Star News » Government The Star News covers community news, sports, current events and provides advertising and information for Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman, Minnesota and their surrounding areas. Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:00:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 $5,000 for Otsego Prairie Festival accepted Sun, 30 Aug 2015 11:45:27 +0000 by Briana Sutherland

Contributing Writer

The Otsego City Council accepted a $5,000 donation from local businesses and groups to be used for the Otsego Prairie Festival.

Ross Demant, Parks and Recreation Director was present and said, “Each year has been built on the success of the years prior,” and stated that the festival committee is looking forward to another great event in the community.

In 2014 more than 5,000 people attended; fireworks, a beer garden and bands were new additions last year and will be back this year along with carnival games and new foods.

The Otsego Prairie Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 12 beginning at 10 a.m. and ending at dusk with a fireworks display.

In other action, the Otsego council:

  • approved a motion for a supplemental agreement  for the 70th Street/CSAH 37 improvement project in the amount of $274,801 with the city portion being $130,538.

Many areas of unsuitable soils have been encountered either next to the existing road where the road is being widened or shifted and some have been found within the existing road bend.  A lot of the unsuitable soils have been supersaturated clays and silts that are very unstable and need to be removed in order to have a stable road base.  Large rock/boulders have also been found as well as sheet metal and other items that were originally intended to help support the road or allow the field to drain quicker.

Some areas the contractor has attempted to fill but wasn’t able to meet specified density requirements. A granular material will be used at the bottom of the excavation to provide a stable base to build on.  City Engineer Ron Wagner stated he doesn’t foresee the same issues for 70th Street.

  • City Administrator Lori Johnson recommended the city acquire five of nine parcels on the tax forfeit list presented by the Wright County Auditor/Treasurer.

The auditor/treasurer provides a list to the city annually of tax forfeit parcels, giving its officials a the chance to acquire parcels and use for public purpose.

  • Dan Pawlak from P & F Machining, Inc. was present at the council meeting regarding their application for funds through the DEED’s Job Creation Fund.

Pawlak stated P & F Machining, Inc. has been a family business that has grown exponentially in the last seven years.  With their growth, they have outgrown their current space in Dayton and have plans to move to Otsego.

P & F Machining, Inc. officials believe it’ll meet the eligibility requirements of the DEED program with their estimated project construction budget approximately $4,900,000 and by creating ten new full time permanent jobs within two years while maintaining existing job numbers.

  • New Finance Director, Adam Flaherty began his new position Aug. 19.  “Everyone is very friendly.  I’m very excited to be here,” Flaherty said during the meeting.
]]> 0
Emmer takes in I-94 Sun, 30 Aug 2015 11:34:27 +0000 by Aaron Brom

ECM Sun Newspapers

Commuters who use Interstate 94 and Highway 101 got a long-term wish in 2014 when I-94 was chosen as a top 10 state Corridors of Commerce project for transportation funding.

Photos by Aaron Brom U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer, left, tours the I-94 lane expansion project with area officials. To Emmer’s right is former State Rep. David FitzSimmons, of Albertville, who is Emmer’s chief of staff.
Photos by Aaron Brom
U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer, left, tours the I-94 lane expansion project with area officials. To Emmer’s right is former State Rep. David FitzSimmons, of Albertville, who is Emmer’s chief of staff.

U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer hopes the Congress follows suit with its own transportation dedicated funding. Emmer came to St. Michael Thursday, Aug. 20, to tour Phase 1 construction of the lane expansion project between St. Michael and Rogers.

“We need to look at dedicated funding for specific infrastructure projects,” Emmer said. “We want to create a pile of money we can apply on an annual basis based on safety concerns.”

Emmer said such projects as the I-94 expansion are necessities and “not a luxury.”

He added, “We want to move people and product safely. Let’s hope we see that long-term fix.”

Emmer was joined by a host of local and state officials in touring the I-94 lane expansion project as well as conducting a round-table discussion about what’s next.

One of those officials was Minnesota Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Eric Davis. “We have a vision for transportation here in Minnesota,” Davis said. “I-94 is worn and in need of desperate repair,” he said, adding that the Corridors of Commerce project that funded this improvement “will spur economic growth. We want to keep going on that path.”

