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News from the week of January 12, 2005

State sets deadline for lakes sewer system
MPCA seeks final decision by month end

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has given Murray County a deadline on a proposed Shetek-area sewer collection system.

The MPCA asked Murray County commissioners last week to make a decision on the centralized sewer by the end of the month. Lisa McCormick, pollution control specialist with the MPCA, made the request at a board of commissioners meeting last week.

“It can’t go on indefinitely, and I think the residents want answers as well,” she said.

McCormick said the request was made because a decision needs to be made on the MPCA’s Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for the centralized sewer that has been proposed for the Lake Shetek area. She said a request has been made for an environmental impact study on the proposed centralized sewer project, and that this requires the issue to go before the MPCA’s citizen board to see if that is necessary.

“We will not do that unless they are going to move forward,” McCormick said.

She said if the centralized sewer project does not move forward, the county will be required to enforce its ordinance for wastewater systems and determine what systems are not in compliance.

McCormick said the county would have had to enforce these ordinances sooner had the centralized sewer not been pursued. The county was able to receive funding through the Wastewater Infrastructure Fund in the form of a zero-interest loan.

The county now needs to decide if they will accept that funding package and move forward on the centralized sewer, or enforce its existing ordinances, McCormick said.

McCormick said septic systems are designed to protect surface and groundwater. If they don’t meet the required soil separation, they can have an impact on groundwater. She said some homes in the Lake Shetek area do not meet soil separation for groundwater, which is three feet.

A number of homes have been inspected already, McCormick said, and were found not to be in compliance. Some were built in a flood plain or before zoning ordinances were put into place, she said.

McCormick provided possible scenarios for landowners whose septic systems are not in compliance. Most homeowners, she said, will simply opt for a traditional septic treatment system.

Septic systems, she said, require a certain amount of space on the property based on the square footage of the home. A three-bedroom home, for example, would likely need to install a system that could handle 450 gallons per day, she said.

If there isn’t enough soil separation, McCormick said, landowners will have to come up with another solution. The most likely solution in this case would be a holding tank, which may not be feasible for a year-‘round home, she said, because the homeowner would have to pump the tank too often. For landowners who only use their homes seasonally, this type of system would probably be okay, she added.

McCormick said the decision on what type of system to install is solely that of the homeowner. So although a holding tank system might be legal, homeowners might end up asking themselves if it is feasible, she said.

In other cases, setback requirements might not even allow a holding tank on the property.

“For those, the worst case scenario is that they may need to be condemned if there is no alternative (sewage) treatment available to them,” she said.

For homes located in a flood plain, there is no septic system that would meet code, McCormick said.

She said the next step by the MPCA will be to request that the county come up with a plan on how they will uphold the septic system ordinance, or a plan for an alternative system. The county could come up with a different centralized sewer system plan, but would lose the funding received through the Wastewater Infrastructure Fund.

McCormick said the MPCA has no opinion as to whether the centralized sewer should be built.

“The decision is at the county level and the PCA is going to respect whatever decision the county makes.”

Rural Iona woman to be new Chamber manager

The editor of the Murray County News in Slayton has been selected as the new Tracy Chamber of Commerce manager.

JoAnn Biren, rural Iona, is scheduled to have her first meeting with the Chamber’s Board of Directors on Wednesday, (Jan. 12). She succeeds Robert Gervais, who recently was hired by the City of Tracy as a full-time economic development director. Gervais had previously divided his time between the economic development and Chamber positions.

Biren’s Chamber director position is 30 hours a week. She is scheduled to start work in late January.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Biren.

Biren has worked 11 years for the Slayton newspaper in two separate stints; from 1990-97 and 2002 to the present. In between, she was a marketing representative for KJOE and KISD radio. Biren owned and helped operate the Currie Corner ice cream and sandwich store for four years.

The new Chamber director says that she likes “the excitement” that she sees in Tracy. Tracy, she says, has become something of a model for other small communities, because of its success in attracting new businesses and its willingness to try new ideas.

She said that her interest in the job grew during her interview.

