Around Cook County
On March 28, Paul Nelson and George Wilkes of the Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP) met with the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to discuss the possibility of the PUC being the fiscal agent for a biomass district heating plant grant of $200,000-$250,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The grant requires a significant amount of work to have been done already. Nelson said the biomass district heating project CCEP has been pursuing on behalf of the city of Grand Marais appears to be tailor-made for this grant, with all of the required background work already completed.
The PUC has agreed to be the owner of the proposed plant if it proves to be feasible. CCLEP has been working through a series of steps to determine the project’s feasibility, but for this grant, a fiscal agent with a more significant financial history, such as the PUC, is required.
CCLEP has retained the services of FVB Energy Inc., which has estimated that a biomass plant, underground infrastructure, and hookups to the first customers would cost about $9 million.
Grand Marais Public Utilities (PUC) customers have undoubtedly noticed a new format to their monthly bills. The new format was recommended by the city’s energy cooperative, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) with the hope that a new feature comparing energy use with other customers will inspire people to reduce their use of energy.
The new format shows residential customers how their own energy use compares with that of people with homes of similar size, age, and heat sources. Grand Marais has been divided up into numerous groupings.
According to the SMMPA website, “The Household Energy Comparison is aimed at giving you a better understanding of your electric consumption and provides additional ways to use energy wisely. Similar programs across Minnesota have found that customers save an average of 1.5 percent on their monthly electric bills.
The Cook County High School Industrial Arts Trust Fund doesn’t have a fancy name and the one who inspired it won’t let it be named after him, but it is in place and awaiting support from the community.
Last November, the ISD 166 school board decided to establish a fund to promote the industrial arts program and gave Leonard Sobanja, a long-time advocate of vocational education, the discretion to determine how it would be used.
Sobanja is a retired ISD 166 teacher, principal, and school board member. At the March 21 school board meeting, he thanked the board for motivating him to develop the Industrial Arts Trust Fund.
In a letter to the board, Sobanja wrote that he had given the fund’s guidelines a lot of thought. He decided the fund should be used not for scholarships but for building the CCHS Industrial Arts Department.
The guidelines state, “The fund is dedicated to help build and furnish the space needed to meet the requirements of an up-to-date industrial arts facility that will allow students to experience the techniques needed in today’s labor market.”
The fund is open to donations from the community and funds raised will be placed in the school’s trust fund so they can enjoy the interest raised by that fund. Expenditures must be approved by a committee comprised of the superintendent, a school board member who advocates for technical education, the CCHS industrial arts teacher, the school counselor, and any teachers who have vocational education certificates.
Sobanja said he would like to see the fund grow and pointed out that new machinery is needed.
Hands-on learning is vital, Sobanja said.
The board unanimously passed a motion formally establishing the CCHS Industrial Arts Trust Fund.
The investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) into the circumstances surrounding Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell’s relationship with a 17-year-old has been completed, according to a county official. According to a Sixth Judicial District Court order issued March 25, Thomas B. Heffelfinger has been appointed to act in the place of the Cook County Attorney for purposes of reviewing the BCA documents “for potential prosecution and, if appropriate to conduct a prosecution.”
The BCA began the investigation in December 2012 at the request of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the Sixth District Court document, Heffelfinger will take an oath required by law of county attorneys and may perform all duties of the county attorney in relation to this BCA investigation.
Heffelfinger, who ius a fomer U.S. Attorney for the state of Minnesota and who once served as the Hennepin County Assistant County Attorney, will be compensated $230 per hour and reasonable expenses for travel. Upon completion of the duties of the order, it states that Heffelfinger shall submit an invoice to the Cook County Attorney’s Office, to the attention of Assistant Cook County Attorney Molly Hicken.
Reached by phone on April 5, Heffelfinger would not comment on the matter, other than to say that he had been retained by the court to review a case when it is presented to him. He would not give a comment on the possible time it would take to conduct the review and when asked what the next step in this process was, Heffelfinger replied, "That depends on my decision. I am not going to speculate."
The county, through Information Systems Director Danna MacKenzie, County Attorney Tim Scannell, and the county board, has been working out agreements with Verizon Wireless for a new cell tower above Grand Marais that will provide 4G service.
Verizon will build the new tower, but the county will own it and the land it is on. Verizon will also take down the old WDIO-TV tower it has been leasing space on. In exchange for this, Verizon will receive an abatement of 50 percent of its rent for 20 years. It will pay $990 a month ($11,880 the first year) and 3 percent more each year thereafter. After expenses for insurance, electricity, and plowing, MacKenzie expects the county to have a net gain of about $10,000 a year.
Verizon hopes to have the new service available by the end of the year.
Warren Anderson, chair of the Cook County Council on Aging and other members of the Cook County Senior Center Board and staff members attended the March 27 Grand Marais City Council meeting to share safety concerns about the parking lot that the senior center and the city share.
Both Anderson and Senior Center Director Bev Green said the parking area creates a dangerous situation due to the high volume of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The vehicles often travel through at a reckless and high rate of speed, and the elderly people going into and out of the building—many of whom use walkers or canes—are increasingly in danger of being run over, according to Green.
The two-way drive-through is wider than Broadway Avenue, which seems to make drivers view it a street rather than a parking area.
Suggestions offered included installation of temporary speed bumps or other barriers (which could be removed in winter to facilitate snow plowing), addition of signs and closure of the entrance to vehicles altogether.
Mayor Larry Carlson and City Administrator Mike Roth said they would set up a meeting with Senior Center board members and administrators, and interested councilors to talk about possible safety improvements, and also to consider ways to more efficiently cooperate and manage the municipal lot.