Wabasha Cty residents invited to meeting on emerald ash borer

Residents of Wabasha County are invited to a public meeting on Thursday, March 31st, 2016 regarding the discovery of emerald ash borer (EAB) in the county.

MDA-logoOn February 29, 2016, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) staff identified EAB larvae in an ash tree in the southeastern corner of the county after being alerted to some suspicious trees by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff.

The trees displayed symptoms of EAB infestation, including bark splits and insect tunneling under the bark.

Those attending the upcoming meeting will have an opportunity to listen to presentations on EAB, hear about local options to deal with the insect, and learn how residents can limit the spread of the bug. Experts from the MDA, University of Minnesota, and other state and federal partner agencies will be available to answer questions.

Emerald Ash Borer Informational Meeting
Thursday, March 31, 2016
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Wabasha County Courthouse
625 Jefferson Avenue
Wabasha, MN 55981

Emerald Ash Borer concerns in Wabasha

Emerald ash borer concerns are prompting a public meeting in Wabasha County at the courthouse to discuss concerns about the insect, which has been found in the southern part of the county. (photo from tn.gov)

The public will also have an opportunity to provide input on the adoption of a formal EAB quarantine of Wabasha County. An emergency quarantine was placed on the area when EAB was discovered.

The MDA will take comments on the formal quarantine from March 15 – May 1, 2016 and proposes to adopt the quarantine on May 15, 2016.

The quarantine limits the movement of ash trees and limbs, and hardwood firewood out of the county. The proposed quarantine language can be found at www.mda.state.mn.us/eab. Comments can be made at the public meetings or by contacting:

Kimberly Thielen Cremers
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
625 Robert Street North
St. Paul, MN 55155
mailto:kimberly.tcremers@state.mn.us
Fax: 651-201-6108

Emerald Ash borer concerns in Wabasha County

Emerald ash borers emerge from an infected tree. EAB infestation concerns are the reason for a public meeting at the Wabasha County Courthouse on Thursday, March 31, beginning at 5:30. (Photo from ars.usda.gov)

Emerald ash borer larvae kill ash trees by tunneling under the bark and feeding on the part of the tree that moves nutrients up and down the trunk. Minnesota is highly susceptible to the destruction caused by invasive insect. The state has approximately one billion ash trees, the most of any state in the nation. For more information on emerald ash borer, go to www.mda.state.mn.us/eab.

SE Minnesota 2015 harvest results look good

I’ve got some southeast Minnesota harvest results for 2015.  Southeast Minnesota corn harvest numbers look pretty good.

Harvest was solid in SE Minnesota

The 2015 corn harvest in southeast Minnesota looked good, according to the final numbers that came in this week from the National Ag Statistics Service office. (photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Olmsted County: 184.9 bushels per acre

  • Dodge County: 204.0 bushels per acre (one of the top counties in Minnesota!)
  • Mower: 198.7
  • Fillmore: 192
  • Houston: 185.3
  • Winona: 186.5
  • Wabasha: 188.5
  • Goodhue: 202.4 (also one of the top counties in the state!)

 

 

Here are some of the soybean numbers from southeast Minnesota.

Soybean harvesting was good in spite of disease pressure in SE Minnesota

Despite some battles with white mold, the soybean harvest numbers looked pretty good for 2015, as the final totals were released this week by the National Ag Statistics Service office. (Photo from www.thompsonslimited.com)

 

  • Olmsted County: 54.5 bushels per acre
  • Mower: 58.2
  • Fillmore: 56.3
  • Winona: 55.9
  • Goodhue: 58.1
  • Dodge: 60.6 (One of the top returns in the state!)

 

No soybean harvest results were turned in to USDA for both Wabasha and Houston counties.

This is a neat video of corn harvest in the Mankato, Minnesota area that was shot by using a drone camera.  Take a look.

Minnesota is a boating paradise

Minnesota is well known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Actually, it’s more than that. The state contains 11,842 lakes that are 10 acres in size or larger.

If you add in the over 6,500 rivers and streams around the state, there’s a lot of room for boaters on Minnesota waters. With that much to choose from, there is no shortage of destinations for boaters to hit the water. The advantages for boaters are numerous.

Opportunities abound

“I think it’s just the convenience of having a lake or river about 30 minutes from most residents of the state,” said Stan Linnel, the Boating and Water Safety Manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “People have a lot of water to choose from for a lot of different reasons.”

Not only does Minnesota have an abundance of lakes and rivers to choose from, but it’s easy to get on the water too.

“Boating is a long standing Minnesota favorite pastime,” said Alyssa Ebel, the Public Relations director for Explore Minnesota. Public boat accesses are abundant on the state’s nearly 12,000 lakes and numerous rivers.”

The opportunities include more than just motor boating.

“Paddlers will enjoy the canoe and kayak routes on rivers, streams, and lakes,” said Ebel. “Houseboating opportunities abound in the northern part of the state. Even folks who don’t own boats can find a lot of rental shops too.”

Don’t forget waterskiing. “Minnesota is the birthplace of waterskiing, which was invented in 1922,” said Ebel.

