The Year 2018 was when many of the boxes on local community to-do lists got checked-off.
The new County Road #20 bridge finally became a reality; the Chisago Lakes and North Branch school districts started constructing some facilities and making long deferred improvements to buildings and operations.
The County Historical Center relocated, expanded and is thriving.
...there’s a facelift and expansion underway for Center City Fire Dept., and one of the biggest projects around, cost and size-wise, the new Jail & Public Safety Center, was opened.
Setting aside tragic and life-altering incidents that were also part of our coverage of 2018-- it was a pretty good year.
So many workers do their jobs remarkably in and around Chisago County, it’s hard to point to select honorees. But a few from 2018 do stand out.
Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton was named MN Superintendent of the Year in 2018.
Cory Spencer, Lakes Area Police, got the invite to travel to Reno, Nevada where he accepted his School Resource Officer exceptional service honor at the SRO Association’s national convention.
The coaches and players in girls high school volleyball and softball programs excelled at the state level. (Sports editor Jeff Norton will go more in depth in his top stories piece.)
Chisago County was in the spotlight for being the ‘solar capital of Minnesota’ and speakers at a regional event that was held in Lindstrom applauded local zoning and permit regulators for working so effectively with the renewable energy industry.
Wannigan Days came back to Taylors Falls and a host of local festival committee workers saw to it that the town could be proud again of its summer celebration, which was temporarily shifted to the other side of the river.
The year generated its fair share of pain, however.
In January 2018 a horrible snowmobile incident took the life of an 8-year-old boy. The child was run down while on Chisago Lake for some ice fishing with family members. The trial took place for offender, Eric Joseph Coleman, 11 months later. Coleman was convicted of third degree murder, counts of criminal vehicular operation, bodily harm and DUI on December 11. He is to be sentenced in February. This tragedy illuminated a loophole in Minnesota law-- that drivers’ license violations (revoked, suspended) weren’t being tied to being able to legally operate an ATV, boat or snowmobiling.
The legislature closed that hole, immediately following this fatality. You don’t get to legally operate recreational vehicles if you have restrictions from DUI convictions imposed on your ability to drive a vehicle.
The Chisago County sheriff announced abruptly that he would retire in early May, under a cloud of accusations and a federal civil suit was filed a few months later by a former sheriff’s department employee.
Sheriff Rick Duncan was charged in late December 2018 with two felonies and a gross misdemeanor in connection with this case, for stalking, threats of violence and misconduct by an office-holder.
The shake-up generated alot of interest in the November sheriff election.
There were five candidates vying to be on the November ballot in a primary in August. Brandon Thyen got the most votes in the end and he won election. Thyen had served as Chief Deputy under Duncan, and this post was filled by Justin Wood, who continues to serve in this capacity in 2019.
The opiod crisis was at the root of a murder trial and a second related trial for the accomplice, connected to the overdose death of Cameron Johnson.
Alex Menne, Lindstrom, was convicted of having supplied Cameron with the illegal fentanyl that contributed to the young man’s unintentional death.
Morgan Johnson, of Center City, was convicted in 2018 of aiding and abetting Menne.
The opioid epidemic continues and here, in 2018, the local law enforcement community introduces use of the “antidote” for overdoses-- Narcan or Naloxone.
Ambulance crews have been the only responders to have administered this in the past; this is the first year police officers and county deputies are supplied and trained for its use.
A County Commissioner was charged in 2018 with felony criminal vehicular homicide operating a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, for a crash in March 2017 on I-35 that took the life of a man.
The crash was the result of wrong way freeway travel by Commissioner Lora Walker.
There still is no court date set for the trial, according to Mille Lacs County Attorney James Walsh. The prosecution was moved out-of-county to avoid any conflicts of interest. Attorneys are now arguing probable cause, questioning the search procedure and asking the judge to decide what will be allowed as admissable evidence.
Walker announced she would not seek re-election as her term expired in 2018 and she completed 2018 duties by attending County Board meetings via remote Internet feed.
The trial of Carl Patrick Anderson, who shot his neighbor Donn Johnson, in February 2017, ended with his acquittal in May 2018. The prosecution maintained Anderson had the duty to retreat, when confronted by an irate neighbor in an altercation north of Lindstrom. Anderson’s attorney said his client shot in self-defense, and that it was the only option available, and the jury agreed.
Mid-summer 2018 the Chisago County Relay for Life switched to July and relocated to the parking lot at North Branch Outlet Mall. New Relay Chairperson JoAnn Belau announced the citizen co-chairs would be Twyla and Ardell Ring.
