Statewide Category Archive: Arrowhead
I had to pull over on my way into work this morning to snap a picture of the steam rising up out of the big lake in front of the lift bridge.
As Jay Austin, Professor at UMD's Large Lakes Observatory explains, "the steam is simply Lake Superior water evaporating, then condensing from gas to liquid droplets as it hits super-cold air. In general, Austin says, "evaporation is strongest when the air temperature is much lower than the water temperature."
While temperatures have barely eked above zero for the past several days, it's still been a relatively warm winter in Duluth. Austin says "the fact we're not seeing much ice cover is a testament to the enormity of the lake - the lake needs to be sufficiently cooled down at the surface for ice to form." So, Austin explains, the lake has been busy playing "catch up" the last few days.
Austin, of course, understands this from the perspective of a highly-regarded physicist and expert on large lakes. Still, he admits he's even amazed to look at the huge stretches of open water when temperatures are so cold.
"Think of the temperature difference - +32F water, -10F air - that's huge! And lots of heat is being lost to the atmosphere because of it."
With nearly two months of wolf hunting now in the books in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, it's interesting to take a closer look at the number of wolves killed in both states, compared to their target harvests and total population.
Wisconsin hunters killed 105 wolves as of December 10th, very near the state's total quota of 116 wolves. That's out of a total estimated wolf population in the state of about 850. Which means hunters, in just over a month and a half, have killed about 12 percent of Wisconsin's wolves.
Wolves roam in the wilderness on Thursday, February 11, 2010 near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. (MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery)
Minnesota hunters have killed more than twice as many wolves as their neighbors, 243 as of December 10th, well over halfway to the state's quota of 400 wolves. But that's out of a total estimated population of around 3,000, meaning Minnesota hunters have killed about 8 percent of the state's wolves.
As MPR's Stephanie Hemphill reported shortly after Minnesota's wolf hunt began, the numbers reflect different approaches to management of the iconic predator. "Minnesota has not set a goal for a maximum wolf population, while Wisconsin has. It wants to reduce the number of wolves to 350 and keep it there," Stephanie writes.
Of course others besides hunters have killed wolves in both states over the past year. This year in Minnesota, state and federal trappers have killed at least 214 wolves that preyed on livestock. And ranchers and pet owners have killed at least 15 wolves that threatened their animals, something they could not have legally done when the wolf was listed as a federal endangered species.
We'll know a lot more about Minnesota's wolf population after the DNR completes its first wolf survey in five years this winter. Many people have speculated that the higher than expected success rate of wolf hunters suggests that the state's wolf population is higher than the estimated 3,000.
In any case, both Minnesota and Wisconsin wildlife managers are likely to tweak their hunting seasons after they assess the numbers from this year's hunt.
Minnesota's late season runs through the end of January; Wisconsin's through the end of February, if it doesn't reach its quota first.
When more than 60 logging trucks loaded down with freshly hewn timber rumbled down the old brick streets of downtown Duluth Thursday morning, political candidates saw a constituency.
The truckers backed up traffic on London Road coming into town, trying to raise awareness about their fight to change a federal law that caps truck weights on interstate highways in Minnesota.
Here's the issue: Since 1982, federal law has limited truck weight to 80,000 pounds on interstate highways. But Minnesota allows loggers to carry 90,000 pounds on state, county and local roads. State Department of Transportation officials say the extra weight doesn't contribute to extra wear and tear on the roads because it's spread out over six axles rather than five
Loggers say the federal restriction hurts their bottom line. Opponents claim heavier trucks on freeways cause more accidents and fatalities.
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack talks to Peter Wood of Wood Forest Products during a rally by loggers Thursday, September 27, 2012 at Road Machinery and Supplies Co. near downtown Duluth, Minn. during a protest by loggers over federal weight restrictions on the interstate highway system. (Derek Montgomery for MPR)
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican who represents the 8th District, rode shotgun in a rig through the protest, and addressed loggers at a rally after the convoy rolled through Duluth. Cravaack pointed out that truckers in nearby states, including North Dakota and Michigan, can haul heavier loads on interstates. Those weights were grandfathered in to federal law.
"This makes no sense and makes Minnesota less competitive," Cravaack argued.
Cravaack negotiated a bipartisan amendment to the 2012 transportation bill to allow heavier logging trucks on a 75 mile stretch of Interstate 35 between Duluth and Hinckley. But a Senate conference committee stripped that provision from the bill.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar did not attend the event. But she sent a letter in which she said she encouraged that conference committee to include the provision. Klobuchar wrote that an increase in truck weights is "the right decision for safety, and it's the right decision for our economy."
Meanwhile, Cravaack's Democratic opponent in the closely watched 8th District race, former U.S. Rep.Rick Nolan, issued a press release blasting Cravaack for twice voting for a Republican budget that would have cut between $40 and $50 billion from transportation funding, according to The New York Times.
"Cravaack may support expanding highway use for loggers," the Nolan press release reads, "but his record shows he doesn't support the funding needed to maintain our roads and infrastructure."
Nolan did not attend the rally. His press release did not say whether he supports increasing weight limits for loggers on interstate highways in Minnesota.
Posted at 9:48 AM on September 22, 2012
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include video of a recent debate between the three Democratic challengers to Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.
By Colin Campbell
Less than two years after political newcomer Chip Cravaack unseated 18-term U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar in the Eighth District, Democrats are preparing for a second-round fight.
Aiming to recover from Oberstar's stunning defeat in the 2010 elections that sent a wave of Republican freshman to the House of Representatives, Democrats will soon select one of three challengers to Cravaack. The winner of the DFL primary could help the party regain the seat represented by a Democrat since 1947.
Former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who won the DFL endorsement, is running against Duluth City Councilman Jeff Anderson and former state Sen. Tarryl Clark. Here there two candidates are in a recent debate on TPT's Almanac:
Cravaack and his team have also been gearing up for what they've long known would be a tight race. As his opponents paint him as a radical member of the tea party, the freshman Republican congressman is spurning the label and casting himself as a moderate in a district that he contends is no longer best represented by the liberal views of his DFL opponents.
In his first term in Washington, Cravaack has built a reputation as a union-friendly Republican, focusing on legislation that aids northern Minnesota, according Aaron Brown, a progressive blogger and close observer of the district.
Earlier this month, Cravaack scored one of the biggest legislative accomplishments of his short tenure when an amendment he offered as part of a broad mining and mineral bill passed through the House, effectively easing the way for the PolyMet mining project.
The PolyMet project is a popular initiative in the district that would build a copper and nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes that the company says will create around 360 jobs.
Construction for the mine has been stalled for several years as a result of permitting delays. The Cravaack amendment would remedy the federal regulatory permitting process by requiring regulators to provide a guaranteed time frame of 30 months to approve or decline permit requests.
News of the legislation's passage was well received in the district, and was another example of Cravaack "focusing on bread and butter issues," according the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49. The labor group, which traditionally supports Democrats, praised Cravaack for his approach to legislating and focus on issues important to the district, and his work won him an surprising endorsement from the group.
As Cravaack concentrates on the November election, the three Democrats are embroiled in the final weeks of a months-long primary campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Because there is little difference between the candidates on policy issues, each is brandishing their credentials and making personality pitches to voters.
For Nolan that means highlighting the endorsement he received at the district's DFL convention in May and reminding voters of the long list of Democratic politicians in the state who've lined up behind him. It's an impressive roster that includes every Democratic member of the state's Washington delegation, a cadre of influential unions who carry political sway in the region. Perhaps most valuable is the endorsement of Nolan by Oberstar, who until his defeat represented the district since 1975.
If Nolan is running as an established, accomplished member of the old guard, Anderson is doing the opposite. The 35-year-old is positioning himself as a fresh face for the district and a political newcomer. Anderson has roots in the Iron Range going back four generations, a point he is making a centerpiece of his campaign. He also points to his time serving a commissioner of Duluth's Economic Development Authority as an example of his ability to create jobs.
Anderson said during his tenure on the council he helped bring a data storage facility and an airline maintenance company to the city. Anderson trails his opponents in fundraising but he has secured endorsement from two of the district's most-respected politicians, longtime state Rep. Tom Rukavina and Duluth Mayor Don Ness.
Clark enters the race with an impressive political resume, having served as the associate chair of the state DFL party followed by a five-year stint in the state Senate where she quickly rose to assistant majority leader after less than a year in office. In 2010 she increased her statewide profile when she took on U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in a competitive race to represent the state's Sixth Congressional District.
In 2011, Clark announced she planned to buy a condo in Duluth and enter the race. The decision to uproot bedeviled her campaign from day one, with critics blasting her as a carpetbagger, or "packsacker" as newcomers to the Range are called, and her DFL opponent Anderson refers to Clark's run as "political tourism."
But such attacks have done little to hurt her fundraising numbers. Clark, who gained national support in he challenge of Bachmann, has raised more than $1 million since entering the race, far more than either of her Democratic opponents.
Brown believes mining, Social Security and the healthcare will be the issues most on voters' minds come primary and Election Day.
From his perch, he views the primary race as a pure toss-up that could swing to any of the candidates. "The reality is that for two years of nonstop blathering, fretting and campaigning, this is an instance where DFL voters in MN-8 will have their say," Brown said.
An effort to unionize workers at the Mesabi Nugget plant near Aurora, Minn. failed last week. "It's a big deal," Iron Range author and blogger Aaron Brown tells MPR News editor Michael Olson.
The vote held by the United Steelworkers District 11 at the Mesabi Nugget plant near Aurora failed with 57 workers against and 21 in support of unionization. It is a rare outcome in a part of the country that has historically supported unions. Brown and Olson discuss the vote and what it says about the state of organized labor in Northern Minnesota.
More mining news from Minnesota Today.
Posted at 4:39 PM on June 22, 2012
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
With all the attention placed on destructive invasive species like Asian carp and zebra mussels, non-natives that are still completely uncontrolled - it's easy to forget about the one exotic species in the Great Lakes that scientists have largely outsmarted.
On All Things Considered Friday I reported on the sea lamprey control program, a $20 million dollar effort of the U.S. and Canadian governments. A few decades ago lake trout were nearly extinct from the Great Lakes. Now, thanks in large measure to the program that's cut 90 percent of the sea lamprey population, there's a small commercial lake trout fishery along the North Shore.
Lamprey use their many teeth to latch onto the side of lake trout and suck their body fluids until the trout die. It's estimated that each lamprey kill between 10 and 40 pounds of lake trout during their lifespan, which is estimated at 18 months. (Derek Montgomery for MPR)
The main component of the sea lamprey control program is a chemical called TFM that's applied to streams where sea lamprey swim to spawn. The chemical binds to a lamprey's oxygen uptake and suffocates the larval lamprey before they mature and go out into the Great Lakes and prey on fish. Barriers and traps in the streams also help control their population.
But scientists are also researching alternative ways to control the lamprey, in part because, as Don Schreiner, Area Fisheries Manager with the Minnesota DNR put it, "nobody likes to use pesticides" in the streams. Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, which oversees the lamprey control program, said biologists are on the cusp of putting lamprey pheromones and repellants into the field to basically trick lamprey into changing their behavior during spawning season.
Pheromones are natural attractants that male lamprey emit to to lure females to spawn. Scientists are experimenting with using pheromones to lure lamprey into traps or into streams that don't have suitable spawning habitat.
Similarly, last year researchers at Michigan State University observed that lamprey are repelled by the scent of their own dead. Gaden said "the scent of death," as researchers have dubbed it, could be used to keep lamprey away from good spawning habitat, like the Brule River and other streams in northern Wisconsin.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere are exploring using pheromones to try to control invasive carp, which are steadily migrating up the Mississippi River. The hope is to soon add more critters to the very short list of invasive species success stories.
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar endorsed Rick Nolan today in the Democrats' bid to reclaim the seat from the man who surprised Oberstar two years ago -- GOP newcomer Chip Cravaack. But the two politicians shared the moment with a groundbreaking woman who kept politicians in line for nearly half a century -- Veda Ponikvar.
MPR Photo/Dan Kraker
Ponikvar turned 92 on June 4. She became the first and the youngest female newspaper publisher in the country in 1946, when she founded the Chisholm Free Press at 28. According to the Minnesota History Center, political leaders from Hubert Humphrey to Rudy Perpich looked to her as a leader and interpreter of Iron Range political opinion.
Nolan and Oberstar held their event at the Minneosta Museum of Mining in Chisholm, inside Ponikvar's reconstructed office. The two men spoke in front of the original hand-crank offset press newspaper press that Ponikvar used to print the paper. Oberstar said his first job growing up in Chisholm was to deliver the paper to every house on the north side of town.
And when Oberstar said he asked the 92-year-old whether she could still operate the offsett press, she quickly replied, "Yes I can!"
The International Falls Economic Development Authority as been awarded a $657,000 state grant to construct a warehouse that will aid international shipping and create jobs.
