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News from the week of June 5, 2002

Aquatic Center opening could be Saturday, June 15

Wet weather delays progress

That is to say the new Tracy Family Aquatic Center is tentatively scheduled to open Saturday, June 15.

A week ago, Project Manager Rick Schaffer of USAquatics projected that the pool might open as soon as June 8. But wet weather since then has slowed construction progress.

Shorty Engel, pool administrator, said Tuesday that the ground around the aquatic center site is too wet and soft to allow cement trucks to get in to pour the final sections of pool decking. Once that is done, waterslides and other pool equipment can be installed, and fencing erected around the aquatic center's perimeter.

After the fencing is in place, the aquatic center's three pool areas can be filled with water and all mechanical systems tested. Pool staff can then be trained in the operation of pool's mechanical systems and all pool operations. To save time on the training process, Engel said that arrangements are being made to conduct some staff training sessions at the pool in Slayton. The mechanical systems training will still need to be done in Tracy.

The color of one of the pool's large water slides is an issue that needs to be resolved soon. The city ordered an enclosed, rigid plastic flume slide in a royal blue color. However, the slide that was delivered to Tracy is an aqua blue color. (The predominant colors chosen for the pool are royal blue, yellow, and red). One option is to use a special paint to change the aqua blue into a royal blue. Another option is to simply use the aqua blue slide sections as is. Returning the aqua blue slide and insisting on a royal blue would cause a delay of many weeks in erecting the slide.

Curb and gutter for a new circular drive and parking lot area is complete on the aquatic center's south side. Paving work began last week.

`Slaughter Slough' restoration to begin

Restoring wildlife values and habitats on drained wetlands and recovered tallgrass prairie in Minnesota is nothing new for biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). But a restoration project set to begin soon near Currie also has significance in a historical sense.

This month, the USFWS will begin work on an upland portion of a long-drained marsh known as “Slaughter Slough,” a place where 11 settlers and a number of Dakota Indians were killed in August 1862.

Today, most of the site is either a dried-up soybean field or partially drained wetland. In the summer of 1862, it was a mix of native prairie and marshy wetland, filled with reeds, cattails, and other aquatic grasses. It was also the place where on August 20, 1862, members of nine families took refuge from an armed band of Dakota, who with others from their tribe, had begun attacking settlers along the Minnesota River Valley three days before.

In addition to the settlers, the “Battle of Slaughter Slough” claimed the life of Dakota Leader Grizzly Lean Bear and possibly other Dakota. The battle was one of a handful of skirmishes and battles now known as the Dakota Conflict of 1862.

A stone monument and log cabin at Lake Shetek State Park, near Currie, are the lone physical reminders of the battle and the marsh. Slaughter Slough marsh, like many rural wetlands, was drained in 1912 to provide more land for crops. The USFWS worked with local landowners to acquire about 640 acres of the site and will soon begin planting a mix of grasses and forbs harvested from native tallgrass prairie on about 110 acres of uplands overlooking the former marsh.

Demand keeps pushing ag land values higher

By David Little and Nancy L. Torner

When people learn Roger Heller is a land broker, they usually ask him what's happening to farmland values.

His reply is often surprising.

"There are a lot of people that do not live out here in the rural area who assume land values are dropping and are surprised when they find out that they're not," said Heller, president of North Central Ag Service, Inc. in Olivia.

Nationally, farmland values have increased 35 percent in the past five years, Heller said. The Iowa benchmark of Farm Credit Services, a major farm lender, climbed 60.8 percent in the past 10 years.

Southwest Minnesota county assessors report five to 25 percent increases in farmland sale prices, which continue to climb in most counties.

"I've been saying for three years that this just can't keep going up, and I've been wrong for three years running," Lyon County Assessor Dean Champine said.

Heller said four factors are keeping farmland values strong: a limited supply of land; government policies; non-farm buyers, and operating farmers competing to buy or rent land.

