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News from the week of January 25, 2006


Bids sought for Shetek-area sewer

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

The proposed Shetek-area centralized sewer project is one step closer to reality this week.

Last week, Murray County Commissioners authorized advertisement for construction bids for a pressurized sewer system. The decision was made on recommendation from the Shetek Area Water and Sewer (SAWS) Commission, which had recommended that the board approve the pressurized sewer design and advertise for bids.

The advertisement of bids began Monday, Jan. 23, and the period to submit bids will remain open until Feb. 23.

Chris Hansen, Murray County water resources director, said the commissioners could still choose to reject all bids received, if they come in too high.

“If they come in at a reasonable cost, I think there’s good reason to move forward,” he said.

Construction on the pressurized sewer project, for which costs have been estimated at $15.8 million, needs to begin this year in order for the county to accept funding received through the state. The county has been approved for a Wastewater Infrastructure Funding (WIF) zero-percent interest loan and a PFA zero-interest loan, which would cover the vast majority of the project.

Some small areas of the project, such as land purchase, would not be covered, and additional funding would have to be obtained.

If bids are approved, some areas of the project could move forward as soon as this spring, said Hansen. Before that can happen, however, an assessment hearing must be held. According to a project schedule, dated Jan. 3, that hearing would likely take place in April.

The timeline also has substantial completion of the project slated by the end of 2007.


Pressurized system

After examining several different options for the proposed Shetek-area wastewater project, the commissioners agreed to move forward with a pressurized system in September, following a survey of landowners.

While the survey showed 262 property owners opposed to the project and 220 in favor, commissioners felt the pressurized system plan was a good one, and voted to move forward.

The commissioners and the SAWS Commission had previously considered a vacuum-type system, and a gravity system, as well as a combination of the two. These projects had cost estimates in the $16-$17 million range.

The pressurized system was first presented to landowners affected by the project in late July 2005. Bolton & Menk, Inc., Consulting Engineers and Surveyors, put the plan together.

For the pressurized system, the total average assessment has been estimated at $14,900. Average monthly cost for usage is expected to be around $35. Details of the assessment would be further clarified at the assessment hearing.

The system design was submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in early December, and the county expects to receive approval in March.


Members appointed

Also last week, Commissioners appointed two new permanent residents and four seasonal residents to the SAWS Commission.

Permanent residents appointed to the commission are Ted Haugen and Tom Gervais. Seasonal residents appointed to the commission are Warren Reed, Tim Alcorn, Lars Johanssen, and John Harback.


Casey Jones Trail construction might begin this summer

By Seth Schmidt

The Friends of the Casey Jones State Trail Association plans its annual meeting next week in Slayton. Unlike recent years, when the annual meeting was devoted to visions for the future, trail advocates this year can talk about the start of trail construction.

“Development of six to eight miles of the Casey Jones Trail should begin this coming summer,” the organization’s most recent newsletter states.

Trail construction is expected to start between Pipestone and Lake Wilson, where the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources owns 14.5 miles of right-of-way along an abandoned rail line. The legislature has appropriated $1.2 million for the trail.

The Casey Jones Trail is envisioned as a duel path, multi-use trail that would someday stretch from Split Rock Creek near Ihlen in Pipestone County, to Walnut Grove in Redwood County. The End-O-Line bike/pedestrian path between Currie and Shetek State Park would be a part of the trail.

An asphalt trail would be used for biking, walking, and skating. A parallel gravel trail would be available for horseback riding and snowmobiling.

The proposed route is general. No specific trail routes have been chosen, except for the Pipestone to Lake Wilson segment. A 100-page master plan has been developed and approved for the Casey Jones Trail.

Estimated cost of building an asphalt path along the former railroad right-of-way between Pipestone and Lake Wilson is $100,000 a mile. Two new 250-foot bridges, each with an estimated price tag of $$350,000, will also have to be built. About 4.5 miles of additional right-of-way would need to be purchased to complete the 19-mile segment between Lake Wilson and Pipestone.

Plans are to construct six miles of new blacktop trail east from Pipestone and two miles west from Lake Wilson this summer.

The Friends of the Casey Jones Trail annual meeting is scheduled Wednesday, Feb. 1 in the Murray County Courts building at 7 p.m. The public is invited. A Power Point presentation about trail planning is scheduled. The public is invited.

Robert Klingle, Slayton, is president of the Casey Jones Trail Association’s Board of Directors. Other board members are: Mick Myers, Pipestone; Heidi Winter, Slayton; Marcia Schreier, Currie; Bruce Johnson, Walnut Grove; Doug Hansen, Currie; Earl Linder, Slayton, Bruce Eliason, Currie, Deb Nelson, Pipestone, Jan Peterson, Lynd; Dave Fellesen, Pipestone, Jim LaRock, Woodstock.


