The threat of the emerald ash borer is moving closer to Alexandria.

The invasive forest insect from Asia is responsible for the deaths of millions of ash trees throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and southeastern Canada, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

And recently, the DNR confirmed that the insect has been found in Sauk Centre, Parks Director Bill Thoennes told the Alexandria City Council Monday night.

“EAB seems to be following the I-94 corridor as people knowingly or unknowingly transport infested firewood up from the metro to their cabins or lake property,” Thoennes said in a memo to the council.

The heightened risk prompted the council to follow Thoennes’ recommendation to apply for an emerald ash borer management plan grant through the DNR. The grant would be $38,000 and the city would provide a local match of $10,132 through city staff time.

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As part of a two-year project, staff would inventory all trees on public property, including boulevards and parks, using the DNR’s GPS computer program. This will indicate the number of trees, species, size and condition of the trees in the city, Thoennes said.

“With the information gathered from the inventory, we will be able to show the density of a specific species in an area,” Thoennes said. “If there is a confirmation of EAB in Alexandria, we could quickly determine how many ash trees we would have in a two-block radius of the infestation and what resources we would need to quarantine and mitigate these trees.”

If the insect is confirmed on private property, the city would work with the property owners and with help from DNR forestry staff, come up with a management or mitigation plan, Thoennes said.

The ash borer infests and kills weak and healthy ash trees alike, and all species of ash native to North America are vulnerable to EAB attack, according to the DNR.

With nearly 1 billion ash trees in the state, the spread of EAB will have a serious impact in Minnesota, according to DNR leaders. They added that although frigid winter temperatures in northern Minnesota may help to slow the spread and survival of EAB, cold won't stop it completely.

Kakach named sergeant

News from the Alexandria Police Department highlighted Monday’s meeting, including the promotion of officer Brian Kakach to sergeant.

The action was recommended by the city’s Police Civil Service Commission after a three-phase process, said Chief Scott Kent.

Effective Dec. 15, Kakach’s promotion replaces a vacant position that was created after Sgt. Kevin Guenther was promoted to captain in early November. Guenther pinned his sergeant bars on Kakach’s uniform, with a little help from Kakach’s wife, Jamie.

Kakach was hired by the department in 2007. He told the council he grew up in Alexandria, visiting Berg’s Resort on Lake L’Homme Dieu and ended up loving the town.

The council congratulated Kakach, his wife, and his parents, Sue and Gary, who attended the meeting.

Body cam audit

The Alexandria Police Department is following the policy it created for using body cameras – and more importantly, it’s obeying state laws as well, according to Chief Kent.

Kent said an independent audit, which is required every two years, showed there were no discrepancies on how the department is using the cameras. “We passed with flying colors,” he said.

The audit covered the period between Nov. 1, 2018 – when the cameras were first used – through Oct. 19, 2020. The department is in the second year of a five-year contract with Axon, the company providing the cameras.

The audit showed the department had no incidents of the discharge of a firearm by a police officer, or any use of force that resulted in substantial bodily harm. There were no problems with body camera data requests or any court orders directing the department to release body cam footage to the public, according to the audit.

The department has 20 body camera devices, which were properly included in an inventory search in Evidence.com, the audit said. The inventory included the device model, serial number, device name and the officer assigned to the device.

Police officers were trained on the use of the cameras when they were implemented and new officers received field training as well.

The audit reviewed randomly selected dates from the patrol schedule and confirmed that officers are wearing and activating the cameras.

Video and audio recordings were fully deleted upon reaching their scheduled deletion date, according to the audit.

Police department gets award

Police Chief Kent shared more good news with the council – his department was recognized by Special Olympics of Minnesota and presented the “Guardian of the Flame” award.

Last month, during its quarterly meeting, the Special Olympics Executive Council presented the award to the Alexandria Police Department.

Kent thanked Sergeant Keith Melrose and Officer Darcie Zirbes for their work in organizing the annual polar plunges that raise money for Special Olympics. He said their dedication, innovation and passion created positive change in the community and made Alexandria a model of how to support Special Olympics athletes locally and throughout Minnesota.

Next year’s plunge was canceled because of COVID-19 but Melrose said he’s working on a new plan for participants to run in and out of the water sometime in April.

Help for those dreaming of their first home

Financial help is on the way for first-time homebuyers within the city.

The council authorized city staff to once again apply for funding under the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s 2021 Minnesota City Participation Program.

The city’s initial allocation from the program for 2020 was $194,231. Other communities, however, didn’t use all of their allocated funds, so the city and local lenders, such as Bremer Bank and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, were ultimately able to provide $877,571 through the program.

First-time homebuyers access the program through their local lenders and receive help for making down payments and covering closing costs.

There is no cost to the city.

Over the past 24 years, the city has received nearly $9.8 million through the first-time homebuyer loan program, according to City Planner Mike Weber.