“I thought, ‘wow, this is really a dynamic group of successful people who are really committed to their community.’ I wanted to become a part of that.”

Biren looks upon herself as “an idea person” with lots of drive and energy.

She doesn’t consider the 30-mile distance from her home to Tracy as a disadvantage.

“Sometimes, it think it is an advantage for someone to come in from the outside. I can start without any preconceived notions.

Biren has some experiences with Chamber of Commerce business, having served on the Slayton Chamber board. She and her husband, LeRoy, have seven adult children.

• • •

Mary Squires, Chamber president, said that Biren struck the Chamber interview committee as someone who is “very positive” and “connects well with people.”

“She expressed some really good ideas about Tracy.” Squires said that the committee felt that Biren’s sales and marketing experience would be “a big plus” for the Chamber.

The Chamber board, Squires said, has been pleased with the job Gervais has done, but also feels that Biren is well-qualified “to keep us headed down the right path.”

Six candidates were interviewed. Lori Hebig, Chad Anderson, Lary Parker, and Poss served on the Chamber’s interview committee.

AFS students warm up to life in Minnesota

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

Ask the three AFS students at Tracy Area High School about the cold Minnesota winter, and you won’t hear them complain. Well, not too much anyway.

“I am freezing,” admits Valeria Sotte, AFS student from Italy.

Diana Benavente’s father called recently and said it was very cold at her home in Guatemala. It was nothing compared to the temperatures the AFS student has experienced this winter.

But the students are willing to look past the chilly conditions and enjoy what the Minnesota winter has to offer. Sotte and Guillaume Frebault, who is from France, are particularly enjoying winter at Lake Shetek.

“The frozen lake is fantastic,” said Sotte.

Frebault said he has been able to experience ice skating and ice fishing, two activities he had never tried before. He said at times the lake almost resembles a village, with all the fish houses.

All three students have been involved in activities in addition to taking classes such as social studies, English, art, physics, and math. Frebault was on the Panther football team this fall, and is now playing basketball. Both girls are in danceline.

The students said their schools at home do not offer extra-curricular activities. If a student wants to be on a team, he or she has to find a private club. High school is just for studying. They said there are still many students who participate in athletics and other activities. Sotte takes dance at home, and Frebault plays rugby and basketball.

All three said activities have given them more opportunities to meet other students and make friends. Frebault said he was able to meet many of his future classmates before school even started through football practice.

The classroom experience is different, too. Benavente said that in her school, the students stay in the same classroom throughout the day and the teacher switches rooms. Frebault said the classes are longer at home.

All three students said they struggled somewhat at first in the classroom with trying to learn a subject in something other than their first language. This has become easier for them as the year has progressed. They also said they felt their English skills were about the same, but that others have told them they have improved.

Improving their English was one of the main reasons all three decided to become AFS students.

“You need this language to find a job,” Frebault said.

Benavente agreed. “You can find a better job,” she said.

Sotte said the desire to get away from home also played a part in her decision.

“You grow up faster,” she said. “You understand how important home is to you.”

Frebault and Benavente agreed, saying they had come to appreciate home more, but had also come to appreciate life here.

“I like that in a small community everybody knows everybody,” said Frebault.

The students say there are some similarities to what they expected life in the United States to be like. There are some small differences, such as eating dinner earlier, going to bed earlier, more snacking in between meals, and getting to school and other places earlier. They have also come to realize that there are many similarities to their lives at home.

“It is true that it is different from the United States that you have dreamed about,” said Sotte. But Sotte has found that she does many of the same things here—such as hanging out with friends and watching movies—that she does at home.

• • •

Guillaume Frebault is staying with the Louis and Laura duCharme family. Valerie Sotte is staying at the home of Tom and Joan Gervais. Diana Benavente is spending the year with Jim and Jeanine Vandendriessche.

Helping to Heal Center moves to remodeled site

Helping to Heal has moved to a new location in Downtown Tracy.

“It’s pretty much business as usual, but we are still finding out where everything is,” said owner Charles Reinert Friday.

