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News from the week of February 23, 2005

Tracy mourns fallen soldier

Jason Timmerman dies in Baghdad bomb blast

Basketball fans, coaches and athletes bowed their heads in silence in the Tracy High School gym. Then Jacob Gilmore’s voice rang out with the Star Spangled Banner. Tears came to the eyes of many.

The moment—prior to the Panther girls’ Section 3A playoff game with Luverne Tuesday night—encapsulated the sentiments of a grieving community.

The tribute honored First Lieutenant Jason Timmerman of Tracy, one of three Minnesota National Guardsmen to die in Iraq Monday. Lt. Timmerman, 24, was the husband of Tracy Area High School math teacher Teresa Timmerman. He left for Iraq on Jan. 1.

His family shared this statement about Jason Tuesday night:

“During his short time with us, Jason shared his passion for life and his country. He will be remembered for his love, laughter, and his sense of adventure, and bringing joy to all around him.”

Two other Minnesota National Guardsmen were also killed: Staff Sgt. David Day of Morris and Jesse Lhotka of Appleton. News reports said that the three soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad as they attempted to evacuate a comrade. The Guardsmen had been checking out an overturned Humvee when the bomb exploded.

No decisions about funeral arrangements had been made Tuesday, except that services will not be held until Jason’s body is returned home. The family has been told to expect a wait of one to three weeks.

• • •

Jason Gary Timmerman is a 1998 graduate of Lakeview High School in Cottonwood. His parents are Gary and Pat Timmerman of rural Cottonwood. He has three brothers: Eric, Craig, and Travis.

Joining the Minnesota National Guard soon out of high school, Timmerman earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Dakota State University, Madison, S.D. in May of 2002. During the 2003-04 school year, he taught high school math in Lake Benton. He earned a master’s degree in computer education technology from Dakota State in May 2004.

At the time of his deployment with the National Guard this fall, Timmerman was employed by the North Star Insurance Company of Cottonwood.

Timmerman met Teresa Hildebrand at Dakota State. They were married on Dec. 20, 2003, and made their home in Tracy. They attended both Tracy Lutheran Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Tracy.

Teresa, a 1998 high school graduate from Morden, Manitoba, also earned her undergraduate degree from Dakota State. She is in her second year of teaching at Tracy, and coaches in the Panther volleyball and girls’ basketball programs. She was absent Tuesday night as her team notched a play-off victory over Luverne.

Teresa’s parents are Wes and Carol Hildebrand. She has one sister, Karen.

• • •

The death of Lt. Timmerman was announced to high school staff and students early Tuesday. Several Tracy clergymen, the school psychologist, and counselor were available for any students who wanted to talk. Some did.

“It was a hard day,” said Supt. David Marlette, especially for staff and students close to Teresa Timmerman.

• • •

“They don’t come any better than Jason,” said Rose Goltz of Tracy, Jason’s aunt. “He had such a kind, generous personality.”

She told of the time Jason placed a newspaper want ad to sell a washing machine. A woman stopped by to look. Jason asked what was wrong with her old machine.

“He ended up going over to her place and fixing it for her instead of selling her his old machine. That’s the kind of person that he was,” Goltz shared.

Her nephew, she added, was also a fun-loving person with an unforgettable smile.

“I just can’t get over it,” she said of Jason’s death. “There have been a lot of tears shed.”

• • •

Jason was one of two Timmerman brothers serving in the U.S. military in Iraq. Travis Timmerman, family members had been told, was being flown home from Iraq by the military on Tuesday.

• • •

News of Jason Timmerman’s death resulted in an onslaught of visits from statewide media outlets. However, the family declined most requests for interviews.

• • •

Late Tuesday, Tracy Mayor Steve Ferrazzano asked that all American flags be flown at half-staff in honor of Lt. Timmerman. The flags are to fly at half-staff until after Timmerman’s funeral.

Corrections facility tops EDA plan

3000 population is vision for year 2010

Attracting a corrections facility is the Tracy Economic Development Authority’s top priority for 2005.

