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News from the week of October 26, 2005


Lubben, Coyle, Benson join school writ-in field

Three more people have announced their intentions to be write-in candidates for the Tracy Board of Education.

Keith Lubben, Mike Coyle and Rod Benson are asking for voter support in District 417’s Nov. 8 school board election. April Lichty, Kim Pedersen, Diane Ferrazzano, and Tom Hook announced their candidacies last week.

All candidates are running as write-ins, since no one filed for office during the official filing period this July.

Three, five-year terms on the school board will be filled in the election.

Ed Carter, Garry Hippe, and Eric Nelson are the incumbents with terms expiring. Other school board members are Dan Zimansky, Peggy Zwach, Eric Fultz, and Al Landa.

Profiles of the latest District 417 write-ins are:


Mike Coyle

Coyle, 33, is a paramedic employed by North Ambulance of Marshall, Redwood Falls and Minneota. He also operates his own consulting business, Coyle EMS Consulting. His wife, Amy, operates a daycare business in their home. They have one son, a fourth grader at Tracy Elementary School.

A 1990 Tracy Area High School graduate, Coyle earned an undergraduate degree in physical education and health education from Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, in 1996. He is now working on a Master of Business Education degree at SMSU. Someday, he said he would like to earn a doctorate degree in sociology and teach at a college.

Coyle feels that his background in both business and education would be assets on the school board.

“I’ve been on both sides. I’ve taught and I’ve worked with businesses and budgets. I feel that I can analyze issues and make good choices for the school district.”

His teaching background, he said, has included several stints as a public school substitute, and he has taught EMS classes for 15 years. His consulting business involves helping set up training, membership development, special events planning, and grant writing for ambulance services.

Coyle said that he and his wife moved back to Tracy in 2003, in part because of the reputation of Tracy Public Schools and their dissatisfaction with schools where they had lived previously. He said that he and Amy have been very happy with the educational opportunities that their son has had.

“We’re glad to be back. Tracy schools are some of the best around.”

His goal as a school board member, he said, will be to make decisions that will benefit students not only today, but well into the future.

“A school board member should be thinking strategically 5, 10, and 15 years into the future.”


Keith Lubben

Keith Lubben, 48, is has lived in Tracy since 1991. He and his wife, Val, who works in Marshall, have two children. Kaitlin was a 2005 honor graduate. Their son, Josh, is an eighth grader at TAHS.

A 1975 Edgerton High School graduate, Lubben completed a diesel technology program at Canby Vocational following high school He is a service technician at the Tracy John Deere dealership, Tracy Equipment.

Running for the school board, he said, is something that he has long considered. He decided to announce his write-in candidacy, in part, because no one filed for office this summer, and in part because several people suggested that he run.

“Whether I make it or not, I’m going to be glad I ran because I’m giving people another choice.”

He describes Tracy Public Schools as “excellent,” and said that he would work to maintain high standards on the school board.

Lubben said that as a school board member, he would diligently attend meetings and study issues. He said he rarely missed a meeting during a nine-year term on the Tracy County Club board.

“I am the type of person, that if I commit to something, I am 100% involved.”

When he is not working at Tracy Equipment, Lubben is active in the Saratoga Archery Club and operates a snow removal and lawn care business.


Rod Benson

Rod Benson, 41, is the manager of the Cenex-Harvest States livestock feed division based in Tracy. He and his wife, Dawn, who is the manager of Twin Circle Apartments, have lived in Tracy since 1993. They have six children, ranging from a pre-school to age 12. The oldest son is a seventh grader and Tracy Area High School. Their other school age children attend St. Mary’s School.

Benson said that he has considered running for school board before. He decided to enter the race this year, he said, after being urged to do by people in the district.

“We made a commitment to live here and contribute to this community,” Benson said. “Serving on the school board is a way for me to contribute.”

His children, Benson said, are the top priority for he and his wife. As a school board member, Benson said that he would work to see that local children have the best possible educational opportunities.

