banner.gif (15051 bytes)

News from the week of December 17, 2003

When rubber hits road in Lyon County, odds may rise it's gravel not pavement

By Seth Schmidt

Eighteen miles of paved roads in Lyon County will be converted to gravel by the end the decade, if an option being studied by the Lyon Public Works Department is adopted.

The pavement-to-gravel scenario is one possibility in a 14-year improvement plan for Lyon County's county-funded paved roads (all county roads numbered 50 and above). In the plan's Option "B," 18 of the 43 miles of county funded roads would become gravel by the year 2010.

Anita Benson, Lyon County public works administrator, says that the 14-year improvement plan is an attempt to assess and prioritize needs.

"It would be pretty drastic," Benson says, of the possibility that some paved roads will become gravel. Unfortunately, she said, there isn't enough money to continue to maintain all of the county's paved roads.

"We are trying to be very realistic and honest," Benson said.

In the Tracy area, one-mile segments of County Roads 73 and 56 are among the roads affected by the pavement to gravel scenario. County 56 is the east-west road the goes past the St. Mary's cemetery. The affected portion of County 73 is the paved mile extending south from Tracy city limits past the city cemetery.

In the Balaton area, County 63 would be converted to gravel from city limits to the Lyon-Murray county line.

Traffic volume, distance to other paved roads, and condition of existing roads were the criteria used in selecting which county-funded paved roads are candidates for gravel.

An informational meeting on the proposed 14-year improvement plan is scheduled Thursday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m., at the Lyon County Government Center (county commissioner meeting room).

The 14-year improvement plan also has a "Plan A" to maintain pavement on all existing county-funded roads. The estimated cost of "Plan A" is $5 million over a 14-year period.

The estimated price tag of "Plan B," which converts 18 miles of paved county roads to gravel, is $3 million.

"Plan C" would be the improvement plan that is adopted after public comment and county commissioner involvement.

Lamberton waste-to-energy plant touted

By Val Scherbart Quist

Could the sometimes stinky issue of garbage disposal have a sweeter solution for Southwest Minnesota cities?

Yes, says a Redwood County group advocating the construction of a waste-to-energy facility in Lamberton.

Facility supporters Steve Krinke of the Lamberton Economic Development Authority, Leonard Runck of the Red Rock Central school district, and Jeff Zupke of the Redwood County Environmental Office were in Tracy last Wednesday to present information on the proposed $37 million plant. The informational meeting was one of 24 planned throughout a 17-county region.

Lamberton began researching the waste-to-energy facility idea about three years ago, Krinke said. Redwood County came on board about six months later. A potential site for the plant has been identified west of Lamberton.

Krinke noted that waste-to-energy plants aren't new to Minnesota; there are currently 10 operating throughout the state.

“We thought that we needed something to cover our region,” he said.

A feasibility study, which cost about $250,000-$300,000, was conducted. The results were encouraging for the plant backers. The study showed that, in the 17-county target area, over 350 tons of municipal solid waste are produced daily.

One concern raised was whether a shrinking Southwest Minnesota population would continue to produce enough garbage to support such a facility. Runck and Krinke pointed out that, on average, people are creating more garbage by the day. Each person now creates about seven pounds of waste per day.

In addition, they said, the state is attempting to reduce the use of two common rural garbage disposal practices — burning barrels and on-site garbage burial. According to statistics, burning barrels account for 22 percent of all dioxins produced today. In fact, studies show that 20 families using a backyard burning barrel will emit more dioxins than 150,000 families sending their waste to a waste-to-energy facility.

A waste-to-energy facility, said Runck, would not only produce little pollution — less than that produced by burning barrels — it would recover resource by converting the waste into energy.

“That's what we're trying to do — convert to electricity.”

The facility would produce 6.5 megawatts of electricity an hour, in addition to steam. New federal guidelines, which will go into effect in 2008, will require companies to buy a certain percentage of “green” energy. The electricity produced at the waste-to-energy facility would meet that requirement. It is estimated that the sale of renewable electricity would generate $2.6 million annually for the plant.

'Tis season for flu

Vaccinations still available locally for high-risk people

By Val Scherbart Quist

It's beginning to look a lot like ... flu season?

An early outbreak of influenza has caused nationwide alarm in recent weeks. That concern has spread to Tracy, said Dr. Javed Fazal of Tracy Area Medical Services this week.

“There has been a fair amount of panic,” he said. “There is quite a bit of influenza going around.”

Some cases of influenza diagnosed in Tracy, said Dr. Fazal. They have ranged in severity from those who don't have any symptoms but have been exposed to the flu, to those experiencing fever, cough, headache, sore throat, and other common symptoms.

In many areas, the panic over the early flu outbreak—and, in some states, deaths—has resulted in flu vaccine shortages.

While there is a slight shortage of the flu vaccine in Tracy, said Dr. Fazal, there are some doses still available. These doses are being reserved for high-risk patients.

Influenza can be especially dangerous for the elderly and very young, those with chronic medical conditions, and women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. All of these people are especially encouraged to receive the flu vaccine. People considered “high-risk” are in danger of developing further complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, and worsening of chronic conditions.

In people who are generally healthy influenza usually does not develop into a more serious condition, Dr. Fazel said.