A private company called Nexus Distribution will use the facility to provide repackaging services that enable Canada and other international companies to meet U.S. regulatory requirements, according to The Journal newspaper in International Falls.
The warehouse and processing center will be built on an 80 acre site adjacent to what city officials say is the largest rail port in North America. They expect the development will create about 50 much needed jobs over the next five years.
The project was among 14 in Minnesota that received funding through the state's Transportation Economic Development Program, a two-year-old initiative between the state Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The program aims to improve transportation infrastructure and create jobs.
International Falls Mayor Shawn Mason told The Journal that the grant will help the city capitalize on its location in the center of North America. Rail containers carrying Asian-made product travel through International Falls from Vancouver, British Columbia and then on to Chicago.
Mason says the warehouse and processing center will provide services that help manufacturers comply with U.S. labeling and packaging codes. Much of that activity now happens in Chicago, where the process can be slower and more costly.
Local officials hope the project will lead to additional investment and economic opportunity along the rail corridor.
Groundbreaking on the facility is set for July 2.
Posted at 8:41 AM on May 16, 2012
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
"...caught this bear walking along the South Pier this morning (May 15, 2012) Click to enlarge. Below, the bear climbed down from the pier, on its way to the beach. I first heard about it when the Chief Bridge operator, Ryan Beamer made an announcement on the bridge public address system."
The bear startled an angler further down the pier.
More photos and the rest of the story at Duluth Shipping News.
Yesterday on All Things Considered I reported how the Minnesota Department of Commerce is pushing for the closure of five coal-fired electric generators in northern Minnesota by the end of the decade.
That recommendation from Commerce came after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ordered Minnesota Power to study the economics of closing some of its coal units. It was the first time the PUC had ordered a so-called "baseload diversification study." The PUC has since also asked Interstate Power and Light and Otter Tail Power for similar studies. It wants Otter Tail to evaluate retiring its Hoot Lake coal-fired power plant.
Tough new environmental regulations are increasingly making older and smaller coal-fired generation stations uneconomic. Many utilities are turning instead to cheap and much cleaner burning natural gas. Xcel has already converted two Twin Cities area coal plants to natural gas. Midwest Generation just announced it will close two Chicago area coal plants sooner then expected rather than retrofit them.
So is this the beginning of the end of coal? Bloomberg Energy Analyst Rob Barnett published a report this week that declares the "twilight of coal-fired power" in the U.S. Barnett says a proposed new EPA carbon dioxide standard rolled out last month "effectively bans the construction of new coal-fired power plants" in the U.S.
Still, Barnett says we'll still have coal-fired power in the U.S. for decades to come. It will just make up a smaller chunk of our electric generation. Already, coal's share of generation capacity has shrunk from 52% to 40% since 2000.
Minnesota Power's plans mirror that trajectory. The utility now derives about 95% of its electricity from coal. But next year that share will drop to 75%, and utility Vice President Al Rudeck says that will drop to 50% by 2025.
But the company also announced this week it will spend nearly $400 million dollars on environmental upgrades at its giant Boswell power plant in Cohasset. As Rudeck describes, the utility will invest more heavily in wind, hydro, and gas, but coal will still provide the base of its generation.(2 Comments)
Posted at 12:45 PM on May 7, 2012
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
Minnesota Today contributor Alicia Lebens gives us a tour of the Port of Duluth.
Trucks and a drill rig drill into the ground near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Thursday morning near Ely, Minn. The trucks were doing exploratory drilling for Duluth Metals. (MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery)
The Duluth McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America hosted a forum Wednesday about proposed copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota. A crowd of about 200 people attended the forum which included Brad Moore, a vice president for PolyMet Mining. Co.; and Larry Kramka, director of the Lands and Minerals Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
MPR News Primer: Copper-nickel mining
Mining runs deep in the culture and economy of northern Minnesota. So why are people drawing battle lines over plans to build copper-nickel mines in the Iron Range? It's a new kind of mining for Minnesota and there are plenty of potential rewards -- and risks. Can a middle ground be found between economic, environmental and quality of life concerns? More
Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatmas Gandhi, spoke at Ely Memorial High School about his grandfather and about peace through nonviolence. The event was was organized by the school's student council and funded by the students through grant writing and donations.
Gandhi spoke about living with his grandfather before his assassination, growing up in the village of Durban in South Africa during the Apartheid and his thoughts about bullying, environmentalism and women's issues through nonviolence.
From the Duluth News Tribune:
"This is an once-in-a-lifetime experience," Ely Memorial High School Student Council member Berit Schurke said. "It's truly an honor that he's taking time to speak to us about ways we can each assist in changing the world through nonviolent means for social justice. It's something that is a life-changer."
That's the chicken and the egg economic development question cities like Duluth are increasingly asking. As I reported on All Things Considered, Duluth Mayor Don Ness has set a goal for Duluth to grow to 90,000 people by 2020.
To get there, Ness acknowledges the city has to come up with specific arguments for all age demographics "about why Duluth is a great place to live." For instance, Ness wants to position Duluth as a "premier place for active retirees" to relocate.
But the sweetspot, both in terms of population growth and long-term economic development, is luring and retaining educated young professionals.
There are a couple reasons why it's so important for cities like Duluth to target that 21-35 year-old demographic, according to Brookings Institution economist Joe Cortright.
First, "the peak demographic for moving in the U.S. is basically a 24 year old with a bachelors degree or more education," explains Cortright. That's when people are up for grabs. By your 35th birthday, your likelihood of moving across state lines drops by about half, and then continues to plummet. People get married, have kids, buy homes, get settled in careers, and it's much harder to convince them to uproot,
Second, young professionals are needed to replace the baby boom generation as it retires. Cortright says we're moving into a period of much slower labor force growth. As a result, "places that have a lot of talented workers, or to which it's relatively easy to attract others, are more attractive to growing businesses."
UMD senior Brian Spiese gets help with his LinkedIn profile from two student workers. Spiese is graduating in the fall with a degree in organizational management and wants to stay in Duluth, IF he can find a good job.
So how do you attract those workers that will in turn attact those growing businesses? With jobs, right? Mayor Ness points to companies like Maurice's that are growing, creating jobs, and investing in their facilities.
But Ness also relentlessly touts Duluth's quality of life. The growing network of hiking and mountain bike trails. The thriving arts and music scene downtown. The beauty of Lake Superior.
Ness says there are entrepreneurs in town who've started successful businesses (like GeaCom and Loll Designs) "who've chosen to live in Duluth and start their business in Duluth because of the trail system, because of the natural beauty of the city."
Economist Joe Cortright says there's truth to that. "We know that talented folks have lots of choices about where to live," he says. So cities need to sell their strengths, what differentiates them from other communities.
It seems to be working in Duluth. The 2010 census showed the city gained 4,000 people between the ages of 20 and 34.
Don Ness isn't satisfied yet. He wants Duluth to compete, not with Rochester and Bemidji and Morehead, but with thriving mid-size cities like Boulder, Colo., and Asheville, NC.
"Those are communities that have that strong sense of place, a strong university community, and young, creative entrepreneurs want to live in those communities because of the quality of life elements that they bring."
"Duluth has all of those variables in spades," Ness argues. "Now we just need to culminate that into one common vision, and start to be a growing community."
Duluth police and business and political leaders call the city "Ground Zero" in the statewide fight against synthetic marijuana. That's largely because of one man, Jim Carlson, who says he has made millions of dollars selling "spice" out of his downtown headshop, Last Place on Earth.
But a bill that has now cleared both the Minnesota House and Senate could shut down that portion of Carlson's business. The bill would strengthen an existing law passed last year that tried to crack down on the sale of synthetics. This law would slap more severe penalties on their sale and empower the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to quickly add new drugs to the list of illegal compounds.
The idea, according to one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, is to keep one step ahead of "home chemists," who would slightly alter the composition of synthetic drugs to evade the law. "Instead of having to inscribe into law every single analog or derivation that might come," explained Reinert, "the state board is able to say, 'that's just a variation of something that we have deemed illegal in state law, therefore it falls under that same umbrella category.'"
Jim Carlson, for his part, says he's "definitely going to go after" the new law, which is modeled after similar legislation passed in Kansas. "The reason it's stuck in other states," Carlson said, "is because nobody's challenged it."
Carlson fought a Duluth law trying to ban the sale of synthetic drugs, and also challenged the bill passed last year by the state legislature. Duluth police raided his shop last September, but have yet to press charges. This new law, if passed, would make selling sythetic drugs a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Sen. Reinert said he believes Governor Dayton could sign the bill by the end of the week.
In Duluth, to get an up-close look at the city's aging water infrastructure, just drive down 4th Street in front of Whole Foods Co-op. You'll be detoured around a huge crater in the street, where the city is replacing a collapsing manhole.
Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Co-op
The city of Duluth maintains hundreds of miles of underground water pipes and tunnels, dating back to the early 1900s. City utilities workers repair over 100 water main breaks a year. Last December Duluth was highlighted in a documentary called Liquid Assets Minnesota, which highlighted the pressures on an aging infrastructure. When the film was released, Duluth Mayor Don Ness said that "as a nation, we have neglected our water system and we're paying the price in the form of very expensive water main leaks and breaks."
Now Ness, along with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and other leaders across the country, has signed on to an open letter urging the Obama Administration and Congress to reinvest in public water systems.
The letter highlights the findings of a new report called Public Water Works! by the group Corporate Accountability International. According to the report, U.S. public water systems face a $23 billion per year investment gap.
MPR News Dan Kraker: "Superior National Forest District Rangers and Ron Stoffel, the Wildfire Suppression Supervisor for the DNR, say they have not heard any reports of smoldering or burning in the Pagami Creek fire area. Superior National Forest District Ranger Mark Van Every says there hasn't been any smoke reported since January. But with the remaining snow cover melting fast, he says they could potentially see some smoldering activity soon."
That contradicts a report lacking attribution from the Northland News Center that was featured on Minnesota Today's morning update.
Minnesota Today: Boundary Waters News
Update 3/19: Commissioner Nelson says the year should have said 2030, not 2013.
A campaign by the St. Louis County commission to promote copper-nickle mining along the Iron Range is floating some fishy job numbers.
A pamphlet and a page on the commission's website touts: "New, nonferrous projects in Minnesota have the potential to add more than $2.7 billion to the state's economy and another 7,000 new jobs by 2013."
That phrase was parroted by Northland News Center's Kevin Jacobsen after a cheeky report on the "Hug a Ranger" campaign.
Blogger Aaron Brown has a more realistic reaction to the claim, "This is patently insane."
PolyMet, the copper-nickel project furthest along, puts job estimates at 300 construction jobs and 360 "permanent" jobs. None of those estimates are tied to 2013.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has narrowed down its options to relocate a mile-long section of Highway 53 between Virginia and Eveleth, including a route costing upwards of $60 million that would steer motorists over a new bridge spanning high across an abandoned mining pit.
MnDOT has released a large scoping document laying out four alternative options for the new highway route. The public has until April 4 to comment on the document. A public meeting will be held March 27 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Mountain Iron Community Center.
For over fifty years, the state has operated a short stretch of highway just south of Virginia on an easement granted by US Steel (now RGGS Land and Minerals Co.). But nearly two years ago, United Taconite, which is owned by the giant mining company Cliffs Natural Resources, told the state it intended to mine iron ore located underneath the highway that it owns the rights to, near the Mineview in the Sky overlook.
Minnesota does have the option to purchase the rights to the iron ore underneath the highway. But with an estimated price tag of $400 to $600 million dollars, that's a longshot. More likely is one of two proposed realignments: one that would traverse part of the Auburn Pit, an area that's been mined out of iron ore; or another that would travel around an old water-filled mine called the Rouchleau Pit. That option is estimated to cost up to $85 million.
Several Iron Range lawmakers like DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia have long favored the route over the Auburn Pit. Last year Rukavina said if that route's approved "people are going to be driving right through our own Grand Canyon of the north."
It will stil be several years before drivers enjoy a new view, wherever it is. MnDOT isn't required to have the new highway finished until the spring of 2017.
Duluth News Tribune: "About eight members of a white supremacy group arrived at the Duluth Civic Center shortly after 10 a.m. today and were immediately confronted by dozens of people who had gathered in opposition."
Protesters against the white supremacist group showed up early to perform a ceremonial ritual with the Native Americans, using tobacco to represent their prayers and offerings. Photo credit: Rachel Kraft for MPR News
Robert Hester in a debate with anti-racist protesters. Many protesters were throwing snowballs at the white supremacist members. According to eye witnesses, two protesters were detained for the throwing of snowballs. Photo credit: Rachel Kraft for MPR News
The Duluth Police Department stood guarding the entrance to the city hall where the protest took place. Many stray snowballs thrown by protesters at the white supremacist group ended up on the cops behind them. Photo credit: Rachel Kraft for MPR News
The white supremacist group rushes inside as the anti-racism protesters push them up against the police. After the police led them to safety inside, many protesters took to targeting the Duluth Police Department with chants calling them supporters of racism. Photo credit: Rachel Kraft for MPR News
PolyMet Mining Corp. has announced plans to restore farmland in Minnesota to wetlands. The company is proposing to mine for copper and nickle in wetlands near Hoyt Lakes and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is required to create one acre of wetland for everyone it destroys or impairs. Environmentalists caution that not all wetlands are created equal.