“I would see to it that money is spent wisely, and that students get the maximum opportunity for the dollar spent.”

A “strong” school board, Benson said, is a necessary ingredient if Tracy is to continue to have a good school system. School board members need to individually be strong leaders, but also know how to work together as a team, he added.

“I have no desire to change anything. I have no agenda. I’d just like to work for the best educational opportunities possible.”

Benson feels that his experience in management and answering to a co-op board would be a plus on a school board. As the Cenex-Harvest States feed manager, Benson said that he is responsible for a division with $12 million in sales and a $750,000 payroll. He is responsible for all budgets and personnel in his division.

Benson said that he and Dawn have been involved in their children’s education since they entered pre-school.

“We are passionate about education,” he said. At St. Mary’s School, Benson spearheaded a project to upgrade technology.

The candidate currently serves on two community boards: the finance committee of St. Mary’s Church and the Tracy Area Housing advisory board.

Hurricane Helper, Red Cross relief called 'life-changing' experience

By Seth Schmidt

It’s the people that Connie Priegnitz says she will never forget.

Like the lady who spent four days on a rooftop before being rescued, or the multitudes who waited patiently for emergency stocks of food and water. She remembers people who had lost everything who still insisted upon offering her a place to sit or a can of soda. She can still see the children who labored to save orphaned dogs, the taxi driver who ferried her to safety, and the farmer who tried to round-up his salt-water afflicted cattle. Gratitude and courage were on display everywhere.

“I was so amazed,” says Priegnitz, who recently returned hurricane ravaged Louisiana, after three-weeks as a volunteer Red Cross relief worker. “I went down there hoping to reach out and touch the people of Louisiana, but they were the ones who reached out and touched me. I received so much more than I was able to give them.”

The fortitude displayed by the people was remarkable, she said.

“You would expect that considering all that they had been through and all that they had lost, that they would have been crushed. But they weren’t. They had this incredible spirit and vision for the future. I’ll never forget them.”

Priegnitz arrived in New Orleans about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina left catastrophic damage in its wake. Hurricane Rita struck while she was in Louisiana.

The devastation left by the hurricanes, she said, is unimaginable.

“There is junk and debris everywhere, and I mean everywhere,” Priegnitz said. “In the three weeks that I was in Louisiana, I didn’t see one clean yard or one clean parking lot.”

A mammoth clean-up effort was underway, with collection points for different types of debris being organized. For example, ruined refrigerators might be stacked up in one parking lots, with tree debris piled up across the street. Hauling away the storm’s wreckage, she said, will be a long, difficult task. But the people are undaunted.

Priegnitz explains, “They don’t want people to feel sorry for them. But they have a vision for rebuilding and they want people to come down in a year and see what they have done.”


Responding to appeal

The Tracy woman said that she felt an overwhelming desire to help relieve the human suffering caused by the hurricanes after watching and reading news reports of the horrific damage. Her husband, Mark, was supportive, and gave her a Red Cross phone number to get more information. He offered to take charge of their three children, ages 4-10, during her absence.

“Mark is the real super hero in this,” Connie said. “I never would have been able to consider this if I hadn’t had a supportive husband.”

Some questioned how she could volunteer to help hurricane victims with three young children at home, Connie said.

“I was torn, but I could also see that so much help was needed down there.” She decided that as long as the children were in good hands during her absence, that volunteering was the right thing to do.

Her three weeks as a Red Cross volunteer, she said, “weren’t even close to what I thought it would be. It was more rewarding to me personally than I could have dreamed.”



Flight to an eerie airport

Her first day as a volunteer was perhaps her most challenging.

After a day of Red Cross training in Marshall, she flew to New Orleans with only a vague idea of what to expect when she arrived. The airport terminal in New Orleans was almost deserted, except for a heavy presence of military security. No one from the Red Cross met them. Alone in a strange city, it was an uncomfortable experience. But Connie and six other civilians soon recognized one another as fellow Red Cross volunteers and banded together. After calling a toll-free Red Cross number, a taxi van showed up to take them to a Red Cross processing center in Baton Rouge. The trip was slowed by, what Priegnitz called a “horrendous” downpour that was heavier than any she had ever experienceD.