Only about 1.5 percent of the nation's land or about $14 billion of a $950 billion inventory is sold in any given year in a non-forced transaction between unrelated parties. Another two percent changes hands within families as gifts or through real estate transfers, Heller said.

"So you go back to supply and demand, where if the supply is limited and the demand is strong, it biases the prices upward," Heller said.

Study sees housing potential

City should market affordable housing & its amenities, consultant says

How can future housing needs be met in Tracy?

How can the City of Tracy benefit from job growth in the nearby regional center of Marshall?

What type of housing is most needed in Tracy?

How can Tracy market itself to prospective residents as an attractive town offering a high quality of life?

There were more questions than answers last week at a focus group discussion at Tracy City Hall to discuss housing needs in Tracy. But participants were upbeat about Tracy's potential.

“Tracy has things to offer (new residents) that some other small towns don't have,” said Mary Bujold, president of Maxfield Research of Minneapolis. “Tracy has more to offer than just cheap housing.”

Growth potential

Bujold summarized the findings of a recent housing survey conducted in the Tracy Area. The Tracy study was part of a larger study, involving Marshall, Cottonwood and Ghent. The purpose was to quantify demand for different types of housing and recommend development strategies.

A premise of the collaborative study is that the City of Marshall alone will not be able to satisfy all housing needs caused by growth of major Marshall industries and Southwest State University. The Maxfield Research study suggests that communities target different types of housing markets.

School board seeking new business teacher

By Kris Tiegs

Tracy School Board members made several personnel moves at their meeting on Tuesday, May 28. First, the Board unanimously approved a motion to advertise for the position of Business Education teacher for the upcoming school year. The position is vacant due to the retirement of long-time teacher Richard Brink. Board members had considered not replacing the position in an effort to save money.

At the March 25 meeting, Supt. Rick Clark informed Board members District 417 would need to cut approximately $150,000 from its budget for the 2002-2003 school year. At the April 16 meeting, Board members approved $128,000 in reductions. At that meeting, Clark presented options for the remaining reductions. One option was to replace Brink with a new teacher, which would save over $20,000. Board member Eric Nelson suggested at that meeting that the Board gather more information before deciding to replace the position.

Another reduction option presented at the April 16 meeting was the replacement of guidance counselor Chris Kamrud should he decide to retire. Kamrud submitted his resignation at Tuesday night's meeting which was accepted unanimously. In accepting the resignation, Board members thanked Kamrud for his many years of service to students of TAPS.

Board members also accepted the resignation of part-time English teacher Shorty Engel. Engel taught French in the school system for many years before teaching English. Board members thanked Engel for his years of service.

The Board approved a resolution to terminate Gail Johnston as special education instructor. A roll call vote was required which received unanimous support. Paraprofessionals Sara Buysse and Darcy Shultz were also terminated due to declining student enrollment.

FFA notes award-winning year

The 2001-2002 school year was a very good year for the Tracy Area High School FFA Chapter.

FFA members gathered May 28 for their annual awards banquet to reflect on the past year and recognize member achievements. For the fifth-straight year, the Tracy FFA chapter was named the top FFA chapter in the region among 22 chapters.

“Tonight brings an end to another busy year,” said Historian Chris Alexander. “Many goals were accomplished this year through a lot of hard work and dedication.”

Achievements listed by Alexander included:

• $4,569 raised in the annual Corn Drive for Camp Courage.

• A third-place finish in the FFA state trap and skeet shoot.

• A trip by 19 members to the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

• Sales of over $19,000 in the chapter's annual fruit drive.

• Election of Jeff Buyck as region FFA treasurer.

• Sponsoring two PALS programs for grade-school students.

• Qualifying ten teams for the state FFA convention, attended by 38 members.

• Eight members qualifying for the State FFA Degree (Rhonda Bitker, Stephanie Carter, Katie Lanoue, Becky Lessman, Leah Malone, Curt Paradis, Pam Schreier, Kami Skoglund).

It was also noted that three FFA members: Mike Weedman, Travis Bitker, and Matt Knott, were American FFA Degree recipients in 2001.