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News and other information from Cook County

WTIP Weekend News Roundup for March 19

Sat, 03/19/2016 - 10:47am

Each week the WTIP news staff compiles a review of news from the previous five days. Wolves – or the lack thereof – are back in the Isle Royale news. Relief for Iron Range workers inches ahead. Cliffs will reopen in Silver Bay and Bigby is back in court…all this and more in the week’s news.



Grand Marais mayor joins Active Transportation Caucus

Fri, 03/18/2016 - 3:19pm

Grand Marais Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux has joined with 30 other mayors from Greater Minnesota and suburban communities as a member of a mayoral caucus designed to give increased visibility to the importance of safer and better transportation infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists throughout Minnesota.

Known as the Minnesota Mayor Active Transportation Caucus, the informal group was formed to help create a broader understanding of the need for and importance of investing in quality pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure such as safer street crossings and routes to school, sidewalks and bicycle lanes. The caucus was founded by the mayors of Rochester, Apple Valley and Frazee.

 The caucus will serve as an informational resource for legislators from both political parties who represent constituencies throughout Minnesota. It will also work to educate policymakers and others on the transportation safety needs that exist in Minnesota’s communities.

“I believe that the work of the Active Transportation Caucus will complement the great work already done in Grand Marais as part of the Highway 61 Redesign Project and the other programs of our Moving Matters group. I hope that Grand Marais can learn from and contribute to the caucus in a way that will effectively make our state more healthy and active," Arrowsmith DeCoux said.

City and county leaders in Minnesota have reported a backlog of $1.3 billion in projects for sidewalks, curb ramps, safer intersections, and bike routes. Better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is viewed as essential to helping to improve safety and health in Minnesota’s communities. In 2013, 11 percent of traffic fatalities in Minnesota involved people who were walking or bicycling and more than 1,680 pedestrians and bicyclists were injured.


County to pursue action against property owners with failed septics

Fri, 03/18/2016 - 3:17pm

On March 8, Cook County Attorney Molly Hicken told the Board of Commissioners that her office was going to start pursuing action against people who failed to repair or replace their failing septic systems.

Hicken said there are about 90 septic systems that were known to be out of compliance in the county, and the county would start with the oldest 50 cases in its pursuit of septic compliance enforcement.

Over time the county has been notifying people whose septic systems needed repair, said Hicken, and in most cases her office doesn’t even receive a call of acknowledgement that there is a problem that needs to be resolved.

“These people have had two years to do something, and most are well beyond that deadline. We’ve done everything we can,” Hicken said.

Because her office will need more help, Hicken said she was increasing Leah Ekstrom’s hours from 35 to 40 to help with the added work.

The first letters will go out in late March or early April. “The goal isn’t punishment,” said Hicken, “It’s compliance.”

Once contacted, a person must set a deadline and meet that deadline to have their systems repaired to meet county specifications.

Commissioner Frank Moe asked if the county’s septic loan program would be available for people who so far had failed to comply, and Hicken said it would be something they could use if needed.

Should cases go to court, the county may pursue having the litigant pay court costs. However, said Hicken, no decision has been made on that point yet.

The goal of the program, said Hicken, is to have the systems fixed within the next two years.


This local news is provided by the Cook County News-Herald. Visit the community newspaper at

Superior Hiking Trail rerouted near Pincushion

Fri, 03/18/2016 - 10:54am

A 700-ft. section of the Superior Hiking Trail has been rerouted near Pincushion Mountain and the Gunflint Trail. Jody Nonnemacher of the Superior Hiking Trail Association in Grand Marais brings us this update. If there are any questions about the reroute near Pincushion, contact the SHTA office at 218-834-2700 or


6th Annual Fingerstyle Masters Weekend, April 8-9

Fri, 03/18/2016 - 10:19am

WTIP North Shore Community Radio and Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte are pleased to announce the 6th Annual Fingerstyle Masters Weekend, April 8 and 9.  For this year’s event, local musician Gordon Thorne welcomes St. Paul fingerstyle guitarist Pat Donohue, and Twin Cities fiddler Tom Schaefer. The weekend features performances both Friday and Saturday night, as well as guitar and fiddle workshops during the day Saturday.
The event kicks off with a free concert at 8 pm, Friday, April 8, at the Bluefin Grille, featuring Gordon and friends playing blues, swing and early Americana.  For those looking to fine tune their own musical skills, workshops will be offered starting at 10 am Saturday, April 9, and are open to musicians of all ages and skill levels.  A free youth guitar workshop will be offered with Gordon Thorne from 10 am to noon.  Also, starting Saturday at 10 am will be a fingerstyle workshop with Pat Donohue, and a fiddle workshop with Tom Schaefer – both are $50 and include lunch.  Pre-registration for the workshops is requested by contacting Gordon at 218-353-7308 or
The event caps off with a concert featuring Pat Donohue at 7:30 pm Saturday, April 9 in the upper room of the Bluefin Grille. Tickets for the Saturday evening concert are $20 per person and will be available at the door, or in advance by contacting Gordon at 218-353-7308 or  Everyone is welcome to attend any or all of the events as part of the Fingerstyle Masters Weekend. Funding for this event is supported in part by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and all proceeds will benefit WTIP’s equipment replacement project. 