“It was disappointing to all of us because we had finally gotten to New Orleans and here we were being taken to Baton Rouge without helping a single person. We told that to the taxi driver, and he said, ‘oh, yes you have. You’ve helped me. This is the first work I’ve had in two weeks.’”

After spending their first night in a Red Cross shelter, sleeping on cots just inches apart, the new volunteers were quickly assigned to jobs.

Connie joined a 16-member team that drove 24-foot cargo trucks loaded with food and supplies into storm-struck New Orleans neighborhoods. On a good day, the truck made three to four trips. They were accompanied by security where ever they went.

“I was so thankful for this assignment because I was able to work directly with the people who needed help,” Priegnitz explains.

With few exceptions, relief recipients were polite, grateful, and friendly.

“Everyone had a story to tell, and they wanted to share it,” Connie said. “But with so many people waiting in line, you just couldn’t.”

Relief workers were greeted warmly everywhere they want, Priegnitz said.

After a week of distributing relief supplies, Priegnitz was reassigned to “client services.” In her new work, Priegnitz was matching up people’s needs with relief resources and helped tackle specific problems for people.

“I just loved this chance to work directly with people,” she said.

Workdays were exhausting, often extending from early in the morning until 10 or 11 at night. But their spirits were invariably redeemed, she said, by the very people they had been sent to help.

She remembers one evening feeling weary, hungry, and lonesome for her family back home, that her Red Cross group spotted a restaurant that had just re-opened. When people waiting to get into the restaurant noticed that they were Red Cross workers, they insisted that the volunteers be sent to the head of the line. A local family bought their meal.

“That just renewed me,” Connie remembers. “I feel that I received so much more than I gave.”

Priegnitz, who describes herself as “a spiritual person,” said that she constantly felt “the presence of God” while in Louisiana.


Return to normal life

Adjusting to normal life after returning to Minnesota was more difficult than she expected.

Of course, she was happy to see family and friends again. But Priegnitz said that there was an emotional letdown too.

“I hadn’t expected that. But it was so different to be back home again, after having being go-go-go almost every minute we were down there.”

After being in the midst of so much destruction, it was strange to suddenly be back home where everything was normal. She felt guilty about enjoying the material comforts of home, knowing that so many on the Gulf Coast had so little. A part of her felt that she should still be in Louisiana helping with relief efforts. She also missed her fellow Red Cross workers.

At one point, Priegnitz recalls being irritated about returning to mundane household chores like cleaning the bathroom.

“I thought, ‘geez, I’m gone for three weeks and no one can even clean a bathroom?’” But she caught herself.

“I am grateful just to have a bathroom.” Even the simple act of turning on a tap and having safe, clean water in Tracy took on new meaning.

She calls her Red Cross volunteer work “a life changing experience” that reminded her of “what is most important in life.”

Tears still come to her eyes when talking about the hurricane victims. But she says she will keep a promise she made to many Louisiana people, to return someday, this time with her family.

No room at bin, Evidence of a bountiful harvest continues to pile up. Literally

Mammoth mountains of grain are being piled outside grain elevators and along railroad tracks across the region, with indoor storage space filled to overflowing.

In Tracy, about 460,000 bushels of corn have been piled south of the railroad tracks west of South Fourth St.. Corn is still coming in from the fields.

“We should be busy this week yet (taking in corn),” said Bob Anderson, Cenex-Harvest States manager in Tracy.

The 460,000 bushels represents about 406 semi-loads of grain.

Anderson said that elevator storage is filled to capacity, with about 800,000 bushels of corn and 320,000 bushels of soybeans indoors. He doesn’t look for the tight storage to change anytime soon. Freight costs now are expensive, he said, and railroad grain cars are in tight supply.

“Right now there is no place to go,” Anderson said.

He said that it was too early to say what total grain volume would be at the elevator, although this year’s corn is starting to approach 2004 levels.

