Political chatter: Ag wins water vote

By Don Davis

A little known federal issue that has farmers riled came out of the U.S. House with a vote friendly to agriculture.

The House voted 262-152 last week to forbid the federal Environmental Protection Agency putting nearly all water in the country under its control. Farmers fear a proposed change in the Clean Water Act would give the EPA control of every body of water from puddles on up.

There is little chance that the Democratic Senate will follow the Republican House’s lead.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents western Minnesota, was one of 35 Democrats to vote against the EPA rule.

He said the proposal would create “more confusion and is bad for agriculture. … The EPA does not seem to understand the real world effects these regulations will have on farmers across the country.”

Minnesota’s House delegation split on the issue.

Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat representing the eastern Twin Cities, voted opposite Peterson.

“Once again Republicans are taking aim at the environment and clean water by unnecessarily intervening in a critical rule-making process,” McCollum said. “Preserving the health of America’s wetlands and streams is essential to Minnesota, a state with more than 10,000 lakes and over 69,000 miles of river. The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers need to continue moving forward, in consultation with key stakeholders, and develop a sound definition that protects the health of a precious natural resource: America’s waters.”

Farm groups sided with Peterson.

“The U.S. House of Representatives stood with farmers and ranchers … to tell the Environmental Protection Agency they cannot and do not have control over all waters,” President Kevin Paap of the Minnesota Farm Bureau said. “We sincerely thank Minnesota Reps. “(Tim) Walz, (John) Kline, (Erik) Paulsen, (Michele) Bachmann and Peterson for voting in support of the final bill.”

Walz and Peterson were the only two Minnesota Democrats to support the measure.

Paap said the vote was not the end of the battle. “Until they withdraw their proposed rule, we must continue to send comments to the public docket sharing our story to the EPA on how constricting these regulations would be on our ability to farm, perform normal land improvement activities and continue conservation efforts.”

The Farm Bureau has been out front in fighting the EPA on the issue, running a “ditch the rule” campaign.

Mills gets more attention

If national media attention illustrates a candidate’s viability, Stewart Mills is in very good shape.

Hardly a week goes by when the first-time Republican candidate in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District is not featured in a story from outside Minnesota. One of the latest is the National Journal, which called him “the most interesting candidate of the year.”

“Minnesota is a state known for electing its share of unconventional candidates,” Josh Kraushaar wrote in his Brainerd-datelined story. “It voted for Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler, as its governor. Comedian Al Franken, who once wrote a book joking about running for president, is now the state’s junior U.S. senator. Paul Wellstone parlayed his job as a rumpled college professor into a progressive icon in the Senate.”

It did not take long for Kraushaar to focus on the same things as other national reporters:  Mills’ long hair and his resemblance to actor Brad Pitt.

“He’s one of the few congressional candidates who has been attacked for hitting a beer bong…” the story says.

Kraushaar calls Brainerd a small town (its population is nearly 14,000) and incorrectly labels Mills’ company as a “sporting goods shop” (the chain of stores sells a variety of items ranging from farm equipment to kitchen utensils, and does sell sporting goods).

Mills is trying to kick Democrat Rick Nolan out of the House.

Nolan is in his first term back in the House, serving the northeast and east-central Minnesota district, after earlier serving during the Vietnam war era. He gets much less media attention than Mills in a race that is attracting outside funding by the bucketful.

Horner for Johnson

Tom Horner returned to his Republican roots to endorse GOP governor candidate Jeff Johnson.

Horner was the Independence Party candidate four years ago, getting 12 percent of the vote as Democrat Mark Dayton narrowly beat Republican Tom Emmer. For years before that, he worked with Republicans.

Horner went after Dayton for not knowing specifics of items in bills such as one funding the Vikings stadium.

Johnson “will get it right the first time,” Horner said.

Horner said that Independence candidate Hannah Nicollet did not seek his endorsement. He said since she could not raise the $37,000 needed to obtain state campaign funding that she “won’t have a voice” in the governor’s race, leaving Dayton and Johnson in the spotlight.

Homes lead in propane

As Minnesota leaders try to prevent a propane shortage, with accompanying price increase, like what hit the state last winter, they primarily are trying to protect homeowners.

The state propane industry reports that in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, 206 million of the 341 million gallons of the fuel used in Minnesota heated homes. Another 78 million gallons went to agriculture uses, things such as drying grain and heating livestock facilities. The rest was used by businesses, industries and for engine fuel.

Minnesota propane outlook improves, but officials will monitor

Dayton

By Don Davis

The propane outlook for this winter is brighter than a year ago, when shortages nearly quadrupled the heating fuel’s price, but state officials urge poor Minnesotans to apply now for heating assistance if they think they will not be able to fill their tanks.

“The situation is very encouraging,” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday after meeting with about 50 people involved in the propane industry in St. Paul, with another 20 joining by telephone.

Still, he added: “We’re not out of the woods. Nobody is complacent.”

With more than 200,000 Minnesotans, mostly in rural areas, depending on propane to heat their homes, Dayton called in users, transportation officials, suppliers, marketers and others involved in the propane industry to assess the situation.

Many at the meeting said that more propane storage and Minnesotans buying more of the heating fuel in the summer instead of waiting for cold weather have helped ease concerns.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said a Kansas facility that supplies much of Minnesota’s propane increased storage 15 percent. Storage also has been built in Minnesota and North Dakota.

However, the bad news is that the permanent shutdown of a propane pipeline at the end of the past heating season is forcing more of the gas onto rails, which already are so congested with North Dakota crude oil that farmers complain they cannot get good service from area railroads.

Dayton lately has complained that the BNSF and Canadian Pacific railway companies have put a priority on crude at the expense of commodities such as fertilizer that farmers need and hauling grain to market. After Tuesday’s meeting, Dayton said he thought railroads can handle added propane shipments, even though “there is no question that the railroad system is very seriously over extended.”