Other individuals doing newsworthy things: Retired Chisago Lakes Superintendent Joe Thimm was honored by being selected as Karl Oskar Days Grand Marshal.
Taylors Falls reinvigorated its summer festival, Wannigan Days and Wade Vitalis served as Grand Marshal.
Taylors Falls longtime public works guy, Bill Neska retires in October.
North Branch honored Grand Marshal Rick Hals during MidSummer Days.
North Branch longtime Librarian Sue Monroe retired.
In elections: U.S. Representative Rick Nolan chose to retire from Congress, leaving the Eighth Congressional seat wide open. There was interest from a number of candidates and the Democrats failed to endorse anybody at the convention. In primary balloting Joe Radinovich got the most votes. He went on to lose in November to the GOP candidate.
Republican Pete Stauber will represent the 8th in Washington D.C.
Chris DuBose, Lent Township, won County Commissioner Walker’s seat in November. Ben Montzka was the other commissioner whose term expired in 2018 and he was unopposed for re-election.
Late summer and into the fall, the community continues to show up for the Labor Day Paddle, a fun new happening on Chisago Lakes, celebrating non-motorized water travel. Kayaks and canoes abound. The water trail aspect of recreation is supported by camping areas at a couple parks in Lindstrom-- one is on South Center at Ki-Chi-Saga Park, and one is accessed off the water from North Center Lake and by land through Allemansratt Park.
It doesn’t cost anything to stay overnight in a tent, but check in with Lindstrom City Hall so they know to expect you.
On the topic of water...the St Croix National Park Service crew held an event at the vistors’ center to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the wild and scenic rivers act, signed by Congress October 2.
The Farm Family of the Year, an operation managed by John, Dale and Carl Sandberg is awarded the county honor, at FarmFest.
A nationally released film that was made in North Branch gets a release party here, after getting noticed in film festivals and arthouses several months prior.
The movie is “House of Tomorrow” and stars Nick Offerman and Ellen Burstyn among others. The celebration moves from the North Branch Cinema to Natural Spaces Domes in rural North Branch, one of the main locations used in the movie shoot.
School starts in September with a new Chisago Lakes Middle School Principal on bard, Ralph Fairchild, succeeding Jodi Otte, who switched to Athletic Director for the district.
Important issues There were a number of ‘big picture’ debates held in communities dealing with their own concerns affecting their own backyards...
Franconia residents rose up and questioned the proliferation of solar arrays in their rural countryside. The southeast corner of the county is atrractive as a location for solar collection panels due to promiximity to regional electric substations, land availability and electric three-phase infrastructure. The debate starts with rumblings at the March Township Annual meeting and continues in special meetings with town supervisors and solar energy developers. The township goes to the county planning commission, which re-writes parts of the solar array permit ordinances, which are adopted by the County Board.
Not all the desires expressed by the opposition get addressed. Residents still would like arrays limited in number within a certain number of square miles (saturation), they wanted signs erected by county zoning at sites of future arrays giving people obvious notice of pending permits, they also wanted deeper setbacks and bigger buffers between the solar panels and adjoining parcels than what ended up in code.
In North Branch, the Council was trying to raise funds for long-delayed streetwork-- in such a way as to not put the burden on property tax-payers.
A local option sales tax has been utilized in many other Minnesota cities and council liked this as an option. There’s a large presence of passing-through customers using city streets to get to commercial businesses. The schools and churches too, which don’t pay property taxes, would help contribute to street projects through a sales tax.
The voters are asked to approve a local option sales tax of one half of one percent, which fails at the polls in November.
No comprehensive council discussion has taken place yet on how to move forward minus the approximately $500,000 in revenue the sales tax could have generated annually for North Branch.
Lent Township gets a good start on paving all its roads, which was an expressed desire at township annual meetings in the recent past. There’s an open house event held at town hall to commemorate the first segments of Lent roads getting asphalt this summer.
The Chisago City-Lindstrom community reviews its Lakes Area Police joint powers agreement as part of an every-five-year renewal process. Some in town think incumbent politicians are using this expiring contract as an excuse to eliminate the department. Special LAPD agreement subcommittee sessions are held and new terms are suggested and rejected amid much back and forth. Finally-- in May there’s an amended agreement put in place for 12 years, not just five. Officer numbers are better defined and each city’s cost sharing responsibility (which had been a straight 50-50) is tied to a formula considering hours and calls and the chief has more say on the financial aspects.