Nice winter weather returns for the weekend

Thu, 03/17/2016 - 10:26am

No more snow in sight, but maybe a little rain and cooler temperatures. Still and all, a pretty nice weekend for getting out to enjoy what’s left of winter.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Huyck.


White nose syndrome found in bats at Soudan Underground Mine

Thu, 03/17/2016 - 10:06am

In late January several hundred bats were found dead near the main entrance of the Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees.

When the bats were tested by the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, it was determined they had suffered from white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease that attacks and kills bats that have been hibernating.

An invasive fungus from Europe, WNS was discovered in New York in 2007, and since then has spread to 30 states, killing more than 5 million bats.

The disease causes fuzzy white growths on the noses and faces of the bats, and the fungus eats its way into their wings. Sick bats awaken from hibernation. It is believed they fly out into the cold and die from exposure or from starvation when no bugs can be found.

DNR employees first discovered WNS at the Soudan site in 2013, and they have kept a watchful eye for its expected return.

Minnesota has four bat species that hibernate in the winter. The most affected bats seem to be the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat. The northern long-eared bat (NLEB) has been placed on the endangered species list as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and last year an interim rule was implemented to protect the NLEB bat from logging and construction operations.

In January 2016, the FWS finalized its rule on the northern long-eared bat, which prohibits timber harvest within 150 feet of “known, occupied maternity roost trees from June 1 to July 31” and prohibits logging within a quarter mile of a known hibernacula (winter den) year-round.  As of June 2015, the state had identified 25 known hibernacula and 163 roost trees in Minnesota. While Lake County was identified as having two roost trees and one hibernacula, Cook County was found to have neither.

Learn more about gulls at Sugarloaf Cove

Wed, 03/16/2016 - 9:57pm

You may know them as sea gulls, but did you know that there are many species of gulls and that the North Shore and Duluth are a great place to look for them?

Join gull fanatic Clinton Nienhaus at Sugarloaf Cove on March 19 at 10 a.m. to discover the amazing diversity of gulls found along the North Shore.

The North Shore is host to many species of overwintering gulls including Iceland, glaucous, Thayer’s, great black-backed, and herring gulls. But you can also find the less common lesser black-backed and ring-billed gulls or something really rare!

Iceland, glaucous, and Thayer’s gulls are high Arctic breeders and great and lesser black-backed gulls visit from the east coast. But, how do you know who is who?

Join Nienhaus as he talks about these amazing birds and gives you some great identification tips.

For more information, call Sugarloaf Cove at (218) 525-0001.


This local news is provided by the Cook County News-Herald. Visit the community newspaper at

Community health planning and comedy come together

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 11:39am

What happens when we bring together community members and elected officials, add dinner from the Pie Place, a panel of local experts, and an improv comedy theater company? Find out at “What the Health?! How Do We Plan for Community Vitality?” This entertaining, free event, presented by the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, will be held at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts in Grand Marais, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23. The Theater of Public Policy and local experts will explore the relationships between health and community planning. They and attendees will ask, “How can we create a community in which everyone has a chance to live a long, healthy life?

“We thought it would be fun to create an event where people can explore the idea of community planning and health in conversations over dinner and through an improv comedy show,” said Kristin Wharton, coordinator of the Moving Matters Project at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. “And it’s March, so we are all feeling a little cabin fever! The Theater of Public Policy fits the bill to keep it lighthearted and entertaining while delving into real issues and solutions.”

Local government and community groups have a lot of influence over the factors that create a healthy community, whether or not it is always apparent. In the communities around us, factors such as housing, transportation, and land use can have a significant impact on our health. Wharton said “What the Health?!” is an opportunity to explore the ways that we can use existing tools to promote the safety, health, and welfare of our community: through city ordinance, county plan, tribal food program, school initiatives, or other means.

Township elections held -- Tofte has a new supervisor

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 11:37am

Township elections were also held on Tuesday, March 8 and there was a bit of an upset in Tofte. Challenger Sarah Somnis was elected to the supervisor seat, ousting incumbent Jim King. Somnis received 57 votes and King received 29.

The candidates were quite gracious after the votes were tallied. King wished Somnis well in her new role and she thanked him for his hard work for the township.

Also elected to the Tofte town board was incumbent clerk Barb Gervais and acting treasurer Nancy Iverson.