The state and the industry are better prepared to monitor the propane transportation situation this year, Dayton added.

The governor promised to put pressure on the railroads, if needed, “once the situation is real.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Midwest propane supplies are 1.9 million barrels higher than a year ago, but still 1.6 million barrels below the five-year average.

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap called the meeting “a perfect example” of how to avoid a problem “before the government steps in and makes it worse.”

“We are in a better position if it happens again,” Executive Director Steve Olson of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association said, recalling last year’s problems.

Besides being the coldest winter in nearly 30 years, crops harvested last fall were wetter than normal, requiring more propane to fuel grain dryers. There also were difficulties getting propane to Minnesota.

Rothman suggested that people who think they may not be able to afford propane this year should fill out heating assistance applications right away so money can be sent as soon as the federal government makes it available. Information is available at (800) 657-3710.

Dayton said that his administration is urging federal officials to release the money soon.

In addition to heating rural homes and drying grain, propane is used by a variety of businesses and poultry producers and other farmers to heat facilities.

Earlier this year, the Propane Education and Research Council reported that the country had more propane than ever, but it was not where it was needed.

“We’ve never had it in the right place at the right time,” Paap said.

Updated: Special session not expected for flood disaster

By Don Davis

Minnesota leaders say they can avoid a pricey special legislative session and still provide local governments money as they recover from early-summer floods.

A new $3 million state disaster fund may be enough to reimburse local governments until legislators return to work Jan. 6, but Gov. Mark Dayton said his administration will continue to monitor the situation and could convene the Legislature if government leaders say they are running short of money.

A memorandum sent Tuesday from the state finance commissioner and emergency management director laid out the situation.

The total state and local government damage from floods across the state is pegged at $40.8 million for local government facilities, with the federal government due to pay 75 percent. That leaves $10.2 million for the state to pay, and the $3 million disaster fund should be enough to get by for now, Commissioner Jim Schowalter and Director Kris Eide said.

In an interview, Schowalter said local governments are not losing out on money by waiting until next year. However, he added, the Legislature may need to act soon after it convenes in order to keep money flowing.

If a special session is called before Nov. 4, it would come during a busy campaign season for Dayton and most House members.

“We will continue to monitor this situation and stay in touch with the administration, local officials and legislators in both parties to ensure communities affected by summer storms are receiving the aid they need before the 2015 session begins,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “And next session, we will give full consideration to remaining requests.”

Federal transportation officials already have sent millions of dollars to the state for road repairs. Dayton said that if that money runs out, “I would talk with (legislative) leaders about a special session.”

The Obama administration ruled that 37 of the state’s 87 counties and three tribal governments sustained enough damage to receive federal aid. The administration denied help to Morrison and Dakota counties.

To qualify for federal help, a county needed to show it incurred at least $3.50 per resident in damages.

Federal funds are only for governments to recover costs for flood fighting; they do not help private citizens and businesses that were damaged in flooding that began June 11 and in some cases extended into July.

Federal officials decided that damage in Morrison County did not occur during the disaster period. County officials say damage was $206,000 and under a new law the state would pay $155,600 of it if federal officials do not provide money.

Dakota County, meanwhile, sustained $1.7 million in public infrastructure cost, which federal authorities said they would not pay. The state and county are appealing that decision. If the federal government does pay, the state’s Dakota County cost would be $427,000; if federal officials continue to reject the request, the state portion would be $1.28 million.

 —

Counties receiving federal funds are Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chippewa, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Hennepin, Jackson, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Ramsey, Renville, Rice, Rock, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca, Watonwan, Wright and Yellow Medicine. Tribal governments getting the money are Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Prairie Island Indian Community and Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

Political chatter: Group focuses on defeating 12 DFL representatives

By Don Davis

A dozen mostly rural Minnesota state House districts could decide which party controls the body the next two years.

The Republican-oriented Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund announced 12 districts Democrats now hold that it is targeting for the Nov. 4 election.

Coalition leader Ben Golnik said the Democrats “who despite promises of working across the aisle, being independent voices for their regions and other appeals to their moderate districts, voted lock-step with Minneapolis and St. Paul Democrat leadership for higher taxes on all Minnesotans, a crushing regulatory environment and billions of dollars of wasteful spending.”

The lawmakers are Reps. Tom Anzelc of Balsam Township, Zachary Dorholt of St. Cloud, Roger Erickson of Baudette, Andrew Falk of Murdock, Tim Faust of Hinckley, Patti Fritz of Faribault, Ben Lien of Moorhead, Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, Joe Radinovich of Crosby, Shannon Savick of Wells, Mary Sawatzky of Willmar and John Ward of Baxter.

The Jobs Coalition list is a bit larger than some other lists of key districts.

Republicans and Democrats all along have said there are some key rural districts that could decide House control. Top Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party House leaders have talked a lot about rural issues in the past year, knowing some of their incumbents face tough races.

Republicans need to take away a net six seats from Democrats to regain control of the House.

Who controls the House is especially important this year for Republicans who want to eliminate all-Democratic control in the Capitol, holding the House, Senate and governor’s office.

Senators are not up for election this year, so that body will remain under Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party control at least two more years.

Klobuchar in Africa

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has returned from an 11-day visit to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal and Rome.

The Tanzania Daily News reports that the Minnesotan was accompanied by four other Democratic women senators, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. The delegation was headed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the Senate agriculture committee chairwoman. The State Department funded the trip.

The Daily News reported that delegation traveled to Africa to “have an opportunity to witness conservation and natural resources management in promoting sustainable economic development.”

The senators found time to tour the Serengeti National Park, made famous on public television for the opportunity of close encounters with lions, zebras, giraffes and other animals.

Two can talk

Gov. Mark Dayton’s trip to the Moorhead area a few days ago uncovered stories that some state Department of Natural Resources people were saying things not approved by the governor or Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

The revelation came up during discussions about a water diversion project planned to protect Fargo and Moorhead from Red River flooding. People told Dayton in meetings what DNR employees said.

