Editor's note: The following is a collection of news briefs from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Iron Range board considers $1.9 million loan to countertop company
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board is expected to approve a $1.94 million loan Friday to the city of Biwabik and Laurentian Monument, Granite & Stone so the countertop and monument company can expand and add 15 jobs.
IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich is asking the board to approve the loan as part of the company’s proposed $2.84 million expansion project.
The company produces granite countertops and monuments and is expanding into other areas of natural stone use, such as structural, architectural, decorative and landscaping. The company has experienced high demand for its unique stones, which are found on former Iron Range mining sites. Funding will be used to construct a new industrial building and purchase a site that will provide stone inventory.
The IRRRB also is expected to approve taconite tax rebates for ArcelorMittal-Minorca, Magnetation, Mesabi Nugget, Northshore Mining and United Taconite as part of an ongoing effort to encourage reinvestment into the companies’ operations on the Iron Range. The companies get part of their production tax back if they match it in upgrading the plants.
The board also is expected to approve more than $6.6 million in infrastructure grants to local governments for 33 local construction projects.
Minnesota West probation limited to football
WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- Sanctions have been lifted for most athletic programs at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, school President Richard Shrubb said.
Only the football team remains on probation after receiving a recent letter from the Minnesota College Athletic Conference.
“It’s probation for football only,” Shrubb said Tuesday. “They lifted probation off the other programs, which was great. It’s probation for football only for two years; cleanliness of the facility after we leave and the supervision at even away games, which is typically not what colleges do. Usually the home team supervises the facility.”
The entire MW athletic program was placed on probation following an incident after an Oct. 26 football game in Brainerd. Minnesota West players crossed the field to approach the host team, and an altercation followed in a parking lot.
Shrubb appealed the decision.
“The MCAC reconsidered its decision, so technically we were never on probation,” Shrubb said. “What they did was reconsider putting all our teams on probation.”
Shrubb said head football coach Jeff Linder will continue in his role and was not reprimanded.
Police: Woman blamed someone else for spreading marijuana seeds
FARMINGTON, Minn. -- A 51-year-old Farmington woman admitted knowing about marijuana found growing on her property, police said, but blamed someone else’s discarded seeds for the presence of the plants in her greenhouse.
Dakota County Drug Task Force agents searched Lori Abeln’s property Oct. 16. According to a complaint filed in the Dakota County Attorney’s Office, they found 47 marijuana plants growing in a greenhouse. They also found marijuana seeds, a glass pipe and other drug-related items in Abeln’s home on the property.
In an Oct. 24 interview with police, Abeln said she knew about the marijuana plants but that someone had thrown the marijuana seeds in the greenhouse years ago and the plants had just grown there, according to the complaint. She said she didn’t actively care for the plants.
Authorities said Abeln admitted smoking marijuana for medical reasons but said the drug paraphernalia at her house was not hers.
If convicted on either of two felony drug possession charges, Abeln could face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $10,000. A petty misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia carries a maximum fine of $300.
Refinery workers vote to strike if no contract deal reached
ST. PAUL PARK, Minn. -- St. Paul Park oil refinery workers say they will strike at the end of the year if they don’t settle on a new contract with refinery owner Northern Tier Energy.
The 190-member Teamsters Local 120 union voted Monday to strike when the current two-year contract expires Dec. 31. The union says Northern Tier Energy has proposed to cut wages for some workers, eliminate jobs for others and make vacation and overtime changes, among other modifications.
“The company is asking for huge concessions and all our guys want to do is keep working,” said Chris Riley, the union’s business agent and a former refinery employee.
A Northern Tier Energy spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Riley said that beginning Friday, union and company negotiators are scheduled to meet every day through the end of the year, except for weekends and Christmas.
The vote comes about a month after Texas-based Western Refining purchased a controlling share of Northern Tier Energy for $775 million.
The refinery produces gasoline and diesel fuel and other petroleum-based fuels and products. Northern Tier Energy also owns SuperAmerica gas stations and the SuperMom’s bakery line.
Spicer approves 2 a.m. license for Zorbaz despite concerns
SPICER, Minn. -- Zorbaz on Green Lake will be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. for at least one more year, despite concerns from the Kandiyohi County sheriff.
The Spicer City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to renew an annual permit for Zorbaz after a lengthy discussion, said City Administrator Leslie Valiant.
Zorbaz is the only bar in Kandiyohi County open until 2 a.m. All others close at 1 a.m.
Sheriff Dan Hartog has opposed the 2 a.m. closing time ever since Zorbaz was first granted the permit two years ago.
Hartog said three of four deputies are located near the bar’s parking lot every Friday and Saturday night to try to deter the kind of bad behavior that results in frequent calls for police service there.
The sheriff’s office has responded to 52 reports at Zorbaz this year, including assaults, fights, disorderly conduct, theft and urinating in public. Hartog said 22 of those calls were after 2 a.m.
In approving the permit, Valiant said the council placed no additional restrictions on the 2 a.m. closure but advised Zorbaz to continue to monitor customers, especially when they leave the building at closing time.
Man who stabbed roommate with sword gets more than 10 years
DULUTH -- A Duluth man was sentenced Wednesday to more than 10 years in prison for stabbing his former roommate with a sword this year.
