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News from the week of May 4, 2005

Art exhibit inspired by 'rhythms of nature'

An art exhibit featuring the works of painter Dan Wahl has opened at the Helping to Heal office in Downtown Tracy.

The exhibit will run through May 31. An open house for the artist was held Saturday.

Wahl studied under internationally known artist Edward Evans, with whom he shares an interest in showing nature’s display of growth and decay.

Wahl’s approach to painting is to lay a canvass on the floor and let mostly random lines of silicone caulk fall on the canvass. He then covers the canvass with thinned acrylic paint.

His paintings, he said, are influenced by the close observation of rocks, feathers, sticks and water, and the insights of his three children.

“I imagine, or hope, that I paint the rhythms of nature,” Wahl said. “There’s something alive in, say, a dead stick, something that makes a song, and these paintings act as if they’ve heard that song.”

Wahl has had previous solo art exhibits in Mankato and Marshall. He is a student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.

New idea enters Shetek sewer mix

The Murray County Commissioners are again considering ways to cut costs on the proposed Shetek-area centralized sewer.

The commissioners recommended Tuesday that the Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) Commission looking into replacing a portion of the proposed system with a pressure system.

The decision came just a few days after a public informational hearing for lake residents on an updated centralized sewer plan. The new plan includes a vacuum sewer system in some areas, and gravity system in others.

Commissioners Kevin Vickerman and Robert Moline said they had spoken to representatives from Ellinson Company out of West Concord about the possibility of incorporating a pressure system into the plan.

Moline said the Ellinson representatives estimated that using a pressure system could result in a cost savings of $2 to $5 million. Original cost estimates for a gravity system were about $17.2 million. The cost estimate was reduced to around $16.2 million with recent changes that incorporated a vacuum system in some areas.

“At $12 million, this thing cash flows really nice,” said Moline of the potential cost savings.

Moline said one lake that has installed a pressure system is Lake Washington near Mankato. For this project, the total assessment was about $13,000 per home.

Vickerman said the Lake Washington project involved 31 miles of sewer line and served 500 homes. The Shetek project would have 33 miles of sewer line and serve 650-700 homes.

One area of cost savings, said Moline, could be in boring rather than digging to lay pipe. The pipe would also be smaller, and roadways and driveways would not be disturbed in areas where a pressure system was installed.

Vickerman said the pressure system would replace the gravity system in the current sewer plan. The areas that have been redrawn for a vacuum system would likely stay that way, unless a significant cost reduction could be demonstrated, he added.

Vickerman said Ellinson Co. would ask for $7,500 to overlay the proposed system using the pressure concept. Moline added that the company expects this process to take about a week. This would keep the project on its current timeline, which includes a bidding process and improvement hearing to take place this summer.

In order to receive financing for the project, the county must turn in its application for Wastewater Infrastructure Funding (WIF) to the Public Facilities Authority by June 3.

Commissioner Lyle Onken said he felt with the kind of cost savings Ellinson Co. estimates, it was worth looking into.

“We just chased down one option that didn’t save us as much as we thought it would,” he said, referring to the cost savings that was estimated when a vacuum system was first being considered. “We might as well chase them all down.”

• • •

About 150 lake property owners attended a Saturday meeting on the newly proposed combined vacuum/gravity system. Representatives from project engineers Bonestroo & Associates and Airvac, Inc. answered landowners’ questions about how the project would affect their property.

On Monday, the SAWS Commission met and made a recommendation to call for bids on the project, then set an improvement hearing for August. SAWS Commission Chair Dean Salmon said the purpose for calling for bids first was to give those attending the improvement hearing a more definite idea of the project costs.

With the Tuesday decision by county commissioners to recommend that the SAWS Commission consider a pressure system, a decision on the SAWS recommendation was put on hold.

Pawlenty's Tracy visit is first since Rudy Perpich era

Governor voices

support for Tracy

Tim Pawlenty became the first Minnesota governor to visit Tracy in more than 25 years Friday. But the Republican from Eagan did more than carve out a niche in Tracy historical lore.

Pawlenty also voiced support for the concept of a private-sector corrections facility in Tracy to help handle Minnesota burgeoning prison population.

“I think we can make this work,” Pawlenty said, in response to a question about the possibility of the state sending prisoners to a privately operated correction facility in Tracy. “From what I have seen so far, I like the idea.”

Tracy Community Development Director Robert Gervais has been lobbying for a prison in Tracy for two years.