“I think in a project of this magnitude and this sensitivity and this controversy, that from this point forward, the only two people authorized to speak on behalf or represent the state of Minnesota are Commissioner Landwehr or myself,” Dayton said.

The diversion is very controversial, and Dayton had harsh words for the governmental body responsible for the project.

High drama court race

Judicial races generally produce little drama and little interest among voters.

One this year between Justice David Lillehaug and Michelle MacDonald is producing drama, but probably not much voter interest.

Republican state convention delegates overwhelmingly endorsed MacDonald last spring. Most judges not wanting political ties, but Republicans like to endorse conservatives to the high court.

Things changed when some GOP leaders discovered she was awaiting trial on a drunken driving charge. She also faces a count of violating terms of her driver’s license that was restricted due to her drunken driving charge.

At first, Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson said he still supported MacDonald. Now, however, he has backed away and says she needs to run a serious campaign before getting his backing.

GOP attorney general candidate Scott Newman withdrew his support early and went so far as to endorse Lillehaug, a longtime Democratic activist who Gov. Mark Dayton appointed.

MacDonald has filed documents requesting the state Office of Administrative Hearings (an agency similar to a court) to take up her case against Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey and other GOP leaders for not following through and backing her after the party endorsed her. She was barred from the Republican State Fair booth by two volunteer security guards.

8,000 online registrations

More than 8,000 Minnesotans have registered online to vote.

More than 5,000 of them updated their addresses or names, while nearly 3,000 registered for the first time in Minnesota.

“This tool makes it convenient for eligible voters to register, and helps reduce costs to local governments,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

He launched the online registration tool last year, a judge found it illegal and the Legislature established a system that is much like Ritchie started.

Voters must register for the Nov. 4 election by the end of the day Oct. 14.

Minnesotans head to the polls this fall to pick a U.S. senator, statewide officials, all eight U.S. representatives and all 134 state house members. Many local offices also are on the ballot.

Voters do not need to wait until Nov. 4 to cast ballots. They may vote absentee by mail or at local election offices starting in about two weeks; this year for the first time anyone may vote absentee, not just those unable to go to the polls Nov. 4.

Ritchie’s office offers more voting information at at www.mnvotes.org.

Next to the trains

One of the reasons Gov. Mark Dayton traveled to Moorhead early last week was to discuss oil train safety, a subject of meetings he is holding along railroad tracks that transport oil from western North Dakota.

While in Moorhead, Dayton stayed in the modest Travelodge motel. Ironically, it is next to tracks where more than 40 trains a week haul oil through the area. At one point during his stay, an oil train was parked next to the motel.

‘Give bees a chance’

Spivak

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson promises to plant more flowers.

It is part of a new program his department launched at the State Fair on Thursday to encourage Minnesotans to provide good homes to bees, wasps, butterflies and other insects that pollinate plants.

Pollinators’ numbers are falling and scientists do not know all the causes, although some pesticide use is suspected as one problem.

“More than one third of all plants are plant products that we consume are directly or indirectly dependent on insects for pollination, and a decline in pollinators negatively affects us all,” Frederickson said.

Participants in the program are asked to join Frederickson and pledge to take an action to help pollinators.

Frederickson said his department will focus on educating the public about how regular Minnesotans can help. His promise to plant more flowers may be a popular way to help, but he also suggested letting dandelions grow because bees like them.

Other ideas the commissioner offered include leaving areas of a lawn unmowed, reducing pesticide use, setting out water bowls to give pollinators a drink and to start a beehive.

Besides pesticides, parasites and diseases are among factors believed to be causing the pollinator decline.

There still is too little known about bees and other pollinators, said Marla Spivak, a nationally known bee expert from the University of Minnesota.

While about a third of Minnesota honey bee colonies are lost each year, Spivak said that native bee population trends are not well understood (honey bees are not native to the state). However, she added, studies on the topic are beginning.

Of Minnesota’s 18 or 19 bumble bee species, she said, two “are very endangered.”

Frederickson and legislators at Thursday’s announcement said Minnesota has passed more bee-related laws than any other state. For instance, it now is illegal to label a product as bee friendly if it really can harm the insects. Also, state agencies are required to take bee-friendly actions, such as improving habitat.

The issue is well known in rural areas, where farmers need pollinators for their crops. But state Rep. Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis, said she has been hearing about it in her urban area as she goes door-to-door campaigning.

Rep. Rick Hanson, D-South St. Paul, said that lawmakers will take more actions to help pollinators, but urged common Minnesotans to help, too.

“Give bees a chance,” he pleaded.

Frederickson

Republicans fall in behind Johnson

Johnson, Zellers, Seifert

By Don Davis

It is one thing for defeated politicians to back their conqueror, but quite another for rank-and-file supporters to do the same.

As Jeff Johnson was edging his way toward victory in Tuesday’s Republican governor primary election, backers of other candidates were saying they could accept any of the four main hopefuls. And they said that the just-completed primary race, testy toward the end, may have been a good thing.

“I think it will be better for the party because we had a better real talk of who we think will be the best candidate …” Andy Gladitsch, a political science major at Gustavus Adolphus College said at candidate Marty Seifert’s post-election gathering in Mankato. “I think it will make the party stronger.”

Republicans appeared ready to back any of the four candidates because they see an opening in the campaign against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

“He (Dayton) lacks communications skills,” said Trina Denay of North Mankato, also at Seifert’s gathering. “He’s not a very good public speaker.”

She said that for the GOP candidate to win, “it means talking to the people, listening to people and not just ‘this is what I do.’ “

The other three major GOP candidates joined Johnson in a Capitol-area news conference Wednesday to say they will support the winner.

“This state deserves to have leaders to take it to its full potential,” Scott Honour said, adding that Johnson is the person to do it.

