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News Briefs: Bacteria found in letters sent to Pine County Courthouse

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Editor's note: The following is a collection of news briefs from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota.

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MINNESOTA

Highway 61 bridge dedicated in Hastings 

HASTINGS, Minn. -- The new Highway 61 bridge over the Mississippi River in Hastings was dedicated at a ceremony here Friday morning. 

The new bridge is just the third in the city’s history. It has four lanes and is the longest freestanding tied-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. The entire span is 1,938 feet.

Hastings’ first bridge was the iconic Spiral Bridge, constructed in 1895. A two-lane bridge replaced it in 1951, eventually becoming the most heavily traveled two-lane bridge in Minnesota. It carried more than 30,000 vehicles a day.

The new bridge was pushed through after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007. It was originally planned to be sent out for bids in 2015, but that timeframe was moved up after the collapse.

Several dignitaries delivered speeches at City Hall during Friday’s dedication, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. John Kline, state Sen. Katie Sieben and state Rep. Denny McNamara. Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks delivered a speech, as did Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik and representatives from the contractors and Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Murals under the bridge, made by Twin Cities artist Craig David, were also unveiled.

All four lanes of the new bridge opened for traffic a week ago.

Luverne’s Gold’n Plump getting new owner

LUVERNE, Minn. -- GNP Co. and its subsidiaries, including the Gold’n Plump plant in Luverne, are being acquired by The Maschhoffs LLC, the largest family-owned pork production company in North America.

The agreement was signed Thursday and announced Friday.

GNP Co. and The Maschhoffs pork production business will operate as separate business units following the closing of the transaction. The transaction is expected to have no immediate impact on the Luverne Gold’n Plump plant or any of the other entities involved in the sale.

According to a news release, GNP’s headquarters will remain in St. Cloud, and its nearly 1,700 employees and 350 family farm partners will be retained.

Klobuchar receives maritime industry award

DULUTH -- U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Friday was named the 2013 Great Lakes Legislator of the Year by the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force.

The award, presented by Gregg Ruhl, managing director of the Duluth-based Great Lakes Fleet, was given to Klobuchar for her continued support of dredging and harbor maintenance at ports across the Great Lakes.

“Water infrastructure like the Port of Duluth is vital to keeping towns and businesses afloat across the Great Lakes,” Klobuchar said. “I am honored to have received this award, and I will continue to fight to ensure that the Great Lakes region has the 21st century infrastructure it needs to continue to deliver goods across the world.”

Klobuchar successfully worked to include a provision in the Water Resources Development Act, which the Senate passed this year, to address the dredging backlog on the Great Lakes system and ensure dredging and maintenance at the Port of Duluth-Superior, Wis. The legislation ensures the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is used for maintaining the constructed widths and depths of commercial ports and harbors, which includes dredging on the Great Lakes.

Vikings stadium contractor guarantees price

MINNEAPOLIS -- The contractor building a new Minnesota Vikings stadium guaranteed Friday that the construction will cost $763 million, and it will pay any cost overruns.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are budgeting extra money to ensure the stadium will include certain amenities.

The total stadium project is set for $975 million, but it could top that with $26.4 million extra the team may spend.

The team, Mortenson Construction and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority agreed that groundbreaking on the facility will be at 10 a.m. Dec. 3 and it will be finished in July 2016.

Half of the extra money the Vikings pledged already was known. But on Friday, the team doubled its offer to make sure it gets some of the amenities it wants.

If the items, such as good-quality Internet connections, can be fit into the basic cost, the team will not need to pay for them.

“The Vikings have provided the construction project with a $26.4 million letter of credit that allows the building to keep major design features intact so Minnesota will have one of the most iconic stadiums in the nation,” authority Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said.

The Vikings already had pledged to pay or acquire $477 million. The state and Minneapolis will pay $498 million.

With the added money, the stadium could cost more than $1 billion.

The Vikings’ last game in the Metrodome will be Dec. 29. For the next two years, the team will play in the University of Minnesota stadium.

State to get nearly $91,000 for school food program

ST. PAUL -- Federal funding will be available to continue a Minnesota program that helps local food producers put products in school lunchrooms.

The state Agriculture Department will receive nearly $91,000 for the program.

Now, 179 schools take part in the program.

“In rural and urban communities across the country, farm to school is teaching students where food comes from and how it gets to their plate, and encouraging them to make healthier food choices in the cafeteria and at home,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Agreement limits cellphone fees

An agreement with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile means some mobile telephone charges will not be allowed.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and 44 other state attorneys general announced that the three phone companies agreed to no longer charge customers for commercial Premium Short Messaging Services, also known as PSMS and premium text messages. Such messages are advertisements for services such as ringtones, games and screensavers.

The messages are not sought by phone owners and show up on their mobile phone bills.

Bacteria found in letters sent to Pine County Courthouse

PINE CITY, Minn. -- A powdery substance found in six letters delivered to the Pine County Courthouse this week is some form of bacteria, the Minnesota Health Department reported.

While it may take two more weeks to determine the exact bacteria, the department said it is not “considered a significant health risk.”

Soon after the letters arrived Tuesday, law enforcement officials delivered them to the Health Department laboratory in St. Paul for testing. While bioterrorism organisms quickly were ruled out, it took longer to discover the substance was naturally occurring bacteria.