A recently drafted five-year plan, written by Community Development Director Robert Gervais, lists the corrections facility as its No. 1 objective for 2005. Other 2005 goals, in order of priority, are: 2) industrial park expansion, 3) housing addition(s) development, 4) wellness center development, 5) child-care facility development, 6) follow-up business leads from Southwest Minnesota State University students, 7) demolition program for sub-standard housing, 8) technology development.

The 2005 goals, along with projected two-year and five-year goals, were reviewed by EDA members in January and February, and forwarded to Tracy City Council members.

Excerpts from the five-year plan are:

Corrections facility

“…If the State House and Senate pass a bill approving the Department of Correction’s use of another private facility, we (City of Tracy) need to be ready with an incentive package. Past discussions on possible incentives have included donating land for the site of a facility, reduced rates on sewer/water/etc. and (Job Opportunity Building Zones/Tax Increment Finance) tax abatement. The site for such a facility would be city farmland north of the industrial park and south of the airport.…Estimating the cost to the city is difficult. The City of Tracy would donate the land, losing rent proceeds from the property (70 acres x $85 an acres=$5950 a year). …infrastructure costs (sewer/water/etc.) is another expense…The return on this investment could be enormous. The city could potentially recoup the cost of donating the land and other costs of incentives through the new tax base. We could conceivably see another hotel, fast-food businesses and numerous new houses being built within a short period of time. The city could also see new industrial/commercial growth with spin-off businesses.”


Industrial park

“The EDA has weighed the options of expanding the current industrial park or to look at developing a new site. Is it better to look at developing more lots in the current park … or to look at property adjacent to Hwy. 14 with (better) access and exposure? The softball fields represent the only developed available lots in the current park. The cost to purchase land for a new park would be approximately $261,000 or $4,000 an acre as needed. The infrastructure (water, storm and sanitary sewer) could wait. There has been a (state) grant program…to help install infrastructure. Cities could obtain up to $1,000,000 to help develop these items if there is a need…If we are fortunate and get a corrections facility, undeveloped property in the industrial park would be needed for this site. Where do we get the money for this? My response is: How much money would we lose if we had an industry that wanted to come to Tracy and we had no site for them?”


Housing addition(s)

“…The EDA participated in a housing plan done three years ago by Maxfield Research that stated Tracy was in need of single-family units and also rental units. We will not get industry without available housing or housing lots…Our focus as a community needs to be the attraction of families to our area. Where is the best place to build a housing addition in Tracy to attract families? The concern I hear is resale value. In my opinion, the best opportunity to attract families and provide potential resale value is the school district property.…We do need to be ready as a community with housing/housing addition if we do get the corrections facility. I also believe that with Marshall’s new high school, many new homes will be built in close proximity to that structure. I would predict the cost of those lots near the school to be quite high in comparison to lots in Tracy. Can we attract people to Tracy with incentives and the lower cost of housing lots? Are we prepared to do this?”


Wellness Center

“We are looking at options with Tracy Area Medical Services in regard to a Wellness/Physical Therapy Center. We are considering the possibilities of renovating an existing structure or building a new, standalone facility. A revenue-generating bond would need to be in place with the lease covering the bond payment…”


Childcare facility

“…one of the major goals for Tracy needs to be the attraction of families. One amenity that will help attract families is childcare, both pre-school and before/after school.…A non-profit group has been established… with the goal of building a new facility for this group…the EDA/City would not have any financial commitment outside of the hours utilized by Louise Noomen…”


SMSU follow-up

Six business prospects, developed by Southwest Minnesota State University students, are listed. “…Additional follow-up needs to be completed with these companies.”

Sub—standard housing demolition.

“…I have been in contact with the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SMHP). They are in the process of writing us into some of their grant applications. SMHP will be sending out letters to home/property owners in regard to the property and an opportunity to sell it. Tax-forfeited property could be obtained by the EDA at any point. SMHP will also be writing a grant on behalf of the EDA to obtain demolition money. Our goal is to clean up the substandard housing in Tracy…”



“…Many businesses and industries consider available technology infrastructure to be one of the biggest attractions when they are looking to start up or expand. Although Tracy is ‘wired’ (fiber optic) it hasn’t been utilized to its full potential. e-commerce and e-government need to be embraced in Tracy. A Strategic Technology Plan for the City of Tracy was developed, but has not been implemented due to lack of funds.…the longer we wait the further we get behind and the more it will cost us to catch up.”