Workers hustle to finish pool

By Seth Schmidt

Although construction has fallen behind the schedule established this summer, substantial completion of the Tracy Aquatic Center is still expected this fall.

A revised construction schedule targets Nov. 18 as the “substantial completion” date for the aquatic center repairs. The pool is to be filled with water next month to allow for the testing of mechanical systems.

Dec. 2 is considered the “semi-final” date for aquatic center repairs, with the “final completion” projected for May 1, 2006.

In a construction schedule announced in July, final completion was targeted by the end of October.

Rick Robinson, Tracy public works director, told city council members Monday that the construction delays were the result of unexpected circumstances that had nothing to do with contractors. For example, discovery of poor fill materials underneath the splash pool, which subsequently had to be removed, was one cause of construction delays this summer.

“They have been doing a good job. We are happy with the work that they have done,” he said.


Progress made

The aquatic center construction site was bustling with activity Tuesday.

A boom truck from Southwest Minnesota Concrete was on site to help pour cement for remaining sections of the aquatic center deck. All concrete pours are to be completed by Friday.

Also scheduled for this week is starting the installation of the new Myrtha liner in the lap pool area, with completion scheduled for Nov. 3. The pool liner in the splash pool is to begin Nov. 3, with completion by Nov. 9.

A new Myrtha gutter system for both pool areas is finished, with pool piping almost complete.

Other targeted completion dates in the new construction schedule include: stairway construction, Oct. 28; permanent pipe installation, Nov. 4; filter room upgrades, Nov. 8; reinstallation of play features and slides, Nov. 18; site restoration & clean up, Nov. 30; service pad construction, April 21; spring site restoration & clean up, April 27.

The aquatic center is expected to be ready for full operations in the summer of 2006.


Other issues

A pool drainpipe, installed during the 2001-02 construction of the aquatic center, is being replaced at a cost of $5,460.

Robinson reported that the 156-foot long pipe has a dip due to improper construction. The dip traps water and is shallow enough to be prone to freezing.

Legal counsel Jim Kerr indicated that the city will attempt to recoup the pipe replacement expense in its aquatic center litigation.

Robinson also reported that the city will need to construct a second pipe to carry the pool’s backwash water to a sanitary sewer. At the present time, the backwash water goes into a storm sewer, which does not meet Minnesota Pollution Control regulations. Robinson said he hadn’t gotten a cost estimate yet on the second line, although he expected it to be more expensive than the drain pipe replacement.


Pool history

The Tracy Aquatic Center was built in 2001-02 at a cost of $1.8 million. The new pool replaced a swimming facility that had operated for 50 years. The new aquatic center opened in July of 2002, but significant water loss and cracking problems were noticed by 2003. The aquatic center was closed in both 2004 and 2005 while the site was analyzed, solutions devised, and repairs begun.

Repairs will cost about $1.2 million. The City of Tracy has taken legal action to recover damages for what it contends was poor design, construction management, and construction workmanship in the original aquatic center construction. The case is scheduled to come to trial in January.

Environmental issue adds new ripple to South Tracy drainage

By Seth Schmidt

An environmental question will likely delay a proposed South Tracy drainage project.

Acting at a closed meeting Monday night, the Tracy City Council directed City Administrator Audrey Koopman to obtain an “environmental assessment” on land being considered for a new drainage ditch. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency would be involved in the assessment.

The purpose of the environmental assessment, Koopman explained in a Tuesday morning telephone interview, is to make sure that the property doesn’t have unsafe contaminants that could be picked up in the run-off of a new drainage ditch. She said that she didn’t know how long the environmental review would take, but indicated that it would probably delay the proposed drainage project. Costs of the environmental analysis are uncertain also, Koopman said, but it is hoped that state or federal grants will be available to foot the bill.


