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News from the week of February 11, 2004

EDA interested in 'bio-mass' plant

The Tracy Economic Development is exploring the possibility of attracting an energy-producing "bio-mass" plant to Tracy.

The plant would burn biodegradable farm products, such as corn stalks and soybean residue, to produce acetylene. The acetylene fuel would then be burned to produce electricity.

AFuels, LLC, a privately-based company in Missouri, is looking for a site in Minnesota, within an Xcel Energy service area, to build a pilot plant. EDA members agreed Friday to contact the company and suggest Tracy as a site for the plant.

"Our hat is in the ring," said Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director. Gervais said that company officials told him that Tracy is the first community in Minnesota to express interest in hosting the plant. Gervais said that AFuels wants to choose a location by the end of February.

The proposed plant would have two distinct operations. The biomass material would first be converted to acetylene and alcohol in a three-stage gasification process. The fuel would then be piped to a generator, which would burn the acetylene with a 10% alcohol mix. The resulting electricity would be sold to Xcel Energy.

AFuels plans to seek research and development money for the project from Xcel Energy's Renewable Development Fund.

Gervais said that he was told that the proposed plant would need two semi-truck loads of "biomass" materials for the plant each day, and that the company was looking for two acres near truck and rail transportation and power lines. An estimated seven to eight people would be employed at the plant, Gervais said.

EDA members discussed briefly whether the plant would emit smells or air pollution. Gervais said it was his understanding that such a plant would not create any air quality problems.

A web site for AFuels promotes the company's patented process for burning acetylene in internal combustion engines as a "clean, renewable energy."

Tracy is hard to top

Marge Robinson, John Zwach, Tom & Sue Morin are honored

Move over, Minneapolis-St. Paul...Cancel that trip to Sioux Falls! ... Who needs Cancun?

The consensus at the Tracy Area Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet Saturday was this: the birthplace of Box Car Days is a terrific corner of the world.

"Of all the places I've been to, Tracy is just the best place to live," said Marge Robinson, after being announced as the Chamber's "Outstanding Citizen" for 2004.

"We have a great community and I look forward to a great 2004," said Mary Poss, newly-elected Chamber president.

Deb Schenkoske, who won the Chamber's outstanding volunteer award, seconded the motion.

"Tracy is a wonderful place to live and work," said the former Wisconsin resident.

Nearly 200 people attended the Chamber banquet held at the Mediterranean Restaurant.

John Zwach was honored as the Chamber's 2003 distinguished farmer. Tom and Sue Morin were feted as bosses-of-the-year.

Poss succeeded Dr. Mark Evers as president of the Chamber's board-of-directors. Chad Anderson, Chris Schons, Mark Priegnitz, and Lary Parker were elected to the Chamber's Board of Directors.

Robert Gervais, Chamber director, spoke of both the successes and challenges that Tracy and the Chamber encountered this past year.

New businesses, he noted, have filled up most vacant storefronts in Downtown Tracy. Five new houses built in during the past year, leaving only two vacant lots in the Eastview Addition. A spring sportsmen's show attracted an estimated 5,000 people in its first year.

Work continues to attract more businesses, Gervais said. Those efforts, he said, include bids to bring a "bio-mass" energy plant to Tracy and a large corrections facility.

The chamber manager acknowledged that 2003 also had obstacles. He noted that the Chamber sustained an overall financial loss for 2003, and he said that differences of opinion exist about the proposed "permanent structure" envisioned for the municipal parking south of city hall.

The key to Tracy's future, Gervais said, is the continued commitment of its people.

Box Car Days, he said, was successful only because of the help of 350 volunteers.

"What if we had 500 volunteers, or 1,000?"

Milroy learns ABCs of charter schools

By Val Scherbart Quist

The Milroy School District plans to submit its application next month to open a charter school in the fall.

The school is seeking to become a charter school because it is currently in statutory operating debt, and expects to have about $130,000 in operating debt by next year. The school has until 2006 to get out of statutory operating debt.

Community members last week heard options for the school and decided a charter school would be the best solution. The other option was to make significant cuts in staffing and other areas.

If its application is approved, Milroy will charter part of its district in the fall. The chartered portion of the school will undergo several changes.

Minnesota was the first state to adopt a charter school law in 1991. The first charter school in the state opened in St. Paul the following year.