2006 projections

Gervais expresses hope that by next year, planning will be moving ahead for a new housing addition and the expansion or development of a new industrial park. “It is obvious that the success or failure of the corrections facility would have a huge impact on what happens in those two areas, as well as others.” If the housing addition is developed, Gervais suggests a concerted marketing effort to attract housing construction. Other thoughts for 2006 are to work with Tracy’s four major employers (Tracy Public Schools, Tracy Area Medical Services, Prairie View Health Care Center, Tracy Nursing Home), accommodate Dakota-Minnesota & Eastern Railroad expansion plans, and build on the continued growth of the Lake Shetek area.


2010 projection

Gervais offers this vision for 2010.

“It’s hard to say what five years from now will bring. I would like to think that we have added a housing addition or two and that they are being filled. An industrial park should be in place and being utilized. Our childcare facility should be full along with a wellness center. Tracy would not be a town of 2,268, but a town of 3,000. A corrections facility would be in place employing 300 people. A new hotel would be in town with two fast-food franchises…”

The community development director recommends that in 2007, Tracy apply for another Small Cities Block Grant.

Decision time approaches for lakes sewer system

A 10-year long process could soon be drawing to a conclusion for the proposed Lake Shetek-area centralized sewer.

Murray County Commissioners will again consider next week whether to move forward with an Environmental Assessment Worksheet review on the proposed lakes-area sewer project. Commissioner Robert Moline said the decision may be delayed as late as March 8 pending new information on alternative options for the proposed system.

A week ago, the commissioners tabled moving forward with the EAW review. A day before, the Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) committee recommended that the commissioners move forward with the EAW review.

In January, the MPCA requested that Murray County Commissioners decide whether to move forward with the EAW review by the end of the month. The board of commissioners was granted a 30-day extension from the MPCA to make a decision.

Even if the commissioners agree to move forward with the EAW review, it does not necessarily mean the project will take place. It simply means that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will move forward with the environmental review.

In December the commissioners defeated a motion that would have allowed the centralized sewer project to move forward. The commissioners have a six-month window—until June 21—to change that decision.

Commissioners are now seeking information on other alternatives for the system, including a vacuum system. A gravity system was outlined in the original plan.

The sewer system would include 33.8 miles of pipe and serve existing homes and businesses primarily along the shoreline of Lake Shetek, Lake Sarah, the inlet, Smith Lake, Park Lake, Fremont Lake, Bloody Lake, and Armstrong Lake, according to the EAW. Pipe alignment would be approximately 150 to 300 feet from the lake.

The EAW states that 614 homes and 17 businesses would be served by the sewer system. It is also designed to accommodate nearly 300 additional equivalent domestic units (EDUs).

The wastewater treatment facility would be shared with the city of Currie, and three new treatment ponds would be added to Currie’s three current ponds.

Costs for the project have been estimated at $17 million.

Yes –

Tim Alcorn: Sewer system is
best long-term solution

Tim Alcorn is a seasonal Lake Shetek property owner who would like to see the centralized sewer project move forward.

Alcorn sees many benefits to the centralized sewer plan.

“From my perspective, this is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question to the system. If we say ‘no’ to the system we have to say ‘yes’ to something else,” he said.

He sees the centralized sewer as a permanent fix at a reasonable price for lakeshore property owners. If the average life span of a septic system is 20 years, he said, many landowners will not only spend a significant amount of money on a system now, they will have to replace that system and spend more money in 20 years or perhaps even sooner. By that time, the centralized sewer will have been paid for.

“Economically it makes more sense. Environmentally it makes more sense because it’s a permanent solution to the problem,” he said.

Alcorn is concerned that lake residents who have property in the flood plain may not be able to put in a septic system or holding tank. In these situations, he said, property owners may have to put in a cluster system that would be more expensive for them than the centralized sewer.