Honour and Johnson had the most testy exchanges in a rare four-way Republican governor primary election race.

The other two major candidates, Kurt Zellers and Marty Seifert, joined Honour in offering full support for Johnson, a 47-year-old lawyer and Hennepin County commissioner. He is a Detroit Lakes native, graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead and worked for Cargill. He also served in the Minnesota Legislature before losing the state attorney general’s race to Democrat Lori Swanson in 2006.

Johnson won the party nomination in Tuesday’s primary with 30 percent of the vote.

He is a known as a nice guy, something he plans to embrace.

“Being perceived as a nice guy is a good thing in elections in Minnesota,” Johnson said in response to a reporter’s question, but hastily added that he will contrast his positions with those of Dayton.

Johnson predicted that Democrats will spread stories about him wanting “to drown kittens in the river for fun.”

Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party agreed that Johnson is a nice guy, but called him a Tea Party extremist. He said that the Republican nomination of Johnson means that party “wants to move us backwards” to the days “when people had to work two or three jobs and still live in poverty.”

Johnson, on the other hand, said that while Dayton proclaims the state economy is strong, many Minnesotans “are scared to death” of the economy. He said 49 percent of Minnesotans are underemployed, working lesser jobs than they want.

He said that the key to improving the economy is to “grow business in this state.”

“We are celebrating people who are successful,” Johnson said. “We never, ever give up on people who are poor.”

Johnson credited his win on obtaining the Republican state convention’s endorsement and the feeling that he is electable.

Endorsed candidates generally won Tuesday, although Jim Hagedorn upset Republican-endorsed Aaron Miller 54 percent to 46 percent in southern Minnesota’s U.S. House district. Hagedorn will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the Nov. 4 election.

Republican Chairman Keith Downey credited Hagedorn’s name for the win. His father was a southern Minnesota politician.

In the Independence Party primary vote, Steve Carlson took 34 percent of the vote, upsetting party-endorsed Kevin Terrell, who had 22 percent.

Another endorsed candidate made it look easy. Auditor Rebecca Otto moved on to the general election, emerging from the Democratic primary by getting 81 percent of the vote. That came after challenger Matt Entenza spent more than $600,000 to oust Otto.

Martin had nothing good to say about the Entenza effort, declaring that the former DFL House leader’s days as a politician are over.

The secretary of state’s office estimated that 286,292 Minnesotans voted in the primary, a near record low and a fraction of the 3 million who normally vote in the general election.

Martin said that it is not good for democracy when just hard-core partisan voters go to the polls. He said that he will continue to lobby lawmakers to move the primary to June, when he thinks more Minnesotans would vote.

Joseph Ryan Denton contributed to this story.

Oil train disaster training not here yet

Talking oil train disasters

By Don Davis

Forum News Service

LITTLE CANADA, Minn. — Minnesota emergency services personnel will be trained and equipped in a few years to deal with oil train disasters, but the governor worries about what could happen before then.

“If the accident would just wait for two years, three years, four years, boy, would we be ready,” Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday told his first in a series of rail safety roundtables.

Dayton’s public safety commissioner, Ramona Dohman, told the governor that every city and county must have plans for dealing with disasters, but not specifically how to handle volatile North Dakota crude oil that fills about 50 trains that cross Minnesota each week.

“We are the cross-country freeway for this because it is going to the East Coast,” said Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Local government plans are “one size fits all…” Dohman said. “They cover whatever may happen in your community.”

“It is just that they have not responded to these spills and fires…” the commissioner said. “How do you respond to the Casselton fire?”

Dohman and others from the public safety community said they are concerned about how Minnesota would deal with an oil train fire like in Casselton, N.D., late last year. Or an accident that killed people in Quebec. Or a fire in West Virginia. Or any of a number of other incidents involving crude oil pumped from the Bakken oil field in western North Dakota. Most of that oil is transported across Minnesota.

Doug Bergland, the Washington County emergency management director, said many firefighters already have 40-hour classes dealing with hazardous material response, but nothing specific about the crude oil that often moves in 100-car unit trains. He said he does not think that most law enforcement officers have any significant training on that issue.

“We are in uncharted territory here,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, a sponsor of legislation that passed earlier this year to help fund training for first responders.

Christianson said that problems exist on several levels, including lack of training, lack of proper equipment and aging 1960s-era rail cars. “You have gaps layered upon gaps, layered upon gaps for the next three years. … In the meantime, we have real risks for communities.”

Dohman said that first responders will begin to get rail oil safety training next month. “Bakken awareness 101,” she called it.

However, she added, limited money is available and none will be spent on improving training for responders who already know the basics.

Dayton said the first thing that needs to be done is to make sure someone is in charge of looking ahead to see what the oil transportation situation will be in the next decade. He promised that person will be named within a week.

The task will be difficult. Hornstein said that Bakken oil transportation has increased 70-fold since 2005, and North Dakota oil production continues to increase.

“This is not a theoretical problem,” Hornstein said.

A report from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration singled out Bakken crude as being more volatile and riskier to transport than other U.S. crudes. However, a recent North Dakota Petroleum Council-commissioned study yielded similar data as the PHMSA study but found Bakken crude to be consistent with other types of light, sweet crude.

Christianson contends that Bakken crude is more dangerous than other oil: “This stuff if so volatile, you don’t fight the fire, you evacuate.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called the situation frustrating for elected and public safety officials, who have a difficult time dealing with the ever-changing situation.

With an expanding railyard in his city, more trains will carry many types of dangerous substances are expected. Up to eight oil trains a day go through St. Paul.

In additional to the legislation that funded training, lawmakers ordered state officials to report back on how many crossings along oil train routes need to be upgraded, and to complete an assessment of training and equipment in public safety agencies where oil trains travel.

Dayton said that he plans similar meetings along oil train routes in coming weeks, with the next in coming days in Moorhead, near where most North Dakota oil enters Minnesota.