The new location is in the former Shetek Station building at 192 Third Street. Helping to Heal had been renting space at 125 Third St.

The new Helping to Heal Center has about ten times as much space as the old location, Reinert said. The center has a reception area, four private consultation areas, a massage-therapy room, a sauna, a shower, and a handicapped accessible bathroom on the main level. A large second-floor area has been refurbished as space for martial arts and exercise classes. Exercise equipment is another possibility for the upper level, Reinert said.

Almost everything in the Helping to Heal interior is now of new construction. Besides the new insulated sheet-rock walls, the building now has new insulated ceilings, new carpeting, new interior wood doors and trim, new floor coverings, and new upstairs windows. Great care was taken to soundproof each therapy room to provide maximum patient privacy, Reinert said.

Reinert said that he is very pleased with how the project turned out, despite periodic “anxiety humps” during the decision-making and remodeling process.

“I am delighted. I think we have a first-class facility.”

Since establishing Helping to Heal five years ago, Reinert said that demand for the center’s services has doubled every year. The new center, he said, was built, with future growth in mind.

“We’re still pretty small potatoes. But we hope that within another year, we are going to have to run to keep up.”

Already, Reinert said, Helping to Heal has clients coming to Tracy from a three-state area.

“We are confident that we are fairly unique within a radius of at least 100 miles,” Reinert said.

The sauna was added, Reinert said, because of its therapeutic values in purging the body of harmful substances. He said that there is anecdotal evidence that the heat of a sauna can be helpful for some cancer patients.

• • •

Helping to Heal advertises “gentle methods for difficult health issues.”

Reinert said that the purpose of his alternative health-care center is not to supplant traditional medical care, but to offer choices.

“It is important for people to have choices.” His philosophy, he explained, is to explore therapy options that don’t have harmful side effects while also providing helpful information. Part of his approach, he explained, is to deal with emotional and nutritional issues that can contribute to health problems.

Reinert, who has a doctorate degrees in physics and naturopathy, is certified in hypnotherapy and “energy psychology.” He has received advanced training in “bio-energy” and qigong “energy healing” therapy.

Helping people achieve life goals are among his special interests.

Prior to establishing Helping to Heal, Reinert taught physics at Southwest Minnesota State University for 29 years. During his teaching career, Reinert said that students frequently came to him with questions about life choices. And, he said, he often came across people with illnesses for whom “conventional medicine could not help.” The experiences, he said, helped pique his interest in alternative medicine and wellness practices.

Reinert said that he does not consider himself a “healer,” only an instrument in others’ own healing process. Helping to Heal doesn’t claim to be able to help everyone, he said. But he adds, “we think we can bring about improvement in just about everyone.”

• • •

Other people associated with Helping to Heal are:

• Master Wu, a native of Laos, who offers qigong energy healing and teaches a gentle Eastern exercise called “Tai Chi.” Wu is also a martial arts expert.

• Rachel (Fritz) Landherr, a licensed massage therapist.

• Sheila Carlson, a registered nurse who will be offering counseling services related to women’s menopausal issues.

• Darlene Rolling, a licensed practical nurse, who manages the front office.

• Diane Ferrazzano, a certified therapist in the Emotional Freedom Technique.

• • •

Regular hours at Helping to Heal are 10 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, although appointments can be made at other times.

Reinert said that he plans to offer an on-going series of classes and visiting speakers at the clinic. Classes will start on Jan. 22. A grand opening is anticipated sometime in February.

Remodeling on 100-year-old brick building began in September, after Reinert bought the building from Betsy Schmidt and Shetek Station Custom framing moved to the lower level of The Etc. Owl Construction was the general contractor for the Helping to Heal remodeling.

Knowledge Bowl teams advance

Tracy Area High School’s junior high Knowledge Bowl teams fared well in sub-regional competition last week. The competition took place Friday, Jan. 7 at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Team one, whose members are Jeremiah Martin, Eric Lanoue, Brittnee Michael, and Will Johnston, placed third overall. The team had the highest written score and competed in four oral rounds to clinch the third-place finish.