A jury found Kyle Dean McClain, 43, guilty of first-degree assault with great bodily harm and second-degree assault following a three-day trial in October. McClain admitted he stabbed Richard Stewart with the weapon but claimed it was accidental.
Judge Mark Munger told McClain that there was no excuse for his actions in trying to deal with Stewart, who was intoxicated and trying to seek shelter at McClain’s residence during a February blizzard.
“You chose a path that no rational human being I know would choose, and that’s to go and get a sword,” Munger said. “What happened is you lost your temper, stabbed him and almost killed him.”
Munger sentenced McClain to 122 months in prison. He must serve at least two-thirds of that sentence – nearly seven years – before he’s eligible for supervised release. The sentence was recommended by prosecutors and probation officers.
Moorhead man pleads guilty in Coach’s bar arson
MOORHEAD, Minn. – A Moorhead man has pleaded guilty to arson in a July fire at the former Coach’s Sports Pub in downtown Moorhead.
Jeffrey Joseph Little, 29, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Clay County District Court to one count of felony second-degree arson. An additional charge of first-degree arson, also a felony, is set to be dismissed at his sentencing.
Little agreed with a Clay County prosecutor that he was extremely intoxicated on the early morning of July 8 after having spent the preceding evening at bars.
He said he recalled starting the fire after lighting a match to see by while rummaging around the unused building, then dropping the match.
“It must have stayed lit,” he said. “I didn’t mean to start no fire, but it happened.”
Clay County prosecutor Heidi Davies said restitution for the damage could be more than $100,000.
Joe Parise, Little’s defense attorney, said just because Little accepted responsibility for the arson doesn’t mean he should be forced to pay what it would cost to restore Coach’s to its condition before it closed in 2005.
Parise said to do so would be a case of “unjust enrichment” at Little’s expense.
Tentative hearing dates set for Sandpiper Pipeline project
BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Public Service Commission has set tentative hearing dates and locations for Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper Pipeline that would carry oil from western North Dakota to Wisconsin.
The 612-mile pipeline would consist of new 24-inch and 30-inch pipe and related facilities such as pump stations at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion, according to Enbridge’s application to the PSC.
The pipeline would transport up to 250,000 barrels per day from the existing Beaver Lodge Station near Tioga to Berthold, 225,000 bpd from Berthold to a new pump station and terminal facility near Clearbrook, Minn., and 375,000 bpd from Clearbrook to Superior, Wis.
About 139 miles of the pipeline’s 299 miles in North Dakota would follow and run parallel to existing pipelines or utility corridors.
On Wednesday, the PSC set tentative dates for formal public hearings Feb. 19 in Grand Forks, Feb. 20 in Devils Lake and Feb. 27 in Minot.
Locations are still being determined. All of the meetings will begin at 8:30 a.m., PSC Chairman Brian Kalk said.
During the hearings, Enbridge will present its case for why the pipeline is needed and address safety parameters and environmental concerns, and public comments will be taken, Kalk said.
The PSC will formally approve the hearing dates and locations at its Dec. 30 meeting.
10,000 back petition asking interior secretary to protect TRNP
DICKINSON, N.D. -- During a trip to North Dakota in August, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said it was important for energy interests to extract oil and gas with less impact on the environment.
This week, the Dakota Resource Council announced it is sending a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to Jewell, urging the secretary to do what she can to help protect Theodore Roosevelt National Park from what has been dubbed “encroaching oil development.”
DRC senior field organizer Scott Skokos said Wednesday that the plan is for the petition, which was rolled out in late August, to be hand-delivered to Jewell this month.
About 10,260 supporters of the cause were able to sign their names via mega-petition website Change.org, Skokos said.
“It just kind of went viral with a national audience,” Skokos said. “Our ultimate goal is to make it so that there’s a buffer zone between energy development and the park.”
DRC officials said the petition received signatures from people from all 50 states and two U.S. territories.
Men accused of hitting Cabela’s for $8,000 in items
MITCHELL, S.D. -- Two men have been arrested for allegedly trying to steal more than $8,000 worth of merchandise Tuesday from Cabela’s in Mitchell.
Yamel Rivera, 26, of Lehigh Acres, Fla., and Yuseff Antonia Elias, 28, of Miami, Fla., are each charged with attempted grand theft and possession of a forged instrument, both felonies. Elias is also charged with identity theft, also a felony.
Both are accused of involvement in a multistate theft ring involving thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen property, said Mitchell police Detective Lt. Don Everson.
Cabela’s security confronted Elias, who fled from the store, Everson said, and Rivera was arrested leaving Cabela’s on foot shortly thereafter.
Elias was arrested Wednesday morning after police from Mitchell and Sioux Falls executed a search warrant at a Sioux Falls motel.
Both men had false identification and used fake credit cards in an attempt to steal the merchandise, Everson said.
The fake cards had no information embedded in their magnetic strips, he said.
“When the card was swiped, it would appear that there was something wrong with the card,” he said.
That forces merchants to manually enter the credit card information, Everson said.
“When that’s done, it’s not immediately discovered it’s a fraud,” he said.