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News from the week of August 3, 2005

Commissioners vote to survey landowners

A survey of landowners who would be affected by the Lake Shetek-area sewer project will help Murray County Commissioners decide whether to move forward with the project.

The commissioners passed a motion Tuesday to send a survey to lake property landowners to see whether they thought the plan should move forward. Commissioner Robert Moline first brought the idea before the board.

“I just wonder as commissioners if we can send out a survey to all of the landowners and have them say ‘yes I vote for this,’ or ‘no, I don’t,’” Moline said.

Commissioner Lyle Onken who, along with chairman Al Gertsema, voted against the motion, said, “By doing this, we are putting off our responsibility.”

Commissioners Moline, Kevin Vickerman, and Bill Sauer voted in favor of sending out the survey, which is to be conducted by the Regional Development Commission. There will be one vote allowed per mailing label, and landowners with more than one property will be allowed to vote once. The surveys should be returned by Aug. 26.

Until then, the commissioners will put off a decision on whether to move forward with the project.

On Saturday, a public hearing was held on a design for a pressure collection system. Representatives from Bolton & Menk, Inc., Consulting Engineers and Surveyors, presented information on the proposed wastewater collection system.

A large crowd of Lake Shetek, Lake Sarah, and other residents affected by the project gathered at Shetek Lutheran Ministries for the presentation. The pressure system is the third type that has been seriously considered for the Shetek-area sewer. Gravity and vacuum systems have also been considered.

Presenting information on the pressure system were Bob Brown, John Peterson, and Chuck Pettipice of Bolton & Menk.

Peterson said similar sewer collection system projects have been completed in Mankato and New Prague. He said the wastewater treatment would still involve ponds located at Currie, meaning that there would not have to be any changes in the environmental assessment completed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

There would be three ponds total; two primary ponds and one secondary pond. The ponds would be operated by the city of Currie.

The sewer collection system would include a ring route, which is the main pipeline for transporting the wastewater to Currie, service laterals, and grinder pumps. The lateral pipelines and grinder stations would serve the individual homes and businesses. The grinder pumps, lateral pipelines, and ring route would be owned and maintained by the county.

Peterson said Bolton & Menk’s system design covers the same basic area as the other plans, but differs in how it will allow the system to be expanded in the future. Some of the pipes have been re-routed, including an area on the southern portion of the lake that was formerly designed as a lake crossing. Peterson said the changes will better accommodate the fourth phase of the plan.

The ring route would include 82,000 feet of two-inch to 10-inch pressure sewer pipe. Pipes would be located in county and township right-of-ways to minimize private easements. Directional boring will be used as often as possible as a cost-saving measure. The plan includes three submersible lift stations with stand-by generators at each station.

The connection of houses to the system will be included in the project. This was not included in previous plans, said Peterson. The preliminary plan calls for the installation of 650 grinder pumps, with provisions for future service hubs also included in the project. Septic tank pumping and abandonment costs are also included in the project costs.

Most of the time, said Peterson, the grinder pump is placed within 20 feet of the current septic tank. However, there is some flexibility if a homeowner wants it placed at a different site on the property. The extra cost would be included in the homeowner’s assessment.

Each grinder station would have an electronic control and metering device. The device senses when the pump is not running properly and a red light goes on, alerting the property owner.

Once the grinder pump is installed on a property, the hole would be filled in with black dirt and graded. It would be the responsibility of the homeowner to restore gardens, grass, etc. on the property once the dirt is replaced and leveled.

Estimated cost for the pressure system project is $14,930,000. This includes 5.5 million for construction of the collection system (ring route), 4.9 million for the service laterals and grinder pumps, and 1.5 million for a stabilization pond, in addition to other costs.

Also included in the 14.9 million estimate is 1,285,000 in previous engineering and related costs for the project. When asked how much of the previous engineering was used in Bolton & Menk’s plan, representatives said that much of the previous engineering work had been used in their design.

Bolton & Menk has estimated that annual operation, maintenance, replacement, billing and administration would be $150,000 a year.

Funding for the project is expected to come from several different sources, including Public Facilities Authority (PFA) low- and no-interest loans. The Department of Natural Resources and Murray County have agreed to designate $500,000 toward the project, said Pettipice.

The total average assessment is estimated at $14,900. Average monthly cost for usage is expected to be around $35.

Details of the assessment would further be clarified at an assessment hearing. Landowners could have the option of paying a certain amount yearly, paying all or a portion of the assessment up-front, or deferring some of the payment. This last option could be available for landowners who have recently made septic system improvements.

Charismatic cyclists share stories during Tracy stop

By Megan Meyer

Imagine biking 3,600 miles from Seattle, Washington to Sharon, Vermont. For 14 adults, ranging in age from 28 to 69, this is a reality. Nancy and Ken Wright, the leaders of the group, are making the trip for the fifth time.

