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May 6, 2007

Coon Rapids Kidnapping Suspect Arrested

Police have taken a suspect into custody after an alleged kidnapping and sexual assault in Coon Rapids.

A 12-year-old girl was waiting to go to school on Friday when a man pulled up to her bus stop and asked her for directions. When she came close to the truck he pulled her inside and drove away. After several blocks the girl was able to escape when the truck stopped.

Thanks to eye-witnesses and other people living in the neighborhood of the alleged crime, Coon Rapids police were able to pick up on a suspect quickly and put his home under surveillance.

Christopher John Mitchell, 46, was arrested early Saturday on probable cause of kidnapping, second-degree assault and first-degree criminal sexual assault. Mitchell is expected to be charged Monday or Tuesday. He has no extensive criminal record and he is not a registered sex offender.

The sixth-grade girl is expected to return to school on Monday said her stepfather.

Check out the coverage of the story in the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.
(**NOTE: I thought it was interesting that the Star Tribune did not print the accused's name, but they did explain that it is not something they do until after a suspect is charged. I thought this was probably explicitly stated because the Pioneer Press did print the name of the suspect.)

Tank Obstacle Course in Waseca?

A Waseca family's petition to build an obstacle course for tanks and shooting ranges in their backyard has their neighbors up in arms.

The Borglum family would like to build an obstacle course where people could pay to drive and ride tanks, three outdoor shooting ranges, one indoor range and a retail store on their 26 acre property just outside of Waseca. They figure the money from the business would make up for the $150,000 spent on the tanks.

The Planning Commission will review the Borglum's plans and then submit a recommendation to the County Board for a final vote.

Many neighbors are concerned about the affects the obstacle course would have on their community. The main concern is safety. The outdoor shooting ranges would have a large hill as a backdrop, but the homes and church on that hill are extremely concerned about stray bullets especially with children around. Others are also worried about the noise and pollution the tanks would cause.

April 29, 2007

Teen's Funeral Service Cancelled due to Violence

Funeral services for 17-year-old victim of a Metro Transit shooting were canceled because of violence between friends of the victim and the alleged shooter.

Police broke up altercations between friends of the deceased, Earl Freedman, and Jerome Cross who was charged Wednesday with second degree murder.

Families of both the victim and the accused say they have been threatened as a result of the shooting.

Freedman's family canceled a church service at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church after the fight broke out. The funeral visitation service was then moved a funeral home on University Ave. They plan on holding other services and a burial for Freedman in Chicago.

The Ramsey County Attorney's office plans on seeking to try Cross, 17, as an adult. Cross remains jailed at the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center.

Read more about this story at the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

Rare Illness in Afton

Afton teenager is one of several residents to be infected with a rare illness in recent years. Tristan Pennella, 15, was diagnosed with blastomycosis, a fungal disease.

Blastomycosis is caused by a fungus that thrives in sandy, acidic soil with decomposing organic debris, such as rotting leaves. Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, especially areas near riverbeds, are good breeding grounds for the fungus.

It may take months for symptoms to appear after a person first comes in contact with the fungus and breathes it in. Flu-like symptoms make blastomycosis hard to diagnose and include fever, cough, fatigue and muscle aches.

About 30 cases per year have been reported in Minnesota for the past several years. Wisconsin has seen a significant jump in reported cases in the past year, increasing from 100 to 170. Dogs are the most infected by this disease.

April 22, 2007

Teen Killed on Metro Transit Bus

A 16-year-old boy was shot and killed on a Metro Transit bus early Sunday.

The incident happened shortly after midnight on Metro Transit route 74 heading towards downtown St. Paul. After an altercation apparently between two groups of teens, the shooter leaned inside the bus and shot the victim in the chest said police.

The victim was identified by family on Sunday as Earl Freeman of St. Paul.

The shooting is the third violent attack to occur on a Metro Transit bus that resulted in serious injury or death since early March.

