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News from the week of April 7, 2004

DM&E railroad improvements keep rolling

The Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern Railroad is proceeding with major rail improvements in the Tracy area.

DM&E crews are now reconstructing a 1.5 mile siding track east of Tracy. In the near future, construction is scheduled to resume on upgrading the main DM&E line west of Tracy.

Kevin Schieffer, DM&E president and chief executive office, also said in a telephone interview Friday that additional construction in the Tracy area could be sparked by a local "business prospect."

All told, Schieffer said that the railroad's investment in new improvements will be about $50 million more in 2004 compared with 2003.

"That will be more than has ever been spent in a single year in its (the railroad's) history," Schieffer said.

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The Tracy siding project begins just east of the Center Street crossing in Tracy, and extends east into the country for about a mile and a half. The completed siding will allow trains to pull off the main line while another train passes by.

Schieffer said that the siding is being built along the grade of an old siding. Some portions of the old siding track, Schieffer said, likely date from the 19th century. About 15 to 20% of the old track is still usable, he said. The remainder is being replaced with 100-pound, jointed rail.

The DM&E's main line has 136-pound, continuous welded rail.

State denies Milroy charter school

Milroy Public School's kindergarten through fourth grades won't be converting to a charter school — at least for 2004-2005 school year.

The Milroy district has received word from the Minnesota Department of Education that its charter school application has been denied.

According to a letter from MDE, the decision came because Milroy did not achieve the 60 percent vote required from teachers in support of conversion.

Milroy was led to believe that it did have the votes required to convert as the result of a vote among all of the district's teachers, said Milroy Principal Deitte.

The MDE's interpretation of the charter school law was that the 60 percent of teachers who voted to convert had to be full-time teachers in grades K-4 only. If only the votes from teachers in grades K-4 were considered, Milroy did not have the 60 percent vote required.

Deitte said the requirement puts both the school and its teachers in a tough position.

“It's a tough law for little schools.”

If there were other problems with the application, the MDE's letter did not note any. Deitte said it is possible that the rest of the application was not considered because of the voting issue.

Deitte said it will ultimately be up to the teachers and the school board whether to re-submit its charter school application.

Tracy grads make headlines

Both far away and close to home, Tracy High School graduates have a knack for making headlines. Here are a few recent Tracy newsmakers:

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Terry Weisbrich, a 1965 Tracy alumnus, had his specialty smokehouse business featured in the Half Moon Bay (California) Review. Weisbrich, the son of Anita and the late Charles Weisbrich of Tracy, won a first-place award from the California Association of Meat Processors.

"I would say we have the best cold-smoked salmon in the state," Weisbrich told the California newspaper.

Weisbrich's father operated several Tracy area meat processing operations from 1948 to 1965, winning a state-processing award in 1948. He later worked in the meat department of Ken's Super Valu, and Tracy Food Pride.

Terry Weisbrich's business is called Creekside Smokehouse. Products sold include jerky, salmon, albacore, tuna, salmon salad, and smoked cheeses.

"The smoker I use to smoke the fish is the state of the art and it is widely used throughout Europe," Weisbrich is quoted as saying. He told the Review that he once had a customer from Thailand, who bought 300 to 400 pounds of vacuum-sealed fish. They "ate out of their freezer all year long," Weisbrich said.

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Curt Brasket, a 1950 Tracy grad, was mentioned in a Minneapolis Star Tribune story about the Minnesota Open state chess championship. The Star Tribune noted that Brasket, who now lives in Bloomington, won the state chess championship a record 16 times between 1960 and 1985. He won the U.S. Junior Chess Championship in 1952.

"Curt is a legend," a chess competitor said of Brasket, a former Unisys computer analyst.

Panther alumni asked about 'Scrappers'

More opinions are being sought on the proposed school mascot change from Panthers to Scrappers for Tracy/Milroy/Balaton athletic teams.

David Schiller, who is spearheading the campaign to adopt the Scrapper name, is seeking insights from Panther alumni following a recommendation from the Balaton Public School board.

Schiller appeared before the Balaton board at their last regular meeting to bring them the name change idea. He said board members seemed receptive to the change.

The Balaton board's main concern, he said, was that the Scrappers name would represent TMB, and not become just the Tracy Scrappers. Schiller said the Balaton representative on the TMB committee had raised the same concern.

After the board was reassured that school athletic teams would still be known as TMB, Schiller said, the Balaton board said that it would have no problem with the change as long as Panther alumni also approved of the change.

This request has prompted Schiller to seek further opinions from TAHS graduates from 1987 to the present. Panther alumni wishing to express their opinions on the proposed name change may write to Schiller at 1577 290th Ave., Garvin, MN 56132. Letters may also be sent to the Headlight Herald office at PO Box 1188, Tracy, MN 56175 (Attn: Val), and they will be given to Schiller.

He said he has received about 15 letters from TAHS alumni so far.

Fifth St. Apts. show loss

The Eastview Apartments continue to perform well financially for the Tracy Economic Development Authority. But the EDA's sister townhouse complex—the Fifth Street Apartments—are struggling with a negative cash flow.

Financial statements prepared by Nicole Larson, certified public accountant for Kinner & Company, show a net 2003 income of $5,461 for the Eastview Apartments, while the Fifth Street Apartments showed a net loss of $9,834. Fund equity for Eastview increased from $118,373 to $123,835, while equity for the Fifth Street Apartments went from a negative $9,880 to a negative $19,714.

"Eastview is looking stronger," Larson said, in an audit presented to EDA board members Friday. But of the Fifth St. four plexes, she said, "you are still not operating at a profit."

She noted that the Fifth St. losses included $15,802 in depreciation expense. Because depreciation is not a cash expense, Larson noted, the cash position for the Fifth St. Apartments is better than it otherwise would have been. Still, she said, the depreciation is an actual expense because as the apartments get older, more repairs and maintenance expenses can be expected.

Occupancy problems contributed to the Fifth St. Apartments lackluster performance. Robert Gervais, community development director, said that the Fifth St. Apartments averaged one vacant apartment ten of the past 12 months. With apartments renting for about $500 a month, that added up to a loss of about $5,000 for the year.

Dave Spencer, city finance director, said that at the time the Fifth St. Apartments were built, the EDA knew that cash-flow would be tight for the Fifth St. Apartments. Projections then showed that nearly 100% percent occupancy was needed for the apartments to cash flow, Spencer said.

Lanoue is state speech qualifer

With the help of a few snappy phrases borrowed from Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ann Lanoue is headed to the state speech meet.

The Tracy High School senior placed third in the "great speeches" category of the Section 3A speech meet Saturday. Lanoue will participate in the state speech meet April 16 in Circle Pines.

"Ann does a superior job," said Tammy Purrington, Tracy Area High School speech coach. Lanoue analyzed a speech delivered by Clinton on the 150th anniversary of an 1848 women's rights convention, and discussed its relevance today.

Six other Tracy speech students became state alternates by advancing to the finals of the section meet.

First state alternates, who finished fourth in section, are: senior Johanna Schmidt in extemporaneous reading; junior Dane Bloch in original oratory; and freshman Celia Brockway in storytelling.

Seventh grader Carly Miller placed fifth in serious prose to become a second state alternate. Sophomores Danielle Thooft, serious poetry; and Casie Miller, serious drama, placed sixth to become third alternates.

Competition was keen.