"PolyMet must ensure that it has adequate acreage of suitable land that can be converted into replacement/mitigation wetlands," PolyMet spokeswoman LaTisha Gietzen said. She adds that the wetlands "together with our existing wetland mitigation options, will ensure that we have more than enough mitigation acres to meet the requirements."
Friends of the Boundary Waters policy director Betsy Daub doubts the wetland will be of equal value. "It appears PolyMet wishes the Minnesota public to believe that replacing high-quality, hundreds-of-year-old peatlands with agricultural land is wetlands replacement and mitigation. It is not."
Daub continues, "Any replacement wetlands should be located close to the wetlands that are proposed to be destroyed. Otherwise the very important functions of those wetlands - such as water filtration, waterfowl habitat, storm water storage - will be lost from that area. Minnesotans need to know the truth: the PolyMet mine would result in the largest permitted destruction of wetlands in Minnesota history. Replacing this with farmland is not acceptable. PolyMet's proposal should be resoundly rejected by the State of Minnesota and the public."
In a press release PolyMet indicated the "transaction will close upon approval by appropriate securities regulatory authorities, which is anticipated in early March."
Mining news from Minnesota Today
Minnesota Power, the utility serving northeastern Minnesota, has announced it will pay up to 60 percent, or $20,000, of the cost of a new solar electric system.
Homes and businesses would also be eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit, in addition to rebates for meeting energy efficiency standards and for nonprofit or tax-exempt customers. That means a typical residential solar system costing $40,000, could cost as little as $8,000 to the buyer.
But to maximize the size of their rebate, customers need to puchase solar products manufactured in Minnesota. That qualifies them for an additional $1,000 per installed kilowatt "Minnesota Made incentive," on top of the utility's existing base rebate of $2,000/kW.
The incentive for locally manufactured equipment matches an existing program already offered by Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility. But currently only two companies manufacture solar panels in the state, TenKsolar in Bloomington, and Silicon Energy, which recently opened a manufacturing plant in Mountain Iron.
Dan Williams, vice president of a Champlin-based solar installation company, told Midwest Energy News that the "Made in Minnesota" rebate programs help Minnesota-made solar equipment compete with cheap Chinese imports. Williams, whose company is called Powerfully Green, said a three kilowatt project with Silicon Energy panels might cost $25,000. But with Xcel Energy's Minnesota made rebate, he said, the homeowner's bill is only about $5,000.
The Un-fair Campaign has made quite a splash since it was unveiled only two weeks ago. The campaign is intended to raise awareness about "white privilege" -- institutional racism that gives white people unearned advantages over others simply because of the color of their skin.
But its provocative billboards have sparked a backlash in Duluth and beyond. A Facebook group called the "Stop Racist Unfair Campaign" has attracted hundreds of members critical of the campaign's tactics.
Other parts of the country are also taking note. KPCC, the major public radio station in Los Angeles, aired a 40-minute segment on the campaign on the Patt Morrison Show.
Organizers are now moving on to its second phase, a series of discussions, speeches and films scheduled around Duluth. They aim to encourage dialogue and move beyond the soundbites featured on the billboards.
The first event take place at 7 p.m. tonight, with the screening of a video talk called "Power, Privilege and Difference" by sociologist Allan Johnson, at the First United Methodist Church. Others, including a series of three community dialogues facilitated by the St. Paul Foundation as part of their Facing Race Initiative, are scheduled throughout February and beyond.(13 Comments)
Scientists are gearing up for construction this spring of a 15,000-ton neutrino particle detector that will be housed in a facility on the Ash River Trail, about 40 miles southeast of International Falls.
The detector will be part of a scientific investigation into the role of subatomic particles in the origin of the universe, according to a story in the The Journal newspaper in International Falls.
The lab is part of the University of Minnesota's School of Physics and Astronomy. The detector will be on the receiving end of particles shot through the earth from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. The Ash River site was selected because it's the furthest possible location in the United States that's in a direct line from the Illinois lab.
Researchers say the new facility will expand the University of Minnesota's international reputation as a leader in neutrino research. The university also operates the Soudan Underground Laboratory near Tower, Minn.
Project spokesman Gary Feldman, a Harvard University professor, told The Journal the facility itself is now finished and preparations have begun to build the detector. Construction will begin in April and is expected to continue over the next year and a half.
Lab officials are now in the hiring phase. There's currently a crew of 14, but the construction team will grow to 40 by this spring.
Here's a Fermilab report that explains the scientific goals of the project.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided more than $40 million for the project.
"The Grey" is the new thriller starring Liam Neeson, who leads a stranded group of oil-rig roughnecks to safety in the remote Alaskan wilderness while being stalked by a vicious pack of rogue wolves.
The film is doing quite well in theaters, taking in nearly $20 million through this past weekend.
But the International Wolf Center in Ely isn't thrilled with the action flick. In the Center's blog Wild Bytes, Jo Tubbs, the International Wolf Center's board chair, calls the movie "dark, depressing, and as accurate a portrayal of wolf behavior as King Kong was about gorillas."
The Center is nominating The Grey for its first ever Scat Award, in the Scare Tactics and Silly Information categories. The educational center's main complaint, according to Tubbs, is that wolves in the movie are portrayed as killers, "when the incidence of wolves killing humans in North America is so rare as to garner huge headlines."
She says only two cases have been documented--a 2005 killing by wolves in Saskatchewan, and a 2010 death near Chignik Lake, Alaska.
There are now about 3,000 wolves in Minnesota. The state's Department of Natural Resources took over management of the wolves last Friday after wolves in the Great Lakes region were removed from Endangered Species list.(11 Comments)
A no-good solar-stealing thief is undermining a conservation project in Northern Minnesota that is attempting to establish a grove of Northern White Cedar trees.
Conservationists have had a difficult time establishing a grove of the trees. It seems the critters would rather eat the seedlings today than have a snack while enjoying shelter among the more mature trees. So a group of conservationists erected an electric fence to keep deer away as the trees matured. Along with the fence, the thief stole solar panels and a battery that were used to power the fence.
DNR: "The seedlings are not a size where they will survive without continued protection, said Larry Petersen, International Falls area wildlife manager. "This is the second equipment theft at the location, and with a remote site, relatively easy access, and limited security options, it could continue. It's too bad one individual has to ruin a project that involved the hard work of so many people - including the MDHA volunteers whose fundraising efforts provided $7,500 for the initial project costs."
The state Department of Natural Resources reports the items stolen in the recent incident are worth $1,000. The future of the project appears to be in jeopardy.
Jewel, a black bear in Ely, is about to give birth. Jewel is the sister of Lily, the bear thousands watched give birth via her den cam two years ago. You can check in on Lily and her cub, Faith, over here on the North American Bear Center.
One of Lily's cubs, Jason, died from an undetermined cause. Another of her cubs, Hope, was shot by a hunter during last year's bear season. Lily's cub Faith, at nearly one year old, seems to be doing well.
People traveling on U.S. Highway 2 between Cass Lake and Grand Rapids may notice some unusual construction activity this week.
Utility companies constructing the CapX2020 high power transmission line are using a helicopter and implosive devices on the project. That phase of the work is expected to continue through April.
The helicopter will fly close to new transmission structures near Highway 2 in Cass and Itasca counties. The aircraft is being used to install conductor wire along the power line corridor.
Construction crews will also use implosive connectors to splice transmission conductor joints. The spit-second detonation creates a flash and a loud boom.
A video of the process is posted on the CapX2020 web site.
Project safety manager Eric Hamm is advising travelers not to stop and gawk at the work.
"Stopping along the road or work area increases the likelihood of vehicle accidents and may distract workers, making their jobs more dangerous as well," said Hamm.
Power company officials say similar work on the 230kV transmission line will happen early this summer at the other end of the line, between Wilton, west of Bemidji, and Cass Lake.
Company officials say the new line will improve electric service reliability and support growth in the region.
The project is owned by Minnkota Power Cooperative, Minnesota Power, Xcel Energy, Great River Energy and Otter Tail Power Company.
By Dan Kraker
Duluth, Minn. — The city of Duluth laid out its strategy Thursday in an increasingly fractious dispute with the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Band.
For the past two years, Duluth and the band have been fighting over revenue generated at the downtown Fond du Luth casino.
A federal judge ruled last month the Band is no longer obligated to share slot machine earnings with the city. If upheld, that would cost the city about $6 million a year.
The city has appealed. If the ruling stands, Duluth may have another option. Mayor Don Ness said the original contract would then allow the city to close the casino.
"We become the leaseholder, and no gaming can take place on that site without the written consent of the city," Ness said. "That is the protection that we have, and we need to be ready to exercise those rights."
Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver disagrees with that assessment, and said Duluth has not reached out to the Band to try to resolve their differences.
"I'm a little dismayed that the mayor continues to keep this issue in the public eye," Diver said. "It really seems that he is trying to cultivate some racial intolerance against the Band and its members."
The mayor said he's never made the dispute into a racial issue. Rather, he said, it's simply a very public contractual disagreement.(10 Comments)
The havoc that aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels have wreaked on the Great Lakes and beyond has been well documented. They reproduce faster than rabbits, suck up plankton off lake floors, starving native species, and clog water intake pipes.
Zebra mussels, along with nasty critters like sea lamprey and those great flopping river acrobats Asian carp, have given invasive species a bad rap -- often very deservedly so. But new research suggests that the most recent Great Lakes invader may actually help their new home.
The "bloody red shrimp" was discovered in Lake Michigan in 2006. They've spread to all of the Great Lakes except Lake Superior. Like zebra mussels, they likely hitched a ride from the Black and Caspian seas in eastern Europe in the ballast tanks of ocean-going freighters. Requirements for ships to exchange ballast water at sea have since slowed the introduction of non-native species to the Great Lakes.
New research shows that the little crustacean, so named for its bright red spots, has become food for native species like yellow perch and alewife.
Mike Yuille, a graduate student at Ontario's Queens University, tells UPI that "forecasting how an invader will affect the growth and production of a specific native fish species is very relevant to conservation groups and government agencies hoping to conserve those fish." Yuille's findings will be published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.
But the relationships among native and non-native species are complex. Yuille's research also suggests that round gobies have incorporated the shrimp into their diet. Gobies are another aquatic invasive species, also brought over to the Great Lakes from far eastern Europe in ballast water.(4 Comments)
Posted at 5:00 PM on November 8, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
The four candidates seeking the DFL nomination in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District discussed the jobs, the economy, sulfide mining and other important issues facing their district during an online forum hosted by MPR News earlier today. Each of the candidates shared a few closing thoughts with MPR about the forum. Rep. Chip Cravaack has also responded. Here's what they had to say in the order they were received:
Rick Nolan: Thanks again to MPR and all who participated in a great candidate forum.
Let me just return to the points I made at the onset. This campaign for the 8th District DFL Congressional endorsement boils down to two deciding factors.
First, jobs. Which DFL candidate possesses real-life experience necessary to hit the ground running and provide effective job-generating leadership in Washington?
I'm not just talking about voting right. I'm talking about getting out front and fighting for the middle class - our miners, loggers, small businesses, seniors and working families - with jobs and infrastructure funding, pension protection, Employee Free Choice legislation, and with bills to absolutely protect Medicare and Social Security.
With six years previously served, I'll enter Congress with the seniority of a 4th termer, and hard experience leading tough battles for regular people in committee and on the floor of the House.
And second, who is best able to defeat Chip Cravaack, a failed Congressional experiment, and send him home to New Hampshire?
I won three consecutive Congressional elections in a conservative district (Republicans preceded and succeeded me) by an average of 58% of the vote. And I raised the record amounts of money necessary to do it.
In campaigning as in governing, real life experience counts.
Daniel Fanning: Thanks for the opportunity to discuss important issues. An hour is barely enough time to scratch the surface - but I look forward to the ongoing discussion over the year. What's clear from the debate is we all have different depths of knowledge of federal issues concerning our 8th District and different styles. I prefer the Wellstone Way: straightforward, honest and informed. You may not agree with me on every issue, but you'll know where I stand and why. No more politics as usual. I am the only candidate that addressed every question, including the reroute of the North Country Trail and that I'm aware there hasn't been a sulfide mining project where technology was able to mitigate environmental damage. That's not to say it can't be done (if anyone can do it right, we can) but we must have honest conversations, ask tough questions and act responsibly. That's the new leadership we need in Congress - long term solutions, not just quick fixes, generalizations and more empty rhetoric. Aside from a few typos, I wouldn't change a single answer. If folks have more questions or want to chat, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, (218) 206-1268, or visit www.fanningforcongress.com. Thanks again!