As of September 2003, there are 88 charter schools in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools. About 14,000 students are enrolled in those schools.

Two area charter schools are ECHO (Every Child Has Opportunities) Charter School in Echo, and Yankton Country School in Balaton. ECHO is a K-12 charter school, and Yankton Country school has grades nine through 12.

Milroy seeks to keep strong Tracy connection

How can the Milroy and Tracy school districts work together for the betterment of both schools?

That's the question Milroy school representatives asked Tracy school board members this week.

Milroy, which is currently in statutory operating debt, is considering various options to get the school back on track, Milroy Principal Dan Deitte told the Tracy board. He said he and Tracy Superintendent David Marlette had talked last week about how the two schools can work together.

The Milroy community, Deitte said, highly values the relationship it has with the Tracy district.

“We're creatively trying to think of ways we can keep the school strong,” he said. “We're trying to come up with ways to be strong and innovative to keep the kids we have and stay open.”

Opening a charter school is one option Milroy is considering, Deitte said. With grants available for charter schools, it could allow Milroy the opportunity to bring in some new and innovative programs, he said.

“The (Milroy) community would definitely like to keep our school open, and keep the strong relationship we have with Tracy.”

Tracy board chairman Dan Zimansky asked the Milroy representatives if they would like to set up a committee with people from both schools so the subject could be looked at in more depth. Milroy representatives agreed to do this.

The Tracy school board will form a committee and arrange a time to meet with Milroy.

Reading event blazes new trails at Tracy Elementary

Tracy Elementary School students are evoking the spirit of Lewis and Clark this February as part of “I Love to Read” month.

The theme of “I Love to Read” month is “Explore New Frontiers: Read.” The theme is based on the idea that through reading, it is possible to go to many different places.

The students are keeping a daily log of their reading. Students in kindergarten through second grade are keeping track of how many books they are reading this month. Students in third through sixth grade are keeping track of how many minutes they read daily. Students are also able to choose from different activities on a calendar and get stickers for completing them.

Students earn boots and canoes for reading and taking Accelerated Reader tests. These items are then pasted up on the wall in a path that follows the Lewis & Clark Expedition route to Fort Mandan and back. The goal is for the students to accomplish 2,000 “miles” of their journey for a total of 8,000 miles at the end of the month.

If the goal is reached, the students will have a “kids' choice” afternoon during which time they can play outside or do a number of various activities. The students will also be tallying up the number of minutes they read (grades three through six) and the number of books they read (kindergarten through second grade) to see if they can beat their previous records.

Trail-blazing boys qualify for state FCCLA event

By Val Scherbart Quist

Five Tracy Area High School FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) students are headed for state following the regional STAR events competition last week.

The competition took place Wednesday, Feb. 4 at Round Lake. TAHS was one of about a dozen schools competing.

Two TAHS students, Cody Arnold and Cole Cooreman, made history by becoming the first boys to participate—and advance—in STAR events from TAHS.

“I'm so proud of them,” said advisor Gayle Myhr. “We've had boys in FCCLA in the past, but none who have done STAR Events.”

Arnold said he joined FCCLA after promising Myhr last year that he would.

“I kept my promise,” he said.

Arnold didn't want to do a STAR event on his own, and asked Cooreman to do one with him. Cooreman agreed, and the two decided to do their presentation about cutting weight in wrestling.

Both wrestlers since a very young age, Arnold and Cooreman were both knowledgeable of their subject. Their research involved finding information to expand on what they already knew.

“We went into how weight cutting can evolve into more serious problems, such as anorexia and bulimia,” Arnold explained. The judges complimented the pair on the posters they used in their presentation and their strong responses to follow-up questions.

The boys are looking forward to competing at state, even if they are a little bit nervous.

“I think this is the most public speaking I've ever done,” said Arnold.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” added Cooreman.

Both also said they'd seriously consider coming back for more next year. At the regional competition, they realized that while they are the first boys from TAHS to participate in a STAR event, they were certainly not alone among the participants in other schools.

“I was surprised that there were quite a few boys from other schools,” Cooreman said.

Also advancing was the group of Emily Baumann, Kayla VanKeulen, and Danielle Thooft. Baumann and Thooft are in their second year in FCCLA, while VanKeulen is in her first.