News From Greater Minnesota
Farming is not for the faint of heart. Either the weather is too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. Tom Hintgen of the Fergus Falls Journal took a look last Wednesday at the soybean situation in Otter Tail, Wilkin and Grant counties. “We could use from 10 days to two weeks of dry weather,” Al Mashek, manager of Elbow Lake Co-op Grain, told Hintgen. “We have about 60 percent of soybeans planted in our area of Grant County.” Soybean planting in western Otter Tail County is about 85 percent complete. Soybean planting in Wilkin County is about 90 percent complete. Paul Dubbels, seed manager at CHS west of the Fergus Falls Municipal Airport, said farmers near Herman, in southwestern Grant County, are having an especially tough time. “Down in the Herman area the soybean planting is only about 10 percent complete. If soybeans aren’t planted by about June 10, farmers could have some yield problems come harvest time,” Dubbels said.
Albert Lea city officials are encouraging citizens to get involved in the proposed Alliant Energy rate increase. Sarah Stultz of the Albert Lea Tribune writes that Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearings on June 14 and 16 will decide whether to make a permanent 22 percent increase in electricity bills. The request would increase the company’s annual revenues by 22 percent, or $15 million. Alliant says the expenses are necessary to recoup investments in emission control power plants required by the federal government and wind farms to meet state renewable energy mandates. Many residents, business owners and city officials have come out in opposition to the proposal, along with the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy Resources, which recommended the proposed rate increase be cut in half. “Your presence at this hearing will let the MPUC know you care deeply about this rate increase and will ensure that the commission keeps any necessary permanent increase to a minimum,” city officials said in a press release.
New Ulm is still waiting nearly three months after March flooding to obtain flood relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Josh Moniz of the New Ulm Journal writes that the temporary berm along the Minnesota River cost $367,519 to build and an additional $14,349 in related Public Utilities work. The city is eligible for the funds because of President Barack Obama’s disaster declaration. However, the paperwork is in limbo because FEMA has not yet been available to return to New Ulm. City Manager Brian Gramentz said FEMA could be responding more slowly this year because its personnel are stretched thin addressing the number of recent national disasters. Meanwhile, New Ulm is also awaiting the introduction of a flood-prevention bonding bill during the Minnesota Legislature’s special session to build a proposed $1.9 million permanent levee along the Minnesota River. However, if a new bill is not introduced this year, then levee construction could not begin until 2013. Gramentz said that situation could result in the City having to tear down the temporary berm, especially if FEMA requires it, and rebuild it whenever flooding occurred. Gramentz said the City would be able to store the berm’s clay for future use, but the construction cost of reconstructing the berm could be expensive.
Heat could have been the cause of a train derailment in Paynesville that sent two cars into the Crow River Monday. Dave Aeikens of the St. Cloud Times reported that no one was injured and little to no hazardous waste was spilled when eight cars in an 85-car Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed Monday afternoon. The derailment happened at 2:51 p.m. on a trestle about 75 yards west of the American Milk Producers Inc. plant near downtown Paynesville. The cars that went into the river had been hauling AMPI product that was dropped off, and there was only residue left inside those cars. A car carrying gasoline was about 20 cars ahead of the cars that derailed. The tracks might have buckled in the heat, Paynesville Police Chief Kent Kortlever said. The sign on a bank about a block from the accident scene showed 101 degrees at 4:30 p.m.
However, the nice weather helped the sixth annual Ride for the Troops in Bemidji set a record Sunday. Delaney Daly of the Bemidji Pioneer said the ride featured more than 420 bikes and 580 riders and raised more than $20,000 to help support veterans, deployed soldiers and their families. “I got goose bumps during the opening ceremonies and watching the riders take off from Marketplace,” said event organizer Tracy Bailey. “This was the most successful year we have experienced,” said Ken Donaghue, another event organizer. “The success is not only measured in the number of bikes that participated, but the amount of volunteers we had, and the families that lived on the bike route who raised the American flag as bikers passed.”
There’s no sense in letting used furniture go to waste. As college students leave the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the curbside piles of old couches, appliances and other unwanted household items predictably appear. Peter Passi of the Duluth News Tribune tells the story of Mike Giddings, owner of Mike’s Recycling Services, who has so far hauled away about 50 truckloads of unwanted furnishings through a UMD-sponsored program. About 20 truckloads of material were in good enough shape to go to local charities. “If we can find good homes for this stuff, we will,” said Linda Olcott, customer service supervisor for UMD’s facilities management department. She said UMD will spend about $20,000 for its furniture pickup program this year, not to mention disposal fees. But she maintains it’s a good investment, saying: “We want to continue to be good neighbors.”
In a stunning example of crafty gamesmanship, Matt Larson, Austin High graduate, won “Jeopardy!” last week by one dollar after all three contestants missed the “Final Jeopardy!” question. Trey Mewes of the Austin Daily Herald said Larson, a 2006 Wheaton College grad who works as a technical support specialist for Medtronic near Boulder, Colo., applied for the show online in February 2009. “Jeopardy!” producers called him in May for an audition in California. Last December — more than 18 months later — he got the call to be on the show. Larson wouldn’t reveal how far his performance took him. “I’ll make you watch it to find out,” he said.
Northfield is trying to save its downtown post office, slated to be relocated to the carrier annex behind the Kwik Trip on Hwy. 3. Suzanne Rook of the Northfield News said city organizers hope the 75-year-old structure, which anchors the city square, can be saved. In April, USPS officials announced they will consolidate postal operations in the city to save $750,000 over 10 years. The announcement triggered a wave of support for the old post office. The Save the Post Office group was formed at the mayor’s request. A petition with hundreds of signatures opposing the closure was sent to the USPS. “Don’t leave us with a big white elephant downtown and think you’re going to move retail to the highway,” said Suzie Nakasian, a city councilor and member of the Save the Northfield Post Office group.
John Fitzgerald is a freelance writer and longtime journalist who lives in Buffalo.