Jeff Anderson: I want to thank MPR for hosting today's online forum. It's great for citizens to hear from the candidates running for Congress here in the 8th. This is such an important race for the people of Minnesota. We have a chance to take back the 8th and replace Rep. Cravaack with a leader who knows the district and is interested in working with citizens, elected officials and different constituencies to create jobs and opportunities for working people in the district. We've seen Rep. Cravaack's true colors. He has voted against funding for programs to assist homeless veterans; he's supported the Ryan Budget Plan which would end Medicare as we know it; he's supported ending air service to places like Brainerd, International Falls and Hibbing; and he refuses to raise taxes on billionaires, Big Oil, and Wall Street fat cats. We need a Congressman who is one of us - and who will stand with us. We need a Congressman who knows the challenges and opportunities that face the people of the 8th. The next generation of Minnesota prosperity is on its way, but only if we have a partner in Washington. I'm ready to go to work for you.
Tarryl Clark: This election is critical. We need a member of Congress who is going to stand up and fight for our priorities: well-paying, sustainable jobs and making good on our promises to our seniors, veterans and our children's future. I'm committed to making sure that families and communities - not Wall Street are being heard in Washington. We have the opportunity to create jobs here in the 8th district while strengthening programs like Medicare and Social Security, but our current member of Congress is more interested in advocating for the Ryan Plan to kill Social Security and gut Medicare. I'm the only candidate in this race that has been fighting for the priorities of our families and communities for the past 23 years. As a youth minister, founder of Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, Senior law attorney, and director of the statewide Community Action agency, I worked to improve the lives of seniors, veterans, families and communities. As a State Senator, I helped write laws that put the priorities of our families and communities first and I'm already working to help create jobs here in Minnesota as the co-chair of the national Jobs21! Initiative. Thank you to MPR for hosting this forum and I would appreciate having your vote next November.
Rep. Chip Cravaack: Since entrusted to serve this office, it has been my duty to be visible and accessible to residents of the 8th Congressional District.
It's been my privilege to provide constituents with 12 public town hall meetings, 5 seniors' town halls, 10 tele-townhalls, and mobile offices in over 120 Minnesota cities.
I ran for Congress because the status quo in the 8th District was unacceptable.
I've disagreed with President Obama and members of my own party on how best to address the country's economic troubles. I supported the Cut-Cap-and-Balance plan. This legislation would have reduced the deficit, provided enforceable caps on future spending, protected Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans' Benefits - and also contained a balanced budget amendment. The plan passed by the House does none of these things. I also defend Davis Bacon provisions that protect working families' take home pay.
I remain focused on creating more jobs for the 8th District by protecting our precious industries and directing our limited resources towards our most urgent infrastructure needs. I will continue to work with my colleagues on bi-partisan, common-sense solutions to the problems facing our country.
Please feel free to contact me on issues of importance to you. Thank you.
Posted at 3:46 PM on November 8, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
Posted at 6:00 AM on October 31, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
MPR News wants to pose your questions to the Minnesota Democrats vying for the DFL nomination in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District and the chance to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.
Submit your questions and vote on other submissions over here. Alternatively, post your questions in the comment section.
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" old-time variety radio show has helped make Lake Wobegon famous. A new public radio show debuting this Saturday hopes to bring the same kind of storytelling, humor and music home to the Iron Range.
The "Great Northern Radio Show" premiers on KAXE in Grand Rapids. It will be hosted and produced by Balsam Township author and well-known blogger Aaron Brown, who writes about Iron Range politics and culture. Brown says the show's format borrows from A Prairie Home Companion, with one very important geographic distinction.
"Everything we do is focused a little north of Lake Wobgeone," he explains. Think lumberjacks and miners rather than bachelor farmers.
Brown says the show will also incorporate "interviews and feature journalism" that will be woven in with music, comedic sketches and a radio drama -- "blended gently like vegetable shavings into a cake." Brown says that aspect of the show borrows from another one of public radio's flagship programs, "This American Life."
On the first show, titled "Hard Time Good Times," Brown will interview a Range meteorologoist and tornado chaser, philosophy students from Hibbing Community College, and a woman who swims the Iron Range's abandoned mining pits. Storyteller Ed Nelson from the Grand Rapids Forest History Center will spin a new yarn about the old Range.
Brown says in some ways Iron Range communities are similar to "Lake Wobegone" or other Midwestern small towns. There are no secrets, he explains, and your past always follows you around wherever you go. But on the Range, he says, there's "so much more open conflict and friction, that's produced a little bit edgier cultural element than you see in traditional Midwestern lore."
Not too long ago, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack was on the defensive in the 8th Drisrtict for not holding a public town hall meeting in Duluth, his district's largest city, while hosting meetings in the tiny rural communities of Deer River and Grand Portage.
Cravack, a freshman Republican in Congress, eventually relented after being confronted by protestors outside a lunch meeting, and held a spur of the moment meeting at the Duluth airport on Aug. 25.
But lately, Cravaack has been spending a lot of time in Duluth. On Oct. 7, he's hosting a third "roundtable" with interested stakeholders in Polymet, the controversial proposed copper-nickel open pit mine in Hoyt Lakes, to get an update on the permitting process. Last week, he held separate meetings with doctors, seniors, and even middle school students.
The event at Woodland Middle School was closed to the media, but afterwards I asked him, "why all the love for Duluth?"
Cravaack said he was in Duluth a lot even before the town hall. And again he laid out how accessible he's been to his constituents, saying he's held 13 town halls and over 100 "mobile offices" where members of his staff meet with people in communities across the district.
"If someone has a bigger plan," he said, "I'd like to hear it."
The AP suggested Cravaack is increasing his face-time in Duluth to gear up for what's expected to be a tough re-election campaign. With Daniel Fanning, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Al Franken entering the race yesterday, four Democrats are now vying for the right to challenge him in 2012.
But Cravaack denied that, saying he's just doing his job. "I serve at the discretion of the people in the 8th District," he said. "If they think I've done a good job, then they'll re-elect me. If they don't, then good luck to the next person."
Elected leaders in Hibbing continue to make their case for air service. Delta airline officials confirmed plans over the summer to reduce or eliminate service to 24 small markets in the Midwest. Delta officials indicated they would like to continue service to Hibbing, but need an increase in its government subsidy to do so.
Hibbing mayor Rick Cannata and City Councilor Patty Shafer discussed the matter with the New York Times:
Q. Delta says the flights are not nearly full, and that it is losing money. Why should they keep flying to Hibbing?
Ms. Shafer: "A lot of these big companies don't care about the people. They just don't care about the needs of people anymore. They only care about their bottom line. If that isn't greed, what is it? It's crazy."
Mr. Cannata: "We're a mining community so we have ups and downs. A lot of the younger people are moving away. One of the reasons I ran for office was to bring manufacturing jobs to Hibbing. There is a big market now for copper-nickel. It is used in cellphones and computers. Northern Minnesota is going to have a booming industry, which is one of the reasons we need to keep the flights. If these airlines are doing this just because they are not making enough money ... Sometimes if smaller counties aren't able to meet their needs they could still provide a service. They should be kind of, you know, they should meet the needs of the people. They should be sympathetic to that. It will be devastating for Hibbing. Businesses will probably be lost."
Part of the rationale for cutting service is that Delta is retiring the Saab turboprops that serve most of these markets. Here's a view of takeoff from MSP in one of the planes.
Researchers with the state Department of Natural Resources monitor about 35 radio-collared black bears in northern Minnesota, and they're asking people heading out for the bear hunting opener Sept. 1 to be careful not to shoot them.
Most of the radio-collared bears are in northwest Minnesota, especially near Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area and the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. But researchers are also keeping track of bears in the Chippewa National Forest, Voyageurs National Park, Camp Ripley, the Cloquet Forestry Station and near the Eagles Nest chain of lakes in northern St. Louis County.
The bears are marked with large colorful ear tags or colorful streamers.
DNR bear research biologist Dave Garshelis said he hopes hunters will be especially vigilant, because the state has a lot of money invested in the collared bears.
"These animals provide long-term data on reproduction and habitat use that is invaluable for bear management across the state," Garshelis said. "Researchers have invested an enormous amount of time and expense in these individuals."
Many of the collars have global positioning units that collect and store data, which is downloaded by researchers when they visit the bears in their dens.
Shooting a collared bear isn't necessarily illegal. DNR officials say they recognize that hunters might not see a tag or collar in some situations.
Hunters who accidentally shoot a collared bear should call the DNR's Wildlife Research office in Grand Rapids at 218-327-4146.
Posted at 7:17 PM on August 23, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
Amid mounting pressure, 8th District GOP congressman Chip Cravaack has announced he will hold an open town hall meeting tomorrow afternoon at the Duluth airport (Capitol View).
MPR's Dan Kraker reports:
Cravaack, a freshman Republican who represents Minnesota's 8th District, has been taken to task by constituents and national publications for the meetings he's held during the August recess. The only free, open-to-all meetings took place only in relatively remote places that are long drives from Duluth.
Political observers say such tactics increasingly are taken by politicians to avoid events that often produce heated public exchanges such as the heated town hall meetings that followed votes by Congress on the federal health care overhaul.
The non-profit International Falls arts group Icebox Radio Theater continues its "Koochi-Koochi Tour" on Wednesday with the premiere of the romantic comedy "Love Lines.
Written by International Falls Icebox founder Jeffrey Adams, "Love Lines" is the story of three couples who find themselves stuck in an extremely long line to re-enter the United States after running errands in a neighboring Canadian community.
"Long line-ups at the border are a fact of life here in the summertime," said Adams, a playwright who moved from Oregon to International Falls in 2004. "'Love Lines' is about three local couples, people who cross back and forth all year to visit friends or shop. Usually folks like that try and avoid summer afternoons. U.S. and Canadian customs both do a great job, but sometimes the number of vehicles is just to great and the wait gets long."
Adams and his troupe of about 30 performers have produced original audio plays in the tradition of old-time radio theater. They often reflect the quirky side of life in International Falls. Wednesday's show will also feature original songs, skits and comedy.
It will be simulcast on the web on Sound Stages Radio.
The play will be performed at 7 p.m. in the bandshell in the Falls' Smokey Bear Park. Admission is free, and spectators are advised to bring their own seating.
Posted at 6:14 PM on August 1, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
The House of Representatives votes 269-161 to pass a bill to increase the United States' debt ceiling, a day before the deadline. Among those voting no on the bill were Minnesota Reps. Chip Cravaack and Michele Bachmann (MPR News).
Posted at 10:43 AM on July 20, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Arrowhead
Duluth Mayor Don Ness won't face an opponent as he seeks reelection. At 4:30p.m. Thursday afternoon the deadline to submit papers to become a mayoral candidate passed without any challengers trying to add their name to the ballot.
Breaking News: Duluth Mayor Don Ness running unopposed. #dlh
The Duluth New Tribune writes that Ness has an approval rating of 86 percent.
An annual survey of Duluth residents finds mostly improved opinions about the state of the city. ... Ness isn't the only one enjoying a more positive report. The City Council's job performance rating jumped 10 percentage points over the past year, from 58 percent to 68 percent.
Ness running unopposed stands out in the city where a contested congressional race could change the partisan lineup of the U.S. House after the 2012 elections.
Incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack is seeking a second term while his family moves to New Hampshire. The Republican has a line of challengers hoping to face him in the November election. They aren't faring as well as Cravaack in early fundraising, but the nominated DFL candidate could benefit from outside money in the general election.
Here's another example of mixed signals being sent by the state Department of Natural Resources on the status of fishing license laws during the state government shutdown: Voyageurs National Park officials apparently had an arrangement with their local DNR conservation officers to allow fishing to continue in the park for people who didn't have a license.
Voyageurs National Park Superintendent Mike Ward told The Journal newspaper of International Falls that a lot of people visiting the park were concerned about how to get a license during their visit. License sales have been halted since the state government shutdown began July 1.
Ward told the paper he was informed by local DNR officers that they would allow people fishing without a license to get one later, without penalty.
"We queried the DNR, and we assume these people would be following the rules if the state was open," Ward told the paper. "So they're gathering the information so when the state reopens, they will have a time period when they can get a license, and won't be fined or cited."
Crow Wing County leaders last week talked publicly about similar messages coming from their local conservation officers. That prompted DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr to issue a statement saying there would be no free pass for unlicensed anglers during the shutdown.
It appears local DNR officers are trying to be sensitive to resorts and other tourism related businesses worried the unavailability of fishing licenses will chase away out-of-state visitors. It's likely those conservation officers are as anxious as anyone for the shutdown to come to an end.
