WINTER WONDERLAND OPEN CHRISTMAS EVE, CHRISTMAS DAY
Brainerd Noon Sertoma organizers of the first Winter Wonderland light display continue to be absolutely amazed at the response to their gigantic Christmas light display at Northland Arboretum. Sertoman Joyce Michah said there are nights when more than 500 cars make their way through the colorful displays. And because of the demand, Sertomans have decided to open the display Christmas Eve and Cristmas Day. Joyce said there are some nights when cars are lined up on Excelsior Road in Baxter past the Civic Center, up Riverside Driver all the way to Beaver Dam Road. The display will be open through the end of the year and on New Year's Eve.
KINSHIP FUNDRAISER GARY WALTERS IS 100 POUNDS LIGHTER
Brainerd insurance executive Gary Walters lost 100 pounds this year and has completed his Kinship Partners fundraising challenge. The once-portly 290 pound Walters now packs 190 pounds on his 5'8" frame, but it was close at the end. He spent Thursday at FitQuest in Baxter losing the last 5 pounds. Walters exercised in aerobics classes, on the treadmill and in the steam room, drinking as little water as possible. He told the Brainerd Dispatch it was not the preferred way to lose weight but he wanted to make his goal. Walters had until midnight but climbed on the scale at 4:30p and found he was just a shade over his 190 pound goal. So he checked the scale, then told everyone to leave the room so he could take off his shoes, his socks, his tee shirt, and his, uh, sweaty shorts, and he had made his weight. Walters wouldn't say what next year's fundraising stunt would be. In past years, he's biked from New Orleans to Minnesota, walked across the state the long way, swam across Mille Lacs Lake, and spent two weeks near the top of Brainerd's old water tower. Next year's stunt, Walters said, would be something cool, but he wouldn't give details.
WHA WILL TRY FOR REFERENDUM AGAIN
For the second time in a little over two months, the Walker Hackensack Akeley School Board will to try to pass an operating levy referendum. Voters turned down the attempt on December 4th, by 18 votes. Superintendent Wallace Shoeb said both operating cash and building repairs will be put in the same question this time. The referendum on February 12, 2008 will be to increase taxes by $550 per pupil. The increase would be in effect for 8 years. The earlier attempt was for 10 years. Schoeb said board members were very hopeful that more 'yes' voters would go to the polls this time than last. The district's budget in October was in the red by nearly $588,000, is in statutory operating debt and will have to cut its budget by $1.2-Million over the next three years if this or a future levy doesn't pass. Schoeb said the school web page is being updated to show the tax impact of the new levy question.
BOMB THREAT INVESTIGATION
Baxter law enforcement continues its investigation into who threatened to blow up the Baxter Walmart on Wednesday. The store was evacuated and closed for a little over an hour. Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said Walmart employees were able to clear out the store in five minutes and "in about ten minutes, the parking lot was pretty much cleared out." Exsted said investigators are following up on a number of good leads but didn't know how soon he would announce further developments. A Walmart Corporate spokesman said if presented with the opportunity, they would prosecute to the full extent of the law. If you have information, call the Baxter PD at 1-218-454-5090.
WALLEYE OPENER NOT ON MOTHER'S DAY?
The state lawmaker who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee may try to move the state walleye fishing opening weekend up a week earlier, so it wouldn't conflict with Mother's Day. Senator Satveer Chaudhary represents Fridley and suggested the change in a letter to DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. Chaudhary said he also suggested a smaller limit on walleye, down to 4 a day from 6 a day. That would place the opener in 2009 on May 2nd. The DNR hasn't responded to Chaudhary yet.
BOMB THREAT INVESTIGATION PROCEEDS
Crow Wing County Bomb Squad officers continue their investigation into a bomb threat that closed the Baxter Walmart yesterday afternoon. Walmart employees escorted customers out at 3:15p and Baxter, Brainerd and Crow Wing County officers sealed off the building and parking lot for a little over an hour. Security personnel and police officers agreed to re-open the store at 4:30pm. A Walmart Corporate spokesman said his company considered the threat as serious and if presented with the opportunity, would prosecute to the full extent of the law. If you have any information about the bomb threat, call the Baxter Police Department at 218-454-5090.
