Around Cook County

News and other information from Cook County

"Spring Dance" feaures Randy Sabien and the Unusual Suspects on April 4

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 12:14pm

You’re invited to put on your dancing shoes and come to the North Shore Music Association’s music and dance event on April 4. WTIP volunteer Barb Heideman spoke with NSMA's Kate Fitzgerald on North Shore Morning. 


Contact: Kate Fitzgerald - North Shore Music Association, 218-387-1272
Event:  Spring Dance! Randy Sabien & the Unusual Suspects
Venue:  North House Folk School, 500 W. Highway 61, on the harbor in Grand Marais
Date:  April 4, 2015
Time:  7:30-10:30 PM

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Septic installers/designers say their situation is critical

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 8:44am

Spring is sure to come and when it does, the county’s many septic installers should be digging in the dirt. But currently at least 17 of them are not happy with the county’s septic ordinance to the point of hanging up their backhoes.

According to one Gunflint Trail installer, the problems have reached crisis proportions. Three meetings with Planning and Zoning personnel have already be held, a fourth is scheduled for April 8.

At issue is the wording and administration of the ordinance. What installers refer to as “county regulatory overreach.” They also don’t like the way they’re being treated.

They argue that due to the geography of Cook County, to make septic systems work here requires flexibility and creativity, but the county regulations are often more stringent than state regulations. They also feel their credentials are being called into question. The county septic installers not only have years of experience, but hundreds of hours of continuing education.

Installers have several language changes they’d like to see in the county septic ordinance. The number and frequency of inspections, they maintain, slows down construction time. Also, design changes to accommodate unforeseen circumstances in construction are required during the short construction season rather than when the project is finished. A time as well as trust issue for the installers.

“Abandonment” is another big issue with installers. Often they are required to destroy old systems – typically outhouses -- before the new ones are complete, leaving no operating system. The county requires a certificate of compliance on a new installation, but while the certificate is issued to the landowner, the county holds the installer responsible for destroying the old system, sometimes holding up issuing a new permit until the abandonment issue is resolved. Installers also want the time for both compliance with destruction as well as for the valid construction permit to be lengthened.

Changes in the ordinance and the way it’s carried out are framed within what installers see as a lack of trust, arbitrary interpretation of the rules -- even alleged abuse of power. Their frustration is palpable and they’re at the end of their regulatory ropes. They’ve been working with the Cook County Chamber of Commerce to articulate their concerns. The Chamber’s goals include looking at regulations that unreasonably repress economic development.

Planning and Zoning administrator Tim Nelson is arguing that his office and the installers have “an overabundance of cases” pending. Suspending inspections for a time would help alleviate the backlog. Whether or not the septic crisis will be eased after the county board voted for a suspension of lakeshore septic inspections for as much as two years, remains to be seen.


Adam Dorr finishes in top 5 at state in History Bee

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 11:16am

After scoring high enough in an online qualifying test, Cook County Middle School seventh-grader Adam Dorr headed to Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul on Wednesday, March 18 to compete in a live regional competition. Dorr finished in the top 10—in 5th place—and is eligible for the National History Bee competition in Louisville, Kentucky in May.

The Cook County News-Herald talked to Dorr this week, asking him first how difficult it was to qualify. Dorr said the on-line test was not too bad. And, it gave him practice in answering questions quickly. “You have 30 seconds per question,” he explained.

At the regional competition, the first three rounds were fairly easy for the history buff. “There weren’t that many people watching,” he said, grinning when asked if it included a buzzer like the challenging game show Jeopardy.

“It’s kind of like that,” he said, noting that as competition advanced, the crowd watching grew.

Asked if he remembered the toughest question, Dorr said he didn’t. “They are all pretty long questions. But the ones hardest for me were about kings and queens.

“I like U.S. history better,” he said.

Those were the questions that were “easy” for Dorr.

