News from Greater Minnesota
It’s go time between nurses and administration at Range Regional Health Services in Hibbing. Nearly 150 registered nurses began a three-day strike Monday, according to the Star Tribune’s Warren Wolfe. No new talks are scheduled. Nurses say administrators are spreading them too thin, scheduling them to work when they’re sick or tired. The nurses say the argument is about patient safety, and they’ve rejected a contract that increases their income but only sets up a commission to address the safety issue. Meanwhile, the hospital is open with 40 temporary nurses. There is no new offer on the table. Contract talks with nurses also are under way at health systems in Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Ely and Virginia, and are scheduled to start next month in Thief River Falls, Wolfe reports.
Here are three items that let you know summer is in full swing.
Lisa Brainard of the Republican Leader reports on the perils of bridge jumping in Fillmore County. Apparently, people enjoy leaping off a bridge into the river or stream below. Ken Soiney, owner of River Rat Outfitters, brought the issue before the commissioners, saying that recent flooding on the Root River has made the river dangerous. He said many of the “jumpers” are in the 14-to-24 age group, and often alcohol is involved. Fillmore County Sheriff Daryl Jensen said signs have been posted that say “No jumping off the bridge,” and that the law says all signs must be obeyed. But, he noted, people steal the sign before his officers can get out to enforce it.
The Albert Lea Tribune reported Thursday that juveniles started a fire in the wastebasket of a bathroom in City Hall. Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said that a few days earlier the juveniles reportedly tried to break into the coffee kiosk on the first floor. I’m sure this is better than having these kids dealing meth, but still, Winkels must get sick of this kind of thing.
The Bemidji City Council has unanimously voted to begin the process of changing the name of the Stoner Avenue Northeast and Stoner Avenue Southeast signs. Craig Gray, director of public works/city engineer, says 15 “Stoner Avenue” signs disappear each year from the street located south of Lake Bemidji, according to Anne Williams in the Bemidji Pioneer. Each sign costs about $100, Gray said. Changing a street name can affect businesses and residents. Residents must change their driver’s licenses and their banking, Social Security and medical information — and more — once their address changes. The name Franklin Avenue was brought up at the work session as a potential replacement name for Stoner Avenue.
The crop report: Average at best, with a heavy chance of gloomy. Steve Brown of the Marshall Independent conducted a roundup of area agronomists and found that, at best, the crop yield in southern Minnesota will be average. Bob Byrnes of the University of Minnesota Extension service said there was much late planting in the area. Terry Schmidt with agricultural service company CHS Inc., said the saturated ground made it difficult to spray for weeds because the rain-soaked ground won’t support the weight of the machinery. He said it is probably too late to replant soy and definitely too late to replant corn in drowned-out fields. And the crop outlook? “The top end’s gone. The crop will be average, at best,” Schmidt said. Crop Advisor Allain Bellicot said the corn crop will be no better than last year, when yields averaged 160 to 170 bushels per acre. However, the soy crop might compensate. “Soy depends on daytime length, so the potential for soy is pretty good,” Bellicot said. “Corn will be good if we have a warm and muggy summer.”
The state shutdown means state food-safety inspectors won’t be able to check booths at fairs that attract fewer than 10,000 visitors, reports the Associated Press and the Fergus Falls Journal. While this won’t affect big festivals like the WE Fest in Detroit Lakes or the West Otter Tail County Fair, it did affect Jamie Hauge, who manages the small community center kitchen at the Cass County Fair in Pillager. The kitchen offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu to the estimated 2,500 people who attend the fair, which opened last week. While she was surprised by the Health Department’s decision to skip her fair, she didn’t think it was a reason for anyone to worry about the safety of her food. “It doesn’t bother me a bit, because I know I keep a spotless kitchen and everything is in order all of the time,” she said. The State Health Department doesn’t know how many fairs and festivals its inspectors will skip if the government shutdown continues, but the agency has determined that at least 29 county fairs are large enough to qualify for inspection and more than 50 counties and cities have partial or full responsibility for their food inspections. And every food vendor will be inspected at the Minnesota State Fair.
The new president of Concordia College has the same decision-making philosophy as my father. Here’s what William Craft said in a story by Amy Dalrymple of the Fargo Forum about learning the ins and outs of his new job: “I believe in conversation and, when needed, debate as a prelude to major decision-making.” My dad believed in debate as well, until I was winning the debate and then he’d crack me over the head and the debate was over. “When needed” indeed. Anyway, Craft is a former vice president and dean for Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and will be Concordia’s 11th president, succeeding interim President Paul Dovre, who was appointed after the death of Pamela Jolicoeur. He is an English professor who specializes in early modern renaissance literature. So good luck to him.
On a more positive note, Bridgeman’s on the Lakewalk in Duluth is giving all its profits this summer to the Encounter Youth Center. Lisa Baumann of the Duluth News Tribune writes that Jay and Emily Broman consider the four-year-old Bridgeman’s Lakewalk location to be a “fun side venture” to the Bridgeman’s they own in the Miller Hill Mall area. The Encounter, run by Youth for Christ, has a 38,000-square-foot building with an indoor skateboard park, two concert venues, a full gymnasium and game areas, Baumann reported. They work to make meaningful connections with young people. “I think (the Encounter) is kind of a mystery to a lot of people,” Broman said. “It’s not just a skate park, there’s so much more down there. They’re literally, I believe, changing the lives of these young people, and it’s really fun to watch.”
This is one of those stories that you read and you know there’s a lot more going on than what’s being reported. Ryan Howard of the Fergus Falls Journal writes that after a six-month attempt to build a guitar-making facility in FF, Spruce Hill Guitars is moving back to Perham along with its promised 50 jobs. The gist: Spruce Hill got a big contract and needed to expand to meet the new demand but couldn’t find investors who were acceptable to the owner, who decided it was better to stay within his means than expand too rapidly. Since he couldn’t expand, he couldn’t pay the bills on the Fergus Falls building, so he left. Spruce Hill creates specially made aluminum guitars. They were trying to locate in the nonprofit Banner building with the help of WMI, a nonprofit local organization that sometimes provides temporary financial aid to businesses looking to develop. There’s gotta be more to this story, but the bottom line is that those 50 jobs, if they materialize, are in Perham, not Fergus Falls.
For the third year in a row, the August Schell Brewing Company was named one of the Top Ten breweries at the 2011 U.S. Open Beer Championships, competing against heavyweights like Anheuser-Bush, Sam Adams, New Belgium, and other national and international breweries. The New Ulm Journal reports that among the 1,200 beers entered in 50 categories, five different Schell’s beer medaled: Schell’s Deer Brand took gold in the American Cream Ale category; Schell’s Light and Grain Belt Premium won silver in the American Light and American Lager/Pilsner category; and Schell’s Hefeweizen and Stout took home the bronze medal in their categories.
Ashley Peterson at the Owatonna People’s Press puts a positive spin on a lousy housing market. Want to buy the cheapest home in Minnesota? Come to Owatonna, where the housing market has the lowest average home price in Minnesota, according to a study conducted by Coldwell Banker from September 2010 to March 2011. The study shows Owatonna has the least expensive housing market out of 45 in Minnesota. Red Wing topped the chart with the average 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom list price hitting $329,782 and Owatonna was the lowest at $146,652 for the same home. The Minnesota average was $211,633 and nationwide the average was $293,251. Coldwell Banker Broker Lynn Johnson said it’s not a matter of a cheap market, but an overall ideal time to buy. Yes indeed, it certainly is.
John Fitzgerald is a freelance writer and longtime Minnesotan who lives in Buffalo.