FINAL DAYS FOR RED KETTLE '07
The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign for 2007 is about to begin its final weekend and Captain Brian Reed said there are still about 70 hours of bell-ringing time for which no one has signed up. Reed said the campaign has gathered about $70,000 so far, on the way to a goal of $100,000. A number of area businesses have said they would pitch in a portion of their proceeds to the Salvation Army. The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes will donate 10% of water park revenue from this Friday and Saturday to the campaign. And the family that operates the Festival of Lights at This Old Farm's Pioneer Village east of Brainerd said they would donate 20% of their gate income. Pioneer Village is located 7 miles east on Highway 18 next to Paul Bunyan Land. If you can ring the bell for an hour or two, call Deb at 829-1120.
BP ICE FEST IN JEAOPARDY
The Breezy Point Ice Fest is nearly a month away but some are thinking it may have to be postponed or some of its events canceled again this year. Activities on the ice like the snowmobile time trials and the world famous power ice auger contest scheduled for last year's festival had to be canceled because the ice was not thick enough. Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Nikki Shouts said some are concerned it may happen again because the ice on many area lakes is not freezing up. Shouts said the Breezy Point Ice Fest is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, January 11th and 12th. A final decision will be made on Monday, January 7th.
TOY THEFT INVESTIGATION
Cass County Sheriff's Deputies arrested 30-year old Tanya Ann Allen of Cass Lake on Monday for stealing toys from a United Way program. Bemidji Police Captain Bob Lehman said one of his officers, Tabitha Kerrigan did most of the work on the case. Kerrigan said a Walmart clerk told her there was something just not right about the woman who had recently picked up toys from the collection point. Police checked the surveillance video footage and later arrested Allen on an outstanding warrant. Captain Lehman said they have a picture of Officer Kerrigan, a diminutive woman, surrounded by hundreds of toys. Allen is in the Cass County Jail waiting charges. The toys were returned to the United Way Needy Child program, just in time for Christmas.
PALISADE WOMAN DIES IN CRASH
57-year old Janell Hatfield died just after 5:30pm yesterday afternoon when she swerved to avoid hitting a deer on Highway 169, 12 miles north of Aitkin. The deer ran into her side of the car and when she tried to get back into the northbound lane, she overcorrected, and collided with a Dodge pickup in the southbound lane. Two men from McGregor were in the pickup and sustained non-life threatening injuries. Hatfield died at the scene of the crash.
BAXTER WALMART CLOSED BY BOMB THREAT
Someone threatened to blow up the Baxter Walmart store Wednesday afternoon. Officials evacuated the store and contacted law enforcement. Baxter Police, the Crow Wing County Bomb Squad as well as officers from Brainerd and the County Sheriff's department sealed off the area including the parking lot. Officers searched the store and allowed it to reopen at 4:30pm. Police officials said the matter is being investigated as a bomb threat. A Walmart Corporate spokesman would say only that management perceived the threat as serious and if presented the opportunity, would prosecute to the full extent of the law. If you have any information about the bomb threat that closed the Baxter Walmart yesterday, please call the Baxter Police Department at 218-454-5090.
COUNCIL DECIDES IN FAVOR OF BYPASS
The Pequot Lakes City Council voted 4 to 1 Tuesday night to favor the alternate, around-town route for an expanded Highway 371. Councilman Tom Ryan voted for the through-town route and said "bypass doesn't correct the deficiences that we have now. It may be a safer road in some respects but its also moving the same design outside of town and we haven't solve the problem." Ryan said the next decision is up to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, even after the council expresses 'municipal consent' and that's going to take some time. Councilman Craig Nagel voted for the bypass and said he believed this is what was needed for a long time. Nagel said "if MnDot's forecast is to be believed, what is coming at us in Pequot Lakes in the very new future is a tidal wave of traffic." Nagel said traffic of that magnitude would render the town "virtually inoperative." MnDot will ask the council for a resolution of 'municipal consent' early next year. Construction may start as early as 2015.