More counties to get federal flood aid

Federal authorities on Friday added 24 Minnesota counties affected by summer floods to its disaster list.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Prairie Island Indian Community also were declared federal disaster areas.

State officials earlier this week asked Washington to add 30 counties and the two tribes.

“I will continue advocating strongly for the inclusion of the six additional counties that sustained significant damage during this summer’s flooding,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.

Friday’s announcement means 30 Minnesota counties are included in the disaster, even though state officials have said more than half of the state’s 87 counties sustained at least some damage.

Federal money will fund 75 percent of state and local government costs related to floods that began on June 11. The other 25 percent is to be paid by the state.

The 24 counties added to the federal disaster list are Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Dodge, Faribault, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Nicollet, Redwood, Rice, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca and Yellow Medicine. The counties that originally were designated are Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock.

Still being considered for federal aid are Dakota, Hennepin, Lyon, Ramsey, Watonwan and Wright counties.

Federal funds only are available to local and state governments, not individuals or businesses.

New Minnesota laws include measure to fight synthetic drugs

Synthetic drug wrappers

By Don Davis

Synthetic drugs will be a bit easier to fight beginning today.

They can be handled much like other illegal drugs under one of dozens of Minnesota laws that took effect today. The drug law classifies any substance that mocks an illegal drug as also being illegal, so synthetic drugs that sell under names such as K2 and Spice no longer should be sold.

“If you are using it and you are getting high, in my interpretation, it is a drug,” said Duluth police Lt. Steve Stracek, commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

The law gives the state Pharmacy Board the power to order stores to stop selling the drugs.

Also, the measure, which received widespread bipartisan support, says that synthetic drug sellers who claim the drug is legal can be forced to pay restitution for costs resulting from the sale. Those costs include emergency response expenses and health care needed by someone who takes the drugs.

A key state official in implementing the law said it will not end synthetic drug use, which has resulted in young people’s deaths and serious health issues. But Executive Director Cody Wiberg of the Pharmacy Board said it will be a continued step in the right direction.

Wiberg said a series of anti-synthetic drug laws and extensive publicity about a Duluth arrest is helping reduce use of the dangerous substances.

“I am not so sure it is 100 percent gone, the retail sales of it,” he said. “I am not sure there is any place being operated so openly as Last Place on Earth.”

Last Place on Earth was a Duluth head shop that, like others in the state, openly sold synthetic drugs as legal. But with the owner facing a potential federal prison sentence, Wiberg said, young Minnesotans who flocked to the drugs because they thought they were safe may be getting the message.

“What we have tried to do on the state level with synthetic drugs is try to limit the retail sale,” Wiberg said. “I think we are making some headway there.”

Stracek agreed. “The volume we were dealing with before is not there.”

“I think that certainly tells other people that there are consequences,” he said about the Last Place court case.

With the Last Place closed, synthetic drug use appears down in Duluth, Stracek said. Now, however, users are turning to the Internet, which he said likely is the next problem policymakers must deal with.

Wiberg said state and federal officials can’t do much about online sales, but Stracek said there could be ways to stymie delivery of substances ordered online.

On Wednesday, Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson is to announce a website designed to make the public more aware of the dangers of synthetic drugs — dangers that officials say are similar to the already-illegal drugs they mimic.

Wiberg said he has not heard from law enforcement organizations that they will want him to take action as soon as his board’s new powers kick in, but he does plan to remind them that the new law is available.

“The board will work with law enforcement, with county prosecutors to do what we can …” Wiberg said. “These are dangerous drugs, more dangerous than some of the users really believe.”

He likened synthetic drugs to Russian roulette because “there is no quality control in these products.” If someone tries one of the drugs, then buys more later, the new compound could be many times more potent than the first one, he added.

Stracek said one of the biggest synthetic drug problems has been “the underestimation of these drugs.”

Other news laws include:

– Law enforcement officers will be forced to obtain a warrant from the courts before collecting information from electronic devices such as smartphones, and eventually the device’s owner must be notified and information obtained generally will not be admissible in court.

– The state minimum wage begins a rise to $9.50 an hour by 2016 for large businesses; it rises to $8 an hour today, with small businesses paying $7.25.

– Public employees with access to driver’s license files must have a legitimate need to examine the data or face penalties.

– The use of cotton threads to remove eyebrow, lip and other hairs no longer needs to be done by cosmetologists.

– Notaries may charge up to $5 for their services after years with a $1 maximum.

– Thermostats containing mercury are outlawed and manufacturers must pay for collecting and replacing them; no items with mercury will be allowed in the waste stream.

– Retailers no longer can sell cleaning products containing the antibacterial compound triclosan.

– A person with multiple convictions for unlawfully killing wolves may be liable for a civil penalty.

– Snowmobiles mostly will be allowed only on forest roads during rifle deer hunting season.

– A person 60 or older may use a crossbow for hunting deer during the archery season; now, crossbows are allowed only during firearms season.

– Thermal imaging equipment may not be used to hunt deer.

– Social media communication between elected officials and the general public will be allowed without it being considered an open meeting violation.

– People who commit domestic abuse or stalk someone may lose access to their firearms.

– Motorists are required to stop and investigate when they strike an object.

– The state may store infants’ DNA without parental permission.

The nonpartisan House Public Information Office contributed to this story.

Ventura wins suit

A split federal jury awarded former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura $1.8 million in his case against the estate of an author who claimed they were in a bar fight.

Attorneys from Ventura and the author’s estate agreed to accept the 8-2 jury decision early this afternoon. Jurors on Monday told the judge they did not think they could reach a unanimous agreement.

Ventura sued former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who claimed in his book “American Sniper” that he hit Ventura in a California bar. Ventura denied that and claimed the book reference made it harder for him to land jobs.

Kyle died in 2013, and Ventura continued his case against the author’s widow.

Jurors entered their second week of deliberation this morning.

It is rate that attorneys agree to accept a split verdict.