Duluth, like many cities and towns in Greater Minnesota, continues to struggle to retain and attract intelligent and skilled labor. The port city boasts institutions of higher education, but fails to keep the best and brightest.
There are indications that the so-called brain drain is lessening, but over the next 10 years an estimated 75,000 positions will need to be filled in Eastern Minn. and Western Wisc., so to increase their chances of recruiting talented workers during that time the City of Duluth is striving to create a more streamlined hiring process. The Duluth News Tribune reports the update is long overdue.
That's because the city's civil service code used in hiring the majority of the city's 825 employees was created in the 1940s. It has received minor updates over the years, but it's slow and cumbersome, and it sometimes causes the city to lose the best candidates for a job, according to a recent report from the Mayor's Workforce Recruitment Task Force.
The current hiring process for the city, according to the paper, ranges between six and 18 months.(1 Comments)
The weather outside is having a chilling effect on success for anglers in search of the state's prized catch.
A scroll through DNR officer reports adds to the disappointment.
CO Brad Schultz (Cook) reports fishing remains slow; however, a few area lakes had a good pan fish bite going on. Nuisance beaver complaints continue. People are reminded to leave the young of the year animals alone.
While nuisance beavers are keeping things interesting in Cook, fishing still was slow in Grand Rapids.
Water Resource Enforcement Officer Tony Arhart (Grand Rapids) Angler success was sporadic again, with some walleyes in the live wells. Mosquitoes are thick.
No fish and mosquitoes? Maybe the state should just shutdown the parks. But wait, there are signs of hope in Grand Marais.
CO Darin Fagerman (Grand Marais) reports that fishing started to pick up toward the end of the week. Nice catches of walleye were seen in the live wells. The water temps on inland lakes are still cold for this time of the year. The CO and his daughter were out fishing during the week when a moose cow came out along the shore with a new born calf. The moose spent a lot of time along the shore and in the water. The calf was still a little clumsy, but it made for a few nice pictures.(2 Comments)
Within the next four years nearly a quarter million Minnesota seniors will be living in areas with little to no access to public transportation. That's finding is part of a new analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
The Alexandria Echo Press provides some added context.
"The aging rural population is starting to explode, we are just seeing the beginnings of it," says Pam Smith, Marketing/Public Relations Coordinator of Arrowhead Transit, a nonprofit provider the report calls a model of best practices, using "effectively coordinated transportation services" which improves "service productivity and reduces costs by eliminating overlapping, duplicative and inefficient operations."
Without access to affordable travel options, seniors age 65 and older who no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out, and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family, than drivers of the same age, research shows. As the cost of owning and fuelling a vehicle rises, many older Americans who can still drive nonetheless will be looking for lower-cost options.
The scenario is particularly bad for Duluth. Click the maps below for a larger view.
Each map is color-coded at the Census block group level to show both the intensity of public transportation - whether "poor," "moderate" or "good" levels of service - and the density of seniors. By combining both variables into one scale, these maps show how "aging in place" creates a dramatic mismatch between transit services and senior demand. The first map for each case study overlays the population over 64 with areas of poor transit access in the year 2000. The second map shows the population age 65-79 projected to have poor transit access in 2015.Transit Access for Seniors Age 65 and Older in 2000 1 Comments)
Posted at 12:30 PM on April 1, 2011
by Bob Kelleher
Filed under: Arrowhead
I'm a sucker for an animal story, and there's a great one in the Duluth News Tribune.
It seems Minnesota Department of Transportation worker Christoper Smith was doing some cleanup on the sidewalk of the two-mile long Bong Memorial Bridge between West Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin, when he heard meowing.
There, some 20 feet beneath the bridge surface, was a cat, stuck on the concrete topping surface of of one of the piers that supports the bridge. There was no way for the cat to get back up, and the alternative would be a fatal leap to ice and water 80 or 90 feet below.
Smith, now with backup from another DOT worker and a Superior Police officer tried lowering a long nylon strap with hopes the cat might climb up, but no going.
Then Smith struck on the winning idea. He rigged up a bag which normally holds his safety harness and baited it with his lunch -- a nice, tasty venison sandwich. According to the story, once that treat reached the cat, the very hungry animal leaped right into the bag for the food.
A quick snap on the rope from above closed the bag. Smith bagged the cat and brought it up to safety on the surface.
While I'm not that crazy about cats, I can't help but be moved by an animal story with a happy ending. The cat is now spending a week in a local animal shelter, and its rescuer is considering adopting the feline if nobody claims it first.
It's a particularly nice counter to another, much sadder animal story that crept up this last week.
The Ely Timberjay reported last week on a terrible case of abuse on an Ely area farm in which horses, cows, and goats suffered and died with no food or water. A caged dog was not much better off. The person who found the animals could now face trespassing charges.
Man, I didn't like reading that story. It makes the rescue of one cat that much better.
True, the Census shows that Rochester overtook Duluth to become the 3rd most populace Minnesota city, but you still can't do this in the land of Mayo.
This is a view of the United Taconite taconite mine at Eveleth. Much of the landscape surrounding Eveleth has been altered by decades of mining. Under a new plan, that landscape will be altered yet again.
Imagine: a beautiful, high, four-lane bridge spanning an Iron Range taconite mine on the way to the city of Virginia. That's one option for moving Highway 53, which has to go to make room for taconite mining. And it's the option area State Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, wants to see.
State transportation officials are holding meetings to offer Virginia area residents various options to move this busy route. Cliff's Natural Resources United Taconite Company of Eveleth, and RGGS Land and Minerals, hold mineral rights to the iron under the highway, and they've sent notice they intend to mine it.
The current highway is a divided four-lane affair that takes traffic from Duluth up to Virginia and eventually, as a two-lane road, all the way to International Falls.
But business tends to drift to the nearest busy highway, and that's certainly the case in Virginia, where Highway 53 now rolls within a busy business corridor including a major local grocery store, hotels, restaurants and the city's shopping mall.
It's one thing to move the highway -- and no little thing that -- but quite another to return traffic to the retail area, or somehow move businesses to the traffic.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has offered more than half a dozen alternative routes for Highway 53. One would take it west, completely around the other side of Eveleth before rejoining its current route somewhere in Virginia. Another goes east, around Virginia on its other side.
There's also an option to leave it in place and purchase the mineral rights. But transportation officials say that iron ore is worth so much it's cheaper to move the four-lane highway, despite the $60-million estimated cost.
Then there are the direct routes.Two options would just move the road a little chink to the left for a couple of miles -- rejoining the current route before most of the businesses. Both routes would go right through United Taconite's "Thunderbird" mining operation. Logically, the road would rise on a bridge over the mine -- a spectacular view of the mine's Auburn pit, one of Minnesota's man-made taconite canyons.
Rukavina isn't interested in a ponderous decision. He and three area legislators have introduced a bill to speed up the process and limit the options to those last two, the routes through today's mining area.
As he told the Duluth News Tribune "people are going to be driving right through our own Grand Canyon of the north." The bill requires a decision by mid-March 2015 to allow construction to begin by that June.
The bill was filed March 7th and so far has gone to the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. State Sen. Dave Tomassoni,(DFL-Chisolm, has filed a companion bill in the Senate.
And you know what? It sounds like a practical solution to a thorny problem. Bring on the bridge. It's a nice drive now, although lacking much to look at beyond endless trees. A little bit of Grand Canyon would be a terrific addition.(1 Comments)
An environmental group has asked Minnesota regulators to take a hard look at the privately held international organization behind PolyMet Mining Corporation before approving any permits for its planned sulfide mining operation.
PolyMet Mining is perhaps a year away from obtaining the permits to open Minnesota's first sulfide mine for copper, nickel, and precious metals like platinum, palladium, and gold from an ore body near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt, Minn.
PolyMet has gotten this far with financial backing from Glencore International AG -- the target of some vehement criticism on several continents. Glencore is transforming itself into a publicly traded company.
The environmental organization WaterLegacy and environmental attorney Paula Maccabee have been looking at Glencore's record. Maccabee doesn't like what she sees, and she doesn't mince words talking about it.
"We discovered to our chagrin that Glencore, the important financial partner of the PolyMet mine, has had the reputation of being the worst corporation on the globe," Maccabee said. "We learned that the problems were economic, worker related problems, environmental harm, and in the case of a plant in France, the extraction of Glencore of the financial resources from its subsidiary, leaving a liability that the French government estimated at $400 million."
The report describes serious problems with the Mopani copper mine in Zambia, Africa, 73 percent of which is owned by a Glencore subsidiary. According to the report, 71 miners lost their lives at that operation in 2005. The report also provides some details of serious environmental degradation from a pipe rupture and an acid spill there. It notes that mine lost 1,000 jobs in 2008 and 2009 as copper prices fluctuated.
The report also finds environmental degradation in northern Colombia coal mines operated by Glencore subsidiaries.
All this mean should prompt additional scrutiny for PolyMet's proposed Minnesota project.
"Among the questions regulators need to be asking," Mccabee said, "is how is the financial assurance going to be provided for PolyMet? What is the role that Glencore International is going to play? Are its deep pockets going to be available for financial assurance, and what degree of control is Glencore International, with its spotty track record, going to have over the prospects and the practices of that future mine?"
Brad Moore, PolyMet Executive Vice President for Environment and Government Relations, said Glencore's control of the project will be minimal. Glencore is a minority partner in PolyMet and even if Glencore cashes in stock options it now holds, it's still a minority partner, he said.
Moore also said Glencore's record is irrelevant.
"Glencore is an investor," Moore said. "PolyMet is a company that will get the permits, and also will be the company that is responsible for the financial assurance under the laws of the State of Minnesota, and as a result, the mine that will be operated and permitted here in Minnesota has to conform to our laws and our regulators."
Moore, former commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said Minnesota law and Minnesota regulators provide the assurance of a clean mine operation.
"When the mine is actually developed and operated, adequate financial assurance must be in place, regardless of ownership," said Moore, also former assistant commissioner for operations of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "And the regulatory authorities in Minnesota will ensure that."
Details of PolyMet's financial assurance won't be completed until the permitting process is underway, Moore said. That follows the environmental review process which is now underway. A supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the project is expected late this spring or this summer.
Moore said PolyMet won't be able to line up financial assurances from investors until the environmental review is complete.
That's small comfort to Maccabee.
"What we're saying is not only PolyMet's scant resources, but the resources and practices of Glencore International, its huge capital partner, have to be investigated," Maccabee said.
Posted at 11:01 AM on March 2, 2011
by David Cazares
Filed under: Arrowhead
Lake County is beginning work on a $70 million project to bring a fiber connection to every residence in Lake County and parts of Eastern St. Louis County.
But the project could be held up by a federal complaint by cable provider Mediacom. It links problems between a key person who helped set up the Lake County project and his former post with a financially troubled Vermont broadband project.
Bob Kelleher, who covers northeast Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio News, discusses the story and others on his beat during Morning edition with Cathy Wurzer
Bob also discusses the sale of Cirrus Aircraft to the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company, run by the Chinese government and the Polymet mining project.
Voyageurs National Park officials will begin moving next month into a new park headquarters complex on the Rainy River in International Falls.The city development includes a natural grass amphitheater and future plans for a hotel, restaurant and other private development.
The federal government will lease the complex of buildings from the International Falls Economic Development Authority.
The development will be known as the James Oberstar Riverfront Complex, in honor of the longtime U.S. Democratic Congressman who was defeated last November. Here's a look at the layout: internationalfallscomplex.pdf
Mayor Shawn Mason says the development will be another tool for economic development for the area. She told International Falls' newspaper, The Journal, that the amphitheater performance area "adds another dimension to our way of life."
City officials are planning a big dedication celebration for July 2. It will include an amphitheater performance by the Canadian band Loverboy, and an international tug of war competition across the Rainy River between International Falls and Fort Frances, Ontario.
I reported the other day on some big changes with Lake County's fiber-to-the-premises broadband project.
You may recall Lake County has received a $10 million grant and a $56.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service to expand fiber optic service in the region. The money is coming through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Lake County is required to come up with another $3.5 million, making the total project a $70 million dollar venture.
We learned that Lake County is looking for a project manager, after county commissioners voted to end management negotiations with National Public Broadband; a St. Paul-based consultant that helped get the project planned and funded to this point.
The project is supposed to bring high speed internet, television, telephone and other services to everyone in Lake County who wants it, and to include parts of nearby eastern St. Louis County. It is designed to create redundant connections which would keep the network working even were there an unfortunate line cut somewhere.
But it's not something the people at the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota like to see. They contacted me after my last report, offering a letter they're sending to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Freedom Foundation of Minnesota Vice President Jonathan Blake writes Walden of his concerns that, as Lake County has multiple private companies already providing similar services, the project represents government competing with the private sector.
Blake says taxpayers are at risk, as demonstrated by the USDA's Rural Utilities Service insistence that Lake County come up with their match. (Lake County commissioners did approve money for the project at in this week's meeting.)