Wellness center waits for lease agreement

By Seth Schmidt

Discussions continue about the possible construction of a wellness/therapy center near the Tracy hospital.

Ron and Warren Gramstad, of the Tracy Ace Home Center, are exploring the development of a 6,300 square foot building southeast of the hospital. The facility would serve as a community wellness center, and house therapy services from the hospital.

“We are still definitely interested,” said Ron Gramstad Friday.

A plan under consideration would have the Sioux Valley Tracy Medical Center lease the facility from the Gramstads. The Gramstads would finance the construction and own the building. No City of Tracy money would be involved.

A lease agreement between Sioux Valley and the Gramstads needs to be reached before the project can go forward.

Jim Striepe, regional vice president for Sioux Valley Regional Health Services, told local hospital board members last week that Sioux Valley is working on the lease terms. He said that Sioux Valley had “spent considerable time” studying the financial aspects of the proposed center and lease.

Striepe did not offer a target date for finalizing the lease, but told hospital board members, “we are moving as quickly as we can.”

Gramstad told the Headlight-Herald that he is optimistic that lease details will be worked out soon, and that construction will take place in 2006. If all goes well, construction could begin as early as this spring.

• • •

Consideration of a hospital-affiliated wellness/therapy center has been underway for months. Tracy City Council members held a public hearing on the wellness/rehab center concept in May of 2005. The Gramstads and Sioux Valley have discussed the project since June of 2005.

Physical therapy and other rehabilitation services now located at the Tracy hospital would be moved to the new facility. Space vacated at the hospital could be utilized to expand other hospital outreach services.

Dues-paying members would use wellness center equipment for fitness and rehabilitation training. Access would be available through an electronic card system. Dues would be charged to offset operating expenses.

Exercise classes and meetings could be offered in a large-group area.

The proposed facility would be located on a 51,000 square-foot parcel of land south of the Prairie View Healthcare Center. The Gramstads bought the land from the Tracy Economic Development Authority last summer.

Plans are to develop off-street parking next to the center.

• • •

Jan Arvizu, a Tracy city Council member who also serves on the Tracy hospital advisory board, told Striepe and board members that the wellness/rehab center needs to be consider as part of “the big picture” of future SVTMC plans.

Striepe said that work on “the big picture” can’t move forward until a long-term lease is ironed out on the wellness/rehab center.


Tracy prepares for unthinkable

By Seth Schmidt

Thirty-eight summers ago, an F-5 tornado churned through the heart of Tracy. If a similar natural disaster struck again, how prepared would the community be?

“Tracy has been extremely pro-active in disaster planning,” says Tammy Vanoverbeke, emergency management director for Lyon County. “They’ve done an exceptional job.”

Vanoverbeke was commenting on Tracy’s recent designation as a “Storm Ready” community by the National Weather Service. Marshall and Lyon County also earned the Storm Ready designation.

“Tracy was the leader,” Vanoverbeke said. “They were the ones that started the process.”

Vanoverbeke said that Tracy, Marshall, and Lyon County are the only government entities in Southwest Minnesota to have the National Weather Service’s Storm Ready designation.

Tracy, she said, has historically had good community participation in disaster-response training and drills, and is one of few area communities that have developed a comprehensive disaster response plan.

• • •

The Storm Ready program is a community awareness program sponsored by the National Weather Service. Requirements of the program include:

• A source of around-the-clock warnings. (Lyon County Dispatch Center).

• Designated emergency operations center.

• A hazardous weather-warning plan, which includes trained severe weather spotters and emergency drills.

• A system for monitoring local weather.

• Community education and awareness building about public safety issues.

• Development of multiple methods to inform the public of hazardous conditions.

Vanoverbeke said that the Storm Ready process is also beneficial in situations involving natural disasters, such as a chemical spill or explosion.

“Weather is always a factor in an emergency response.”

Vanoverbeke credited Tracy area resident Kevin Haney with spearheading Tracy’s Storm Ready application.

Tracy’s new Storm Ready designation will compliment a previously adopted community disaster plan that was developed primarily by the Tracy police and fire departments, she indicated.

• • •

Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director, and Haney showed city council members Storm Ready highway signs that the city recently received. The signage will be erected on the outskirts of town.

Gervais felt that the Storm Ready designation could be used as a marketing tool for the community.

“I look at it (emergency preparations) as insurance. You hope you never need to use it, but if you do, you are glad you have it.”

Haney added, “this lets people know that Tracy is well-prepared for severe weather, that we have disaster plans in place, and that we meet certain criteria.” He said that the National Weather Service’s review of Tracy’s Storm Ready designation was extensive.

