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News from the week of April 20, 2005

Deputy Registrar office commended

The Deputy Registrar’s office located at Tracy City Hall has gotten kudos from state regulators.

A recent state review by Rebecca Schipper gives the office an “excellent rating” for 2004. The office also received an excellent rating in 2003.

The reviewer wrote:

“Thanks for the extra effort you have put into keeping up with (Department of Vehicle Services) changes and requirements. The fact that you’ve lost very few transactions the last two years to Internet and mail renewals speaks well for the level of service you offer your customers. Your customers know you will get the job done quickly and correctly, and that you will always do your best to solve problems originating elsewhere.”

According to the report, the Tracy Deputy Registrar’s office handled 2,448 long application transactions, and 4,632 renewals. The office made no errors that necessitated a refund.

New Shetek sewer plan unveiled

Murray County Commissioners heard information Tuesday on a new plan for the proposed Shetek-area centralized sewer system.

Next week, landowners will have the opportunity to get a closer look at the plans themselves. The commissioners have scheduled an informational meeting on the new plans to be held Saturday, April 30 at 9 a.m. at the Murray County Central High School auditorium in Slayton.

Representatives from Bonestroo & Associates, the company that drew up the original centralized sewer plan, and Airvac, a supplier for vacuum sewer systems, presented the information.

Chuck Schwartz of Bonestroo & Associates told the commissioners the company had completed the plans and profiles for the vacuum system and layouts as requested by the board.

Mark Statz, also of Bonestroo, led the design along with Dennis Moss of Airvac. Statz pointed out areas on a map where a vacuum system would result in a cost savings for the project, and other areas where a gravity system would be more feasible. In those areas, a gravity system would be installed as was laid out in the original plan.

Statz said the west side of the lake was an area that instantly jumped out as an area where money might be saved by using a vacuum system. Five gravity lift stations could be eliminated in that area, he said, with the installation of one vacuum station. It was estimated that about $580,000 could be saved in that area with a vacuum sewer installed.

Another area where money could be saved is the Keeley Island/Valhalla Island area, Statz said. In this area, three lift stations could be eliminated in favor of one vacuum station. It was estimated that about $322,000 could be saved in this section of the lake.

A third area where a vacuum sewer system would be feasible is the northeast side of the lake. Here, there would need to be two vacuum stations built. It was estimated that installing a vacuum sewer system in this area would cost approximately the same as a gravity system.

Total savings was estimated to be about $871,000, with the total project cost reduced to approximately $16.3 million. The cost estimate for a gravity system was approximately $17.2 million.

Statz said it was determined that in the case of Lake Sarah and some other locations in the lakes area, a gravity system would be the most feasible.

Moss said the goal was to look for areas where lift stations could be eliminated and that were topographically friendly to a vacuum system. He said a vacuum system has to have enough homes hooked up to it for it to be cost-effective.

He said the goal is to accommodate approximately two homes per valve pit package, which allows room for future expansion.

“I think that’s where you’ll really see a savings, to be honest with you,” Moss said.

He added that homes built on back lots would easily be able to hook up to the system without an addition to the valve pits. Valve pits can be easily added too, and is less expensive because the pipes are at a shallower depth.

Statz said one benefit of a vacuum system is that digging can be done at a much shallower depth in areas such as Keeley Island, where digging was a concern. He said the plan is to dig seven feet deep when the digging is under streets, and six feet deep under ditches.

Schwartz addressed concerns about the lake forcemain crossing between Keeley Island and the Boy Scout Camp. He said the forcemain would run eight feet under the lake. Rarely, he said, do breaks in such a situation bubble up to the surface.

He said that if a break does happen, there may be some infiltration inflow into the system, and that an alarm would notify operators of the break.

“There are lakes all over with these crossing,” Statz added.

These and many other concerns will be open for discussion at the informational meeting April 30.

• • •

Following the presentation, Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) Commission Chairman Dean Salmon presented the recommendation of the SAWS Commission on three resolutions.

The first resolution was in support of the Environmental Access Worksheet (EAW) being reviewed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Salmon requested that a letter of support be sent since the commissioners will not be able to attend a public hearing set for Tuesday, April 26. The motion was approved on a three to two vote, with commissioners Lyle Onken, Alfred Gertsema, and William Sauer voting “yes” and commissioners Kevin Vickerman and Robert Moline voting “no.”

The second request was for the commissioners to set an improvement hearing date as soon as possible. Commissioners indicated that they would rather wait to set this hearing until after the EAW hearing. Instead, the informational meeting was set.

Sauer urged the other commissioners to hold such a meeting for the sake of property owners.

“I think we need to explain this plan to the people. We owe that to them,” he said. “We’ve got to get some of these questions answered.”

