: “School officials in this area, however, insist that integration revenue is spent on valuable diversity programs — and not on programs with little or no relation to the intent of the funding, as asserted by some legislators. St. James, for instance, receives nearly $200,000 in integration revenue for its large population of Hispanic students. Neighboring districts — including New Ulm — receive about half as much in order to coordinate collaborative programs with St. James. The Cottonwood River Integration Collaborative, as the integration program between St. James and its surrounding districts is known, provided programs such as elementary Spanish language classes and a newly designed elementary multi-cultural literature curriculum. But now, with that revenue all but slated for elimination, the collaboration has begun to dissolve. ‘It’s all going to fall apart,’ St. James Supt. Becky Cselovszki said. ‘We know that revenue is going away and that’s a huge concern.’ ”

In Monday’s BemPi (Bemidji Pioneer), Jake Urban writes that the school district will borrow $3 million to cover a projected shortfall of $1,643,576 in June 2012. Chris Leinen, director of business services, said he would normally recommend borrowing slightly more than the projected shortfall — or $2 million — “but the potential for a special session in St. Paul combined with the possibility of a government shutdown indicate the need for a more flexible approach. … Without this, funds would run out before the end of August.” Remember, this is money that will require Bemidji taxpayers to repay interest on the loan. If the state properly funded education, that money would go to education and not to a bank.

Don Davis, the Capitol reporter for the Fargo Forum and its newspaper empire (including the Duluth News Tribune, or D-Newt, in which this story appeared Monday) writes that paperwork was filed to help protect the 29,000 Minnesotans in nursing homes and 26,000 others who receive care in assisted living facilities or their homes. The Aging Services of Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota are asking the courts to side with Attorney General Lori Swanson to fund about 112,600 people who provide care for the elderly. Dayton last week asked the courts to keep 13,250 of the executive branch’s state employees on the job during a shutdown, but he did not recommend funding care providers during a shutdown.

Nonprofits are worrying about what a shutdown means to those who rely on their services. Robb Murray at the Freep says nonprofits will either stop providing services or hope the state will eventually reimburse them. At the Harry Meyering Center, which provides services for adults with developmental disabilities, some clients receive funding from the federal government, which first goes to the state before getting forwarded on to them. And some get money only from the state. “We don’t know which of our individuals we’ll be able to serve or not serve because of the funding source,” Judy Arzdorf said. As for housing, that service will continue. “We can’t shut down,” Arzdorf said. “We work with individuals who totally rely on us. In that way, this is just total confusion.”

Over at the Ferg (The Fergus Falls Journal), Tom Hintgen smacks one over the fence with his coverage of the 9,000 Otter Tail County residents who will be adversely affected by the shutdown. He gets right to the point: “Medicaid, PMAP (Prepaid Medical Assistance Program) and MA (Medical Assistance) waivers affect 3,894 adults and 3,332 children in Otter Tail County. MinnesotaCare recipients in the county total 2,100. ‘Food Support, what we formerly referred to as the Food Stamp Program, includes 4,204 people,’ said County Human Services Director John Dinsmore. ‘We have 2,566 adults and caregivers and 1,638 children.’ More than 150 adults and 313 children receive MFIP (Minnesota Family Investment Program) benefits, formerly referred to as AFDC. Notices have been mailed to all health care, cash and food support clients across the state that they may have trouble getting health care services in the event of a government shutdown.

By the way, I checked: John Dinsmore is the Otter Tail County human services director. John Densmore played drums with The Doors. Just FYI.

Back in the D-Newt, Jana Hollingsworth did extra duty pumping out three stories on the state of Duluth schools now that Superintendent Keith Dixon is retiring. The verdict: He had to close schools, which was a tough job, and he had to smooth ruffled union feathers, but he did it all with civility and a willingness to talk. Dixon rode through the Red Plan, a $296 million school renovation and construction project that was approved without allowing the community to vote. By 2012, Central High School, Morgan Park and Woodland middle schools, and Lincoln Park, Rockridge and Nettleton elementary schools will be closed. “Change agents are rarely popular and are often seen as polarizing,” Dixon told Hollingsworth. “At times, people got pretty ugly.” As for labor, contract negotiations with the district’s 10 unions were strained when Dixon came to Duluth in 2005, Hollingsworth wrote. “Frank Wanner, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, said he couldn’t recall any other superintendent who would go to teachers who had issues or have them visit his office. The entire labor process was changed, he said, and money no longer spent on costly negotiations could be spent on education.”

Meanwhile, a new poll shows Duluthites have a lower opinion of city schools after Dixon’s tenure. “Realistically, I’m not surprised. There’s been a significant amount of change in Duluth since 2007,” Dixon said. “We’re not going to go through that change and not see some reduction in those kinds of measures.” Bill Morris, president of Decision Resources, which conducted the latest survey and one in 2007, said “The Red Plan debate is still fresh in people’s minds and still being used by people to shadow how they feel about specific aspects of the district, which may or may not touch on the Red Plan itself.”

Down in Alden, Garrett Wampler of the Altrib (Albert Lea Tribune) attended the Fugleskudning, or Great Dane Shoot. In the contest, shooters attempt to remove different pieces of a hand-crafted fowl from the top of a telephone pole 80 feet away and 40 feet off of the ground with 12-gauge shotguns with no scope. Robert Johnson, of South Dakota, shot off the coveted breast. Other rewards were given to shooters that knocked down the head, west wing, east wing, and the tail. The bird was made of green ash wood and metal, making it difficult for the participants to remove.

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

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