Contract awarded in July

In July, the council awarded a $35,200 contract to the Worthington engineering firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson to develop detailed plans and specifications for South Tracy drainage improvements. The basic project calls for the construction of a new storm sewer from the northeast edge of high school property to the intersection of South Fourth and Front Streets. A culvert is to be built underneath South Fourth between the high school and elementary grounds. A storm sewer would be extended along Greenwood Ave to Spring St. with lateral connections.

From the intersection of South Fourth and Front streets, an open ditch would be built across property commonly known as the former Central Livestock yards. The new open ditch would carry surface run-off northeast to an existing ditch south of the railroad tracks.

Three routes for the open ditch have been proposed . The longest route would require that the city obtain about five acres along Front St. Two more direct routes would be less expensive to built, but would require the purchase of more land from owner Dave Anderson.

At the time the engineering contract was approved in July, council members postponed making a decision on what route the ditch should take, or how much property the city should attempt to buy. The council has also not made a decision on a suggestion that the entire 30-acre Anderson parcel be purchased, and that a new housing development be incorporated with the drainage ditch. The land purchase issue has been discussed several times by council members at public meetings this year.

The closed meeting Monday was the second in two weeks by the council to discuss the possible purchase of land for the drainage ditch.


$500,000 estimate

Engineers have estimated the South Tracy drainage project at $500,000 based upon the purchase of five acres. At the time the engineering contract was awarded in July, hopes were expressed that construction might begin this fall.

Utility increases okayed, New control panels set for water plant

By Seth Schmidt

City of Tracy water users can expect slightly more expensive utility bills beginning next year.

City council members approved increases in city water and sewer rates Monday night. The changes will add $5.40 to the monthly water and sewer bill of a residential customer using seven units of water a month.

The increases, adopted through amendments to a city ordinance, become effective at the beginning of December, but won’t show up on utility bills until next year.

The ordinance changes call for an increase of 20 cents per unit of water used (750 gallons) , and a $2 monthly increase in both the monthly sewer and water basic service fees.

The increases will generate an estimated $75,000 annually. The extra money will be used to pay for utility related improvements, including a radio-read water meter replacement program (estimated cost $130,000); new water plant controls ($85,500); replacement of water main shut off valves, ($40,000); replacement inoperable fire hydrants, $35,000.

The council is also looking for the increased revenues to help pay for a portion of a South Tracy drainage project that has an estimated $500,000 cost. Council members have discussed borrowing money through a bond sale to finance the utility and drainage improvements. The increased revenues, along with special assessments to benefiting property owners on the drainage project, would be used to repay the bond.

The increased rates were adopted unanimously by the council.

“It is pretty obvious that we are going to have to do something because some of these projects have been postponed for far too long,” commented Mayor Steve Ferrazzano.


Public hearing

Two people spoke at a public hearing about the utility increases.

Paul Knoblauch said he wasn’t against the utility improvements, but said that care should be taken to only spend money from the city’s utility surcharge fund on improvements and repairs to existing sewer and water lines.

Marv Van Acker thought the city should proceed cautiously until knowing exactly what the expenses will be for the South Tracy drainage project.

Koopman reported that the city has $145,778 in the city’s utility surcharge fund. About $217,000 was spent from the fund this year, she said, with the bulk ($168,000) going for a water main project on South St. Additional money was spent disconnecting storm water catch basins from the sanitary sewer.

Water control upgrade

In a related matter, Public Works Director Rick Robinson was told to proceed with an $85,500 plan to install new control equipment in the water plant. He said the existing equipment could not be repaired and no parts were available. The 15-year-old control equipment dates from the original construction of the water plant in 1991. Robinson said that, in his opinion, the original controls installed the plant were “not top-notch” to begin with.

Two vendors from Sioux Fallswho are willing to come out to Tracy in an emergency, Robinson said, will provide the equipment. The original estimates to upgrade the control equipment had been $50,000.

As a precaution against a sudden breakdown at the water plant, Robinson said that the water tower had been kept filled at 500,000 gallons.

“It sounds pretty much like an emergency,” said Ferrazzano.

“It pretty much is,” Robinson said.

The new controls, Robinson said, will likely outlast the water plant.