In early April, Gervais met with Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections Joan Fabian, Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Dennis Benson, Pawlenty aid Chuck Noerenberg, state senators Jim Vickerman, Dennis Frederickson, and state representative Marty Seifert in St. Paul about the feasibility of sending state drug and repeat DWI offenders to a treatment/corrections facility in Tracy. Pawlenty said that he had been briefed of the meeting.

“We are interested. It looks like it has potential,” Pawlenty said.


A key to allowing a private facility to hold state inmates, the governor said, might be a union work force at the site.

Pawlenty said that state government has, and will continue, to allocate more money to incarcerating criminals. The governor said he’d been criticized about Minnesota’s growing prison population, but said he makes no apologies for protecting society from bad people. Overall, Minnesota’s incarceration rate is still far below national averages, the governor said.


Proud of record

Pawlenty said that after starting his first term two years ago faced with a $4.5 billion deficit, he is proud that State government will finish this two-year budget cycle with surplus.

A key to Minnesota’s future prosperity, Pawlenty said, is making sure that state government doesn’t grow faster than the rest of the economy, and helping businesses and entrepreneurs who create jobs and true economic growth.

Tax increases are not necessary, Pawlenty said, because state’s revenues have grown eight percent.

“We should be able to have a great state with an percent revenue growth.”

Minnesota is still ranked as the fourth-highest taxed state in the U.S,” Pawlenty said. Higher taxes will simply hinder Minnesota’s ability to compete in the global economy.


Coping with change.

New ways of thinking and doing business are needed in today’s economy, Pawlenty said.

“We are not going to be the world’s cheapest screw turner anymore,” the governor said. Many countries, have “50%, 60%, 80% even 90% advantages in the cost of their labor.” If Minnesota companies can’t have the cheapest labor “we’d better be the smartest. We’d better be the most inventive. We’d better have really good and efficient distribution systems. We’d better have a really productive and skilled workers.”



For Minnesota to be successful, “we’d better have a pretty good education system, “ the governor said, and overall “‘we do really well.” Pawlenty expressed support for increased education spending, but felt change needs to accompany the increased spending.

“The people in our schools are good, but we don’t pay them in a way that is very modern. We pay them on seniority. It’s an okay system but it isn’t the best we can do. I don’t know how many people are paid that way. Most people are paid based upon what they produce. We want to change the way we pay our schools in a positive way.” Pawlenty said he wants to give school districts extra money if they are willing to try a merit-based teacher pay system.

The governor cited Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who declared that ‘today’s high schools are obsolete.’ Pawlenty agreed.

“Our high schools are not preparing our high school students for the New World.” Too many students, he said, leave high school without being prepared for post-secondary education. A generation ago, young people could count on getting “a strong back job” and still earn a good living.

“You could get an okay job. But today you had better have a skill for today’s job market or you are in deep doom.”


Health care

“We have a huge health care crisis,” Pawlenty said. Minnesota’s health and human service spending is growing so rapidly, he said, “in 15 years it will suffocate the systems.”

“The programs are busted. They are growing so rapidly that we can’t afford them.”

A partial solution, the governor said, is to arm consumers with more information about health-care providers. Health care outcomes can vary 30 to 40% among providers, and so do costs.

“The best providers are also the most efficient,” the governor said.


Rural economy

The governor said he is familiar with Minnesota’s two-tiered economy, and the economic decline in rural areas.

State government can “soften those trends” by sending money, Pawlenty said, but job creation is the real salvation for rural economy.

“We should always remind people how important agriculture is. One in five jobs in the state is related to agriculture.” While the state can’t control commodity prices, the government can try to keep costs down.

“When people come to us with a regulatory problem, we need to keep them reasonable.

Value-added ag enterprises, such as ethanol and bio-mass energy and food processing needed to be encouraged, the governor said.

“Growing commodities isn’t enough. The chance for the farmer to own part of the (value added) enterprise is critically important.

State policy, Pawlenty added, needs to “regrow our livestock economy.”

Minnesota’s Job Opportunity Building Zones, he said were a needed incentive to create new rural jobs. The governor also said he wants the state to offer tax incentives for investments in venture capital funds in Minnesota.


Political message

Pawlenty said citizens should tell their legislators that the public wants lawmakers to get their work done on time. He said that his administration has had a budget since February, but the Senate, as of Friday, still hadn’t proposed a budget.

“Please don’t forget. We are a country at war, we need to come together and get some things done.”


Road & bridge construction

Phil Nelson, Lyon County Commissioner, asked Pawlenty how Southwest Minnesota can be assured of getting its share of road construction money, under a proposal to sell bonds as a way to finance road construction. Nelson said that with the gas tax, a percentage of revenues is automatically earmarked for counties.