The tour bus with U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer and area officials stops above the Hennepin County Rd. 144 bridge over Intestate 94, just south of Hwy. 241 in St. Michael. All traffic is now routed to the westbound lanes, as the eastbound lanes are ground up for lane expansion.
The tour bus with U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer and area officials stops above the Hennepin County Rd. 144 bridge over Intestate 94, just south of Hwy. 241 in St. Michael. All traffic is now routed to the westbound lanes, as the eastbound lanes are ground up for lane expansion.

That path includes an immediate goal of extending six lanes from St. Michael to Rogers.

Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter said the ultimate goal is six lanes to St. Cloud. “It’s a problem all the way up the corridor,” Potter said. “It’s a problem from Maple Grove to St. Cloud.”

The next phase for I-94, from St. Michael to Albertville, has been allocated $1.4 million for design options for mobility. St. Michael City Administrator Steve Bot, who chairs the I-94 West Corridor Coalition, said receiving the design option funding is a critical step in the overall expansion plans for I-94, with a cost estimate of $30 million to $70 million.

He said the next steps for this project are to share traffic model results with MnDOT’s Major Projects Committee, define the scope of improvements, and develop a layout and environmental document.”

Analysis of the St. Michael to Albertville expansion shows reduction of 1,800 vehicle hours traveled per day by 2040.

As for the current project between St. Michael and Rogers, MnDOT engineers said the expansion is slightly ahead of the scheduled October completion.

Emmer credited Albertville resident and former State Rep. David FitzSimmons — who is Emmer’s chief of staff — for successfully lobbying the I-94 project.

“This is a team effort in my office,” Emmer said. “And transportation is one of (FitzSimmons’) passions. He’s been doing this for a while.”

]]> 0
City proclaims day in honor of Bob Mahutga Sun, 23 Aug 2015 17:46:51 +0000 Aug. 31 has been proclaimed Bob Mahutga Day by the Elk River City Council to honor a city employee who lost his battle with cancer in May.

Mahutga was hired as the city’s first full-time mechanic on March 1997. He retired on May 15, 2015, as the lead mechanic.

“Bob possessed great mechanical abilities and his repairs were completed with exceptional quality,” said Mark Thompson, street superintendent.

He also said Mahutga was a dedicated employee who enjoyed life.

“He had a large distinct laugh and his smile would light up a room,” Thompson said.

Mahutga enjoyed his work away from work as well. Thompson said Mahutga and his family farmed hundreds of acres of land in the Nowthen area for many years.

Acting Mayor Barb Burandt read the proclamation before presenting it to Mahutga’s family. ]]> 0 City honors volunteer who helps homeless Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:30:15 +0000 Barbara Wisniewski is the city of Elk River’s Volunteer of the Month for August.

Acting Mayor Barb Burandt presented Barb Wisniewski with the Volunteer of the Month award.
Acting Mayor Barb Burandt presented Barb Wisniewski with the Volunteer of the Month award.

In 2007, she helped start Basic Outreach, an organization designed to offer emergency shelter to homeless families in the area, and served as board chair for three years. In 2010 the organization merged with Great River Family Promise.

Wisniewski currently serves as one of the volunteer coordinators for homeless families when they are assigned to stay at Elk River United Methodist.

She interns at Hardy and Stephens Counseling Associates, offering free mental health counseling.

Wisniewski has served as the president of the United Methodist women’s group and taught Sunday school and confirmation classes.

She also has volunteered at Parker Elementary School, CAER and for the CROP Walk.

Wisniewski was honored during Monday’s Elk River City Council meeting, where Acting Mayor Barb Burandt presented her with a plaque. ]]> 0 Fire chief plans to launch department honor guard Thu, 20 Aug 2015 16:55:24 +0000 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Elk River Fire Chief T. John Cunningham is launching a fire department honor guard.

The honor guard is a ceremonial unit that will appear at public functions, such as fire academy graduations, firefighter funerals and community events, and represent the department in a honorable fashion, Cunningham said. Five firefighters have expressed interest in being in the honor guard, he said.