Elected to the board in Lutsen were Rae Piepho as supervisor and Sharon Hexum-Platzer as clerk, both new to those roles.

In Tofte incumbent Supervisor Tina McKeever and incumbent clerk Doug Schwecke were re-elected.


This local news is provided by the Cook County News-Herald. Visit the community newspaper at

National Weather Service: Spring storm advisory

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 10:40am

According to the Cook County Sheriff’s office the National Weather Service in Duluth is warning of a powerful spring storm expected for our area from tonight through Thursday.

A spring storm will bring heavy rain to the Northland today and late tonight the rain will change to snow across the tip of the Arrowhead. By Wednesday morning, elsewhere the rain will change to snow, likely heavy. The snow is expected to continue into Wednesday night and across the south shore Thursday.

Cook County is expected to receive between three and 14 inches of snow, with a probability of eight inches.  Lake County along the shore could get over a foot of snow, even more in Duluth.

The weather service recommends allowing extra travel time, especially Wednesday and be sure your vehicle is equipped with an emergency kit.


Sheriff warns on latest scams

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 9:30am

They come by phone, in the mail or through email. It seems like someone’s always trying to bilk money out of us. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen about the latest scams.


Townships respond to Birch Grove Community School funding request

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 12:50pm

Funding for the Birch Grove Community School (BGCS) in Tofte was a top topic at all three of the West End annual meetings on Tuesday, March 8.

Director Caroline Wood was present at the Lutsen and Schroeder annual meetings to represent the school and answer questions about their funding request. When the issue was taken up, there were plenty of questions for her to field.

A point of contention in Lutsen for the school’s funding request was the fact that though the number of students from Lutsen has doubled from 4 to 8, and the school receives roughly $7,000 for each student, the request for money isn’t decreasing.

Supervisor Larry McNeally said, “Last year you had 4 students, and this year you have 8.” He said he thought that at some point the number of students would be high enough that the donation request was reduced.

In response, Wood said that the school has a five-year plan that is meant to get it to a healthy fund and operating balance. Currently, there is no fund balance, but the community school is hoping to create a fund balance of 25 percent at the end of a five-year timeframe.

Wood explained that the budget being presented closes out the year $15,000 to the good. She said the school needs to get that to $112,000 to be in a healthy fund balance.”

Despite the concerns expressed, a motion passed with 21 voting to recommend that $20,000 be donated to the school, and 9 opposed.

At the Tofte Annual Meeting at the Birch Grove Center at the same time, there were very few questions and little discussion of whether or not to fund BGCS. 

Climate change and tourism workshops, March 15 - 16

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 12:45pm

Will warmer summers, shorter winters and possible changes in the types of plants, animals and birds found in the Northland affect visitors coming to Cook County?

And will an increase in risk of heat waves and wild fires throughout the region slow tourism to the North Shore?

These were some of the questions posed to Arrowhead visitors during the winter and summer of 2015 by researchers from the University of Minnesota, Carleton College and North Carolina State University.

Part of the data collected in tourist interviews centered on what type of activities they engaged in, how much money they spent here, and what their future plans might look like if the affects of climate change continue.

“We’ve combined the results of our tourist survey with past visitation and economic data to assess the potential economic impact of future tourism behavior on the North Shore,” said Mae Davenport, PH.D, associate professor, Department of Forestry Resources director, and Center for Changing Landscapes, University of Minnesota.

Using computers and complex formulas, a team of scientists from the University of Minnesota created future climate models for the North Shore region using variables such as heat index, snow depth, and wind chill.

All of these findings will be presented in two workshops. The first will be held on March 15 from 5-8 p.m. at Lutsen Resort and the second will be at Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors on March 16 from 5-8 p.m.

Space is limited and by invitation only. RSVPs are required.

The workshops are a culmination of the research, which was funded by Minnesota Sea Grant.


This local news is provided by the Cook County News-Herald. Visit the community newspaper at

Cliffs to resume production at idled Northshore Mining

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 10:12am

SILVER BAY, Minn. (AP) — Cliffs Natural Resources says it will restart production at Northshore Mining by May 15.

Northshore's taconite mine in Babbitt and processing plant in Silver Bay employ around 540 people. The company announced the temporary shutdown of the operations in November.

In its announcement of the reopening Monday, Cliffs cites increasing orders for taconite pellets, which steelmakers use in traditional blast furnace mills. The Cleveland-based company also says that, when it restarts operations at Northshore, it will also produce higher-grade iron pellets destined for more modern electric arc furnace steel mills.

Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves says unfairly traded steel imports is starting are subside, so domestic demand for pellets is approaching more normal levels.

Cliffs-operated Eveleth Taconite remains closed, as does United States Steel's Keetac plant in Keewatin.