LEGISLATURE PASSES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BILL
After hours of debate, Minnesota's state senate passed same-sex marriage legislation Monday afternoon on a 37-30 vote. State Senators Rod Skoe of Clearbrook and Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids voted "yes," State Senator Leroy Stumpf of Plummer voted "no." The measure passed the House last week, with State Representatives John Persell of Bemidji and Roger Erickson of Baudette voting "yes." Representatives Deb Kiel of Crookston and Steve Green of Fosston voted "no." Governor Dayton will sign the bill into law today on the steps of the state capitol.
FATAL WORK ACCIDENT IN HUBBARD COUNTY
An employee at the Potlatch Lumber Mill in northern Hubbard County fell to his death Saturday afternoon. Authorities responding to a call to the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office found that 23 yr. old Mitchell Harthan of Grand Rapids had been doing maintenance work at least 40 feet in the air when part of the catwalk he was standing on fell. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The incident is under investigation by the sheriff's office and OSHA.
BEMIDJI COUNCIL WON'T PURSUE 3RD LIQUOR STORE
Bemidji city council members discussed the possibility of a third municipal liquor store during a work session Monday night. President of Pace Development, John Meyers, was there to answer questions about his offer to lease space in a remodeled Marketplace Food store to the city, but the conversation never got that far. Mayor Rita Albrecht said the council's first decision should be whether to consider a third store at all. Discussion revolved around higher operating costs if opening a third store, and how to capture shoppers who visit only Bemidji's west side. In the end, the vote was 3 to 3, so the measure to pursue the idea of a third municipal liquor store failed.
BEMIDJI POLICE ALCOHOL CHECKS
Results are in from a recent series of alcohol compliance checks Bemidji police conducted at area liquor stores and bars. Chief Mike Mastin says they did over 100 checks at 38 local businesses between March 13th and April 11th. Mastin says 93% of the businesses passed their checks by refusing to sell alcohol to the volunteer underaged buyers. The chief says they may do similar checks in the future, and will let the public know when those are planned.
BEMIDJI TOWN HALL MEETING WITH LAWMAKERS
Two hours of discussion with state lawmakers at Bemidji City Hall included some passionate comments about a proposed hospitality tax to help cover costs for operating the Sanford Center. Some business owners spoke out against the tax, saying it was unfair to ask businesses and taxpayers to "bail out" the city-owned event center. State Representative John Persell and State Senator Tom Saxhaug, who are sponsoring the bill that would authorize Bemidji to collect the tax, attended the Saturday afternoon town hall meeting, as did State Senator Rod Skoe, who is a tax committee chair. Lawmakers pointed out that hospitality tax revenue collected from visitors to Bemidji would ultimately relieve some of the property tax local residents have to pay.
BELTRAMI COMMISSION PREVIEWS POWER LINE PLAN
Minnesota Power Environmental Siting and Permitting Supervisor Jim Atkinson briefed Beltrami County Commissioners on their plan to build one of the biggest electrical transmission lines in the Upper Midwest, likely including some land here. The "Great Northern Transmission Line" is to bring hydroelectric power from Manitoba to the company's distribution sites in the Duluth area. Atkinson says they hope to have it operational by June of 2020. He says the line will control costs due to increased demand and expected increases in the cost of coal-based power. Atkinson says the county could expect to see revenue of about $70,000 a mile for lines passing through the area.
TOWNSHIP DAY IN MINNESOTA
Today is "Township Day" in Minnesota, when townships set their levy for next year, and many townships hold officer elections. Township annual meetings are required statewide. There are more than three dozen townships in Beltrami County. Northern Township clerk Mary Israelson says they hold their election during the fall general election, so tonight they'll hold just their annual meeting at 7 pm. Townships that are holding elections today won't hold their annual meeting until 8 pm. Each township hall site must post their election hours and annual meeting time.
WATERFRONT PARK OPTIONS TO BE DISCUSSED
Bemidji's Parks and Trails Commission will try to prioritize possible improvements for Paul Bunyan Park, along Lake Bemidji's waterfront, during their meeting next week. Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson says there are some improvements that could be made this year, even though the city did not receive Legacy Grant funding for the project. Larson says the city does have some sales tax revenue to put toward improvements this year.
CITY PARKING LOT CHANGES
Bemidji's city council approved some parking changes to a downtown lot along Minnesota Avenue. "Lot 7" will be posted for "no parking" between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m., from November 1 to April 1. City Public Works Director Craig Gray says it will take a few weeks to have the new signs made, delivered and installed. The change was prompted by complaints from some downtown businesses that city lots weren't getting cleared of snow quickly enough.
NEW CITY OF BEMIDJI WEBSITE LINKS
The city of Bemidji has added two new features to their website this week. City Public Works Director Craig Gray says a link allowing citizens to directly email the Street Department, notifying them about potholes, will allow crews to find and repair them more quickly. In addition, City Clerk Kay Murphy says a tab near the top of the website's homepage titled "Feedback" is an easy way to respond to city surveys and leave comments about a variety of city services and issues.