Asked what he would say to other students who might want to take part in the History Bee, Dorr said, “They should do it. There’s a lot of stuff to know, but it’s really fun.”


This local news is provided by Cook County News-Herald. Visit the community newspaper at

Birch Grove Community School and townships continue discussion on funding

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 11:13am

The Birch Grove Community School (BGCS) board of directors met on Tuesday, March 17, inviting Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder officials to join them in discussion about the funding request made by the school at township annual meetings on March 10, 2015.

Schroeder Supervisor Tina McKeever and Tofte Supervisor Paul James were at the meeting to hear what the township had learned about payments and/or donations to townships.

BGCS Board Member Judy Motschenbacher distributed a letter sent to Senator Tom Bakk and Representative David Dill from Kent Sulem, general counsel and director of government relations for the Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT).

In his 3-page letter to legislators, Sulem said the appearance of “conflicting answers” from MAT reflected correct answers to slightly different scenarios.

The first question, said Sulem, is “Can a town make a general donation to a charter school?”

Sulem wrote that the answer is yes, provided the charter school is operating under Minnesota Statute Chapter 124D or receives direct state funding. If that is true, Sulem said Minnesota Statute 471.84 “allows a town to transfer, with or without compensation, personnel property to other public corporation, including school districts.

He wrote that cash is considered personal property…”

Motschenbacher said that BGCS does operate under the State Statute cited and does receive state funding.

Sulem’s letter said in that case, “…the town board could, under its own authority, make a cash donation of any size to the school as a school district. Approval is not required at the annual town meeting. In fact, any action at the annual meeting would be purely advisory under this provision of law.”

County hires attorney to handle law enforcement grievance

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 11:09am

At County Attorney Molly Hicken’s request, the county board agreed on Tuesday, March 24 to hire Dyan Ebert to represent the county in the grievance filed by Law Enforcement Labor Services (LELS) for law enforcement personal who feel that two employees—Leif Lunde and Ben Hallberg—should not get  seniority credit for the time they served in administrative roles.

Newly-elected Sheriff Pat Eliasen first denied the union’s request, which then went to Hicken, who also denied it.  In Step 3, the grievance was brought before the county commissioners who also denied it because past practices have allowed a county employee to return to the labor pool from a management position without losing time.

Hicken said it has been 24 years since the county faced a grievance and she felt that Ebert, who has a lot of expertise in handling such cases, would be best able to handle the matter.


This local news is provided by Cook County News-Herald. Visit the community newspaper at

Industrial Tech expansion bids higher than anticipated

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 11:06am

At the Thursday, March 19 School District 166 school board meeting, board members heard the results of the bid opening for the long-awaited expansion of the industrial arts area. The school’s architect Ryan Erspamer of Architectural Resources Inc. (ARI) told the board, “Unfortunately bids did not come in where we were hoping.”

Erspamer said part of the problem is that only two bids were received. A bid of 1,033,000 was received from Ray Riihiluoma, Inc. of Cloquet. The Boldt Company of Rochester, Minnesota submitted the lowest bid of $974,600—that is $224,600 higher than the anticipated $750,000 earmarked for the project.

Erspamer said the school board had four options: 1.) award the bid to Boldt Company as is; 2.) award the bid to Boldt Company and work with them to bring down costs; 3.) rebid; or 4.) have ARI go back and redesign the project.

Erspamer said asking Boldt to lower costs would mean taking things out and could mean that the school would lose the “long-term durability” of the addition. Likewise with having ARI go back and possibly redesign the project. Erspamer said he would be willing to do so, but said that was his “least favorite option.”

He said, “I don’t think we designed this to be the Taj Mahal. It’s not over-designed; it’s not overly large. There may be some things we could take out, but again, we’d lose quality,” he said.

Erspamer cautioned against rebidding, as he said costs would likely keep increasing.

Superintendent Beth Schwarz said her recommendation was to award the project to Boldt Company, but ask Erspamer to work with them to see if there is anything that can be done to bring the costs down.