Police are looking for a suspect they described as being a male between 16 and 18 years old.

Check out the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press coverage of this story.

Russell in the NFL Draft

Former Gopher Gary Russell is hoping that despite not playing this season, he will be picked up in the upcoming NFL draft.

Russell held a personal pro day on April 2 to get attention from NFL scouts and closet some of the doubts about his playing that could cause professional teams to pass him by. There was a sparse crowd at the field that day, but Russell filmed the workout session and sent the tape to teams.

After flunking out of the university in January 2006, Russell missed what would have been his junior season, and perhaps a successful season, with the Gophers. In 2005 Russell had 18 touchdowns and rushed for 1,135 yards (which averaged out to 6.1 yards per carry). Russell's failing grades did not allow him to play, or stay at the university so he returned to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

Some sports analysts believe Russell could go undrafted and be picked up by a team as a free agent. The Cincinnati Bengals worked him out on March 31, but there were no guarantees of him playing with them reported the Star Tribune.

April 16, 2007

Local Organizations Help Provide Prom Dresses

Many teenagers in the Twin Cities area were given dresses for their upcoming proms thanks to local charity organizations.

Operation Glass Slipper expected to give away more than 500 prom dresses during a giveaway this weekend at Southdale Shopping Center. The dress giveaway was organized by Pam Philipp and her daughter Emily of Mendota Heights.

Other organizations and businesses have been getting involved in dress donations this prom season as well. Ever After Gowns invited 200 girls to pick out dresses, and some of the more than 1,000 prom dresses they collected will be donated to students with disabilities at Starry Night Prom.

April 14, 2007

Luxury Homes are a Tough Sell in Eagan

A luxury home developing company has seen business slow down in the Twin Cities area. Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania based company, expanded their business to the Twin Cities two years ago with hopes of a booming market. But sales are not what they hoped for in the Steeplechase of Eagan development.

There appears to be an excess of luxury homes in the Twin Cities area, as is evident by the extended periods of time these homes are spending on the market.

Area realtor Tony Ashworth told the Star Tribune that Toll Brothers is not the only developer of its kind that has suffered from tough sales and falling stocks. In fact, Toll Brothers has faired better than many of its competitors in the national market.

Ashworth said the attractive and convenient location of the Steeplechase development will help it survive in the long run.

Toll Brothers is the company most associated with the "McMansion" label for its homes. "McMansion" refers to luxury homes constructed with the same layout and create neighborhoods with a cookie-cutter feel. Toll Brothers said they do their best to avoid such developments by not building identical homes side-by-side.

March 25, 2007

New Library has Grand Opening Saturday

The new Ramsey County Library held its grand opening in Maplewood on Saturday. The brand new $7.9 million facility has something for people of every age.

The 31,000 square foot library is host to a teen area, featuring booths for group work, and a child-friendly area where kids can gather for book readings.

There are 61 computers available for public use to meet the needs of internet and library searches. The entire facility is also wireless internet equipped, so patrons can bring their personal laptops.

Grand opening attendees were also able to treat themselves to a cup of coffee or dessert pastry at Cafe Cravings, located in the library. The original Cafe Cravings was opened in 1995 in White Bear Lake, and their new cafe provided free samples.

Ethanol producing corn may not by a safe bet for farmers.

Experts at the University of Minnesota predict that ethanol production from corn crops may not be a very profitable endeavor for farmers. They say tying the price of corn to the price of crude oil could be dangerous.

If unpredictable temperature, rainfall and other natural complications for corn crops were not already enough for farmers to battle, adding the fluctuating price of oil could only complicate crop profits. By investing in alternative fuel production, farmers are depending on oil prices remaining high. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, imported oil prices averaged $59.49 per barrel this year. However prices are expected to fall to around $50 by 2011 and even down to $45 in 2014.

Low foreign oil prices could translate into a lower demand for alternative fuels, such as ethanol.