“This is not a rubber stamp,” he said of the application process.

Tracy’s Storm Ready designation is for a three-year period. The community will need to meet certain requirements over the next three years to maintain its Storm Ready status.

• • •

A part of Tracy’s Storm Ready application was getting weather alert radios into local schools, government buildings, nursing homes, hospitals, businesses, and residences. Council members felt that citizens should be further encouraged to obtain the severe weather monitors, which provide almost instantaneous alerts from the National Weather Service.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that he was surprised to learn recently that civil defense sirens are not guaranteed to be heard indoors. Weather radios, in contrast, can provide people with a severe weather alert at home, he said, even when the sirens can’t be heard.

Police Chief Bryan Hillger reminded the council that the city now has four civil defense sirens. The two newest, sirens (one in Greenwood and the other in Sebastian Park) had cost $25,000. Both of the new sirens are battery powered, meaning they would still sound off during an electrical power outage. The other two sirens rely on electric power lines. All four can be activated by radio.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano asked Hillger how much it would cost to get battery power for all of the city sirens, or how much it would cost to replace the two old sirens with new equipment.

The police chief responded that the two old sirens probably don’t have the capability for conversion to battery power, and that he guessed that the cost of two more new sirens would be about $25,000.

Councilman Russ Stobb felt that rather than spending money on new civil defense sirens, it made more sense to encourage citizens to buy inexpensive severe weather radios.

“I used to stay up at night (during bad weather) and look out the window and not be able to see anything anyway. Now I go to bed knowing that my weather radio will send out an alarm if anything does happen,” Stobb said.

• • •

The June 13, 1968 “Tracy Tornado” left a 13-mile path of destruction. Forming near Lake Sarah, the twister traveled in a northeasterly direction and was on the ground for 25 minutes. The storm struck Tracy shortly after 7 p.m. Nine people were killed.

Speech team begins season

The Tracy Area High School speech team opened their 2006 competitive season Saturday by participating in the Dassel-Cokato Early Bird Tournament.

Tracy was one of 17 schools participating with 20 of the 400 total students competing. Tracy competed head on with some of the top teams in the state including Chaska, St. Cloud Tech, Lakeville North, Holy Angels, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, and Marshall.

Junior Celia Brockway led Tracy by placing second in storytelling. Sixth-place finishers were juniors Jessica Mason in the humorous category and Bekah Zens in great speeches. Senior Jenna Fischer tied for fifth place but had to take an honorable mention ribbon due to speaker points.

“It was a successful day for the students,” said coach Rob Purrington. “The Dassel-Cokato tournament is a great tournament to start the speech season. It helps prepare the team members for next week’s competition at the annual Schwan’s Speech Spectacular. Many of the same schools we faced this weekend will be at next week’s tournament. We are happy with the team’s performance.”

The speech veterans will travel to Marshall to compete in the two-day Schwan’s Speech Spectacular Tournament. The tournament starts at noon on Friday and continues all day Saturday. The tournament is open and free to the public.

One-act play competition is Saturday

The cast of “Final Exam,” the Tracy Area High School one-act play, will be put to the test this weekend.

Students will compete in the Subsection 11A one-act play contest at Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls this Saturday, Jan. 28. Competition begins at 9:30 a.m. Parents and community members are welcome to attend.

Trophies will be awarded to the top two places at subsections, and the top two plays will advance to the section 3A one-act contest on Saturday, Feb. 4 at Redwood Valley High School.

The cast of “Final Exam” includes Danielle Thooft as Tammy Egan Davis; Emily Gilmore as Florence Furtney; Dalton Kirk as Eddie Davis; Mai Xiong Vue as Heidi Duty; Sam VanNevel as Maynard Duty; Patrick VanNevel as Bill Bailey; Jacob Gilmore as Richard Smith; Bekah Zens as Sally Jenkins; Levi Miller as Chad Morrell; and Tara Norstegard as Jane Mahoney. Megan Gilmore is stage/props manager for the production.

“Final Exam” opens as Tammy Davis goes about her volunteer work in a nursing home. When she runs into Florence Furtney, the woman who taught senior English at Central High School for 40 years, she has an idea. She decides to plan a reception for Miss Furtney, who retired 25 years ago and is in declining health—and does not speak—prior to her class reunion.

Tammy sends invitations for the reception, not realizing that none of Miss Furtney’s former students like her. Only a few show up for the party, and for all the wrong reasons. Then, Miss Furtney surprisingly springs to life and tells each of them why she acted as she did. Each comes away with a different view of their former teacher, and a new understanding of themselves.

Directing the students is Sandy Carpenter, with assistant director Sandy Fultz and art director Jesse James. Karen Ziemke is public relations manager.