Fire Chief T. John Cunningham commanded the honor guard during the dedication of the Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial in 2012. Now he’s starting an Elk River Fire Department honor guard. Photo by Chris Leeseberg of cMichaelStudio
Fire Chief T. John Cunningham commanded the honor guard during the dedication of the Minnesota Fallen Firefighter Memorial in 2012. Now he’s starting an Elk River Fire Department honor guard. File photo by Chris Leeseberg of cMichaelStudio

He has $5,000 in the preliminary 2016 budget to cover start-up costs such as uniforms, but is hopeful some community donations will help defray that expense. He hopes to have the honor guard up and running within the next year.

Nyle Zikmund, executive director of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, said the large fire departments in Minnesota like St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth all have honor guards, as do some of the other departments.

“It’s all part of the whole pride and honor and culture in the fire service,” Zikmund said.

Uniforms are usually the largest start-up cost associated with honor guards, he said.

Brooklyn Park Fire Chief Ken Prillaman said they started an honor guard there in 2008.

“We use it in parades, we use it in funerals, we use it in other ceremonies around the community,” he said.

He also wrote a guidebook titled, “Minnesota Fire Service Ceremonies and Protocols Guidebook” that addresses honor guards.

Honor guard members carried roses to give to fallen firefighters’ families during a ceremony at the Minnesota Fallen Firefighter Memorial in St. Paul in 2012. Photo by Chris Leeseberg of cMichaelStudio
Honor guard members carried roses to give to fallen firefighters’ families during a ceremony at the Minnesota Fallen Firefighter Memorial in St. Paul in 2012. File photo by Chris Leeseberg of cMichaelStudio

Prillaman estimates that 60-80 of the 781 fire departments in Minnesota have an honor guard.

“There’s more of them that have started up in the last few years,” he said. “It’s something that we’re tried to promote. We believe that it’s an important part of a fire department.”

Prillaman sees honor guards as having three primary purposes:

•Honor guards are trained to be good stewards of the American flag. Honor guards follow U.S. code as it relates to the flag and how it is handled.

•Honor guards pay honor and respect to those who served in the fire service, including those who die in the line of duty as well as active duty firefighters who die other than in the line of duty and retired firefighters who die.

•Honor guards support community events, appearing at parades and other functions.

Cunningham hasn’t been a formal member of a fire department honor guard, but he has been the honor guard commander for all the honor guards that participated in a ceremony at the Minnesota Fallen Firefighter Memorial in St. Paul.

“To be part of an honor guard is a significant accomplishment and it’s a significant responsibility,” Cunningham said. “Very often you are participating in events that are solemn in nature and one of the functions is to be there to pay respects and to represent the organization at a time that might be very difficult.”

Police departments also have honor guards. The Elk River Police Department has an active honor guard that has been in existence for a number of years. ]]> 0 City liquor operation makes money, but faces increased competition Thu, 20 Aug 2015 15:30:22 +0000 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Elk River’s city-owned liquor operation is making money and transferred $685,059 to help fund city operations in 2014. An additional $689,718 was budgeted to be transferred to the city in 2015, and early projections show $718,950 in liquor profits going to fund city operations in 2016.

But the tap may not flow that freely forever.

Northbound Liquor, located along Highway 169 in Elk River, is one of two city-owned liquor stores in Elk River. Star News file photo
Northbound Liquor, located along Highway 169 in Elk River, is one of two city-owned liquor stores in Elk River. Star News file photo

Dave Potvin, who manages the city’s liquor operation, said his first goal for 2016 is to maintain the current level of fund transfers, but that could become more difficult as competition increases.

“There’s a lot of big box retailers coming into the market. The pie is getting sliced thinner and thinner,” Potvin told the Elk River City Council during a budget work session Monday.

He specifically noted that Target is in the liquor business and Hy-Vee is coming into the Twin Cities and will sell liquor.

That being said, Potvin said he’s seeing little impact from the Otsego Target selling liquor.

“Target in Otsego, as far as I know, hasn’t affected us at all,” he said. “They’re too far away and it’s such a tiny little store.”