Profits from ethanol producing crops also depend on the price of corn, which was around $4 a bushel this year, more than double what it was a few years ago. If the price of corn becomes too high, around $5, ethanol production plants would not be able to turn a profit, especially those who are still paying off capital investments.

This means that farmers would be getting paid more for their crops, but they would lose money through their investments in the plants that produce the alternative fuel.

Check out the Star Tribune's coverage of this story online.

March 11, 2007

Stillwater Proposes Lodging Tax

A three percent lodging tax was proposed in Stillwater this week, with revenue to fund tourism promotions in the area.

The Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce who proposed the tax, pointed to similar taxes in other Stillwater-like communities that have generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. The Chamber of Commerce said this tax could generate up to $192,000 per year.

One of the first things they would do, if the tax is approved, will be to use the money to revitalize tourism in the area.

Officials want to see the tax in place by July 1, to take advantage of the upcoming travel season.

The Super 8 and AmericInn Lodge and Suites located on Minnesota 36 said the 3 percent tax would not hurt business. Most communities already have such a tax in place and many travelers are not opposed to paying it, if they notice it at all.

Some smaller Bed and Breakfasts in the Stillwater area oppose the tax. Lisa Lothson, president of the Stilwater Bed and Breakfast Association and manager of the Rivertown Inn in Stillwater told the Pioneer Press the tax would hurt small businesses. Lothson said the responsibility to boost tourism should be shared by all types of businesses that benefit from the tourist industry, including restaurants and entertainment venues. Other small businesses also oppose the tax. Lake Elmo's Wildwood Lodge is planning to lobby against the tax.

Northstar Rail for Anoka and Sherburne Commuters

An agreement was reached last week for existing tracks to be used for the Northstar Commuter Rail scheduled to open in 2009.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad agreed to let the Northstar Corridor Development Authority set up a schedule on their lines to allow commuters from Anoka and Sherburne Counties transit to Minneapolis. Diesel trains will make five trips from Big Lake to Minneapolis and one reverse commute every weekday morning. Opposite trips will run every weekday night. The existing two lines of track will cut down on railway congestion and allow more routes to run.

Stops will be made in Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids at the Riverdale Shopping Center, Fridley, and Downtown Minneapolis near 5th St and 3rd Ave N. Light-rail trains will be built to meet the Minneapolis stop so commuters can reach other parts of the city. More stations will possibly be scheduled as needed, after the routes start, but the rail company resisted because of increased freight train traffic.

Not all of funding for the project is secured, but officials said that should not effect the 2009 opening.

For commuters the project means a hassle-free commute. No parking problems, dependable transit time regardless of highway traffic (35 minutes from Elk River), power outlets for computers, and a $4 to $6 ticket. The environment will also benefit from the railway. Less car traffic means less pollution and less greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere.

Check out the Pioneer Press' coverage.

March 4, 2007

Blue Star Mothers in Minnesota

The Blue Star Mothers have been working hard for Minnesota's members of the armed forces. In the past year, the Twin Cities formed three chapters in the metro area where there had been none before.

Now metro moms and other family members are supporting their family over seas along with Minnesota's other nine chapters. Blue Star Mothers send tastes of home to deployed troops such as cookies, handmade blankets, holiday trinkets, among others. They also have coordinated pen-pal programs with schools and visited wounded soldiers in VA hospitals.

The St. Paul chapter is the newest group to form. It has 42 members, adding to the north metro chapter's 75 members and the south metro's 59.

The Blue Star Mothers are a patriotic non-profit organization of people with children (or other loved ones) who are serving or have served in the military.

Check out the Star Tribune's coverage of the Blue Star Mothers.

Franken Returns to St. Louis Park Junior High

Al Franken delivered a campaign speech at his former school in St. Louis Park. A crowd of about 1,000 gathered to hear the hopeful DFL nominee speak on Saturday.