Alcorn e doubts his property will support a full septic system. The idea of installing a holding tank is not appealing to the father of four, whose children often have friends come out to enjoy the lake with them.

He said for him the sewer system is a quality of life issue, because he doesn’t want to have to have the tank pumped in the middle of the weekend or during a gathering of friends or family.

He understands that not all of his neighbors are in favor of the centralized sewer, and understands that they have a different perspective than he does.

“I try to be objective and look into the future,” he said. “My perspective is either you’re moving forward or you’re moving backwards. To me, if this is voted down we’re moving backwards.”

Although Alcorn is in favor of the centralized sewer, he feels more information beyond estimates should be presented to landowners.

“The frustrating thing to me is that I don’t know if there’s enough information on the table to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s all estimates right now,” he said.

He does appreciate the push by Murray County Commissioners to find less costly options for installation of the system, but has some doubts about whether those other options will work as well as the proposed system.

He believes the funding that’s available for the project should be utilized because if it isn’t, it will be gone.

“There’s not going to be a better deal that comes down the road,” he said.

He said management of the system is an important factor. He would like to see a cooperative agreement established with an area community for system management. Proper and professional management, he said, will help to ensure that the system lasts as long as possible. He believes estimates of what the operating costs for the system will be have been liberal so far.

That some homes might have to be condemned under the worst case scenario is the biggest concern for Alcorn.

“I’d be awfully angry if my property was condemned because people don’t want to pay for a permanent solution,” he said.

To him, taking away people’s property rights is a bigger issue than the cost.

“That condemnation issue is huge. Then you’re talking about taking a family’s significant investment and basically rendering it worthless,” he said. “I encourage those in the flood plain to ask some serious questions. What are their options if the centralized system fails? What about the potential for condemnation? Then the answer becomes easy.”

No –

Harriet Reed: Mandated sewer
doesn't fit all needs

Year-‘round Lake Shetek resident Harriet Reed is opposed to the proposed centralized sewer for many reasons. Reed has been active in the Residents Opposed to the Centralized Sewer (ROCS) group.

A Lake Shetek resident since 1997, Reed’s home is among those whose systems need to be updated.

She says while cost estimates from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA) of up to $24,000 per household are a concern, they are not the biggest concern for her about the project.

“My biggest concern is digging around a shallow lake and under a shallow lake,” she said. “I’m concerned about major runoff.”

She believes that there is a need for something to be done to bring lake septic systems up to code, and understands that some landowners will have a challenge meeting code. However, she said, she doesn’t believe all the lakes involved and even different areas of the same lake have the same issues.

“I think we need to look at other options,” she said. “I think this will be a multi-solution issue.”

For example, she said, in some areas properties will be able to support septic systems. In areas where flooding is prevalent, other systems such as cluster systems, wetland systems, or biotech systems could be considered, she said.

“I firmly believe, from everything I have researched, that there are other options.”

These options, Reed believes, could make the issue of condemnation of property a moot point.

Reed would like to see the county work more closely with residents who need to consider these other options. She is concerned that lake residents have not been given enough information on the county’s regulations for septic system use.

She said she has issues with flawed data that has been presented on the centralized sewer. She said much of the information that has been presented does not correlate with the information researched by ROCS from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the University of Minnesota, and other sources.

“They don’t have public support, in my opinion, because they’ve never done the homework that it takes to get public support,” she said.

A major issue, she said, is that not all septic systems were tested so there are only estimates as to how many lake systems are not in compliance. She said engineers were not up front with the Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) committee that a portion of the lake had been left out of the plan.

Reed said the centralized system was first promoted as a clean water issue.

“It started out as a clean water issue and it’s definitely not a clean water issue,” she said.

Only two to eight percent of the phosphorous in the lake that causes algae bloom comes from septic tanks, she said. The majority, she said, comes from runoff.

“Why spend $17 million to correct two to eight percent?”

She said better education of lake residents could help to reduce phosphorous runoff.

“I believe we need more education on lakeshore property management,” she said.