The city of Elk River owns two liquor stores, Northbound at 19348 Evans St. and Westbound at 13484 185th Ave.

Northbound had total sales of $4.67 million in 2014, and Westbound had $2.15 million.

Beer was the top seller at both stores, followed by liquor and wine. The average sale was $24.76.

Combined in 2014, the two stores posted a gross profit of $2.07 million and operating income of $1.05 million.

The city’s preliminary 2016 budget shows the stores’ gross profit projected at $1.98 million and operating income at $909,900.

Profits fund city operations, parks

Of the $689,718 in municipal liquor store profits budgeted to be transferred to the city this year, about half will go to the city’s general fund and half to parks.

City Administrator Cal Portner said the general fund transfer — $399,050 in 2015 — is not specifically allocated for an operation or purchase.

“The benefit of municipal liquor operations is that we control off-sale liquor sales and the profits reduce the tax liability for property owners,” he said. “The general fund transfer alone equates to approximately a 3.5 percent tax levy cut.”

The liquor operation is also transferring $290,668 to the park improvement fund in 2015.

Portner said that money is used for park improvements, which would otherwise be levied on property taxes as well.

Among the 2015 improvements are trail repairs and trail expansion, Orono Park improvements, park irrigation system improvements, athletic field improvements, skate park design, design review of River’s Edge Commons Park and improvements to Bailey Point Nature Preserve and the Houlton Farm property.

In the past, Portner noted that liquor store profits were also used for Elk River’s public works facility, which allowed the city to bond for less and save on interest costs.

“We also will use an advance from the funds to pay for (railroad) quiet zone improvements so taxpayers won’t feel the brunt of a large, one-time tax hit,” he said. ]]> 0 Adams to take the helm of MMUA presidency Tue, 11 Aug 2015 09:00:31 +0000 Troy Adams

Troy Adams

Troy Adams will become president of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association effective Aug. 19.

Adams is general manager of Elk River Municipal Utilities. His term as MMUA president will run for one year.

MMUA is a nonprofit corporation representing the interests of the state’s 100-plus municipal electric and natural gas utilities. It was formed in 1931 and provides a wide variety of services to its members.

]]> 0
DNR officers, TIP line track down hunting violations in Minnesota Tue, 11 Aug 2015 09:00:20 +0000 by Sue Webber

ECM Sun Newspapers

While international attention has been focused on Bloomington dentist Walter Palmer’s shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, local officials at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Enforcement are at work regularly to enforce hunting laws in the state.

The Division of Enforcement is responsible for natural resources and recreational law enforcement. It provides regulatory, educational and informational services to hunters, anglers and motorized recreational users.

Headquartered in St. Paul, the enforcement division has 18 districts throughout the state, staffed by a total of 155 field officers who conduct investigations on people found to be poaching, hunting without licenses, using illegal bait, and a variety of other offenses.

Many of the violations the enforcement division finds come through fieldwork in the officers’ respective districts, according to DNR Capt. Alex Gutierrez.

Some of the information about violators comes from the public, through calls to the TIP (Turn in Poachers) line. In 2014, the TIP line received  1,127 calls; 1,080 of them were referred to DNR officers, and 236 arrests were made. Forty-seven rewards were given, totaling $5,275.

“TIP works on somebody seeing, hearing or knowing something,” Gutierrez said. “It has to be a violation for us to be able to take action.”

In 2014, 77 of the 236 people were arrested for deer violations; fishing violations accounted for another 81 arrests; and waterfowl violations for 45 arrests. Six arrests resulted from violations involving trapping or taking fur-bearing animals.

Most violators receive a citation and pay a fine averaging $135, according to Gutierrez.

“We don’t make a physical arrest unless alcohol or motor vehicle violations are in play,” he said.

Most of the reports the DNR receives on any hunting violations are petty misdemeanors or misdemeanors, but a few are gross misdemeanor charges, Gutierrez said. Gross misdemeanor charges are filed with the county attorney in the area where the violation occurred.

Some of the hunters who are found in violation are new to hunting, Gutierrez said.

“The laws get complicated,” he said. “But the majority know the laws and do the correct thing.”