Most popular destinations

Lake Okabena

Lake Okabena in Minnesota is a popular destination for wind surfing. (Photo from www.dglobe.com)“

 “The southern region of Minnesota includes destinations like Lake Okabena, which is popular for windsurfing,” said Ebel. “It also includes Lake Pepin, which is known as the ‘birthplace of waterskiing.’”

Al Heitman lives on Lake Zumbro, just north of Rochester, which is a popular boating destination. Plans are in the works to make Zumbro even more popular for boaters.

“The lake has filled in some, so what we’re trying to do is hollow out some of the mud and silt that’s built up,” said Heitman. “There are some places that used to be navigable, but you can’t boat in anymore. They’re trying to get things back near 6 feet in most places again.”

Heitman said his family bought a cabin cruiser a year ago and are trying other lakes in the area.

“We like to boat on Wabasha,” said Heitman. “There’s a nice sand dune they built from dredging in the lake, so it’s a fun area to boat in.”

Sail boating is a popular pastime with Phil and Jan Olson of Lake City.

“We’re out of the marina here (in Lake City),” said Phil. “We’ll just said around wherever the wind takes us on Lake Pepin. We’ve been sailing since around 1997, and we enjoy the peace and quiet, just being able to ride the winds.”

Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin, the birthplace of waterskiing, is one of the more popular lakes in Minnesota. (Photo from Chad Smith)

Lake Pepin is one of the more popular boating stops in southeast Minnesota.

“We live in town here, so we’re pretty lucky,” said Phil. “It does stay pretty busy here, but there’s a lot of room on Pepin.”

The northeast part of the state features a large number of places to choose from.

“You’ll find the nation’s largest freshwater lake, which is Lake Superior,” said Ebel. “Lake Vermillion, which is 44,000 acres. Don’t forget Voyageurs National Park, which includes lakes like Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point, and Crane Lake. Voyageurs is the largest freshwater-based park in the nation, at more than 218,000 acres.”

The northwest includes popular destinations like Lake of the Woods, Leech Lake, and Lake Winnibigoshish. The central region features Brainerd Lakes Area, Lake Mille Lacs, and Big Sandy Lake.

The DNR’s Linnel said it’s important for outstate boaters to remember there are a lot of opportunities even in the metro area.

“There’s tremendous opportunities,” he said. “Lake Minnetonka is probably the most heavily used recreation lake in the state. It has 14,000 acres and 140 miles of shoreline right in the metro.”

Different lakes, different opportunities

Figuring out the most popular destinations depends on what folks are heading to the lake for.

Lake Calhoun

Paddle Boating is a popular sports on Lake Calhoun in Minnesota. (Photo from pinterest.com)

“Even small lakes like Calhoun and Harriet get a lot of use from paddlers,” said Linnel. “If you’re looking at fishing, you’ll try some of the big lakes like Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, and Rainy Lake. Some of these lakes are actually so large they won’t seem crowded. You can go a long way without seeing another boat.”

Minnesotans do love their boats.

“Usually, we’re the highest per capita for registered boats in the nation,” said Linnel. “I think we’re roughly third in the nation in terms of the number of registered boats in the nation.”

 

 

 

 

Minnesota cropland rents rising

Cash Rent paid for non-irrigated cropland in Minnesota during 2014 averaged $185.00 per acre, an increase of $8.00 from 2013, according to the latest report released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Non-irrigated cropland rents ranged from an average of $14.00 per acre in St. Louis County, to $276.00 per acre in Nicollet County. Six counties had average rents greater $270.00 per acre and 10 counties had average rents less than $40.00 per acre.

Cash rent paid for pasture in Minnesota averaged $26.00 per acre in 2014, down $2.00 from 2013. Average cash rents ranged from $8.60 per acre in Carlton County to $61.50 per acre in Brown County.

Cash rent rates for irrigated cropland and other states are available online at:
http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/index.asp.

Here are some of the cash rents for southeast Minnesota:

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Olmsted County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $246 per acre, up from $220 last year.  The average cash rent for pasture is $29 an acre, up from $26 last year.

Wabasha County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Cash rents for pasture average $44.50 per acre.

Dodge County:  Cash rents on non-irrigated farmland average $274 per acre, up from $264 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $45 dollars per acre, up from $41 last year.

Fillmore County: Cash rents for non-irrigated farmland average $236 per acre, and that’s actually down from $245 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $43 per acre, up from $41 dollars an acre last year.

Winona County:  Cash rents for non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Average cash rents for pasture land is $26 per acre, and that’s down from $40 per acre a year ago.

 

 

Answering Wabasha County questions

One thing jumps out at me when it comes to the livestock controversy in Wabasha County:  not much is know about it at all, and I suppose it really isn’t much of a surprise.  It’s appears as if it’s been kept under wraps for quite some time, and the consequences for farmers in the county could be significant.  The consequences for the non-farm county residents could also have lasting effects too.

