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Here’s how the week went

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Community
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L-BF crowns Homecoming royalty

LITTLEFORK- Littlefork-Big Falls schools highlighted Homecoming Week 2019 by crowning royalty Matt Kennedy and Danielle Erickson Wednesday night in front of students, staff and families.

The evening began with the introduction of the football players from Littlefork-Big Falls, the cheerleaders and the volleyball team, and then led into a variety of games played by representatives from each class.

Candidates were then introduced to the crowd before taking their seats on stage.

Danielle Erickson was escorted by Devon Reller, Sydney Stevens was escorted by Anthony Cipriano, Elise Larson was escorted by Matt Kennedy, and McKenzie Swenson was escorted by Cameron McRoberts.

Junior royalty were Parker Mannausau and Reva Horne.

For more coverage of the week’s Homecoming events, see next Wednesday’s edition of The Journal.


Local
KEDA to take action

With the looming closure of one of Borderland's retail stores, local officials this week indicated work is being done to offset the loss.

Kmart is set to close Dec. 15, resulting in the loss of more than 40 jobs and a vacant 83,000-square foot building on six acres along Highway 71.

Koochiching Economic Development Authority Director Paul Nevanen said research is being conducted on retailers that could potentially fill the space.

“I want to be clear about expectations,” he said. “Market forces drive all these decisions... We'll put up a good presentation with information on our area... We've reached out to one already. I want them to know about us.”

A key component for outside retailers is the understanding of the Canadian marketplace.

“When we draw that circle, it's 25-30 miles north (of Koochiching County),” he said. “That marketplace is a lot larger than the net population.”

Board member Brian McBride agreed.

“This is a big area,” he said.

Getting goods here at a reasonable price makes transportation an issue, said Bob Anderson, International Falls mayor and board member.

“I think the whole retail industry is trying to figure out what is the whole picture of tomorrow in retail,” he said.

The International Falls Kmart is one of the last to close, and only one other will remain open in Minnesota.

Transform Holdco, or TransformCo, of which Kmart is a subsidiary, announced earlier this month the decision to close the store in International Falls.

“After careful review, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to close the Kmart store in International Falls,” the company said in a statement. “The liquidation sale is expected to begin in mid-September and the store is planned to close by mid-December.”

And while the closing can create feelings of despair in the community, there is interest in the area.

Nevanen said he has recently received two request for proposals, or RFPs, from customers looking to relocate businesses in the area.

“These are nationwide,” he said of the search. “We don't check all the boxes, but they've reached out to us and we're on their radar. We'll respond to the RFPs and report on the follow up and respond. It's a good exercise to go through, too.”

The KEDA director said having rail access and available land in the area is a big component of requests.

The board also Wednesday: 

  • Accepted KEDA's 2020 budget. 
  • Discussed marketing options for the relaunch of the "Your Ticket Home" campaign, which aims to attract people to move back to Koochiching County. 
  • Heard that the cold weather testing schedule for the upcoming winter season is filling up with a mix of new and repeat customers. 

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Local inspiration

‘One Dog Canoe’ to premier

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Climate change

Speaker to address issue

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Highway 53 meeting set for Oct. 2

International Falls City Council will offer the public a chance to hear more about a plan to reconstruct Highway 53 and refresh its appearance leading into the city before moving forward.

The council Monday set a public information meeting for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 2 in the council chambers on the project that would involve the street, sidewalks, and boulevards on Highway 53 from Memorial Drive to Second Street.

Following that meeting, the council will consider providing municipal consent for the project, as required by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, prior to an Oct. 23 deadline. The deadline for the city to provide consent has been extended by MnDOT once already at the city’s request. The council is expected to consider action on the consent at its Oct. 21 meeting.

City Administrator Ken Anderson told the council it may provide consent, or consent with conditions. He said MnDOT’s design for the about $14 million project is about 60 percent complete.

At issue may be a desire by city officials to retain a traffic signal at Seventh Street, which MnDOT plans to remove.

Mayor Bob Anderson has voiced concerns about MnDOT’s plan to remove the signal there, saying nearby businesses, Northern Lumber and Lakes Gas, will be affected.

In June, Anderson wrote to the council that Northern Lumber plans to tear down the former Holiday Gas Station it owns across Highway 53 from its main location and replace it with a warehouse. He said owner Robert Thompson is concerned the loss of the traffic signal may impact their ability to easily move materials to the warehouse.

In addition, he said John Schenck, Lakes Gas, on Second Street across from the city’s garage, has purchased buildings on the east side of the avenue with plans to install additional storage tanks, and have propane delivered by rail car. Trucks would be filled with propane there for delivery to communities southeast of the city.

Anderson wrote that because the trucks will enter Third Avenue at Seventh Street, Lakes Gas officials are concerned about the plan to remove the traffic signal and have asked that it remain.

Anderson has said he’s asked MnDOT to reconsider removing the light, and has suggested the city could pay for maintenance of the signal, but MnDOT has maintained the traffic numbers at the intersection do not warrant a signal, and removal would help traffic move through the community.

Meanwhile, the Koochiching Economic Development Authority Board Wednesday agreed to write a letter supporting retention of the traffic signal.

“No. 1 thing is to address the safety,” said Brian McBride, KEDA Board member and Koochiching County commissioner.

He, too, noted that nearby business owners have expressed concerns over the signal’s removal.

At Wednesday’s KEDA meeting, Anderson said he didn’t want to hold up the Highway 53 project over disagreement about the signal, but believes attention should be paid to the concerns of local businesses requesting that it not be removed.

“Seldom do businesses ask for something,” he said, adding keeping good infrastructure is important.

A brief by MnDOT presented at a public hearing May 21 details the project and its funding sources, with MnDOT estimated to provide from $10 million to $11.5 million, and the city about $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

Anderson has taken his concerns to various public meetings, prompting an idea presented Monday by Charity Trompeter Oveson. She suggested the city consider establishing holograms of people crossing the street there, to slow and stop traffic at Seventh Street should the signal be removed. Because of the unique nature of holograms, she said it may attract visitors to the area.

She said the hologram equipment could be used in other ways in the city, such as projecting Santa and his sleigh sweeping into the city over Smokey Bear’s shoulder.

Sales tax

The council approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Revenue for collection of a 1 percent local sales tax that will be added to purchases of taxable items within the city limits starting Oct. 1.

International Falls voters in November supported the proposal to implement a 1 percent local sales and use tax, expected to generate an estimated annual $803,149.

The additional tax will be distributed to the city for use on maintenance of and improvements to city streets, sidewalks, lights and other specific infrastructure needs.

Administrator Anderson stated staff have been working with local businesses on implementation.

The council also:

Instructed city Attorney Steve Shermoen to follow up with ICO officials on the demolition of its building, located off Highway 71, earlier this month. Shermoen has notified the officials that the company owes money for the city’s out-of-pocket costs involving filing court action that would have allowed the city to remove the building. Instead, ICO contractors did the job, but city officials said more work involving removal of pipes and other items there must be done, and ICO must pay the city’s costs to disconnect the building from water and sewer.

Agreed to consider adoption Jan. 21 of proposed comprehensive plan that would define land use and zoning issues. Prior to adoption, the city must offer the plan to adjacent jurisdictions for review, with county review and approval required. In addition, the city’s Planning Commission must hold a public hearing.

Accepted a letter of resignation from Andy and Lindsi Barnhart, effective Sept. 29, as EMTs.

Accepted a letter of resignation from police Officer Jill Elsberry, and appointed Michael Bounds to full-time status.

Authorized back pay, as recommended by administration staff, to paramedics, totaling $16,000 to $17,000.