Freedom Foundation officials think the project lacks oversight and accountability, as demonstrated by dismissal of both National Public Broadband and a construction contractor.
They also say the project fails to deliver on promises of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act because that it creates a total of 42 permanent jobs, while a "vast majority of residents and businesses in the project's service area already have broadband services available to them."
The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is interested in limited government, and sees this project as an unnecessary expansion of government that hurts local business.
I've heard similar concerns from one of the area providers, Two Harbors-based Cooperative Light and Power, which provides high speed internet through its LakeNet Communications division.
But the fact is no one was bringing high-speed Internet to every resident of this rather large and sparsely populated county.
Instead, providers focused on the population centers, including the cities of Two Harbors and Silver Bay. If you lived in the woods some distance off Highway 1, you'd have little chance of ever getting a high-speed connection.
Now, I can't say whether a $70 million project is good government spending or not. And it remains to be seen how many people living in the woods are even interested in paying for a high-speed connection. Payback on that big government loan is supposed to come from user fees.
But we do rely on government for infrastructure like roads, and it's a government surtax, the Universal Connectivity Fee, that for years has paid for remote telephone infrastructure.
As much as a slam-dunk as this project may appear, it's fair to note that there's a camp that's philosophically opposed to this kind of spending; and you can count the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota among them.(2 Comments)
Doing nothing to deal with the financially-strapped Virginia Regional Medical Center can't be an option, Virginia Mayor Steve Peterson said last Friday during an online forum on the future of the hospital - and rural health care in general.
"This is really a difficult situation," Peterson said in the forum sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio News and the Iron Range's Hometown Focus. "If we as city leaders do nothing, what is the outcome? I fear a lot worse for all."
Peterson was joined by administrators at the hospital, including the hospital CEO, Bill Smith. We also invited those who could speak about rural health care in a broader sense, such as Al Vogt, chairman of the Minnesota Wilderness Health Care Coalition, a consortium of hospitals in northeast Minnesota.
Vogt said that when asked what it means for an independent hospital, like the city-owned Virginia facility, to merge with a larger system, he said:
"(T)hat's kind of asking what 'change' should look like. I do believe that a number of our members are looking at thier mission to their communities and doing what they can."The conversation continued with Jeff Tucker, president of Integrity Health Network, an organization based in Duluth that is working to keep hospitals like VRMC independent.
Tucker:"(Merger) has meant different things to different types of organizations. Where there's been duplication of services, it has meant consolidation or even elimination of positions. That's been more pronounced in clinic acquisitions. It has meant the elimination of competition in some markets which concerns us."
Mayor Steve Peterson: "Mr Tucker hit right on, A merger of our facility, could mean a duplication of some services and that doesnt always work out."But Peterson feels as though Virginia city leaders have no choice but to explore merger options. That's why the city is soliciting offers. This worries employees of the hospital. Sue (who didn't give a last name) said she's worked at the Virginia hospital for several years and said this it is "a community hospital, not a big business."
The mayor then responded:
Steve Peterson: Sue, we are trying to save our facility, but it may have a different look at the end of the day
Michael Caputo (MPR): These big changes... do they mean - more corporate?
Steve Peterson: Good question Michael, that could well be what happens. I bit later in the online forum, a commentator named Charles asked Peterson:
"Mayor, when you say it will have a different look at the end of the day, can you be more specific? Can you tell us the direction that you and the City Council have decided on?
Steve Peterson: "Charles, some of the things we are trying to determine is: What is our capacity? What can we do well and what can we offer to the community on a consistant basis? Who out there sees the value in us and how can we put it together?"
VRMC CEO Bill Smith: "We will do anything that makes economic sense--no options are off the table. But the focus needs to remain on servicing the community with a financially secure facility. (The bidding) process will hopefully help us figure out how to do that." Others in the online forum tried to address the fears of a hospital losing its community connection when it merges with a bigger system.
LeAnn Anderson: "I worked for Hibbing General Hospital back in the day, then for the University when they bought it and then eventually for Fairview. All the transitions were difficult, but in the end the hospital survived. Our jobs survived, and the hospital in Hibbing is still there."
Nancy Barnes, laboratory manager at VRMC: "I was at Allina Health System when we went through the Health Span, Health One, Allina mergers. Many people feared for their jobs, yet in reality, most job changes occurred through attrition. We saw many departments consolidate, but it improved quality and lowered cost. It was not a negative experience from my point of view."And still, people in the Virginia area needed assurances, like Anne (no last name given):
"If VRMC is taken over by a larger institution they could close VRMC, which would leave our community without a hospital at all. Unacceptable.
Mayor Steve Peterson: "Not on my watch, Anne"Let's explore this question of whether the community needs will get tossed aside if an independent hospital merges. What's your point of view?
Reality is beginning to sink in for students and staff at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College. School officials announced 10 percent budget cuts on the two campuses totaling $5 million.
The cuts will include the elimination of 50 jobs, including about 40 faculty positions from 18 academic programs.
"We simply have too many majors. We can't afford it," said Richard Hanson, the new president of BSU and NTC.
Hanson's plan calls for elimination of the environmental landscaping and massage therapy programs at NTC, and the art history program at BSU. Another BSU program is on the chopping block, but Hanson hasn't publicly announced which one.
In addition, BSU will lose its men's indoor and outdoor track and field programs.
Hanson describes the plan as a "recalibration" of resources. Some emerging programs in science and engineering will actually see more funding, as will the Native American studies program.
The loss of jobs will be tough for the community of Bemidji. But the cuts aren't surprising, either, given the state's $6.2 billion budget gap. What's yet to be seen is whether the cutbacks will impact student enrollment, which has been on the rise the past few years.
A Duluth beach walker came across these balls of fibrous stuff on a beach near the city's Lakewalk, not long after a New Year's Eve storm. The round bundles -- about the size of a plumb -- seemed to combine plant material and other things tightly wound with bits of plastic.
He left the bundles with his dad, long time resident Glenn Maxham, who took the oddities to the experts at Minnesota Sea Grant, a group that works to help preserve Lake Superior and its shores. Its members identified the things as "whale burps."
Also known as surf balls, they're are fairly common on ocean beaches worldwide.
But the source isn't as cute as the name. The balls apparently start with human junk, like left over fishing line, or in this case, some kind of partially degraded black plastic mesh. Whipped by a good wind, the plastic rolls along a beach, picking up seaweed, twigs, grass, shell fragments or what ever gets in the way.
Sea Grant notes the damage discarded plastics do on water bodies worldwide. When the plastics break down they release suspected cancer-causing chemicals like styrene monomer and bisphenol A, also known as BPA. Sea Grant quotes a United Nations Environmental Program estimate that some 46,000 pieces of plastic float in every square mile of ocean.
Even on Lake Superior, about a third of the refuse collected in an annual beach clean up is plastic, trailing only behind cigarette butts, which account for half.
Sea Grant suggests no need to wait for the annual beach cleanup. Anyone can grab a plastic bag and hit the beaches, providing, of course, they're not currently covered in snow.
We learned this week that an upstart Iron Range company, Magnetation, will push its iron recovery technology worldwide through international giant Cargill .
Magnetation is one of the more amazing stories coming out of Minnesota's Iron Range, a mining region that often produces rags rather than riches stories.
The company is using its patented technology, the Rev3 Separator, to recover marketable iron concentrate from old waste piles -- the stuff just left behind from northeast Minnesota's long natural iron mining industry. It's so promising that the people at Cargill's iron division, Cargill Ferrous International, recognize its worldwide potential -- enough to make an undisclosed investment into a partnership plan to explore how the process might be applied elsewhere.
Magnetation's heroes include long time Iron Range mining engineer Al Fritz, who came up with the process that apparently uses a lot of water and a big wheel to pull iron from not very magnetic hematite.
Larry Lehtinen is the company's CEO. Lehtinen's resume includes his part starting up Mesabi-Nugget, a partnership between Japan's Kobe Steel and lead partner Steel Dynamics Inc. in a new plant hear Hoyt Lakes, that company is producing iron nuggets with much higher iron concentration than today's taconite pellets.
Magnetation just inked an agreement to send concentrate by train from the Iron Range to a Mexican steel producer. When up and running, it will send 120 car unit trains of ore on a 1,500-mile journey to Mexico steel producer AHMSA. Even at that distance, Magentation can compete with ore from South America.
In fact, Lehtinen has said, Magnetation is the nation's lowest cost iron concentrate producer; beating out the taconite companies and rivals like Mesabi Nugget.
When founded a couple of years ago, Magnetation was envisioned as a warm weather producer that would work old waste piles in the sunnier seasons. Instead, the company put up a big bubble dome over the work site to allow year-round operations.
Magnetation has so far been working the old Mesabi-Chief Mine near Keewatin, turning out 160,000 metric tons a year.
While company officials haven't revealed terms of their deal with Cargill, they say they'll now be able to expand that operation to full production around 450,000 tons a year; and begin work on a second site, near the town of Taconite; which will help the combined operations approach one million tons a year.
There's so much recoverable ore laying around in waste piles, it could take 50 years to thin it out.
When done reprocessing waste piles, Magnetation plans to leave behind wetlands, that the company will be able to sell. Many companies need to purchase wetlands to mitigate wetland acres lost to new developments.
It's a good time to implement new ways to mine. Iron ore that sold for about $30 a ton in 2001, now trades at about $170 dollar a ton, according to Metal Bulletin Research's Iron Ore Index.
So, don't be surprised to see a bunch of Magnetation operations up north in the coming years, and quite possibly world-wide.
The Leech Lake Tribal Council will decide as early as next week the fate of Tribal Secretary-Treasurer Mike Bongo, who is under fire for making a questionable multi-million dollar loan to a local businessman.
Bongo is accused of taking $2.4 million from the tribal treasury and loaning it to a Walker businessman. The tribal constitution says that kind of transaction requires the approval of the full tribal council and the signature of the tribal chairman and the secretary-treasurer. But Bongo authorized the secret deal on his own and his was the only signature on the loan.
The tribal council hired former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug to investigate the loan. Lillehaug's report concluded that Bongo knowingly and negligently violated the band's laws and policies.
The recipient of the loan was Bill Bieloh. He was a well known Walker resident, and the founder of a big summer classic rock concert event in Walker called Moondance Jam. The big twist to this story is that Bieloh died of a massive heart attack in September, just a week after signing the loan with Bongo.
According to Lillehaug's report, Bieloh was supposed to have taken out a million dollar life insurance policy as a condition of the loan, but he had only a $500,000 policy when the deal was signed. Tribal officials say it's now unclear whether they'll be able to recover any of the money from Bieloh's estate.
The money came from a $3.5 million payment the band received from Enbridge Energy. The payment gave the company a right-of-way to run an oil pipeline across the reservation.
Lillehaug's report did not find any evidence that Bongo or anyone else involved in the loan benefited personally from the transaction. In several public meetings about the controversy, Bongo defended the loan, calling it an investment for the tribe, since the tribe was earning eight percent interest.
A petition signed by hundreds of band members charges Bongo with malfeasance in the handling of tribal affairs, dereliction or neglect of duty, refusal to comply with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's constitution and violation of the tribal laws of Leech Lake.
A tribal council hearing on the matter is set for Wednesday. Tribal leaders could vote to remove Bongo from office, or authorize a recall election.
The Grand Rapids based Blandin Foundation will see a leadership change next year. Foundation president and CEO Jim Hoolihan announced to the organization's board of trustees last week that he plans to return to the private sector by the end of 2011, according to the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
Hoolihan, a native of Grand Rapids, joined the Blandin Foundation in 2004 following 12 years as a member of the board of trustees
Hoolihan plans to return to his family's multi-generational business, Industrial Lubricant Company of Grand Rapids.
I reported earlier about concern in northeastern Minnesota that the Minnesota State Courts system might move to close some of the state's rural courtrooms, due to a tight state budget and the relative lack of business in some remote county courts.
State court officials told me it was something they considered -- but only briefly -- before rejecting the idea. It probably wouldn't save money since juries, defendants, county prosecutors and others would just have to travel to whatever court rooms are still open.
County officials in remote places like Cook County can't help but worry about the idea since it could greatly increase how much counties would have to pay to administer justice for locals.
A Minnesota court committee, the Access and Services Delivery Committee, decided last year not to pursue any closings. The committee did suggest that the Minnesota Judicial Council, a panel that actually makes those kind of decisions, consider some re-organization models that would have reduced the total number of Minnesota judicial districts from the current ten districts to seven.
But Judge John Rodenberg of New Ulm, who chaired the committee says the Judicial Council decided not to pursue consolidation either.
So, the state courts will seek other efficiencies, keeping 10 judicial districts, and keeping court rooms in business in all 87 Minnesota counties. Case closed.
Or is it?
I was contacted by another rural judge, from Renville County, who told me that an independent organization, the National Center for State Courts, had recently studied Minnesota's 8th judicial district, recommending it close court rooms in counties with no chambered judge.