STATE REVENUE OFFICIALS SEIZE PL RESTAURANT CASH
Pequot Lakes Police Officer John Ryan assisted agents from the Minnesota Department of Revenue last week when they tried to collect money or valuables from the Sibley Station Restaurant. Ryan escorted Agent Pete Baumann who had authorization to collect 'all till and safe assets' to satisfy a tax debt and took $700. The Brainerd Dispatch reported this morning that Sibley Station failed to pay a portion of sales tax revenues from 2002 to 2006. MnDOR officials said owners of the restaurant, Deb and Joe Halbeck owe the state $146,805. Deb Hallbeck told the Dispatch reporter she decided to "keep sales tax dollars and put the money back into her business instead of paying the state." Hallbeck said the restaurant's sales tax permit was revoked last year but the business was re-incorporated and is operating under a new permit. The business is listed for sale. Revenue officials say selling the business is allowed under state law but a tax lien is attached.
REGION FIVE IN GOOD SHAPE
About a year ago, commissioners from Crow Wing, Cass and Hubbard Counties were talking about pulling out of the Region Five, a clearinghouse for government grants and research activities. But that was April, 2006 and Region Five is doing much better these days. Executive Director Cheryl Hills said the agency was $895,000 in debt and when she joined the agency, two days before payday, she wasn't sure employees could be paid. Hills said today, the agency is starting to see black ink in its ledger books. It still has some debt, about $135,000 but has a plan to pay it back in the next five years. Hills said most of the thanks goes to a dedicated staff and committee board of directors who believe in what Region Five does. Recent activities included a survey of people who live in and around Pequot Lakes and their preference for the future route of Highway 371.
NO CAMERAS FOR BUHL
The Buhl City Council voted down a proposal to install six surveillance cameras around the tiny Iron Range town after it heard widespread scorn from members of the community. About 30 people opposed the idea at Tuesday's council meeting. St. Louis County Sheriff Pat McKenzie said the cameras would have been useful as an investigative tool and a deterrant to crime and would not be used to give people tickets. Mark Frahm is the owner of Billy's Bar in Buhl. He told the Mesabi Daily News that "we don't have rapes, murders and mugging. We're not a big city." Sheriff McKenzie said officers have been called to Buhl nearly 740 times this year so far.
RADIOACTIVE MEASURING DEVICE TURNS UP
A radioactive measuring device stolen from a pickup in Forest Lake turned up Sunday night on the back steps of the local police department. Officers found the device Monday morning. The gizmo measures the moisture content and density of soil and building materials and was probably stolen in September. It has no resale value. It was not tampered with and was returned to its owner, a construction company named Asset Management.
OLD SAUK RAPIDS BRIDGE COMING DOWN
Crews are weeks away from dismantling an old bridge across the Mississippi River in Sauk Rapids. The first section of steel beams came out this week. A replacement bridge opened to traffic in October and approach roads were built on both sides of the river. Some businesses were relocated. The total cost of the project should be around $57-Million.
ICE STILL NOT SAFE
Cass County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Tom Burch continues to warn those walking or sledding of area lakes. Burch said people should assume that the ice is not safe until they check it themselves, preferably as safely as they can. Deputy Burch said the warmer weather this week won't help much. Ice on some areas of Leech Lake is up to 11 inches thick but other areas of the lake, thickness is no more than 3 inches. Burch said a number of snowmobiles, ATVs and people have gone through the ice. So far, no one has drowned.