The two avid bicyclists started hosting this trip five years ago after reading a book about another man and his group of junior high students who made the journey across the United States. Ken and Nancy welcome anyone, even those who are not experienced bicyclists, to sign up and complete the trip.

This summer’s trip includes a man from England, another from Taiwan, one from Minnesota, Missouri, and many from the East Coast area. Three of the riders have made the trip before.

All of the members started the trip on June 23 and will not be finished until August 27, a total of nine weeks on their bicycles. Some days they will ride 80 to 90 miles, but they will average 65 miles per day. “From Tracy to Vermont is going to be the shorter days,” Nancy tells the group during the directions meeting.

Direction meetings are held each evening. Nancy goes over the route and mileage for the next day and they pick a spot for lunch. The next morning, group members will start out when they want, knowing their own abilities and speed. They are in charge of getting to the lunch site and the day’s destination on time. Sunday’s ride was a short one, only the 63 miles from Tracy to New Ulm. Many were looking forward to it and liked the idea of the shorter day. “We’re in Minnesota, life is good,” commented the man, who just happens to be from northern Minnesota.

Because towns between Minnesota and the East Coast are closer together, the days’ riding distances are shorter, which excites some of the members of the group. They haven’t run into extreme temperature yet this year, which has made it a little easier. Two years ago, the group encountered 113-degree weather. “We had people getting sick,” said Nancy.

The group does not just consist of bikers. A truck and trailer are with them throughout the trip. The driver sets up lunch is a spot chosen along the route and then “leap frogs” the rest of the day. Seth, the driver for part of this trip, will be ahead and behind at different parts of the day. The trailer carries all the bikers’ luggage and sleeping gear. The only thing on the cyclists’ backs are small bags containing things like money and some snacks.

Many churches along the way provide a place to stay for the night and sometimes a meal. The Tracy United Methodist Church was one of those churches and the servers, who were members of the congregation, had a wonderful time getting to know the group.

“I had so much fun. I am so glad I helped serve this group,” commented Ruth Snyder. “The stories were hilarious.”

The stories were definitely interesting, and although they were hard to believe, they were well told. Most of these outlandish stories were started by a rider named Gary and finished by a man named Mark. Gary is a retired lawyer and seemed to have a talent for embellishment. He is from “Missoura.” Mark came from England to make the journey and backed up most of Gary’s stories.

One such story involved a “road alligator,” the tread of truck tires that is sometimes blown off and left lying on the road. Gary has always wondered what would happen if one were to blow off while he was riding next to it. As he was riding one day, a trailer with tires “bigger than this,” he indicated with his arms, pulled up beside him. He soon heard a loud popping noise and thought it was maybe the tire of his bike. He soon realized that it was the tread on the trailer tire being blown off. Luckily it was on the other side of the truck. Gary was spared.

Mark took over the story from there. Riding a few miles behind Gary, Mark saw the tire tread lying in the middle of the road. Being a good samaritan and looking for any excuse to get off his bike and rest, he decided to move the tire. “I was amazed at the weight of it.” Mark commented. To which Gary leaned in and whispered jokingly—loud enough for everyone to hear—“He isn’t too strong. It was probably only 15 pounds.” That was their encounter with the road alligator.

Another meeting with an animal involves a fear of everyone when visiting Glacier National Park—bears. The night before the encounter the group was talking about what they should do if a bear attacked them. Many thought they would play dead because they were going to be soon anyway. Gary didn’t feel the same way. “The message I would be getting would go something like this—‘feet, move!’” Gary said with a chuckle.

The next morning, Gary started his journey. It was cold and dark, he recalls. Throughout the day, Mark was behind him about 200 yards. While riding up a hill, Gary heard rustling in the bushes next to him. “It wasn’t Bambi looking for a way out of the brush. It actually sounded like a Sherman tank,” Gary explained. “I glanced over there and could not see anything, but my mind said ‘bear.’ So my tail went up and my nose went down and my feets went,” he said, showing a quick pedaling motion with his hands. “Now I’ll let Mark finish the story.”

Mark could see Gary disappear rapidly 200 yards ahead. The next thing he saw was a bear exploding out of the brush. A park ranger truck drove by and squealed to a stop.

“The bear didn’t like the squealing and roared up in the middle of the road,” said Mark. “I dithered around a bit. Should I bike past? Should I not? I wasn’t sure.” Another truck drove by and helped Mark past the bear-filled brush onto safety.

These stories may or may not be true, but they gave all who were listening a good laugh.

Many more interesting stories were shared by this group, and these were factual. Chihwei, a 28-year-old graduate student, is riding a bike specially designed for him. His uncle from California works for a bicycle company and decided to design a bike for Chihwei’s journey. After seeing the website with details about the trip, Chihwei decided to sign up. “It’s the best way to see the country,” he said. He is originally from Taiwan and is now living in Boston, where he is studying for his MBA.

Others on the trip include retired clergy, teachers, nurses, a university professor, carpenters and a computer specialist. The people are very diverse and make quite an interesting group.