A third recommendation, a request to get started on the paperwork started for fund applications saw no action from the board.

Way with words
Two place in state speech meet

Ask Bobbi Buyck to tell a tall tale. Request a speech from Rebecca Gervais. It’s positively certain that neither will be rendered speechless.

The Tracy Area High School students both placed in the state Class A speech tournament in Bloomington Saturday. Buyck, a junior, earned a seventh-place medal in storytelling competition. Gervais, a senior, was eighth in the “Great Speeches” category.

“It was tons of fun,” said Buyck, the daughter of Lynn and Joe Buyck, rural Garvin.

Gervais, the daughter of Loretta and Francis Gervais, rural Currie, said that the competition was keen. But she felt that Section 3A, their home region, did very well at state, placing speakers in almost every category.

In the storytelling competition, Buyck competed in four rounds, telling four different stories from memory. Judges chose the stories at random from a list of 15.

Gervais presented a courtroom speech, “The People vs. Henry Sweet.”

The state speech appearance was the second for both students.

• • •

Three other Tracy speakers also competed at state. All three came close to qualifying for the final round.

Eighth-grader Carly Miller missed the cut-off for finals by just one point in serious prose. Sophomore Celia Brockway fell short of the storytelling finals by two points. Junior Casie Miller missed the serious drama finals by six points.

“The competition was extremely tough, which is what you would expect at the state tournament,” said Coach Tammy Purrington. “These young ladies met the competition head-on and held their own. We always tell the team to approach a tournament one round at a time. They were able to control their nerves and focus.”

Famous voice sounds off in Tracy

“What you’re about to hear is impossible, but I’m going to do it anyway,” Wes Harrison told a packed tent of listeners Saturday afternoon.

Harrison’s unusual gift of voice has taken him all over the world and gotten him gigs with MGM and Disney. But over the weekend the 80-year-old Illinois man, also known as “Mr. Sound Effects,” was in Tracy for the third annual Tracy Area Sportsmen’s Show.

Harrison demonstrated the different sounds a horse makes, including trotting and crossing a bridge—all using just his mouth and a microphone. He also demonstrated what it sounds like in a TV program or movie when someone rides into town on a horse and starts shooting.

For this, he pulled out a Colt .45. Not a real one; this one was made of wood.

“That’s to satisfy the airlines,” Harrison said.

He called it the “John Wayne Special.”

“You load the gun one time and it’s good for the entire movie,” he said. “It’s an amazing gun.”

One of Harrison’s movie projects was for “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” For this film, he was asked to provide the sound of a storm.

“They said, ‘Can you give us some wind?’ and I said, ‘Heh … can I give you some wind!”

Harrison asked the crowd what else is needed for a storm. “Lightning,” one audience member suggested.

“I don’t do lightning,” a straight-faced Harrison quipped. “Never took it up. It’s too dangerous.”

After Harrison’s storm demonstration, he made one last crack of thunder crash overhead.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking to the sky. “I won’t do it again.”

Part of the program revolved around the story of a duck hunter looking to get to his duck blind and make a big score. Normally, Harrison said, he dresses in a costume complete with a hunting vest filled with shells during his programs. Saturday, however, it was a bit too chilly and Harrison had to don a jacket.

In Harrison’s duck hunting story, the hunter doesn’t get the duck, despite the use of an automobile, plane, train, boat, and all sorts of gadgets—complete with sound effects for each—to get there.

While Harrison used a microphone for Saturday’s programs, he said he doesn’t need to use one. People can still hear him across the room without it, allowing him to make mischief wherever he goes.

“I have fun at the airport,” he said, describing how he can make airport personnel think the metal detector is going off.

He demonstrated how he can have fun in buildings with no carpeting, while wearing rubber-soled shoes, too. He can imitate the sound of shoes clicking on the floor, and have the sound keep going down the hall when he stops walking.

One time, he said, he used his sound effects to get revenge on a noisy neighbor dog by making the sound of a dog howling at the moon.

“When I did that, the dog jumped into the garbage can,” he said. “The next day was pick-up day.”

Another fun trick in a neighborhood is to mimic the sound of a falling tree—especially in a neighborhood with no trees.

He told a story about one day when he was in an elevator and a man asked him to push the button for the 20th floor. As he pushed the button, he made a zapping sound.

“Everyone’s eyes got huge!” he said. “At the next floor, everyone got off except me.”

Harrison said he once picked on a man who had never been on a train before by making the sound of a train.

“He pulled out his ticket and checked it to make sure he was in the right place.”

• • •

Harrison, a veteran who served during World War II and Korea, has been doing sound effects nearly his whole life. He has appeared on national television as the guest of Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Dean Martin. He has made appearances at many venues throughout the country and world.