PL COUNCIL VOTES FOR BYPASS
The Pequot Lakes City Council approved the around-town route for the expansion of Highway 371 at Tuesday night's meeting. The council voted 4 to 1 in favor of the resolution. Officials expect construction on the highway to start in eight years. Councilman Tom Ryan was the lone vote against the bypass and said "if we take the emotion out of the decision, the through-town route should prevail." Councilman Craig Nagel told the Brainerd Dispatch that he had been divided on the issue for some time but expanding the highway through the middle of town was like "putting a driveway through your living room." MnDOT will ask the council for an official 'municipal consent' degree early next year.
CUSHING MAN SENTENCED TO LIFE
The rural Cushing man who admitted shooting his parents in January has been sentenced to life in prison. 28-year old Erik John Wojciechowski pleaded guilty in November to shooting Roger and Jeanne Wojciechowski in their rural Cushing home. The sentences are to be served concurrently and he'll be eligible for parol in 30 years. Wojcieschowski was also sentenced to 42 months for felony first degree DWI. He could appeal the sentences. Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf told the Brainerd Dispatch that appeals are rare in these cases because of the plea agreement.
A MOTHER REMEMBERS
Mary Symeta spent a lot of time drinking, from the time she was a teen, through the birth of her daughter DeeAnn, and more than 25 years after that. She knows because DeeAnn had just turned 25 when died in an alcohol-related motorcycle crash. Only then, Mary said, could she begin the long, slow climb out of her overpowering addiction. Symeta said the details of the crash will always remain crystal clear in her mind. DeeAnn and a friend had been drinking in a small town in Colorado. His motorcycle was traveling at 100 mph when it hit a concrete median. DeeAnn was thrown 250 feet, landed face-down in a ditch, and declared dead at the scene. The rider lived, spent a year in jail and five years on probation. Symeta said there are three people responsible for the crash; her daughter, the driver, and "me, because throughout her life, she never knew me sober. What she learned from me was its okay to drink and drive because that's what she saw me do throughout her whole life."
Symeta has been sober for six years, lives in Crow Wing County, has written a book, The Consequences of Alcohol, and spends time talking to groups working for the day alcohol-related crash fatalities don't happen anymore. And she would like to see the motorcycle driver again someday, to give him a hug and forgive him.
CAMP RIPLEY READINESS CHRISTMAS
The Camp Ripley Military Readiness Group and Lewie's RV Center would like to make this Christmas a little merrier for military families who have a member serving overseas. Lewie's spokeswoman Teresa Giese said they're collecting gift items no later than Thursday, December 20 so that the group can distribute baskets to their members. Giese said 30 soldiers have recently returned from deployment and a number of others are serving over the Christmas holiday. Readiness Group representatives have said that the best items at this time are things like gift cards, phone-calling cards, hair cut cards and coupons for snow shoveling. Drop the items you donate off at Lewie's RV Center on Highway 371 in Baxter. If you have questions, call Teresa at 218-829-3695.
VOTERS DECIDE ON BOND REFERENDUMS
Voters in the Detroit Lakes area go to the polls today to approve or disapprove a nearly $26-Million bond referendum. This is the fourth time in two years that the Lake Park-Audubon School Board has placed the school building issue on the ballot. The measure would build a $23-Million high school in Lake Park and renovate the Audubon Elementary School. A second question would upgrade parking lots and a track and football field. The last referendum failed by 90 votes.
CROSBY IRONTON SETS BUDGET TIMELINE
The Crosby Ironton School Board approved a timeline for budget reductions at Monday night's meeting but didn't talk about specifics. Two board committees were to come up with a projected enrollment figure for next fall but one committee wasn't able to agree on one so the board hasn't decided yet how deep to make the cuts. Superintendent Jamie Skevlund said if the board was not able to establish that baseline figure at this time, they would when it came time to actually make the cuts. That is scheduled to happen at the next meeting, on January 7th, 2008. The timeline adopted Monday night indicates the board is to adopt the Superintendent's recommendations to cut educational programs and teachers. The timeline says the board will send lay-off notices to affected personnel on January 29th.