Pawlenty said that bonding money typically is allocated by the Department of Transportation’s priority system, rather than putting “the legislator in the position as road engineer.” The governor felt that Nelson’s concern about rural areas not getting their share of bonding money could be addressed.

Pawlenty said he is willing to put let voters decide their merits of an increased gas tax. But, he said, “most people are not excited about a gas tax.” A nickel increase in the gas tax would raise $150 million a year, not enough, by itself, to address the state’s road construction backlog.

“Minnesota is 15 years behind on its road and bridge infrastructure,” Pawlenty said. One of his priorities is to reduce that backlog


Nursing home funding

Tim Byrne, administrator at the Prairie View Healthcare Center, asked how state government will respond to federal funding cuts to nursing homes.

“Nursing homes are under a lot of pressure. The nursing home industry needs more money, everyone agreed to that,” Pawlenty said.

But in the long range, the governor said, the entire nursing home system needs to be restructured.

“The system was built in the 1950s. We know that senior lifestyles have changed.”


No Child Left Behind

Chad Anderson, Tracy Area High School principal, said that student numbers have stabilized in District 417, thanks in part to a growing Hmong population. Immigrant students now make up about 25% of the student population, he said, and the school district has taken extra measures to help those students improve math and English skills. The school recently met 35 of 36 No Child Left Behind standards, but the school district was still categorized as a school that needs improvement. Anderson said he didn’t feel that label reflected the effort that the school district has made.


One hour stop

Pawlenty spoke and answered questions in the Tracy Prairie Pavilion for an hour, before flying out of Tracy Airport for an appearance in Willmar. The governor’s Tracy appearance was billed as an effort to build support for his budget.

About 75 people attended. Special efforts were made by the Tracy Chamber of Commerce to decorate the stage for the governor’s appearance. The governor shunned a microphone and a lectern on the podium to speak directly to the crowd.

Rudy Perpich, in the late 1970s, is thought to be the last Minnesota governor to visit Tracy.

Dump dilemma answers are still blowin' in wind

Policy questions at Tracy’s yard and garden disposal site—and how to prevent illegal dumping—continue to vex City of Tracy leaders.

Over the past several years, council members have:

• Repeatedly discussed dump hours and policies to discourage illegal dumping at the site, which is intended solely for the disposal of biodegradable lawn and garden waste.

• Established a $500 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of dump offenders.

• Spent more than $1,500 to set up a surveillance camera to monitor vehicles entering and leaving the dump.

Yet last week, council members were again wrestling with compost site issues. A statement at an April 11 council meeting by Police Chief Bryan Hillger prompted the April 25 discussion. Hillger told the council that a police officer—acting on a citizen tip—had “caught” an individual who dumped a large quantity of old lumber at the compost site. The police chief said that the officer made the individual retrieve the illegal materials, but did not issue a citation.

Council member Jan Arvizu subsequently asked that compost site enforcement policies be discussed at the council’s April 25 meeting. The resulting discussion resulted in three specific council actions:

• A motion ordered that the dump’s front gate be locked at night. Hours were set at 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Police and Public Works Dept. employees are to be responsible for locking and unlocking the gate.

• A larger sign is to be erected near the dump’s front gate listing hours and a list of both permitted and prohibited materials.

• Police were directed to refer a report on the recent illegal dumping incident to the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department, so the county attorney can determine whether it is willing to prosecute the matter.


Jurisdiction issues

Hillger told council members that since the dump is outside of city limits, that police don’t have jurisdiction over the dump. The decision of whether to prosecute a violation at the compost site, he said, is ultimately up to the county attorney.

Some council members expressed surprised at the chief’s statement.

“We’ve put up a reward…I thought that meant we would prosecute anyone, or we would attempt to, “ Arvizu said. She added that she thought the council had clearly expressed its desire for the enforcement of city rules at the compost site. She asked Hillger why he hadn’t ever raised jurisdiction questions at the dump before. The chief said that he had, on two occasions.

Sandi Rettmer, another council member, asked how the council could make rules for the compost dump if the site is out of the city’s jurisdiction. She said that the council would not have established fines and rules, if it did not want violations prosecuted.

The chief said that he agreed with the officer’s decision not to issue a ticket, in part because the violator was not a city resident, and was assisting a city resident.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that he doesn’t think it is the council’s responsibility to tell the police whether to prosecute a specific case. That decision, the mayor said, is ultimately the county attorney’s.

Jim Kerr, the city’s legal counsel, responded that the council has jurisdiction over the police department, and that the council is responsible to safeguard the state permit that allows the city to operate the compost dump.