Comedian Franken said he wants Minnesotans to take his campaign for U.S. Senate seriously. After his initial speech Franken met with 100 reporters in a classroom for a more intimate and informational gathering. In this meeting, Franken laid out his plans for issues such as health care and environment.

Franken announced in February that he was running for U.S. Senate, challenging Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

Franken recently started making his way across the state. He spoke in front of a crowd of 800 in Duluth in mid-February.

February 24, 2007

Renewable Energy Now Minnesota Law

Minnesota jumped to the forefront of renewable energy initiatives with a new bill signed Thursday. Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the bill that calls for 25 percent of the state's electricity come from next-generation power sources by 2025.

The new law encourages the use of renewable energy sources such as wind farms, hydroelectric and solar power, as well as burning plant and animal waste. Right now, about half of Minnesota's energy comes from coal burning.

New York and Maine have similar legislation already in place, but the bulk of their energy comes from hydroelectric power. Minnesota remains at the top as far as developing renewable energy sources.

Check out more on this new law in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Mechanic Finds Marijuana Filled Gas Tank

A St. Paul mechanic found 157 pounds of marijuana in the gas tank of a pickup truck on Monday. A man and woman were arrested but later released without being charged.

Marvin E. Kennedy, 48, and Patsy R. Floyd, 62, told authorities they were traveling from Washington to Chicago when they stopped at the Midas Auto Service Experts at 1415 White Bear Ave, because they were having car problems. A mechanic working on their truck noticed fresh weld spots on the gas tank and called the police.

The gas tank had been converted into two compartments, one containing fuel and the other over 150 pounds of pot.

Federal charges are usually filed in cases involving 500 pounds or more, but Ramsey County prosecutors could still file charges.

The Midas Mechanic who made the discovery received a death threat Wednesday, that is most likely related to his finding, authorities said.

The marijuana came from Mexico and would sell for $1000 a pound in Minnesota, police said.

Check out more on this story with The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press' continuing coverage.

February 18, 2007

Billionaire from St Paul Has Goal of Giving

Billionaire T. Denny Sanford announced a $400 million donation, one of the biggest charitable gifts ever, to a South Dakota medical organization.

The former Souix Valley Hospitals & Health has already changed its name to Sanford Health in recognition of the gift.

Number 117 on The Forbes 400 Richest Americans, Sanford, 71, is worth an estimated $2.5 billion.

The focus of most of Sanford's donations has been healthcare in South Dakota and Minnesota, specically children's healthcare. Thanks to Sanford sharing his fortune, there are now The T. Denny Sanford Pediatric Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, the William Sanford Welcome Center at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, the Sanford Medical School at the University of South Dakota, and now Sanford Health.

Originally from St. Paul, Sanford attended the University of Minnesota and made his fortune through banks and credit card companies.

Read more about Sanford's donation in the Star Tribune.

February 11, 2007

Housing Inspections Around the U

Rental properties around the University of Minnesota are the target of Minneapolis housing inspectors. Properties will be inspected for safety code violations involving electrical systems, smoke detectors and overcrowding.

The inspections are part of a larger plan to improve neighborhoods near the university largely inhabited by students. In the Southeast Como area, private homes have been converted into apartment buildings and other rental units at one of the highest rates in Minneapolis. Between 2000 and 2006, 17 percent of single-family residencies were converted to rentals.

Jan Murlock, director of community relations for the university's Twin Cities' campus told the Pioneer Press she wants neighborhoods around campus to be safe and attractive places for students and other community members to live.

Officials expect the inspections to continue for the next two years.

February 6, 2007

Minnesota Smoking Ban

A statewide smoking ban will likely be put to a vote in the state legislature in the near future. The Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee, the first committee to vote on the ban, approved it on Monday. The Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee will be the next to see the ban before it goes to a floor vote.

The proposed smoking ban would prohibit smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars. Hotel rooms, smoke shops, and Indian casinos would be the only exceptions to the ban. This statewide ban would negate local bans that differ across the state, but allows for more strict ordinances to be passed on individual basis's.