Former Hector city administrator faces embezzlement charge

OLIVIA, Minn. — The Renville County Attorney’s Office has filed felony charges of embezzlement of public funds and theft against the former city administrator of Hector.

Barbara Hoyhtya, 60, of Hector, resigned her position as administrator in June amid an audit of the city’s finances.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in District Court, Renville County charges that Hoyhtya collected $7,160 in funds from the city that she had falsely claimed as expenses in 2012.

Hoyhtya wrote a check for the amount to reimburse the city on July 15, 2013. Hector Mayor Steve Squibb told investigators she told him she had submitted false requests for reimbursement, and was voluntarily resigning, according to the complaint.

The defendant told a Renville County sheriff’s investigator that she had used the money to pay household bills, the complaint states.

A large portion of the reimbursement claims were for mileage and travel expenses. She claimed to have traveled to Moorhead, West Fargo, N.D., and Fergus Falls to meet with an engineer regarding a project. The engineer reported that he had met with the administrator, but at locations in Willmar, Buffalo Lake or Hector on those occasions, shorter distances than she had claimed.

Driver in fatal pond crash did not have a valid driver’s license

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. -- The driver of a car that crashed into a Twin Cities pond, killing two children and hospitalizing three others, did not have a valid driver’s license, authorities said Friday.

Marion Guerrido, 23, of Brooklyn Center, who escaped the crash without injury had a drivers permit but did not have a licensed driver with her, the Minnesota State Patrol said. According to Minnesota State law, anyone driving with a driver’s permit must be accompanied by a licensed driver.

Two of five children pulled from the car Thursday morning have died, the patrol reported.

The patrol said Zenavia Rennie, 5, and Alarious Coleman-Guerrido, 7, both of Brooklyn Center, died Thursday.

Zenavia was the stepdaughter and Alarious was the son of the driver.

The other three children -- Aliyana Rennie, 1, Zarihana Rennie, 6, and Amani Coleman-Guerrido, 5, all of Brooklyn Center -- were listed as having serious injuries on the patrol’s website Friday morning.

Guerrido’s car went into the pond shortly after 6 a.m. Thursday the western Twin Cities suburb of St. Louis Park.

Ex-fire chief pleads guilty to forestland arson

MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Babbitt Fire Chief Ryan Scharber pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to two counts of setting fires to forestland in the Superior National Forest.

Scharber, 30, pleaded to one count of setting fires on U.S. forest land and one count of attempted arson on property in and affecting interstate or foreign commerce. He faces a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the attempted arson count and five years on the count of setting fires.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

The U.S. attorney's office accused Scharber of setting fires in the Superior National Forest on Oct. 7-9 and Oct. 11, 2011, and on April 29 and Sept. 10, 2012.

Scharber also was charged with attempted arson at Mattila's Birch Lake Resort in Babbitt on Dec. 3, 2011.

Scharber joined the Babbitt Fire Department in August 2005 and became fire chief in January 2008. He resigned as chief in December 2012, around the time city officials were told a federal investigation was underway.

Self-taught teen pilot accused of flying stolen plane

ROSEAU, Minn. -- An 18-year-old man is in jail in Roseau, charged with stealing an airplane for regular joy rides around the region, apparently learning to fly mostly by the seat of his pants.

In addition to a state felony charge he faces that threatens up to 10 years in prison, Geoffrey Biteman also is the focus of a federal investigation.

Biteman allegedly began using the 1971 Cessna 150 hangared at the Roseau airport after posing as a buyer. He convinced the seller in a phone conversation to let him take it for a test flight and continued to fly the plane around northwest Minnesota. 

Roseau Police Chief Ward Anderson said Biteman, at his arrest Oct. 22 in Thief River Falls, admitted to using the plane without permission. Biteman said he did not have a pilot’s license but was an aviation mechanics student at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls.

Biteman’s mother lives near Roseau. 

He remains in the Roseau County jail under $5,000 cash bond, awaiting his next court appearance Dec. 2.

NORTH DAKOTA

Dan’s SuperMarkets sold; name change expected

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Dan’s SuperMarket announced Friday that its two Dickinson locations have been sold to SpartanNash Co.

The transaction and a name change are expected before the new year, according to a press release.

“It is expected that both locations will continue to operate and that many of the familiar faces that you have come to know working for Dan’s will still be seen in the stores,” a press release stated.

Dan’s SuperMarket, based in Bismarck, bought the downtown location in 1980 and built Dan’s SuperMarket North in 1982, then named Dan’s Country Market.

Dan’s SuperMarket is at 302 First St. E. and at 446 18th St. W. in Dickinson. There are three Dan’s locations in Bismarck and one in Mandan.

SpartanNash is a newly formed company after Spartan Stores purchased the Nash Finch Co.

Dickinson man charged with abusing infant

DICKINSON, N.D. -- A Dickinson man who moved here from Arizona was arrested Thursday on charges of sexually abusing an infant.

Dan A. Pruett, 43, faces charges of Class AA felony gross sexual imposition and Class B felony child neglect, according to a release from Dickinson police.

The arrest follows an investigation of an ambulance request for an infant in medical distress Thursday morning. The emergency room examination of the infant girl revealed evidence of serious physical and sexual abuse, which led to Pruett's arrest.

Pruett was being held at the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center. He appeared in court Friday and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Feb. 3, according to court documents.

The infant was air-lifted to a Fargo hospital.

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