For example, many people remove trees from their properties in order to see the lake better. In removing this filter strip, Reed said, property owners are allowing more runoff into the lake. Many lakeshore property owners are also not aware that some of the fertilizers they use are high in phosphorous, she added.

She also does not believe that a centralized sewer will be beneficial to economic development, as some have contended.

Reed said she believes it is wasteful to mandate all lake residents—including those who have already spent anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 on updated septic systems—to pay for a centralized sewer.

“They need to give us all the options to come into compliance,” she said. “The county should be a partner and work with us instead of force what we don’t want.”

Funeral home eyed for softball field land

A City of Tracy softball field is being proposed as the site of a new funeral home.

Tim Kulow, owner of the Tracy Area Funeral Home, wants to buy a 1.84 acre lot in the Tracy Industrial Park. If the property can be purchased, Kulow said intends to build a 4,000 to 5,000 square foot funeral home. The proposed site—east of Northstar Modular Homes—is now a city-owned softball field.

“We’d like to have a nicer facility,” said Kulow. He said that he has been looking for property along Hwy. 14 for some time.

The industrial park location, he said, would work well for a funeral home because of its Hwy. 14 access and visibility. The irregular-shaped lot, which has 215-feet of frontage on a service road and a depth of about 340 feet, would provide enough room for plenty of parking, Kulow said.

The funeral director said that he would like to begin construction as early as this summer, and no later than next spring.

The Tracy Funeral Home is now located in a residential neighborhood at 372 Third Street, one block from downtown. Kulow indicated that the older facility would be closed once the new home opened.

Kulow has operated the Tracy Funeral Home since 2002, when he purchased the former Jacobson Funeral Home, which was then extensively remodeled. Kulow also owns funeral homes in Walnut Grove, Westbrook, Redwood Falls, and Tyler. He operates a crematorium in Echo.

• • •

The Tracy Economic Development Authority discussed Kulow’s request to purchase the property Friday. Kulow asked that the EDA set a price for the property. The EDA unanimously passed a motion supporting Kulow’s project, but forwarded the sale-price question to the Tracy City Council. EDA members felt that the city council, not the EDA, has the authority to set a price and sell the property. Community Development Director Robert Gervais noted that the last time a lot was sold in the industrial park, the council asked for sealed bids.

Sandi Rettmer, who sits on both the council and EDA, said that it would be a shame if a third party bought the parcel on a sealed bid, and then did nothing with the property. Rettmer thought that it made sense to set a price and sell the property to Kulow, since he was ready to build a new facility at the site. Gervais said that the city could protect itself in the sealed bid process by requiring the high bidder to develop the property by a certain date.

City Finance Director Dave Spencer said that the sale price should at least equal the city’s projected costs of developing new industrial park property. Spencer noted a recent appraisal for a 62-acre plot on the west edge of Tracy (that the EDA has discussed as a possible new industrial park site) came in at $4,000 an acre.

Several years ago, however, the council sold a large improved industrial park lot (about 215x400 feet) for $2,200 through a sealed bid process.

• • •

The proposed funeral home site is the most southerly of two city softball fields in the industrial park. The softball fields, commonly called the “Homera Fields,” were first established in the 1970s with the understanding that the land would always be available for commercial development.

The softball fields are now used by junior and senior high girls’ softball teams in the spring, some summer community education baseball and softball games, occasional summer adult games, and a large Labor Day men’s softball tournament.

EDA members noted that if the south softball field was developed into a funeral home, District 417 might have to develop new fields near the high school for its softball program. Gervais said that he had talked with Supt. Dave Marlette informally about that possibility.

Marlette said Tuesday that he hoped that the school district would not face the expense of building a new softball field, but indicated that the school district would work with the city on the issue. Ultimately, he said, what is good for the future of Tracy is good for Tracy Public Schools. There is room for a softball field, he said, east of the track/football stadium complex.

Commissioners weigh sewer costs, choices

Are there other options for the proposed centralized sewer system?

That’s the question some Murray County Commissioners are trying to answer this week.