THANKS FROM FRANCE
Governor Pawlenty will speak at the French Legion of Honor Awards presentation Tuesday afternoon at the State Capitol. World War II Veterans Merrill Burgstahler of Minnetonka and Walter Halloran of Rochester are getting the awards for "an invaluable contribution to the liberation of France during WWII." The Honorary Consul of France in Minneapolis, Alain Frecon will present the awards.
PEQUOT LAKES COUNCIL TO VOTE TUESDAY
It's not the final vote to decide the future of Highway 371 but its getting close. The Pequot Lakes City Council will consider a resolution Tuesday night encouraging the Minnesota Department of Transportation to complete an environmental impact statement for the alternate route around the city. Mayor Cathy Malecha said the EIS has already been done for the through-town route and completing the study will allow cost comparison between routes. Malecha said the absolutely final decision will be made early next year when MnDOT will ask the city for 'municipal consent', the official last decision. Mayor Malecha said what citizens need to do now is band together to work for the betterment of the city. She said a decision favoring the alternate route could be an opportunity for the city, "if we do it right and don't hold each other at bay because of a decision we made."
WARROAD MAN DIES IN SNOWMOBILE CRASH
19-year old Aaron Allen Robinson was driving him snowmobile across a Warroad street Fridan night when he failed to yield to oncoming traffic and collided with a car. Robinson was pronounced dead at a Roseau hospital. The 16-year old girl driving the car was not injured. Warroad police officers said the speed of the snowmobile appears to be a major contributing factor in the crash.
BRAINERD SNOW REMOVAL SCHEDULE
The Brainerd Street Department will be removing snow in North Brainerd beginning at 7am Tuesday morning, December 18th. Crews will clear streets from First to Tenth Streets from Washington to Kingwood. Parking is banned during snow removal.
OPEN HOUSE FOR NEW ROAD PLAN
The Crow Wing County Highway Department will host a meeting Monday night, December 17th to talk about improvements to CR 4 south of Breezy Point to CR 18, the roadway to Nisswa. Assistant Engineer Rob Hall will present the plan for the road from 4-7pm at Breezy Point City Hall. There will be an information presentation at 4:30p. Construction could start in the summer of 2009.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DRIVING
This is not a good time to forget all those good driving habits you've developed but it is a good time to pay more attention to the specific job of driving. Minnesota State Patrol Sergeant Curt Mowers said put the cell phone away, let someone else read the liner notes on the CD, and wait until you stop somewhere to comb your hair or fix your eyeliner. Mowers said this is a particularly busy time of the year and behaviors like running red lights, not stopping for stop signs, and drifting from one lane to another without signaling indicate that drivers are not thinking about what they're doing.
WALTERS DOWN TO FINAL DAYS OF WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE
Gary Walters' 2007 Kinship Partners fundraising stunt is in its last days. Walters pledged last December that he would lose 100 pounds by this Thursday, December 20th. As of last Friday, the once-portly insurance man had lost 85 pounds. He has until midnight, Thursday to lose the rest. He had challenged others to pledge money either that he would lose the weight or pledge so much per pound that he lost. He told the Brainerd Dispatch he intends to spend Thursday shaving off those last few pounds and sharing recipes he's picked up during his year-long effort.
SENATE FARM BILL HAS GOOD AND BAD PARTS
The US Senate approved its version of the new Farm Bill late last week. Minnesota Farmers Union spokesman Doug Peterson said the $288-Billion bill has some good things for consumers and producers. The new bill includes Country of Origin labeling requirements and state inspection of interstate shipments. He also likes the permanent disaster program in the bill and funding for farm fuels and specialty crops. Peterson is disappointed that the bill continues large subsidies to what he calls 'mega-farms'. President Bush has said he may veto the bill if the final price tag is too high. The Senate bill now goes to a conference committee to find common ground with one from the US House.