That doesn't change the outcome. It's still up to the state's Minnesota Judicial Council where court is held, and the council is keeping them all open, for now.
But it does suggest today's status quo may not be the final word.
Posted at 1:59 PM on November 24, 2010
by Bob Kelleher
Filed under: Arrowhead
We heard the news today that the Nature Conservancy has purchased a big island in the Duluth-Superior harbor, intending to preserve Clough island to benefit the environment and wildlife, keeping it from a major development project announced five years ago.
I reported on the Clough Island project back in 2005.
To me, the project was a real head scratcher.
Progress Land Co., of Savage, was proposing a $330-million development to include a hotel of up to 400 rooms; a retail development, up to 700 housing units, and a high end golf course.
To reach the island, they were talking about a bridge from Superior, a ferry and even a large-capacity gondola.
The project was so big it was predicted to generate up to $500 million a year for the Douglas County, Wisconsin, economy -- and was even predicted to lower other residents' property taxes.
Am I the only one not surprised this thing never happened?
The project ran into problems early on, like the city of Superior's reluctance to build that bridge, and the city of Duluth unwilling to participate in a gondola project. It's no surprise the "great recession" put the kibosh on the whole idea.
But I wondered who on Earth wanted to live on an island in the harbor. Do they have any idea how cold it is out there about nine months of the year?
I lived a couple of years just a breeze away from Superior's waterfront. Yes, on a hot August afternoon that cool lake air creates a wonderfully cool oasis, providing the wind is blowing in from the lake. But just get a feel of the same thing in April, May or June.
Parkas come to mind, while inland neighbors lounge in their yards in shorts and short sleeves.
I recall sitting in my living room one June day with all the windows open, sucking in the comfort of a 70 degree day. I heard a noise from the dining room, went in to investigate and saw the blinds on the lakeside of my house blowing in.
Panic set in. The WIND HAD SHIFTED.
I knew I had little time, and quickly sped throughout the house closing windows. Sure enough, within minutes the outdoor temperature had plunged to 45 degrees, courtesy of Lake Superior.
I've heard it quipped Lake Superior consists of ice and melted ice. As wonderful as the lake is, it can be even more wonderful keeping a little distance between the lake and one's self.
Posted at 8:23 PM on November 26, 2010
by Tom Robertson
Filed under: Arrowhead, Central Minnesota, Environment, Government, Northwest Minnesota, Southeast Minnesota, Southwest Minnesota, Sports & Recreation, Twin Cities
You'll soon have a chance to weigh in on the DNR's draft plan to guide state and regional parks and trails Legacy Amendment funding for the next quarter century. The plan will be available for review and public comment starting early next month.
The plan is mandated by the Legislature and is designed to establish a 25-year vision for the parks and trails effort in Minnesota, especially as it pertains to funding generated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by voters in 2008.
The amendment created a three-eighths percent sales tax increase for natural resources and the arts. Of the money generated, 14.25 percent goes toward state parks and trails projects.
Minnesota residents are asked to comment on recommendations on how parks and trails connect people with the outdoors and how the state takes care of existing recreational resources.
The DNR also wants feedback on their proposed strategy for land acquisition and on developing new parks and trails to meet future needs.
You can comment on the plan online, or attend one of several workshops around the state:
-- Thursday, Dec. 2, 7-9 p.m., Country Inn and Suites, 1900 Premier Dr., Mankato
-- Monday, Dec. 6, 7-9 p.m., Holiday Inn -- downtown waterfront, 200 W. First St., Duluth
-- Tuesday, Dec. 7, 7-9 p.m., Hampton Inn and Suites, 1019 Paul Bunyan Dr. S., Bemidji
-- Wednesday, Dec. 8, 7-9 p.m., University of Minnesota Continuing Education and Conference Center, 1890 Buford Ave., St. Paul.
A dead cougar turned up over the weekend in Pope County, according to a report on Alexandria television KSAX. The station had also reported recently on a cougar sighting nearby that state Department of Natural Resources officials dismissed as a large house cat.
Now the station is posting pretty convincing photos of a large, male, and very dead cougar laying in grass next to a coffee cup.
I'm assuming the cup is intended to demonstrate the cat's relative size, and has nothing to do with the animal's death. I mean, I've had some strong coffee before, but ...
I just reported on Minnesota Public Radio of an increasing number of mountain lion sightings in Minnesota over the last two years.
Glenwood, Minn., Area Wildlife Supervisor Kevin Kotts was not available Monday.
I spoke at some length with a former DNR biologist who now studies things like cougars and Canada lynx on a contract basis. He worries about the public perception that there's some kind of department conspiracy going to suppress reports of cougar sightings.
Some people, apparently, believe the DNR is either covering up what it knows about cougars in Minnesota, or worse yet, that the department has actually introduced mountain lions into the state, the biologist said.
He assures me that both theories are complete bunk. The cougars are almost certainly individual young males looking for lady cats, and wandering in from the western Dakotas, where they've pretty much filled up the region's capacity for cougars. There's still no evidence mountain lions are staying, or reproducing in Minnesota.
But now, a dead cougar will almost certainly re-fire the theories.
And one final question for the class: What do you call the animals? Technically, the terms "cougar" and "mountain lion" are interchangeable terms for the same animal. It's also called a "puma." But the term "cougar" sounds most correct to me, while my editors prefer "mountain lion."
Feel free to respond with your preference.(8 Comments)
Posted at 5:22 PM on November 10, 2010
by David Cazares
Filed under: Arrowhead
Bob Kelleher, who covers northeast Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio News, reviews important stories on his beat during Morning edition with Cathy Wurzer
He discusses changes planned for Duluth's waterfront and the reconstruction of Interstate 35.
Posted at 9:30 AM on November 11, 2010
by Bob Kelleher
Filed under: Arrowhead
Yes, that's right, a "terrorism comedy."
Four Lions, is a new film which got a lot of buzz after screening in the Sundance Film Festival. It went on to more acclaim and awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival and Austin Texas's South by Southwest. Now, this subversive flick opens in Minnesota, not in Minneapolis or St. Paul, but in Duluth, in the Zimena2 arts theater on East Superior Street.
Four Lions follows the travails of four British, suicide-bomber want-to-be's. It's been compared to other off-beat social/political comedies like MASH and Dr. Strangelove.
Associated Press movie reviewer David Germain says Four Lions "is a movie that will have you gasping in horror even as you choke on your own guffaws."
Wall Street Journal reviewer Todd Gilchrist describes Four Lions as "hands down among the funniest and most transgressive movies of the year."
And yet, Four Lions is apparently not taking the United States by storm. The Uk's Guardian website says Director Chris Morris has embarked on an unprecedented PR campaign to stir up some audience in the United States. The film opened to limited U.S. screens last week.
And now, it comes to Duluth, opening Friday November 12th, for a one week run, with show times at 5, 7:15 and 9:10. Tim Massett, with Duluth's Zinema2 theater says they'll even provide free popcorn at Friday's 7:15 screening.
More information on Four Lions is available from Drafthouse Films.
Is America ready to laugh at terrorism? In Minnesota, Duluth will be first to find out.
Minnesota State Patrol officers stationed in International Falls are now operating out of the U.S. Border Patrol's new facility in that community. The new border facility includes space for four State Patrol officers, including two K-9 handlers.
Officials say this is the first time in U.S. history that Border Patrol agents and State Patrol officers work out of the same facility. The collaboration will allow the two agencies to share resources and law enforcement intelligence.
The building provides Border Patrol agents and State Patrol officers with indoor parking for their patrol vehicles, office space, dog kennels and a workout area.
The new, 33,000-square-foot facility, located along the Rainy River, opened in July. It's capable of housing up to 50 Border Patrol agents.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials will host a ceremonial grand opening of the facility on Monday, Nov. 8.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved a route permit for a 230-kilowatt line that will run just west of Bemidji to Grand Rapids.
The line is the third CapX2020 project to receive approval. CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 regional power companies to upgrade and expand the electrical transmission grid. It's said to be the largest such upgrade in the Upper Midwest in 30 years. The effort broad effort is expected to cost nearly $2 billion and cover a distance of more than 700 miles.
The Bemidji to Grand Rapids route is 68 miles long, running along U.S. Highway 2 from Cass Lake to Ball Club. It follows existing oil pipeline routes.
Construction will begin in January, and the line is expected to be completed by late 2012.
Perhaps you've seen the Seinfeld episode of the horrible smell that just wouldn't go away - the smell that no amount of washing could remove. I now have some idea what inspired that show - a skunk.
For it was a skunk that I encountered early on a recent morning; and the memory lingers still many days later. It all began with a 3:15 a.m. back yard visit by the family dog, who aggressively encountered the little striped one, not far from the back door.
Once thoroughly sprayed with that unspeakably horrible substance, the dog retreated back through the door; through the house, and under a bed. An invisible fog with the smell of burning tires quickly followed; penetrating everything; the bedding; the carpeting; the clothing; and apparently me.
The dog got three baths -- to little apparent effect. I took a long hot shower and changed into clean clothes --to similarly little effect.
There was no need to tell my co-workers. One approached my office/broadcast studio door, stopped dead in her tracks, and with a look of horror uttered just "skunk!"
She kept her distance, but it was too late.
An hour later she was in her personal car, picking up her husband who greeted her with the declaration "something smells like a skunk." That vile smell was spreading from person to person like the plague.
I was invited to work from home.
In fact, I took an additional day's leave to try to de-skunk the house -- and ponder how I could be so unlucky. But a call to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources gave me some comfort that at least I wasn't alone encountering skunks.
Area Wildlife Manager Rich Staffon, in Cloquet, says the skunk population does appear to be peaking, although there's no good survey to document that.
Anecdotally, Staffon agrees with me there's been a lot of skunk bodies on the roads this past summer. He shared the story of his brother, who's recent experience was very similar to mine, starting with a dog in mad retreat from a fresh skunking and ending inside the house.
Staffon says skunks weren't really native to the pine forests that used to cover northeast Minnesota. They're more of a prairie, open-forest kind of critter, but they probably followed people up here.
Skunks like to live among people, under our buildings and in our wood piles. They're happy to eat our garbage and the other critters we attract like mice.
Staffon says the DNR has been getting a lot of skunk calls these past few months, almost universally with the question "how do you get rid of the smell?"
There are many answers on the web; some likely better than others. Most say tomato juice is fairly useless. There are some commercial products like skunk smell removing shampoo for dogs.
Then there's the one concoction you can stir up at home which includes Dawn dish washing liquid; baking soda; and hydrogen peroxide. Mixed in the correct quantities, it makes a paste that can be rubbed into the affected dog's fur.
But it comes with a couple of caveats. It just might bleach your dog another color. It can burn the dog's eyes. And people who've tired it warn not to try to bottle the stuff, because it just might explode.
I gotta tell you, when it comes to that skunk stink, you just might be willing to accept an occasional explosion to get rid of it.(1 Comments)
More bad news for the Cass Lake-Bena School District. The district's interim superintendent, Diane Lehse, died in a head-on car crash Sunday afternoon on Highway 34 southwest of Walker, according to the State Patrol.
Lehse, 66, was hired by the district in August to replace superintendent Carl Remmers, who resigned after he was charged with groping a 17-year-old boy at a Bemidji hotel. Lehse, of Menaga, came out of retirement to take on the interim job.
Authorities say Lehse was heading east in the westbound lane when her 2010 Ford Fusion collided head-on with a semi-truck. Two occupants of the truck were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The Cass Lake-Bena School Board reportedly met in an emergency session Monday morning to address Lehse's death.
Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior's North Shore is celebrating its 125th anniversary this weekend. Proprietors say its Minnesota's oldest resort.
The resort opened in 1885, many years preceding a road up the North Shore. The property was first a homestead for Swedish immigrant Charles Axel Nelson, who named the property "Lutsen."
Travelers heading up the shore, usually by water, found the property a convenient stop, with Nelson routinely opening up bed space by booting the kids out. In the early days a stage road only operated during the winter. A real highway wasn't built until 1918, and it was not paved until 1930.
Eventually the family home morphed into the first lodge building, and the resort became a destination for hiking, hunting and fishing. The small town of Lutsen sprang up around the resort.
Renowned mail carrier John Beargrease was a frequent visitor in the early days, before 1900. Gangsters Al Capone; Baby-face Nelson; and John Dillinger were all guests, as was entertainer Arthur Godfrey and industrialist/politician Nelson Rockefeller.
The resort added downhill skiing just after World War II. The Nelson family sold that part of the business in 1980, and the family sold the resort in 1988.
The original lodge was lost to fire in 1948. Today's main resort building, in a Scandinavian log style, dates back to 1952.
Lutsen's Erin Mathe promises a weekend with members of the original families on hand, and a lot of special events.
Life has been getting tougher for Minnesota resorts. Let's hope Lutsen can do another 125 years.