Kevin Vickerman, one of two new commissioners elected in November, said research is being done with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the planning engineer to see what can and cannot be done in terms of changing the current plan. He said the plan can likely be changed if the changes mean less impact than the current plan.

Vickerman said the goal is to look at alternative options for a centralized system. One of the options being researched is a vacuum system, he said.

A vacuum system is a pneumatic negative pressure system that sucks sewage from a house instead of having it pushed out by pumps. The current centralized sewer plan calls for a gravity system.

Vickerman said one benefit of a vacuum system is that installation does not require digging to great depths.

“It could be a cost savings but we don’t know for sure,” he said. “We need to get the engineering results back to know for sure.”

One concern, Vickerman said, is that vacuum systems are not as common. None have been installed in Minnesota, he said.

Vickerman said the board of commissioners is holding off on moving forward with an Environmental Assessment Worksheet review until more information is received from the engineering firm on the vacuum system.

Vickerman said he is opposed to the centralized sewer plan at this time.

“I think it’s over-priced and I was hoping that we could come up with some other plan to reduce the cost and save some expense that way,” he said. “If there is considerable cost savings I am willing to look at it further. It may keep the plan alive in my eyes.”

He said the potential for condemnation of properties is a concern, but believes there are other ways, including new technology, that the county can use to help everyone come into compliance.

“I think the commissioners will work diligently with the SAWS committee to find ways of compliance for these people that are limited in their choices,” he said.

Vickerman does believe that a centralized system would be the best overall option, but not at the current estimated cost.

“The best option I would say would be a central collection system but I am not willing to mandate that option without it being feasible to the landowner,” he said. “I am looking out for the future of the lake and I do believe that we need to look into something that will have long-range effects.”

Robert Moline, who is also new to the board of commissioners this year, agrees with Vickerman that the cost of the current proposed system is too high.

“I think something needs to be done around the lake but the current proposed sewer plan is higher priced than I’d like to see it,” he said. “I’m not opposed to a centralized system, I just think the one we have been looking at is way over-priced.”

He said he is disappointed that more work hasn’t been done before now to research other options that might lower the cost of the project.

Like Vickerman, he isn’t too worried about the potential for condemnation of lakeshore properties yet. He said the county could help landowners secure some land for a cluster system or look into other options.

While Moline said he would like to see closure on the Shetek sewer issue, he wants to examine all the options first, including a vacuum system.

“I just want to do what’s right for the residents. That’s my main goal here,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Sauer said unless some changes can be made to the centralized sewer plan, he believes the issue is probably dead.

“We need to look at some other options and try to reduce the cost,” he said. “Everybody agrees that the centralized sewer is probably the right thing to do but the cost is unbelievable.”

Sauer doesn’t like the idea of digging under the lake, and believes the cost could likely be reduced if this is not done.

He is also concerned that portions of Lake Shetek are not included in the current plan. If a centralized sewer project takes place, he said, the whole lake needs to be included. Properties that have systems that are already in compliance should be left alone, he added.

He said there are many options that haven’t yet been considered.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to die. This particular plan probably will, but I think we’ll continue to look at other options,” he said.

Commissioner Lyle Onken said he has no problem with the plan as it stands.

“When you hire a reputable engineer to draw up a plan you assume they’ve done the right job,” said Onken. However, he said, “I can’t say I’m in disagreement that there may be other options.”

He believes there has been much misinformation presented by those opposed to the centralized sewer.

“People can be opposed to something with no plan. That’s easy,” he said. “But they don’t have a better plan.”

He is concerned that a vacuum system hasn’t been proven as a workable solution, because it has never been used in Minnesota. He said the centralized sewer may cost twice what a regular septic system does, but it is proven and could last a lifetime. With an individual system, he said, landowners will also have to pay for it in a shorter period of time.

“It isn’t always what you pay, it’s how you pay it,” he said.

Onken does believe some property owners have a legitimate reason to oppose the plan.

“The most legitimate reason to disagree with it is if you’ve just put one [septic system] in,” he said. “I think we should try and address that in some way or make every effort to do so.”

The Headlight Herald was unable to reach the fifth commissioner Alfred Gertsema for comment.