Around Cook County

News and other information from Cook County

Crews gain upper hand against Ely fire

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 5:47am

ELY, Minn. (AP) — Authorities in Ely have lifted an evacuation order and say they've gained the upper hand against a wildfire that threatened the town.
Scott Camps, emergency services manager for the St. Louis County sheriff's department, says crews have switched to mopping up, though it will likely take a day or longer to douse all the hot spots. Rain is predicted for Saturday.

The Duluth News-Tribune reports the fire started about 1:45 p.m., apparently when a vehicle drove over a downed power line on Minnesota Highway 1 about one mile south of town. Southerly winds gusting to 35 mph then blew the fire rapidly toward town, expanding it to about 150 acres by Thursday evening as it burned pine trees and dry grass along the way.

The southeast corner of Ely was the closest to the fire, and parts of the city were ordered evacuated by Mayor Roger Skraba. Rides were offered for anyone who couldn’t leave on their own. The Ely Echo newspaper reports school superintendent Kim Belcastro notified parents of students who live south of town to find other temporary homes for the children in the Ely area. School buses and all other modes of transportation were not allowed on Hwys 1 and 2.

WELY-FM used its website to notify people of the evacuations and approaching fire but its radio station was off the air because of the power outage.

The U.S. Forest Service took the lead in the fight, which involved several agencies at its peak. City Clerk Terry Lowell says Ely Fire Department crews returned to their base early Thursday evening.

Fundraiser for Oshki Ogimaag supports community school

Thu, 05/17/2012 - 11:29am

How would you like to help a fledgling charter school meet its expenses in a challenging funding environment and get a chance to win a very big prize at the same time?  With the help of the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, Oshki Ogimaag Community School is launching its first big fundraiser, a raffle with a $10,000 grand prize.
Second prize is a two-night stay in a three-bedroom cabin at Hollow Rock Resort in Grand Portage along with dinner and breakfast for two, valued at over $550.  Third prize is a $200 gift certificate to North Shore Dairy.
Tickets will each cost $10 and only 2,000 will be sold.  They will be sold at numerous locations and events throughout Cook County starting with the Elder’s Powwow at Grand Portage Community Center on May 12.  Oshki Ogimaag students will be on hand at these events, providing opportunities for people to meet the students who will benefit from the sale.
The school will use the revenue from ticket sales for general operating expenses. 
“What we get from the state doesn’t quite meet the needs,” said Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Director of Education Haley Brickner at a May 1 media kickoff at the school. 
With state budget cuts and funding delays, staying afloat financially is challenging for Minnesota schools.  “This is a fun way to raise money for the school,” she said.
More information on where to get tickets can be obtained by calling the school at (218) 475-2011.  The prize drawing will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, September 4 at Oshki Ogimaag.

County approves $67,500 loan to Colvill Fire Department

Thu, 05/17/2012 - 11:27am

Colvill Assistant Fire Chief Paul McFarlane went before the county board on May 8 asking for a zero interest loan of $67,500 for a 24’ x 42’ addition to the 42’ x 60’ building put up in 1998.  The current space is basically a four-stall garage with space for a desk and storage of turnout gear.  When the department has meetings or trainings, they have to pull one of the trucks out to make space for tables and chairs.
The addition would create a large meeting area sealed off from truck fumes.  A letter from McFarlane to commissioners states, “In light of the fact that the fire departments in the county have all signed the new Automatic Mutual Aid Agreement, there will be more inter-department trainings happening to facilitate that service to the fire districts.”
The addition, to be built on the west side of the current building, would include an 8’ x 16’ office area and an 8’ x 14’ bath/shower room and a kitchenette.  A well and septic system will be installed.
The Colvill Fire Department already owes the county about $44,900 from another loan.  The board authorized an addition of $67,500 to that loan at zero percent interest, payable over the next 15 years.  With this loan, the department will not need to add to the fire levy.
The board unanimously approved the loan.

Results of biomass studies presented to City of Grand Marais

Wed, 05/16/2012 - 10:45am

Cook County’s forests have more than enough biomass to sustain a district biomass-fueled heating plant in Grand Marais, according to two grant-funded studies undertaken by Dovetail Partners on behalf of Cook County.  The studies look at the feasibility of building and operating a biomass plant, including the amount of biomass that would be needed, the amount that is available, and the economic impacts of such a project.
Numerous configurations have been calculated, ranging from generating heat and power for government buildings, businesses, and residences in the center of town to heating government buildings only.  Last month, the Cook County Biomass Committee met with representatives of the City of Grand Marais to talk about the findings so far.
“The amount of biomass required from any of these district heat configurations is relatively small,” said Project Coordinator Gary Atwood.  The ones believed to be most feasible for district heat would include government buildings along Fifth Street and possibly the downtown business district.  The infrastructure would require pipes buried 24 inches below the street surface.
Up to about 3,400 dry tons of biomass in the form of forest “refuse” per year would be needed for the proposed project, although 5,229 dry tons are already available each year from the Superior National Forest, not including what is cleared for the Firewise program to reduce the impact of wildfires.  The amount harvested would be well under the amount considered sustainable for the health of the forest. “…We’re not going to be driving increased forest harvest,” said George Wilkes of the Biomass Committee and the Cook County Local Energy Project.  City Administrator Mike Roth said, “You’re using a bi-product rather than a commodity someone else wants to use.”

Arrowhead Electric broadband project slowed by bureaucracy

Wed, 05/16/2012 - 10:43am

When the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc (AECI) newsletter The High Line By Line went out to customers in May, it included an update on the electric cooperative’s efforts to bring broadband Internet service to Cook County. The newsletter reassured cooperative members that although progress is slow—only 100 miles of the 800 planned miles of fiber optic cable have been installed— work is still progressing.
Unfortunately, AECI CEO Jeanne Muntean said the installation of broadband is not imminent.
Muntean said the process of receiving economic stimulus funds from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the $22 million broadband build out is taking longer than expected. “It’s bureaucracy,” Muntean said in a phone conversation on May 8.
Something she is used to, said Muntean, noting that RUS funding for projects on the “electrical side” has been known to take up to two years. With million dollar projects involving federal government funding, progress is frequently slow. “This is a $22 million project. Arrowhead’s entire physical plant is $23 million. It takes a lot of planning to complete projects like this,” she said.
The broadband project is complicated by the fact that it is new to everyone—including AECI’s contacts at RUS. “RUS was handed a plateful of projects all at once,” said Muntean. “There are over 300 projects under way at this time in the United States. RUS has to do its due diligence. With all of these awards in the United States, it has slowed things down for everyone.”

Portage overlook is renovated

Wed, 05/16/2012 - 8:24am

Duluth News Tribune Reports: On a clear day, you can not see forever from the newly renovated Mount Josephine Rest Area overlook near Grand Portage — but spotting the white tower of the Rock of Ages Light gleaming in the sun more than 15 miles away is pretty close.

According to The Duluth News Tribune, the pullout along Minnesota Highway 61, on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior between Grand Portage and the Canadian border, has new picnic tables, new restrooms and a new observation deck that juts out to the edge of the cliff, giving a wide panorama of Wauswaugoning Bay, Hat Point and nearby islands including Susie and Lucille. In the distance, on the horizon, looms the large mass of Isle Royale, with Rock of Ages off its southwest tip. 

A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at the wayside on Friday from 1:30-2:30 p.m., with representatives from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the North Shore Scenic Drive Council.