MANAGERS LEAVING BEMIDJI'S SANFORD CENTER
Two managers are leaving Bemidji's Sanford Center. Executive Director Curtis Webb says the event center's business manager, and food and beverage services manager, are leaving. Webb says, with the hockey season winding down, they'll cover the food and beverage services duties with existing staff, but may open a job search for the director's position later this year. They're accepting applications now for the business manager position.
BEMIDJI WARMING HOUSE OFFERS CONCESSIONS
Bemidji's Parks and Recreation Department is now offering hot chocolate, coffee, popcorn and snacks in the City Park Warming House while they're open for skaters. The new concession hours are 3:30 to 8:30 pm school days, 1 to 8:30 pm weekends. City park has outdoor hockey and pleasure skating rinks. The Park and Rec Department is also planning ahead for summer recreation programs and they're looking for input and suggestions. You can find a link to a short survey on the city's website or through the Bemidji Park and Recreation Department's Facebook page. By taking the survey, you can get $5 off a future rec program registration fee.
BEMIDJI COUNCIL CHOOSES NEW WARD 4 REPRESENTATIVE
Bemidji city council members interviewed four candidates to fill the vacant Ward 4 council seat, and unanimously chose Reed Olson. Olson is co-owner of the Wild Hare Bistro in downtown Bemidji, and has served on the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission. He told council members during his interview that the JPC gave him experience weighing requests based on current ordinances. He said, although many Bemidji businesses are opposed to a proposed hospitality tax, he could see the benefit to the overall community and would likely vote in favor of it. Bemidji city clerk Kay Murphy said Olson will be sworn in at the council's February 4th meeting. The Ward 4 seat was vacated when Rita Albrecht was sworn in as Bemidji's mayor earlier this month.
BELTRAMI COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AWARD "DEVELOPMENT FUND" GRANTS
Beltrami County Commissioners whittled down a list of grant requests from a dozen groups and projects totaling more than $365,000, to awards for 8 projects totaling about $140,000. That included $25,000 for the Chief Bemidji Statue Project, which fulfills their total fundraising goal of $124,000. Sandy Kaul with the Chief Bemidji Statue Project committee says they can now commission Washington-state artist Gareth Curtis to begin work on the bronze statue. County commissioners did not fund four applications, from Evergreen Youth and Family Services, the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts, the Headwaters Science Center, and the Bemidji Public Library's book festival, saying they did not meet the grant guideline of promoting agriculture, industrial development, or tourism in Beltrami County.
SANFORD BEMIDJI RESTRICTS VISITORS
Sanford Bemidji Medical Center is restricting visitors because of the spread of influenza. Only spouses and significant others, parents, grandparents, and siblings of patients will be allowed to visit, and patients may only have two visitors at a time. Anyone with symptoms of illness, including cough, stuffy nose, sore throat, fever or body aches should not visit Sanford Bemidji patients at this time.
SANFORD BEMIDJI CONFIRMS FLU
Sanford Bemidji says their doctors have confirmed 25 cases of Influenza A so far this flu season, with over half, 13 cases, coming in just this past week. They note that this has been an early start to the influenza season in Minnesota. Spokespersons for the regional health care center are encouraging flu vaccinations for those who haven't had one yet. They are also asking people with any sign of illness to refrain from visiting patients at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.
AUTHORITIES STILL SEEKING ROBBERY LEADS
Authorities are still looking for leads in that New Years Eve robbery at the AmericInn Motel in Blackduck. They're hoping that the Crimestoppers website and phone number will help – it allows tipsters to remain anonymous, and offers a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect. You can call Crimestoppers toll-free at (800) 222-TIPS, or go to their website, crimestoppersmn.org. You can also text in your tip. Text TIP674 plus a message to CRIMES (274637). The robbery happened shortly before 7:30 pm December 31st. The suspect was wearing a light-grey hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, and a bright orange mask. Authorities say he was armed with a black pistol.
PAUL BUNYAN MALL SOLD
New Years Eve brought new owners for Bemidji's Paul Bunyan Mall. Mall manager Susan Goudge says Ohio-based DDR Corporation sold the mall to New Jersey-based Lexington Realty International on Monday. Goudge says current staff members at the mall are eagerly looking forward to a bright future for the retail center. Lexington Realty bought Brainerd's Westgate Mall in the fall of 2011, and within days announced plans to bring in two major additions, Big Lots and Dunham Sports. Lexington Realty President Alan Retkinski tells us his company had been looking at the Bemidji mall property for about six months, and they've already been in discussions with many potential new tenants for the facility. Retkinski says they find small markets "charming,” saying the customers are a pleasure to deal with. Retkinski and other representatives from Lexington Realty will be in Bemidji for a ribbon-cutting event January 14th.