Most people, Dr. Fazal explained, will have an “uncomplicated” influenza experience. These people generally have symptoms such as fever, aches and pains, sore throat, headache, cough, and tender lymph glands. This type of flu can often be treated with Tylenol, plenty of fluids, and rest. Anti-viral medications can also be given. Aspirin, said Dr. Fazal, should be avoided for fever or generalized pain, especially in children.

“Most people can just take care of themselves at home,” he advised.

Anyone who develops unusually severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, is urged to contact his or her health-care provider right away.

The best way to avoid contracting the flu, other than getting the vaccine, is to take simple precautions such as hand washing and avoiding contact with those who have the flu.

Home visits underway for Small Cities grant program

If all goes as expected, the first construction for Tracy's Small Cities grant program will begin early next year.

It was in April of 2003 the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development announced that the City of Tracy had been selected for a $934,750 grant. Grant money was to be used for residential, commercial, and rental improvements within a ten-block target area around Downtown Tracy.

Informational meetings were held in August. Western Community Action of Marshall, the field administrator for the project, began accepting applications. Fifteen residential, 18 commercial, and three rental applications were received.

This week, Western Community Action began making home visits to residential applicants to verify eligibility.

On site inspections for residential, commercial, and rental applicants are expected to begin in mid-January, according to Jill Houseman of Western Community Action.

"I guarantee you that construction will have started (on the first grant projects) by this spring," she said.

Applications are being processed in the order in which they were received, Houseman said.

The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, based in Slayton, is the general administrator for Tracy's grant program. Snags in getting contracts finalized between the state and the housing partnership, Houseman indicated, delayed the start of the home visits and on-site inspections.

Three improvement areas

Tracy's Small Cities grant program designates money in three project categories—residential, commercial and rental.

• $352,800 is earmarked for up to 25 residential improvement projects.

• $198,000 is allocated for 15 rental rehabilitation projects.

• $252,450 is designated for ten commercial projects.

Project spending totals $803,250. The balance of the $934,750 grant will go toward administrative costs.

Based upon the number of applications received so far, Houseman notes that the program could handle more residential and rental rehabilitation projects. The commercial area, in contrast, has attracted more applications than its target.

Houseman said that the relatively small number of residential applications is "puzzling," because many more homeowners expressed interest at the August informational meeting. If necessary, Western Community staff will contact homeowners who have interest, but not yet submitted applications.

AFS student visits from Colombia

Much has changed since Patricia Serrano was an AFS student attending Tracy Area High School.

Twenty-one Christmas's ago, Patricia was a teenager learning about life in Minnesota.

Today, Serrano is a public affairs manager for Chevron/Texaco in Bogota, Colombia. She is married and has three children. But some things haven't changed.

Serrano still has the same infectious smile that she had has a 17-year-old, and she still feels a deep affection for Tracy and its people.

"I love it here," she said Friday. "I have so many good memories of Tracy."

Serrano and her family were in Tracy for four days last week. Naturally, they stayed with the Harold and Doris Drackley family, her Tracy host parents during the 1982-83 school year. Besides getting re-acquainted with her Minnesota "mom and dad," Patricia was also reunited with her two American "sisters," Angie and Natalie.

"I lived with a wonderful family," Serrano recalled of her AFS year in Tracy. "I felt like I was at home by the second month I was here."

Accompanying Patricia to Tracy were her husband, Felix; and children Sebastian, 8; Nicolas, 5; and Alejandra, 3.

As their mother talked about her AFS year, the three browned-eyed children romped outside in the snow with their American "cousins" (the children of Natalie and Dennis Vandeputte and Angie and Dave Dahlberg).

The Colombian mom beamed as she watched the youngsters play.

"My kids like it here so much. They want to come back here next year. They like the snow."

Last week was the first time the Colombian children ever played in snow. The only snow that falls in their South American homeland is high in the mountains, inaccessible to visitors.

Someday, Patricia hopes that each of her children will have a chance to become an AFS student in the United States.

"It was the best year of my life. I grew so much. I learned so such," she said.

First-time homebuyers offered deals on remodeled Tracy homes

No-downpayment, no-interest financing are among perks

Wanted: Two first-time homebuyers to move into nicely remodeled houses in Tracy. Great financing available, no downpayment necessary. Monthly payments based upon income. Low to moderate-income families eligible. Must have steady income and willingness to keep up a house. People with less than perfect credit records welcome to apply. Call Jill or Nancy at 1-800-658-2448 for more information.

Jill Houseman of the Western Community Action Partnership hasn't placed such a classified ad. But she could have. She's looking for qualified homebuyers for two houses in Tracy that have been remodeled from top-to-bottom.

"Both of these houses will make really nice homes for someone," Houseman comments.

The houses have been renovated through the Minnesota Urban & Rural Homestead program. Remodeling work is nearing completion on both houses. Between $35,000 to $40,000 has been invested improving each house, according to Houseman.

No-interest, no-downpayment contract-for-deed financing is available to qualified first-time homebuyers. To make the houses even more affordable, monthly payments are based upon 25% of household income.

"It's a great program," Houseman says. Even people who have blemishes in their credit history, she adds, can sometimes qualify for the program.

The contract-for-deed can be for up to 30-years.

To qualify for the program, the buyer must fall within income guidelines and have not owned a house within the past three years. A family of two can have a gross annual income of no more than $34,800. A family of four can earn up to $43,500. A family of six could have a gross annual income of up to $50,500 to qualify.