The laws are contained in a voluminous “Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook” that can be found online.

For example, it is legal to bait and hunt bear in Minnesota, though there are some quota-zones, Gutierrez said. In 2014, Minnesota’s bear hunting season began Sept. 1 and continued through Oct. 12. Baiting could begin Aug. 15. A lottery was conducted for bear licenses to be issued within permitted areas.

Regulations for bear hunters include: no more than three bait stations at one time per hunter; a limit of one bear per hunter statewide; white bears and bear cubs cannot be taken; and a tooth must be submitted for all bears harvested.

“Violators could be in the wrong zone, hunting without a license, hunting at night, or found to have taken a bear cub,” Gutierrez said.

According to Gutierrez, the DNR does not poll hunters or keep any documentation on whether bear are hunted for food or as a trophy.

“Once the hunter has it and registers it, we’re done with it,” he said.

Governor’s poaching reform proposal

A poaching reform proposal that would have enacted stiffer criminal penalties and longer license revocations for anyone who unlawfully takes and possesses significant numbers of wild animals was recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton during the 2015 legislative session.

The governor’s proposal would have established a new felony-level penalty for poaching, and revoke game and fish licenses and privileges for a period of up to 10 years.

Current law only includes up to a gross misdemeanor penalty for poaching and license revocations of up to only five years.

Under the governor’s proposal, the felony penalty for poaching would apply to individuals who unlawfully take animals above a restitution value of $2,000.

Criminal poaching cases in Minnesota 

Several instances of criminal poaching in Minnesota during the last year include these cases taken from DNR news releases:

•Two rare Bull Elk were illegally shot and killed by poachers near Grygla in an area that holds Minnesota’s smallest elk herd of 18 animals. The area has been closed to hunting since 2012.

•In May, a 28-year-old Blue Earth man who is a licensed bear guide in Tofte and well-known to the DNR as a chronic poacher with previous violations faced nearly $4,000 in fines and restitution after pleading guilty in Cook and Faribault county district courts following an investigation by the DNR.

•A 25-year-old Crystal man and two men from McGregor pleaded guilty to various gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor hunting charges involving several deer taken illegally during the 2013 deer season. The men face fines and restitution totaling more than $10,000.

•An Illinois angler faced nearly $2,200 in fines and restitution, plus the loss of his boat and equipment, following a five-year DNR investigation.

•On Oct. 21, 2014, conservation officers searched a home in Dawson and seized 37 guns and 28 sets of deer antlers, which included 11 shoulder mounts, most of which were trophy-class animals, according to the DNR.

Also seized were four sets of elk antlers and a set of mule deer antlers.

•In July 2014, a Baudette man faced heavy fines, jail time and revocation of his hunting privileges following a DNR investigation of illegal bear and deer activities. He received 90 days in jail, 30 days electronic home monitoring, and 120 hours of community service. His hunting privileges have been revoked for three years.

About TIP program

Minnesota’s Turn In Poachers (TIP) program was formed in 1981 by concerned citizens who wanted to stop the illegal harvest of game and fish in Minnesota.

Although the program initially was formed to curb the illegal harvest of game and fish in the state, calls today also include wetlands, all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile violations.

People reporting violations are asked to obtain as much information from observation as possible, and to report all violations as soon as possible.

The information and the reporting party can be kept confidential.

If an arrest is initiated, the person reporting the violation may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000, depending upon the seriousness of the crime. The reward amount is determined by an impartial panel.

The private, nonprofit organization provides all reward monies for the program through volunteer donations. It is not funded by the state.

TIP operates a 24-hour, toll-free hotline (800-652-9093) that Minnesotans can call to lodge complaints against suspected poachers. Cellphone users can also dial #TIP to file a complaint. ]]> 0 Wright County OKs solar farm/garden zoning amdenment Mon, 10 Aug 2015 09:08:46 +0000 by John Holler

ECM Sun Newspapers

In recent years, one of the primary alternative power sources to provide clean, effective electrical power has been to harness the sun with solar gardens and solar farms. Thanks to a recent grant from Xcel Energy, entrepreneurs are scrambling to access the grant funding, including several in Wright County.