BELTRAMI COUNTY COMMISSIONERS RATIFY CONTRACTS
Beltrami county commissioners made some personnel decisions during their work session and regular meeting on Tuesday. They formally accepted Kay Mack's resignation as the county's auditor-treasurer. Mack has accepted the county administrator job. Commissioners appointed deputy auditor-treasurer Jodee Treat to assume Mack's former job, which is an elected position. That means Treat will have to run for re-election in about two years. Commissioners also ratified tentative employee contracts with two union groups and salaries for non-union county employees, approving a 1% salary increase for next year, and a $50 increase in the county's contribution toward flex benefits.
BEMIDJI AREA'S ISO RATING IMPROVES
Bemidji's fire department recently had an ISO review...that's where a private organization rates the area's fire fighting and prevention capacity and gives that information to insurance companies, which they use to help them set premiums. Bemidji fire chief Dave Hoefer says we improved over the last ISO review, largely because of attention paid to areas on the edge of city water service. The ISO report looks at equipment, but also training that fire crews receive in a given area. Hoefer says some Bemidji area property owners could see improved insurance rates as early as April.
KELLIHER BANK ROBBED
Authorities are looking for the person who held up the First State Bank of Big Fork branch on Kelliher's Main Street Monday afternoon. Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp describes the suspect as 6 feet tall, dressed in a one-piece hooded white Tyvek suit, and brandishing a shotgun. Hodapp says no one was hurt, but the suspect got away with, what he called, a large amount of cash. Officers from more than a dozen agencies are helping in the search. Anyone with information that could help authorities arrest the suspect is asked to call the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office.
BEMIDJI AVIATION LEADER KILLED IN PLANE CRASH
A plane crash Tuesday afternoon in a soybean field 50 miles southwest of Chicago killed the president of Bemidji Aviation. 74 yr. old Larry Diffley was the only person in the plane. NTSB personnel say the Hawker Beechcraft BE-58, registered to Bemidji Aviation, went down shortly before 3 pm yesterday. Bemidji Aviation is the Bemidji Regional Airport's “fixed-base operator,” and just recently negotiated a new contract with the airport, discussions Diffley that included Diffley's input. According to Bemidji Aviation's website, Diffley and Mark Shough took over the company in 1970. They operate cargo and passenger charters, and also provide maintenance, fuel and hangar services at the Bemidji airport.
BIG DAY FOR BEMIDJI AREA HABITAT FOR HUMANITY CHAPTER
The Bemidji Area Habitat for Humanity chapter gets their new wheels today. The non-profit won an on-line campaign in August sponsored by Toyota, called “100 Cars for Good.” They competed with several other non-profits on Day 86 of the contest, and garnered enough support to win a new Toyota Tundra, which they'll use to secure donations to their Habitat Restore. The Restore, in Bemidji's Industrial Park, sells donated building materials and furnishings to raise money for Habitat building projects. Habitat for Humanity executive director Geri Hickerson says the keys to the new vehicle will be handed over to them this afternoon.
BIG FIRE ON BEMIDJI AVENUE NORTH THANKSGIVING DAY
Dozens of firefighters from Bemidji, Cass Lake, and Blackduck spent a good part of their Thanksgiving Day battling a fire at the Birchwood Color Center building on Beltrami Avenue on the city's north side. The call came in shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday, when passing motorists saw smoke pouring out of the roof. Bemidji Avenue was shut down from 29th Street to Ingelwood Street, to give emergency crews access and because of the thick smoke. Crews were able to finally contain the fire, but not before it did over $400,000 in damage to the building and its contents. No one was inside when the fire broke out. The cause hasn't been determined yet. The Beltrami County Emergency Management Office says they used their new Code Red system to alert nearby residents. They were offered temporary shelter.
BELTRAMI COUNTY ASSESSOR TO TAKE "PHASED" RETIREMENT
Beltrami county assessor Duane Ebbighausen told county commissioners Tuesday that a plan for him to take advantage of a “phased retirement option” is a win-win situation for both him and the county. He would work roughly 20 hours a week on average, at a cost savings to the county of about $45,000. County commissioners unanimously approved the plan during their regular meeting.
BEMIDJI'S SANFORD CENTER HAS NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Bemidji's Sanford Center will have a new executive director right after the first of the year. The event center's interim director, David Ross, made the announcement to Bemidji city council members last night. Curtis Webb is currently general manager of the Ralston Arena in the Omaha area. He was unanimously approved by the Sanford Center Advisory Board earlier this month. Council members Greg Negard and Ron Johnson, who sit on that advisory board, spoke enthusiastically about him last night, and the city council's vote approving the VenuWorks appointment was unanimous. Webb starts his job in Bemidji January 2nd.