The $1.8 million was divided between $1.3 million for unjust enrichment on Kyle’s part and $500,000 for defaming Ventura.

2008 amendment offers buffet of outdoors, arts funds

Moose meeting

By Don Davis

The moose population in northern Minnesota’s forests is dwindling, but a tax that voters raised in 2008 could help save the giants.

“All of us came together on this project, Minnesota Moose Collaborative, to do what we know would work for one element to improve the moose’s existence: improving habitat,” President Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association said.

The $3 million the organization has received is being used to clear areas of forest of brush, some of which was 20 feet tall, to make way for better grazing areas. It also is being used to plant trees to give shade from the warm summer sun.

“From a moose’s standpoint, it is like we renewed the buffet,” Johnson said.

“Buffet” may be a good way to describe where the moose project received its funding, because like a food buffet gives a diner lots of options, a large variety of funding opportunities came in the “legacy amendment” voters approved in 2008.

In what is known as the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional change to increase the state income tax three-eighths of a percent. In the first six years of funding, including money legislators approved this spring, about $1.5 billion has been split among four funds: outdoor heritage, clean water, parks-trails and arts-cultural.

Revenue voters raised in 2008 provides money for projects as varied as $334 so the Becker County Historical Society could microfilm newspapers to $36 million for one of several projects to protect the state’s forests.

Nearly 10,000 projects have received funding from the state funding buffet.

The amendment requires that all money be spent on things the state otherwise would not fund. The sales tax increase ends after 25 years.

In the program’s sixth year, which is just beginning, $378 million is being spent on projects that otherwise would not have received money.

Pam Aakre, a Clay County Fair Board member, credits a mural painted on the back of the grandstand to the funds.

“We would not have been able to do it without legacy funds,” she said, a comment heard across Minnesota from funding recipients.

A handful of other states have looked into expanding outdoors-related spending, and a few did by raising taxes, but Minnesota lawmakers found they needed to include money for arts and culture projects, such as theaters and artwork, for the measure to get enough legislative votes. The amendment faced relatively mild opposition once in front of voters, and indications are it passed mostly to boost outdoors program spending.

“Minnesotans feel so strongly about our great outdoors, when given the choice they are willing to pay for it,” Executive Director Brett Feldman of the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council said.

And it happened during a recession. It allowed Minnesota to increase spending in the four areas at a time when the economy forced other states to cut back.

“I think it is just phenomenal,” state Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said of the first five years.

“We are in the early stages of constructing a house,” Landwehr said, illustrating why he and others think it is too early to declare the legacy amendment a total success.

Those involved with legacy funds generally agree the biggest problem has been geographic balance, especially in parks spending.

“One of the most disappointing aspects to us is our systems had to battle one another for limited resources,” Feldman said about state, greater Minnesota and Twin Cities parks.

Creation of a greater Minnesota parks organization has smoothed things out, but “as long as there is money, there always are going to be battles,” Feldman said.

Minnesotans cannot get a full handle on geographic distribution of the money because most projects cover more than one county and determining how much each county benefits from each project is next to impossible.

Data compiled by the Legislative Coordinating Commission show each of the state’s 87 counties got a piece of the pie, with counties with more people getting more projects.

In northwest Minnesota, Mahnomen County got the fewest projects, 82, while the state’s largest county, Hennepin, led the way with 2,081 projects that used legacy money.

There have been attempts to shift money from urban to rural and vice versa, but the battles have fallen far short of fears. Lawmakers retain final say over how money is spent after committees for each fund make their recommendations.

Some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, question land the state is buying with legacy money, saying it should be left in private hands. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said that while overall legacy funds are “doing so many great things,” there needs to be more discussion about land purchases.

“How are we going to deal with the cost?” he asked about ongoing expenses such as management and fire protection.

McNamara, Landwehr and others said they worry about the costs of creating new programs and suggested more work needs to be done so budgets do not balloon to take care of legacy projects.

Landwehr worries that the public could expect too much from legacy funds. They cannot solve all problems, he said.

In the clean water arena, for instance, Landwehr said that even though it gets nearly a third of all legacy money, all Minnesota water will not be clean when the legacy program ends in 2034. There are just too many problems with the water, he said.

Even with potential problems, interviews with people involved in legacy funding showed most consider the amendment a huge success. Few naysayers could be found.

The biggest success so far may be spending $36 million to protect large blocks of forest in northern Minnesota ($6 million more came from other sources).

Landwehr called it a “stellar example of a project you never would have seen” without the legacy amendment.

Other forest land near Brainerd and in southeast Minnesota also was protected, and legacy money helped leverage federal funds to clean up land along the St. Louis River near Duluth.

Compared to the forest work, the Worthington International Festival is a small-dollar user of legacy funds.

In past years, the festival often has received $5,000 for the annual mid-July festival.

This year, Rod Sankey, a Worthington City Council member, said he liked the International Festival approach because it offers a venue for Worthington’s diverse residents to mix and mingle.

“I think even more people should come down here because it’s a good way to begin understanding other cultures instead of just having negative attitudes about our diversity,” Sankey said.

Like the International Festival, the Clay County Fair has received smaller legacy grants.

In addition to the $10,250 the fair received for the grandstand mural, it got about $15,000 in two years to bring in singers, square dancers, a puppeteer and artist to offer family activities the fair otherwise could not afford.

“With this money, we are able to spend maybe a little bit more just to get some more quality arts and entertainment,” Aakre said.

 Reporter Jane Moore contributed to this story.