There were plenty of interested people following along with the Wright County Board of Commissioner’s  meeting, as the board was being asked to approve a zoning ordinance in the county’s overall zoning plan to deal directly with solar farms.

As the planning commission discussed the policy to deal with requests for solar panel operations, it became similar to when cell phone companies were looking to place towers in rural areas more than a decade ago. Often times, counties will confer with other counties that have already dealt with an issue to fashion their ordinances that appear as boilerplate language very similar to other county ordinances. However, Riley said there isn’t much to go off of because this isn’t something many counties in Minnesota have ever dealt with.

“Sometimes you have a tendency for counties to repeat counties (with ordinances) and you end up with the same structure,” Riley said. “But this issue is so new that I’m not sure if we necessarily have everything covered. It’s better to play it safe at the start and adjust as things happen, so I think this gives up the proper framework to deal with the demands that will be coming at us.”

Those demands are the result of the Xcel grant program which opened up large sums of money for the implementation of solar farms and gardens. However, the current grant funding cycle is set to expire in 2016. Asked if he already has requests pending that are just waiting for the county ordinance to be in place, Riley said he doesn’t, but he is expected a flood of them to come in the very near future if passed. ]]> 0 New report is ‘great news’ for historic water tower Thu, 06 Aug 2015 01:59:19 +0000 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

A new study estimates that the cost of repairing and repainting Elk River’s historic water tower on Jackson Avenue is $85,000.

Elk River's water tower along Jackson Avenue dates to 1920.
Elk River’s water tower along Jackson Avenue dates to 1920.

That’s much lower than an earlier estimate.

“The report gave the city some great news,” said Elk River Planning Manager Zack Carlton.

The new study, called the Jackson Street Water Tower Condition Assessment (Final Draft – Jackson Street Water Tower Condition Assessment 2015-08-03), was done by Collaborative Design Group Inc. in Minneapolis. The city received a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society last year to complete the assessment. The Elk River City Council received the report without comment on Monday.

The study found that, overall, the water tower structure is in good condition, according to Carlton. There are some minor concerns with the posts and some corrosion, but nothing unexpected for a structure of its age, he said.

The water tower is located along Jackson Avenue just north of downtown. It was built in 1920, remained in service until 1986 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The water tower is owned by Elk River Municipal Utilities.

Troy Adams, general manager of ERMU, said the initial estimate to repaint the water tower suggested that the lead paint on the tower would all have to be removed before repainting.

“It would have been really expensive to sand blast and contain and reclaim all that lead paint,” he said.

Since that estimate was done several years ago, better paint has become available that could cover and seal the lead paint so it wouldn’t all have to be removed, he said. The study recommends removing the peeling paint and cleaning and sealing the rest.

“It will not be necessary to strip all of the paint off the water tower down to bare steel,” according to the condition assessment recommendations. “Any lead based paint that is adhered well can be encapsulated with the new paint.”

Additionally, Adams said they made it clear that the water tower is decommissioned and would not be used to store water, which also may have reduced the estimate.

“It’s definitely the position of the Utilities Commission to preserve it if we can do it, but there’s a lot of hesitation to spend ratepayer money (on restoration),” Adams said.

However, he said ERMU has $60,000 budgeted for tearing down the water tower and is willing to put that money toward the restoration instead.

Carlton said the next step is to find additional grant opportunities to help cover the last $25,000.

“We will be looking at some grants from the Minnesota Historical Society early in 2016,” he said. “If things go according to plan, which they don’t always do, the tower could be repaired and painted next summer. That is obviously ambitious, but it looks to be doable.”

The Elk River Heritage Preservation Commission’s goal is to restore the tower to its original condition by repairing minor structural issues and painting the tower in its original colors of silver with a red cap, according to Carlton.

Water Tower Priorities and Estimate of Probable Costs

Description                     Estimated Cost

Additional testing                 $4,000

Steel repair (if required)     $5,000

Painting                                  $60,000

Contingency                           $10,350

Design fees                            $5,525

TOTAL                                   $84,875

Source: Jackson Street Water Tower Condition Assessment ]]> 0