Film and television credits in addition to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” include Disney’s Peter Pan and MGM Studios’ “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

Show thrives, despite rain

Like a cold front descending on the walleye opener, rain and overcast skies threatened the Spring Sportsmen’s Show in Tracy Saturday.

But something positively sunny happened. The crowds came anyway.

JoAnn Biren, Tracy Chamber of Commerce executive director, said that most people felt that attendance actually increased from last year’s show, which was blessed with warm, sunny weather. In 2004, sportsmen’s show attendance was estimated at 5,200.

“The rain might have been a blessing in disguise. All of the vendors that I talked with at the show were happy with the crowds and the amount of product that was sold.” Apparently, she said, the rain helped keep people indoors, looking at booths and demonstrations, and attending programs.

The featured programs of the day—the Minnesota Raptor Center and sound effects expert—both attracted large crowds underneath outdoor tents. Fishing, hunting, and dog training programs held inside the Pavilion also attracted good turnouts.

But an outdoor bazaar and food court on Third Street was a casualty of the weather. Vendors reported only a small amount of foot traffic along the street because of the weather. Cooking demonstrations sponsored by Tracy Food Pride were washed out. However, business was brisk for pork grilled by the Murray County Pork Producers. About 200 “pork chops on a stick” were sold.

Biren said that final figures have not been tallied for the show. But she indicated that the show did make a profit.

Raffle ticket sales, she said, is one area that she’d like to see improvement for next year’s show.

“We need to get all of those tickets sold next year.”

Next year’s sportsmen’s show will be a two-day event, Biren said, and planning has already begun.

Aquatic Center contract okayed

The long-awaited Tracy Aquatic Center repairs are about to begin.

The Tracy City Council awarded a $790,800 contract to repair the pool Monday night. Construction is expected to begin no later than June 15, with “final completion” targeted by Nov. 15. Full aquatic center operations are expected to resume for the summer of 2006.

“It’s good to be finally moving forward,” said City Administrator Audrey Koopman after the meeting. “It’s been a nightmare (dealing with aquatic center problems).”

Council members had earlier approved a $297,000 expenditure for Myrtha-brand pool liner materials at the Aquatic Center. Together, the construction and materials contracts total $1,087,800. A construction management contract will be an additional cost to the city. Engineers also recommend that the city set aside a $150,000 contingency fund for unexpected costs.

The $790,800 contract was awarded to Pool Construction Inc. and Abhe & Svoboda, Inc., two Eagan companies that have the same address. The bid, which was the only one received by the city, was about six percent more than engineering estimates.

WJE Associates and Gremmer & Associates—the Twin Cities engineering firms that have worked extensively on the Aquatic Center project—recommended that the bid be accepted.

“They have always done quality work for us,” said Adam Salow, an engineer with Gremmer & Associates.

The Eagan firms will be responsible for all of the structural repairs needed before the new Myrtha liners are installed. A sub-contractor approved by Myrtha will install the liners.


Many options studied

The onset of construction ends months of Aquatic Center testing and evaluations.

The evaluations began in September of 2003, after cracks and water leaks were noticed during the 2003 swim season. The testing process rendered the pool inoperable. First the Diamondbrite finish coat from pool shells was jackhammered off. Test borings were drilled in pool walls. Tests turned up a number of problems, including an uneven surface coat, voids and foreign objects in the concrete, unlevel pool gutters, an unstable retaining wall, and deficiencies in some of the pool mechanics and plumbing.

The city hoped to have repairs begun in the fall of 2004, with renovations completed by May of this year. Bids were to be opened in October of 2004. At the eleventh hour, the Diamondbrite manufacturer said they would not warrant their material for repairs to old surfaces. The bidding process was abandoned until a new repair option could be developed. This winter, the council decided to use the Myrtha liner. Council members continued to hold out hope this winter that Aquatic Center repairs could be completed in to salvage part of this summer’s swimming season. It was not until February that council members, faced with ever more pessimistic timelines from engineers, officially called off the 2005 swimming season.


Troubled history

The $1.8 million Tracy Aquatic Center opened in July of 2002, replacing a pool that had opened in 1951. The new pool—with its two big flume slides, lap swimming area, spacious poolside areas and frothy water toys—was an instant hit with visitors. But the summer of 2003 remains its only full swimming season.

The City of Tracy has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from Olympic Pools, an original pool contractor; USAquatics, the pool’s designer and construction manager; and a bonding company. The trial, set to begin in June, has been postponed until January of 2006. Mediation is scheduled among the parties in June.

The City of Tracy has borrowed $500,000 from a hospital trust fund to pay for litigation and testing-related expenses. The city recently borrowed about $1.1 million from the sale of short-term bonds to pay for aquatic center repairs. City leaders hoped that the loans can be repaid with a successful outcome to its litigation.