Koochiching County recently signed a contract with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of its Renewable Energy Clean Air Project.
It's another step forward in the county's quest to adopt emerging technology to deal with its garbage.
For several years the county has explored a technology called plasma gasification. The technology uses extreme temperatures to convert all sorts of waste -- municipal trash, woody biomass, wastewater sludge, construction debris -- into fuel and other marketable byproducts.
The county's plan is to build such a facility in International Falls. It would be one of the first of its kind in the country.
The deal with the MPCA releases $2.5 million that will be matched with federal funds to further develop parts of the project, including preliminary design, permitting and preconstruction services.
While some environmental groups are skeptical of the technology, supporters tout it as an environmentally friendly alternative to landfilling. The gasification process uses energy similar to a bolt of lightening, creating temperatures as hot as the sun. The extreme heat results in extremely clean emissions, say proponents.
Leaders in Koochiching County say the project will create high tech jobs for the struggling region. They believe their facility could be a model for the rest of the country.
A company called Coronal LLC is the developer and manager of the project.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is a step closer to building a tribally owned radio station. The tribe has been awarded $238,000 from the Department of Commerce National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration.
The money will be used to purchase studio equipment and a transmitter for radio station KOJB-FM. This will be the first time Leech Lake will have a radio station that will cover the entire reservation.
"We have been working for five years to make this station a reality," said Brad Walhof, who spearheaded the project for the tribe.
Walhof says the goal is to turn the station into an important tool for preserving the Ojibwe language. There are very few people who speak the language, and most of them are elders.
"We will broadcast programming to preserve the Ojibwe language and culture, as well as programming that will strengthen our ties and friendships with surrounding communities," he said.
Another northern Minnesota radio station received big money from the NTIA. Northern Community Radio, which operates KAXE-FM in Grand Rapids, was awarded $450,000 from the agency.
Organizers plan to use the money to build radio station KBXE-FM, which will be licensed in Bagley, and serve a large area of northwest Minnesota. The station's studios and offices will be in downtown Bemidji.
Northern Community Radio will provide local news, weather, sports, music and community and cultural information to the Bemidji and Bagley region.(1 Comments)
The DNR is taking another step toward development of Minnesota's newest state park. The agency is looking for public comment on what people want to see in the new Lake Vermilion State Park in northeast Minnesota.
Lake Vermilion State Park was established earlier this summer when the state closed on a 3,000-acre land transaction with U.S. Steel.
The DNR is asking people to respond to a short questionnaire.
The questionnaire includes 19 questions. They explore the kinds of experiences and facilities Minnesotans would like to have in their newest state park. The process takes most people around five minutes to complete.
"We'd like this to be a year-round destination," says state Parks and Trails Director Courtland Nelson. "So we're asking everyone to think about what would entice you to come to the park in the winter as well as the summer."
The questionnaire will be available through the end of September. Answers will be used by DNR staff and the park's Citizen Advisory Committee to guide the master planning process.
Another public input period will happen later this fall, when the DNR will ask for comments on the draft park master plan.
Minneapolis composer, producer and sound artist Mike Olson brings his unique multimedia show to far northern Minnesota beginning this week.
The artist will debut his original composition, called Noopiming, at the Backus Community Center in International Falls Sept. 2.
Noopiming is an Ojibwe word meaning "in the north, inland, in the woods." Olson says the title was chosen as a direct reference to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where he's had a lifetime of outdoor experiences.
Olson says creating the recorded choral piece started with eight singers (four male and four female) who gathered to record a large number of musical gestures under Olson's guidance.
For the end result, Olson layered and combined the individual sound clips into one complete work. Click here to listen to a sample of the piece.
The presentation includes stunning photos of the BWCA, created by photographer Dale Robert Klous.
Olson brings Noopiming to northern Minnesota with financial help from the Minnesota State Arts Board, using funding from the state's arts and culture heritage fund.
Following tonight's 7:30 p.m. debut in International Falls, the show will continue in Ely on Sept. 4; Grand Marais on Sept. 8; and Duluth on Sept. 10.
Posted at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2010
by Bob Ingrassia
Filed under: Arrowhead
Bob Kelleher, who covers the Arrowhead region for Minnesota Public Radio News, updates Cathy Wurzer about big stories on his beat during Morning Edition. He talks about a controversial cell phone tower near Ely, a contract dispute involving nurses in Duluth and the 100th anniversary of the landmark Split Rock Lighthouse.
Here are some background stories:
Group sues to block cell tower just outside BWCA
An environmental group is suing to stop construction of a cell phone tower near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. AT&T is proposing a tower 45-stories tall, lit with strobe and beacon lights. Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness says it would be visible from many points in the Boundary Waters, including Basswood Lake, Fall Lake, and the Kawishiwi River.
Duluth nurses stage informational picket
About 100 nurses and their supporters picketed Duluth's St. Luke's hospital Tuesday afternoon. The union launched the informational picketing because of little progress in contract negotiations between the nurses and Duluth's two hospital systems.
Split Rock Lighthouse's last keeper recalls history for 100th anniversary
Mike Roberts was the last U.S. Coast Guard officer on duty at Split Rock Lighthouse, the Minnesota tourist destination near Two Harbors that draws more than 100,000 visitors a year. The St. Cloud-area resident has the distinction of being the person who extinguished the landmark's light for the last official time when it was decommissioned in 1969 by the Coast Guard.
When I was a kid, the most awesome place to go downhill skiing was Spirit Mountain in Duluth. My dad would make a point of trying to drive all the way up from the Twin Cities on I-35 without touching the brakes even once.
I still tend to think of Spirit Mountain as a winter place. But Spirit Mountain has branched out quite a bit. The complex includes a campground, bike trails and banquet halls to keep visitors coming during the spring, summer and fall.
And now Spirit Mountain has the new Timber Twister, a year-round "alpine coaster" that opens to the public Thursday. It's a bit like a roller coaster in the woods, except that riders zoom downhill on individual cars. Riders control their speed, which can reach 26 mph.
A single ride for one person costs $8. Two riders on one car costs $12. You've got to be 4-feet tall and at least 8 years old to ride alone. And an advisory to head off tears and temper tantrums: kids under 3 can't ride at all.
When I mentioned Duluth's new alpine coaster in the MPR newsroom, touting it as the first of its kind in Minnesota, a fellow editor asked, "What about the one in Lutsen?"
Spirit Mountain emphatically sets us straight. From the Spirit Mountain web site:
Unlike an alpine slide, the alpine coaster makes hairpin turns, is elevated off the ground like a roller coaster, and operates year-round due to its unique track system. ...
There are only four alpine coasters operating in the U.S. and this will be the only one in the Midwest. This is truly a unique attraction, and is NOT an alpine slide!!!
Not willing to just take Spirit Mountain's word for it, I did some extensive research (that is, a YouTube search) into the matter. It appears the Lutsen attraction is shorter and entirely on the ground, as opposed to the longer, raised track at Spirit Mountain.
The evidence ...
You hear about how newspapers are struggling. You don't always get to see the top-notch reporting they're still cranking out.
Several Minnesota newspapers put some good reporting and writing on display this weekend.
Mankato: A Baby's Short & Touching Life
The Mankato Free Press started a series called "13 Days: The Short Life of Hazel Heidelberger." The series looks at the life of a baby born with a rare heart ailment.
Part 1: The birth and baptism
Part 2: A young couple's dream becomes a nightmare
Hazel was a New Year's baby, and seemed healthy. She met her family, learned to nurse, had her diapers changed. But by this evening, test results showed signs of trouble. Nurses noticed that Hazel's heart was racing. Mom and dad noticed she was growing lethargic. No one could figure out why.
A short time later, they'd receive the kind of news every new parent fears: Something is wrong with their baby.
They don't know it yet, but Hazel was born with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, which essentially means her heart was born with only three of its four chambers. If found early enough, and with world-class help, babies can pull through. But in Hazel's case, only a miracle could save her.
St. Cloud: Halted housing plagues central Minnesota
The St. Cloud Times details what happens when plans for big housing developments go bust. In some cases, cities get stuck with big unpaid IOUs from developers who were supposed to reimburse the public for streets and sewers.
A single house stands in the middle of the vast development, marooned in a sea of empty cul-de-sacs, tall grass and winding roads that lead nowhere.
Eighty-eight homes had been planned for the first of seven phases.
The developer, Percheron Properties, is gone. None of the $6.4 million of assessments has been paid.
Duluth: Copper could spell trouble for the Boundary Waters
The Duluth News Tribune examines the potential and the possible downsides of tapping into huge deposits of copper and other minerals near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildnerness.
Story: Estimated $1 trillion in the ground, but mining critics are concerned about BWCAW
What Duluth Metals has found is nothing short of earth-shattering for geologists -- an estimated 900 million tons of copper, nickel, platinum and other valuable metals that are among the richest yet found in Minnesota.
"This is an exploratory success story that comes around once every couple of decades," said David Oliver, geologist and project manager of Duluth Metals. "I've been doing this for 35 years, and I've had a lot of success... but nothing like this before."
The finding, just a couple of miles outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, may be three times bigger and twice as rich as the better known PolyMet project proposed about 30 miles to the southwest.
The debate starts when the value of those minerals, and the possibility of long-term water contamination from acidic mine runoff, is weighed against unspoiled wilderness, recreation and clean water. From ancient peoples to voyageurs to BWCAW campers, it's always been the water that has been most important here.
Lou's Fish Smoke House in Two Harbors is extra busy these days, thanks to Martha Stewart.
The mom-and-pop stop 20 miles up the North Shore from Duluth won kudos from Stewart's Living magazine as the best smoked fish house in America.
Lou's owner Brian Zapolski tells Duluth's Northland News Center that smoking the fish to an exact temperature of 155 degrees is the key.
"We've been getting a lot of phone calls and we got a lot of orders going out on Monday and we have been shipping a lot of orders. We've been getting calls from all over the country."
Zapolski, a lifelong Two Harbors resident and fisherman who has owned Lou's since 2006, says the smokers take no shortcuts.
No liquid smoke, no chips, no gas or electric fires. Never! That's because our passion is to provide our customers with a flavor that can only be found here at Lou's Fish House! We offer only the finest...from our Wild Alaska smoked Sockeye and King Salmon, to our local favorites, our smoked Lake Superior Trout, Whitefish, Herring and Ciscoes.
Zapolski exudes his Minnesota enthusiasm in this interview with Northland News Center.
In a land where cabin buyers lust after 100 feet of shoreline, the state of Minnesota just cut a huge deal: a 3,000-acre parcel in northern Minnesota that features five miles of Lake Vermilion shoreline.
Negotiations with US Steel took years. The $18 million deal that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the company finalized Tuesday was by no means a forgone conclusion. In fact, as the Duluth News Tribune reported, a fair number of people -- including some St. Louis County officials -- would have rather seen the lakefront property go on the tax rolls as luxury homes and resorts.
More hard work lies ahead before Lake Vermilion State Park becomes a jewel of the state park system. During the next few years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources must build trails, interpretive centers, parking lots, campsites, cabins, roads and maintenance buildings.
Chances are tensions will surface between providing adequate facilities for recreational use and maintaining the land's natural beauty and wildlife. If you've ever gotten shut out while trying to reserve an overnight spot at one of the more popular state parks, you'll understand the pressure that could build to provide plenty of campsites.
Another issue is providing for the interests of the locals. Residents in Soudan and Breitung Township currently enjoy public access at Stuntz Bay to the lake and a collection of historic boathouses. The location is a tempting choice to develop as a main access point to the lake, but it will be a delicate task to accommodate the needs of local residents and the influx of new users.
American Indians have a stake, too. Archeologists have found evidence of American Indian settlements in the area dating back thousands of years -- long before French explorers and traders arrived in the area in the 1600s. The state plans to work with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa to identify sites within the property that pre-date the arrival of Europeans.
No history of the Lake Vermilion is complete without explaining the Nelson Act of 1889, which stripped Minnesota tribes of their reservation lands. But as the ongoing controversy over dealing with American Indian history at Fort Snelling shows, it's a tough job to do justice to the heritage and suffering of American Indians while celebrating and documenting the achievements of Minnesota's white settlers and leaders.
Development outside the park poses challenges as well. Highway 169, the main road into the new state park, will need work. MnDOT says the existing highway can handle more traffic, but not as much the state park people say will be coming once the park is fully developed.
State and local officials have been trying to tackle these issues in advance. In 2007, a task force that included local representatives, park officials, tourism industry representatives and park advocates dug into the issues and laid out a consensus vision.
The panel, in a January 2008 report, said a guiding principle should be to preserve the shoreline and the land's natural ecosystem. Campsites, boat launches and roads should be put in with an eye toward minimizing their impact, the report states.
Exactly how all that plays out won't be known for years. Some basic trails and facilities for day use will go in this spring. Cabins, campsites and interpretive centers are at least several years away.