Councilman Bill Chukuske said that police officers need to be able to use discretion. For example, Chukuske said, a policeman shouldn’t be compelled to issue a ticket “every time a candy wrapper blows out of someone’s car.”


Legal angles

Kerr reported that he had discussed the jurisdiction issue with an individual Ann Cone of the Minnesota Attorney General’s office. Based upon this information, Kerr said that since the dump is outside city limits, the prosecution of a dump violation would have to be handled by the Lyon County Attorney’s office. State statutes would be involved, and civil and criminal prosecutions could be used. A criminal violation, under state law, would be considered a misdemeanor, Kerr reported.


City ownership?

The issue was raised whether the compost disposal site (located on the northwest edge of town, northwest of the intersection of Hwy. 14 and the Highline Road) is owned by the city. Ferrazzano asked whether it was certain that the city owned the property, or simply had a long-term lease. Koopman told council members that she had always thought the city owned the dump land, but wasn’t certain. (A week after the meeting, Koopman said that further research showed that the city does own the land). The mayor suggested that the city look into the possibility of annexing the lawn & garden disposal site into city limits.


More debate

Hillger told council members that a major point was being missed by the discussion. The city had no problems with the dump when hours were restricted, he said, and a paid monitor was hired to watch the dump when it was open.

Closing the dump at night, the chief argued, would not solve problems, because the violations are not occurring at night. Most problems occur during daylight hours, Hillger said, and often consisted of people leaving plastic bags and boxes at the dump.

“There is more trash out there now than there has ever been,” Hillger said.

Chukuske said that the surveillance camera isn’t going illegal materials coming into the compost site because people can easily hide items underneath bottles or branches.

Several council members voiced support for a “get tough” policy against dump violators.

“If we are having trouble, then we are going to have to get tough for awhile,” said Russ Stobb. Charlie Snyder said that ignorance about rules or being new to town are not valid excuses for dump violations. The rules at the dump, Snyder said, are clearly posted.

Rettmer agreed, but felt that the entrance sign was “weather worn” and needed to be made even more visible.

Councilman Tim Byrne said that the on-going problems at the dump were the result of the council’s desire to please city residents, who had protested more restrictive hours that the council had imposed earlier.

“It’s just a few people who are spoiling it for the rest,” summed up Rettmer.

State FFA champ gets big-time ovation

Move over, Garth Brooks.

Park your Ford pickup, Toby Keith.

Adjust your hat, Tim McGraw.

Make room for Derek Daniels.

No, the Tracy teen isn’t likely to supplant the country music stars any time soon. But Daniels, 17, has done something the celebrities haven’t. Last week, Daniels got a standing ovation from 3,000 people after performing at Northrop Auditorium.

“It was a really cool experience,” the Tracy Area High School junior said.

Daniels sang and played the guitar three times at the state FFA convention in Minneapolis, and won the FFA State talent contest.

“I wasn’t expecting to win,” Daniels said. “It was really an emotional experience.”

Daniels topped 11 other entries in the state contest. The state show was staged in front of about 1,000 people. But it was his performance at Northrop Auditorium, for about 3,000 fellow FFA members, that was the convention highlight for Daniels.

Before taking the stage at Northrop, Daniels admitted to being “really nervous.” But, he took the advice of a fellow FFA member, who told him to “feed off the emotions of the crowd.”

Daniels sang “This Cowboy’s Hat,” a song made popular by Chris LeDoux, a country star who recently died of cancer. Daniels said LeDoux’s music is among his favorites.

“This Cowboy’s Hat” tells the saga of a cowboy whose battered hat is ridiculed by a motorcyclist. “Hey, Tex, where’d you park your horse…I think I’ll rip that hat right off your head,” the cowboy is told.

The wrangler responds that “if you touch my hat, you’ll have to fight us all” and explains why his hat means so much.


“Now pardner, this ole hat is better left alone,

See it used to be my daddy’s but last year he passed on.

My nephew skinned the Rattler, that makes up this ole hatband.

But back in’69 he died in Vietnam.

Now the eagle feather was given to me by an ole Indian friend of mine,

But someone ran him down, somewheres ‘round that Arizona line.

And a real special lady gave me this hat in.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.”

• • •

Daniels, who has been playing the guitar since he was eight, says music is “just a hobby.” But he would like to record some of his songs sometime.

A junior, Daniels is a pitcher on the Panther baseball team and is the 2005-06 Tracy FFA chapter president. The son of Neil and Shelly Daniels of Tracy, Derek can send an audition tape for a possible performance at the national FFA convention in Lexington, Kentucky, next fall. Post-high school plans are undecided, but he’s considering the University of Minnesota, Duluth; or the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.