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International mask

Projects, spending per fund

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, 7,345; $317 million

Clean Water Fund, 1,233; $533.9 million

Outdoor Heritage Fund, 141; $533.4 million

Parks and Trails Fund, 238; $228.9 million

Subject of projects

Agriculture-forestry-mining, 72

Archeology, 3

Arts, 6,261

Arts access, 5,113

Biological diversity, 121

Cultural heritage preservation, 1,409

Education outreach, 2,269

Historic preservation, 270

History, 733

Natural areas and habitat, 284

Legacy spending by county

Statewide, 414

Aitkin, 176

Anoka, 467

Becker, 214

Beltrami, 313

Benton, 205

Big Stone, 124

Blue Earth, 446

Brown, 252

Carlton, 180

Carver, 350

Cass, 254

Chippewa, 132

Chisago, 249

Clay, 193

Clearwater, 146

Cook, 218

Cottonwood, 131

Crow Wing, 270

Dakota, 609

Dodge, 167

Douglas, 159

Faribault, 181

Fillmore, 263

Freeborn, 172

Goodhue, 325

Grant, 104

Hennepin, 2,082

Houston, 165

Hubbard, 184

Isanti, 208

Itasca, 260

Jackson, 118

Kanabec, 114

Kandiyohi, 236

Kittson, 95

Koochiching, 126

Lac qui Parle, 123

Lake, 199

Lake of the Woods, 108

Le Sueur, 265

Lincoln, 111

Lyon, 151

Mahnomen, 82

Marshall, 123

Martin, 148

McLeod, 203

Meeker, 188

Mille Lacs, 144

Morrison, 253

Mower, 209

Murray, 87

Nicollet, 297

Nobles, 116

Norman, 88

Olmsted, 436

Otter Tail, 294

Pennington, 119

Pine, 166

Pipestone, 95

Polk, 192

Pope, 140

Ramsey, 1332

Red Lake, 82

Redwood, 138

Renville, 158

Rice, 364

Rock, 86

Roseau, 155

Scott, 325

Sherburne, 283

Sibley, 190

St. Louis, 809

Stearns, 544

Steele, 197

Stevens, 125

Swift, 109

Todd, 215

Traverse, 67

Wabasha, 186

Wadena, 169

Waseca, 169

Washington, 472

Watonwan, 135

Wilkin, 95

Winona, 279

Wright, 340

Yellow Medicine, 119

 Source: www.legacy.leg.mn

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Minnesotans advise North Dakota

Minnesotans entering their sixth year of a fund that pays for a variety of outdoor projects have some advice for their North Dakota neighbors who this fall may decide to implement a similar fund: Work out spending details early.

One of the few major problems encountered in launching the Minnesota legacy fund, with money coming from a sales tax increase, was vague language about how parks and trails money may be spent. That issue only arose following a mostly harmonious campaign to get the constitutional amendment passed.

“One of the lessons that was learned in Minnesota is if you don’t identify and advance the process on allocating funds, you will have a lot of agreement before the ballot (vote), but a bloodbath after the ballot,” Minnesota Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.

While the constitutional amendment Minnesota voters approved in 2008 specifically divided the new tax money among four funds — outdoor heritage, clean water, parks-trails and arts-culture — it left specifics alone, which became an issue when it came to the $30 million to $40 million parks and trails receive each year.

The feeling before the 2008 vote was “we will play nice in the sandbox,” Landwehr said about parks and trails advocates. “Now it is this annual bloodbath among the metro (Twin Cities) parks, the regional parks and the state.”

The addition of a commission to look after park interests outside the Twin Cities has helped, the commissioner said, since state and Twin Cities parks already had organizations.

A broad-based coalition opposing the North Dakota amendment touches on the issue: “This measure would commit 5 percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax — at least $300 million per biennium — to a new massive conservation fund with no clear idea of how the money would be spent.”

The amendment North Dakotans will consider is different from the Minnesota one in several ways.

Most importantly, the Minnesota fund divvies up the new sales tax money four ways: 33 percent to clean water, 33 percent to outdoor heritage, 19.75 percent to arts and cultural heritage projects (something not included in the North Dakota proposal) and 14.25 percent to parks and trails.

The Minnesota Legislature has final say over spending money, but various boards made recommendations, which lawmakers generally follow. In North Dakota, a 13-member citizen board would recommend spending to a commission composed of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner, which would have the final spending decisions.

Minnesota Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said he knows a bit about the North Dakota issue, which “seems to have a much more organized campaign against it than we did.” The opposition coalition includes members from farm, business, local government and energy organizations.

Saxhaug, Landwehr and others suggested that one thing North Dakotans should consider is how to fund ongoing operating costs after the state buys more land and starts programs with the new money. Such costs usually fall into the regular state budget, which may not be able to take on the added costs.

But President Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association had just one bit of advice: “North Dakota, jump on it.”

Johnson said that despite what many people think, “if they wait 20 years, the money is not going to be there. … If they want to keep their standard of living, from a natural resources standpoint, now is when they need to be doing it.”

‘Legacy’ has different meanings

Minnesota and North Dakota may be neighbors, but they do not always speak the same language.

In Minnesota, “legacy fund” means revenue from an increase in the state sales tax that voters approved in 2008. The money goes to outdoors, clean water, parks, trails, arts and culture programs.

In North Dakota, voters approved a measure in 2009 they know as the “legacy fund” to use revenues from the state oil and gas tax to build up a budget reserve in case it is needed for any reason in the future. The state calls its proposed constitutional change, similar to the Minnesota 2008 one, the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.

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Creek change

Other money joins legacy funds

The “legacy amendment” usually is blended with other money to fund nearly 10,000 projects around Minnesota.

One of the most complex projects fell on the shoulders of Myron Jesme, Red Lake Watershed District director in northwestern Minnesota, to implement. He cobbled nearly $12 million from about a dozen federal, state and local sources to fix problems caused in 1904 when a straight channel was cut to replace six miles of the meandering Grand Marais Creek from near Fisher to the Red River.

Jesme said that about $3 million in legacy money was the key, especially a $2.32 million allotment from the outdoor heritage fund.

“We needed this $2.32 million to put the gas in the car and start driving,” Jesme said. “Once we got that money, the federal government came in.”

