A look back at 2013

A look at stories that transcended beyond Pine City…

NEWS

  • White powder envelope scare.  A 45-year-old Pine City area man, Johnnie Long (not to be confused with blues singer “Jonny Lang”), faces 24 terrorism-related charges after allegedly sending white powder-laced letters to the local courthouse, forcing its evacuation in the midst of a high-profile court case.  The strange motive:  to get back at his ex-wife and her new man.  Long was no stranger to authorities in Pine County: According to the sheriff, he allegedly faked his own kidnapping prior, and, according to the charges, he also placed fake explosive devices around town.  His odd-duck behavior seemed to be headed toward something even more serious.  Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.
  • Horses, other animals seized from area farmer, twice.  A Pine City-area woman, Kathy Doenz, was discovered to have a long history of animal neglect, and within a month of each other, there two confiscations of animals in her care this past year.  Previously, in 2006, she was charged with 35 counts of animal neglect.   The Pine County Sheriff’s Dept. had to take many animals into their custody and find placement for them.
  • Pine City High School lock-down.  Just three days after a high-profile high school shooting in Arapahoe High School in Colorado, students in Pine City High School were locked in their building after a report of a student leaving home with a rifle, shotgun and ammunition.   Authorities caught the two students who were involved, off campus, and charged both with two counts of a theft of a firearm, and one of them with two counts of firearms on school property.   The firearms were located and confiscated from a locked vehicle on campus.  Although the investigation remains ongoing, it is possible the precautionary lockdown, where classes continued but students couldn’t leave the building without a parent or guardian, may have saved lives.  
  • Sheriff outspoken on nation’s gun laws.  Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole sent an open letter stating his position on the Second Amendment.  In the letter, Cole stated that the right to bear arms is “fundamental” and “part of life in country”.   Some viewed it as a rogue move and the sheriff who didn’t want to enforce President Obama’s gun proposals, but Sheriff Cole said he did so after receiving numerous phone calls from residents afraid they would lose their right to bear arms.  Sheriff Cole estimated 80 percent of residents in Pine County own a firearm, and stated that guns were not the problem, but suggested a deeper look at mental illness and violent video games takes place.

FAREWELLS

  • Dennis Roghair – One of the world’s most renowned chainsaw carvers passed on April 20, 2013, at the age 60.  He started chainsaw carving in 1974 and sold handmade carvings to pay for part of his college tuition.  After deciding that his career choice of wildlife management meant too much paperwork and not enough forest, he turned to woodcarving.  He would dazzle crowds with his roaring hobby.  He carved everything from miniature and life-sized birds and animals, to replicas Dan Patch and Smokey the Bear.  Whereas most carvers of the day were producing eagles and bears, Roghair challenged that stereotype.  Consider his 31-foot, 23-ton redwood carving of a voyageur holding a canoe paddle commissioned by the City of Pine City; or his giant mosquito ordered by a woman whose father moved to Arizona from Minnesota to escape the insects.  His works were showcased and for sale in his own store, Kettle River Carvings & Gift Shop in Hinckley.  He was featured in the book “Art of Chainsaw Carving” and his works are also on display elsewhere in Minnesota:  After Dutch elm disease started to claim many trees at the Minnesota Stat e Fair Grounds in the 1980s, the fair commissioned him to carve nearly 30 tree sculptures there.   Also, in St. Paul, there’s one of his carvings outside a bookstore, and another in the backyard of the Governor’s residence.  There’re several for the City of Plymouth, and some at the U of M.  He has traveled many places to do commissioned work or shows and his work has been purchased by individuals from around the world including countries such as Japan, Germany, France, and Denmark to name a few.  Roghair had earned honors as a 10-time world championship chainsaw carver. 

ECONOMY

  • Homeless shelter turns away 200 in first year.  Granted, the shelter covers a multi-county area in East Central Minnesota, but did you read that headline?  The shelter turned away 200 homeless people, this according to co-founder Deacon Gene Biever.  Yikes!  It did serve 43 people in its first year of operations and there were a good number of success stories of those folks transitioning out of homelessness.
  • Pine City adds jobs, lots of them.  Since 2007, over 500 new jobs have been created in Pine City and there are now over 2,000 jobs in town.   Unemployment is down; spirits are up, considering the economy is making somewhat of a rebound.

CULTURE

  • Shane Bauer writes memoir of detainment.  Want to know more about the “Free the Hikers” movement, and about the son (of the Pine City mom) who was captured and imprisoned in Iran, simply for hiking?  This book, due out in March, is sure to be a good read, and a good seller.

WILD CARD

  • 13 people file for school board.  In possibly one of the most contested school board races in the State, and for sure in Pine City School District No. 578’s history, 13 candidates sought four offices.  Three incumbents were re-elected and one new member, Dr. Candice Ames, came aboard. The hot-button topic of this election was not test scores, equipment or facility needs.  No, it was an electronic, programmable-message sign of all things.
  • For a look back at ’08, click here.
  • For a look back at ’09, click here.
  • For a look back at ’10, click here.
  • For a look back at ’11, click here.
  • For a look back at ’12, click here.

Commissioner Zelle discusses Minnesota’s underfunded transportation needs

  • Sees big return on transportation investments
Mn/DOT Commissioner Zelle addresses crowd in East Central Minnesota.

Mn/DOT Commissioner Zelle addresses crowd in East Central Minnesota.

Minnesota’s top transportation official, Charles Zelle, made a stop in East Central Minnesota Thursday, Dec. 5 as a part of his statewide tour to discuss the state’s 20-year plan for transportation spending, and how it affects quality of life.

“Almost nine percent of Minnesota bridges are structurally deficient, and our state highway system pavement condition ranks 38th nationally,” said the state Department of Transportation Commissioner in front of about 40 people at Cambridge City Hall.  “Without proper transportation investments, business and industry won’t survive.”

He said people are driving more now, but because vehicles are more fuel efficient, gas tax funds don’t even keep pace with inflation and are not indexed to inflation.   Highway improvement funding options could include fuel and local and state sales taxes, vehicle registration fees, vehicle mileage-based taxes, and federal funding, according to Zelle.

The Commissioner also spoke of other highway projects around the state totaling $300 million that will be funded via the state’s new “Corridors of Commerce” program (highway bonding).    “300 million is only a down payment on a larger vision including highways and transit,” he said.

Other takeaways:

  • Half of state highway pavement is more than 50 years old and more than a third of state highway bridges are more than 50 years old.
  • The Twin Cities is expected to grow by nearly a million people by 2040, and many of the baby boomers will want transportation and transit options.
  • $30 billion for transportation is needed but there is a $12 billion identified funding gap.
  • Minnesota needs to invest in transportation to support Minnesota business growth and ensure the state continues to be an attractive location for companies to expand.

During the public comment portion, Zelle acknowledged the poor condition of State Highway 70 in Pine County, and there was some discussion about planning for a new bridge along Highway 95 through Cambridge.

Zelle was appointed Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Dec. 15, 2012 by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.  He began the job on Jan. 15, 2013.  MnDOT is the Minnesota state agency charged with managing and maintaining the state’s multi-modal transportation system.

Zelle came to MnDOT from Jefferson Lines, an intercity bus company with routes in 13 heartland states from Minnesota to Texas.  He worked there for more than 20 years, and served as President and Chief Executive Officer.  Currently he is the Chair of the Jefferson Lines Board of Directors although he is no longer an employee with any management authority.  He is recused from any matters associated with MnDOT and Jefferson Lines relationships.

Born and raised in St. Paul, Zelle received a BA from Bates College and a MBA from the Yale School of Management.