Amendments that would allow business owners to purchase licenses and install ventilation systems in order to allow smoking in their establishments were voted down in the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.

The more business-friendly committee will be the next to see the ban, and vote on amendments.

See Pioneer Press coverage from Monday, Feb. 5.

February 4, 2007

Democrats Push for All-Day Kindergarten Funding

Although it may be too early to tell, Democrats in Minnesota's lawmaking bodies said their may not be enough money to fund all-day kindergarten and early-childhood programs throughout the state. Right now Minnesota only allows school districts enough funding for half-day kindergarten.

Statewide funding for all-day programs would cost $160 million per year, which is too expensive said Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty proposed a need-based scholarship option for low-income children seeking early-childhood or all-day kindergarten care.

The Democrats' goal for providing such early education is to close the achievement gap for low-income and minority students in Minnesota's school system. A sliding scale system was proposed by Democrats that provides allowances for early-childhood education based on a family's income. Offering the education to those who need it most would be part of phasing in an all-day kindergarten statewide.

Global Warming Becoming a Hot Issue in Minnesota

A House-Senate committee discussed global climate change with experts at the Capital in St. Paul Tuesday. Global warming specialists including two University of Minnesota ecologists, David Tilman, Lee Frelich, and Arctic explorer Will Steger warned that green-house gas emissions need to be decreased.

Experts agreed that Minnesota needs to join the fight against global warming and take action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Steger told the committee about disappearing Arctic ice which is releasing methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Tilman said there are a number of solutions to combat global warming.

A bill was introduced Monday that set goals for greenhouse-gas emissions in Minnesota to be reduced 50 percent from 2005 to 2050. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL, had introduced similar bills years before, but said she is more optimistic that this bill will catch on. More Democrats as well as Republicans are recognizing global climate change as a problem than ever before.

For more information check out the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune's coverage.

January 28, 2007

Water Contamination in the Metro

The Minnesota Health Department is investigating the safety of drinking water in the metro area. Investigators are linking contaminations in area ground water supplies to chemical disposal done by 3M in the past.

Perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) concentrations in the Prairie du Chien and Jordan aquifers, from which most of the east metro area draws its drinking water, were found to be over the one parts per billion limit set by the Health Department. Although there are no immediate effects of drinking the contaminated water, the long-term effects of PFBA exposure are still mostly unknown. Therefore, health officials suggest using bottled or filtered water for drinking and cooking until the problem can be resolved.

For the next two weeks ground water supplies in Inver Grove Heights and Rosemount will be tested to determine how extensive the contamination is in throughout the metro and surrounding area. Testing is not only going to be done on numerous private residential wells, but also on the water supplies of businesses.

Lead analysis: In The Star Tribune's coverage of this story, the writer chose to construct a lead that tells the reader what is happening in the story. Water contamination is the first thing mentioned, which obviously is a great way to draw a reader into the story. However, I thought the Pioneer Press did a better job of getting down to the bare bones of the story in their coverage. That article is more straight forward, explaining what the contaminants are earlier in the article than the Star Tribune.

January 24, 2007

Xcel Energy Planning More Environmentally Friendly Generation

Xcel Energy, the nation's number one producer of wind-generated energy, is awaiting legislation that will regulate carbon emissions from their plants throughout Minnesota. Xcel CEO Dick Kelly was with other business executives when they said legislation should come sooner than later, so new policies can be adopted in the plants.

Xcel provides power to states throughout the Midwest, and officials said uniform national legislation would be preferred over rules differing state by state.

Xcel plans to increase its wind-generated energy consumption from 1,000 megawatts to 2,300 megawatts very soon. The company also has coal plant improvements and conversions, changing coal-burning plants to natural gas, that will reduce emissions in Minnesota. Any future legislation concerning carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions will need to be taken into account during facility improvements.

For more info check out these links to local newspapers covering the story:
Pioneer Press
Star Tribune