Other agencies began joining the project, too. Each has its own reason, but combined they are funding flood reduction, erosion control, water quality improvement and habitat restoration along the creek.

After a multiyear effort, the hope is to have water flowing through the original channel by year’s end, keeping the shorter straight channel for flood relief when that is needed. Putting water through a curvy creek will keep 700 tons of sediment out of the Red River each year.

Restoring the last six miles of the 45-mile-long Grand Marais Creek has many benefits, Jesme said, by returning aquatic and related ecological systems to how they were before the 1904 channel was changed.

Legacy money often provides the seed funds to attract other projects. In that way, it is like the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. That fund has nothing to do with the legacy amendment, but it gets a lot of attention on a Web page otherwise devoted to legacy funds and has been around longer than the legacy amendment.

The Legislative Coordinating Commission reports that the fund, which gets revenue from the Minnesota Lottery, attracts nearly as many page visits as its legacy home page. The arts and cultural heritage fund gets about a third of the page visits, slightly more than a page about the clean water fund.

The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which recommends to lawmakers how to spend the lottery money, recently compiled a $45.8 million list of 64 projects for consideration next year.

The list includes items ranging from a University of Minnesota research center aimed at slowing the spread of invasive plants and animals to researching animals including bats, turtles, elk, loons and white pelicans to improve preservation efforts.

Such projects are similar to some of the outdoors-related ones that get legacy money, and the two pots of revenue often are confused.

Here are some examples of projects at least partially funded by legacy money:

– Becker County Historical Society, $334, to add 12 rolls of microfilmed newspapers to broaden public accessibility to primary records.

– Goodhue Soil and Water Conservation District, $105,450, to construct seven grade stabilization structures in Minneola Township to reduce erosion and sedimentation to North Fork of Zumbro River, protect public roads, retain water, create wildlife habitat and increase groundwater recharge.

– Stevens County Water Quality Initiative, $84,000, to establish up to 12 miles of buffers along the Pomme de Terre River and its tributaries and install up to five rain gardens within the cities of Morris and Chokio.

– Clay County Fair, $10,250, to create a mural on the back of the grandstand that embodies the activities and spirit of the Clay County Fair.

– Friends of Lake Bronson State Park (Kittson County), $5,050, for the Woodcarvers’ Festival.

– Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, $329,750, to improve the water quality of Little Buffalo Creek, a tributary to the Mississippi River.

– City of Kandiyohi, $6,114, to install new doors and windows to the well house, purchase and install six wellhead protection signs.

– Farmington Elementary School, $13,603, for all students at Farmington Elementary to work with artists using the European and American folk song and dance, Ghanaian drumming, West African dance and puppetry.

– Beltrami County Historical Society, $6,896, for Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News: Early Healthcare, an exhibit on early county health care drawn from primary records in local and state repositories.

– Minnesota Public Television Association, $6.2 million, for production and to buy programs.

– Minnesota Discovery Center (St. Louis County), $4,829, to create an exhibit on the history of the Iron Range as told through personal narrative of 10 residents.

– Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District, $22,346, to test waters needing data for impairment listing in the Rock River and Little Sioux watersheds.

– University of Minnesota, $4.4 million, to establish an aquatic invasive species research center to fight species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.

– Park Rapids, $8,058, to test wells water and aquifer.

– Boys and Girls Club of Morrison County, $4,500, to invite a resident artist and arts educator, Jodi Legeros, to conduct fine arts programs at the Little Falls club location.

– Carlos Township in Douglas County, $28,000, to evaluate alternatives to fix failing sewage treatment systems.

– Wadena-Deer Creek School District, $11,836, to create works of art and learn creative problem solving strategies.

– Cottage Grove, $6,500, for spill response plan and well survey.

– Woodbury, $10,000, for well site study, ordinance review and public education.

– Dakota County Historical Society, $6,183, for 20 interviews about the history of the Hastings State Hospital, 1938-78.

– Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District, $130,055, to develop the watershed restoration and protection, while also enlarging and sustaining public participation.

Minnesota doctors may be in short supply

By Don Davis

Primary care doctors soon may be in short supply, a Minnesota Hospital Association report showed on Monday.

“Many of our hospitals, especially those in greater Minnesota, already have difficulty attracting physicians,” association President Lawrence J. Massa said. “I hope this new information will provide an impetus to policy makers to make the urgent decisions needed on both the state and federal levels to give our health professional students access to the clinical training and residency experience they need to become licensed to practice.”

The study written by Towers Watson, a professional services company, says the doctor shortage will appear in the next decade. It found that “the current pipeline of graduates barely appears adequate to replace retirements as they occur. That, coupled with projected increases in demand because of an aging population, will result in a significant talent gap for physicians.”

There could be a shortage of 850 primary care doctors by 2024, the study shows.

The study blames the shortage on a growing and aging population, along with fewer doctors graduating and increased retirements. Many fields are experiencing higher retirement numbers as baby boomers age.

The hospital study shows about 1,350 primary care doctors are expected to leave the profession in the next decade from the approximately 5,000 in Minnesota today. At the same time, 1,300 doctors are expected to begin practice. Combined with increased demand, that would leave an 850-doctor shortfall, the study shows.

“Minnesota health care organizations will need to take action to ensure they have access to the talent needed to successfully deliver quality care,” said the study’s chief author, Rick Sherwood of Towers Watson.

Hospital association officials say they will ask federal and state lawmakers to make changes that would encourage more people to pursue physician degrees. Some laws discourage taking medical courses, while federal cuts are being discussed in the medical education field, the association reported.

The association suggests developing a statewide health-care task force to look into the doctor situation. It also seeks more state medical education funding.

The group also says tele-medicine should expand to use more technology to serve patients remotely.

“Given the challenges of moving additional spending proposals through Congress, solutions at the federal level may continue to be elusive,” Massa said. “More action at the state level is critical.”

The study said the registered nurse supply should remain strong.