“The trip has been an excitement of every sort,” shared Mark.

More information about this group and their trip can be found on the web at

John Garang killed in weekend crash

Sudanese leader spent time with Tracy families

A Sudanese leader who spent time in Tracy during the 1960s and ‘70s is being mourned this week.

John Garang, 60, was killed over the weekend when the helicopter he was riding in crashed into a mountain range in southern Sudan on its way back from Uganda, it was confirmed Monday. Six of Garang’s colleagues and seven crew members also died in the crash.

Garang had been sworn in as Sudan’s Vice President only a few weeks before, on July 9. Earlier this year, Garang and Sudan President Omar al-Bashir made history when they signed a peace agreement that ended Africa’s longest-running conflict.

Garang led Sudan’s southern rebels for two decades prior to the signing of the peace agreement. He was chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which was opposed to military rule and Islamic dominance of the country.

Garang spent time with Vergil and the late Bev Bauer on their farm southeast of Tracy beginning in 1966. Missionaries Bill and Eunice Robbins first encountered the young man in Tanzania, where he had fled to escape turmoil in his native country of Sudan. Bill Robbins had been a Tracy High School English teacher.

“He felt John was an outstanding student with potential,” Virgil Bauer said.

The Robbins helped Garang come to the United States to attend college. The Bauers offered him a place to stay during his breaks from Grinnell College in Iowa. He also spent a summer living with the Pastor Richard Peterson family.

After earning his bachelor of arts degree from Grinnell, Bauer said, Garang went back to Africa. He returned to the U.S. to take the commander’s course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and went back to his home country once again. He returned to the U.S. a third time—this time with a wife and children—to receive his master’s degree in agricultural economics and a Ph.D. in economics from Iowa State University at Ames.

Bauer has not seen Garang since the early 1980s, but his daughter, Mary, has. Mary has been in Sudan on a humanitarian mission since 1996, and has had contact with Garang during her time there, Bauer said. The registered nurse worked first with the American Refugee Council and then with Norwegian Peoples Aid before branching out with her own effort to help young mothers and refugees in the war-torn country, Bauer said.

Bauer remembers Garang as man of worldly knowledge.

“He was an extremely intelligent person,” he said. “When he learned something, it was like putting it on microfilm.”

He said Garang was always a perfect gentleman, and was serious about his education. He had many opportunities to learn in the U.S., including the offer of a scholarship to a college on the East Coast, which he did not accept.

“When he came here he had never so much as ridden a bicycle,” Bauer recalled. He later not only learned how to ride a bicycle, but also learned to drive a car and went on a trip to New York on his own.

Some people thought he would see the kind of life he could have in the U.S. and never go back to Africa, Bauer said. He proved them wrong.

Bauer said Garang wanted very badly to see his country progress and improve.

“He was always very diplomatic. He didn’t force anything but he had a way of doing things,” he said. “It’s such a loss to Sudan. It’s really going to hurt them.”

Bev Bauer’s sister, Gwen Nelson, also remembers Garang as a kind, intelligent man.

“He was really a good person,” she said. “He tried to do so much good for Africa.”

• • •

A funeral ceremony for Garang has been set for Saturday, Aug. 6. The ceremony will be held in Juba, the city Garang had chosen to be the capital of an autonomous southern Sudan. Garang is survived by his wife, Rebecca, and six children.

Harry Potter mania hits Tracy

The Harry Potter fever that has affected millions appears to have struck local readers. Several names are already on a waiting list at Tracy Public Library for the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Librarian Sherill Peterson says she’s been anxious to read the book herself, but doesn’t dare take it home before everyone on the waiting list has had a chance to borrow the book.

The ages of people on the waiting list range from young students to adults. Tracy Public Library gives borrowers the usual time of two weeks to read the book, whereas many other libraries shorten the usual allowed check-out time, since so many people are on the waiting list.

“Most kids need two weeks to read the book. Some of us just stay up all night reading it,” said Peterson.

Half-Blood Prince, which averaged over 250,000 copies sold per hour in its first 24 hours on the U.S. market, is the second to last novel in the seven-book series. It continues the tale of Harry’s adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and brings to life his efforts to unveil the mystery of who Lord Voldemort, the dark wizard, once was. Rumor has it that the book’s first chapter has been in the mind of the author, J.K. Rowling, for over 13 years.

Minnesota legal driving limit changes

The Minnesota State Patrol reminds motorists that as of Aug. 1, the DWI law limits have changed. Governor Tim Pawlenty signed a bill into law decreasing the legal limit for impaired driving to .08.

Anyone whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is 0.08 or higher (0.04 in a commercial vehicle) and is in control of a moving or parked vehicle, can be arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). If a law enforcement officer can prove that alcohol caused the person to commit driving errors, he or she can be convicted of DWI at even lower alcohol concentrations.

Last year in Minnesota, alcohol-related crashes killed 255 people and over 30,000 people were arrested. Of those arrested, over 40 percent were repeat offenders.