Team two finished 24th out of 48 teams. Members of team two are Trent Edwards, Skylar Carlson, Dalton Kirk, and Brady Welu.

Both teams advance to regional competition this week.

During the contest, teams competed in a written round consisting of 60 questions and four oral rounds of 45 questions each. Questions tested students’ recall, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Questions were inter-disciplinary, including American history, world history, government, current events, economics and law, geography, literature, English, math, physical science, life science, earth science, health and psychology, art and music, and general knowledge of Minnesota.

Winning teams were awarded a trophy, with first, second, and third-place ribbons given to team members placing in the top three positions. Ribbons were given to all participants.

The competition was sponsored by the Southwest Minnesota Students Enrichment partnership.

The regional tournament will be held Thursday, Jan. 13 at Southwest Minnesota State University. Competition gets underway at 8:30 a.m. There is no state competition for junior high Knowledge Bowl teams, so the regional competition is as far as the teams can advance.

North woods dogsledding is 'once in lifetime experience'

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

When she was in fifth grade, Jenna Fischer and her classmates learned about dogsledding from teacher Russ Roots. She’s been interested in the subject ever since.

Now a Tracy Area High School junior, Fischer recently returned from a three-day dogsledding and cross-country skiing expedition in Northern Minnesota. She was one of 40 girls from across the country who were chosen to participate in the trip through Girl Scouts. In order to be chosen for the trip, Fischer had to apply, get recommendations, and go through an interview process.

The girls arrived in Ely on Tuesday, Dec. 28. On their first full day, they had “Dogs 101.” They learned how to harness the dogs and hook them up to the sled. They also learned how to do ice rescues and worked on cross-country skiing.

The girls left on their expedition on Friday, Dec. 31. A typical day involved getting up early—at about 6 a.m. The girls had to pack their clothes, sleeping bags, tents, and other necessities from the camp. They also had to find water and cook breakfast.

Once these tasks were complete, the skiers started out. The dogsledders followed a little later.

Fischer’s group had nine girls. Each day, three girls were selected to dogsled so that everyone in the group had the opportunity.

The group would travel about three or four miles each day, which usually took four to five hours. Then they set up camp, which took another five hours.

The first night, New Year’s Eve, the girls were left to camp alone. Fischer said the leaders helped them to set up camp, and then left. The good thing about that night, Fischer said, was that the girls were allowed to sleep longer. In fact, they got 10 hours of sleep that night.

One of the other nights was not so easy. On Fischer’s day to dogsled, heavy snow made travel extremely difficult. The sled tipped over several times, and the girls were dogsledding into the night. They finally got to sleep at about 2 a.m., and had to get up in just a few hours to get on the trail again.

Fischer said the cross-country skiing wasn’t too strenuous. She was surprised to find that dogsledding was more difficult than she expected. Which activity was more difficult, she felt, depended on the terrain and the amount of snow.

The weather changed dramatically during the trip. On Tuesday, when Fischer arrived in Ely, the temperature was about 40 degrees. By Sunday night, she said, the temperature dropped to around 25 below, without windchill.

Fischer said it wasn’t difficult to stay warm while the group was on the move, but that became more of a challenge when they reached camp.

The girls had an extensive packing list for the trip. In addition to the warm clothes they brought along, they were given two sleeping bags, boots, a down jacket, leather gloves, and ski gloves to use.

Fischer was surprised to learn that the tents she and the others would be sleeping under were actually tarps that they would sleep under. Long underwear, fleece pants and jackets, and warm water bottles helped to keep the girls warm at night. They used their down jackets as pillows.

Fischer said it was important to be warm before getting into the sleeping bags, because they would act as a Thermos—if you were warm, the sleeping bags kept you warm; if you were cold, they kept you cold.

Staying warm wasn’t always on her mind, Fischer said.

“It was so pretty to see the sun rise in the morning and set again in the evening,” she said. “It kind of made you forget how cold it was.”

She is happy she went on the trip, and wouldn’t hesitate to go again.

“I would definitely go dogsledding again if I had the chance,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”