Here’s a map of Minnesota counties, with Wabasha County highlighted in red (photo from en.wikipedia.org)

Here’s a map of Minnesota counties, with Wabasha County highlighted in red (photo from en.wikipedia.org)

I put out some survey questions on the angle of my capstone project, and the one response that really stood out above the others was on a reddit post. The response came from a dairy farmer in Wabasha County, Minnesota.  He (or she) works on their family farm, and said, “I’ve heard about the missing money, but I fear I have nothing to offer beyond that.”  However, the respondent did say they knew the money was for, “manure management systems, i.e., manure pits.”  That actually was a very handy tip.

Here are the basics of the situation:

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), along with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, began to investigate grant money obtained by the county in late 2011.  By early 2012, the organizations had studied the paperwork done by the former Wabasha County Feedlot Officer, Troy Dankemeyer, and determined that there were some potential program implementation violations.

 

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As a result of the Minnesota BWSR has demanded that Wabasha County repay the board 115,579 dollars.  The BWSR also wants the county to repay the cost of preparing the investigation report, which is $4,023.50.

In addition to the fines, the BWSR is withholding approximately 90,000 dollars in grant money until the situation is resolved.  The money is used for projects like manure management systems, septic tank installation and repair, clean water projects, shoreline management, and wetland conservation.  Projects like this benefit everyone in the county, not just farmers.

The main question is: Who’s going to pay this fine?

The topic is beginning to generate interest on social media as well.  I’ve not done a very good job over the past few months, but my Klout score has recently been at an all time high of 48, after bottoming out over the past month at 38.  I don’t understand the whole scoring system yet, but I do know that I’m on the right track.

I do know that I’ve made strides in social media because my impact is starting to show up in more areas than just Facebook and Twitter.  I’m starting to show measurements in Google Plus, which is not known as a highly interactive form of social media.  I do need to find a way to engage with more people on Linked In.  I’ve got lots of connections, but I need to be more engaging with those connections!

Manure management on livestock farms is something that the BWSR and the MPCA typically are concerned with and oversee:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who pays the bill in Wabasha County

Julie Porcher is on a one-woman campaign to bring some accountability and openness to Wabasha County government. The reason she’s shouldered the burden is simple: her family’s roots in Wabasha County run very deep.

Julie can trace her family beginnings in Wabasha County as far back as the nineteenth century. She has an 1874 county plat map, and it shows 2 Cliff (her maiden name) farms existed in the county. The records show that her maternal grandfather purchased the farm back in 1862, during the Civil War. Porcher can trace her family’s civic-minded nature back that far as well, as her maternal grandfather was a school board member.

Porcher grew up in the family farmhouse as 1 of 7 children, and loved playing outdoors from morning till night during the nice days. The family tried not to freeze in the winter, in spite of the electric blankets and space heaters spread throughout the house. “There was no central heat or air in the farmhouse,” she said.

She said one of the best parts of living in farm country were the relatives that lived close to their farm.   “I spent so many hours playing with my cousins, all over that farm.”

Julie said she learned some of her most important life lessons on the farm too. “At my father’s knee, I learned that everything comes from the land. Not just our food, which is important by itself, but the fibers grown for our clothes, wood for our houses, minerals, gemstones, along with coal and oil for energy.” She said “You care for the land to give animals a place to live, and so you can draw clean water from it.”

Julie and her husband Eric raised three children while living in St Paul. Logan is 30, Emily is 27, and Samantha is now 23.

Julie is buying 55 of the original 80 acres that her family owned. After her parents died, a part of it was sold to nephews. She’s planning on renting out the farmland, similar to what her father did during her childhood. “I’m educating myself about land practices as we speak,” she said.

Porcher began to attend Wabasha County board meetings back in 2012. “My sister had been attending for quite some time and encouraged me to go. I already knew I was going to buy out my sibling’s interest in the family farm and would be paying taxes for the foreseeable future,” she said.

Porcher doesn’t like what she sees in the way Wabasha County government has been running for some time. “For our county government to collect the hard-earned money of its citizens and be so careless in the way it spends the money is almost criminal. I want good government, even if most folks think good government is an oxymoron,” she said.

“I want information out there for the citizens who can’t attend the Tuesday morning board meetings,” said Julie. “They pay their taxes and they should be informed about how the government is spending their money. I hope it leads to residents being engaged in how their government is run. I hope that engagement leads to more accountability in how our elected officials spend money while they’re in office.”

She talked about why it’s so important for citizens to engage with what’s going on in county government:

 

Politics takes a toll on a Wabasha County Commissioner

“Politics is a blood sport,” according to Aneurin Bevan, a Welsh Labor Party leader in the post-World War 1 United Kingdom.  Deb Roschen of Zumbro Falls, Minnesota, is a District 2, Wabasha County Commissioner who’s been involved in the blood sport on a local level.

Wabasha County, Mn, District 2 Commissioner Deb Roschen (photo from  County Commissioners website)

Wabasha County, Mn, District 2 Commissioner Deb Roschen (photo from County Commissioners website)

“When we, the people, look the other way, we get the government we deserve,” said Deb.  Four years as a county commissioner will come to an end on December 31 of this year, and she’s not sure if the ramifications will ever end for her, and for her family.

Roschen first became interested in politics after her conversion to Christianity, and she developed a passion for moral issues, especially as government affects them.  Her first foray into politics was as a campaign worker for conservative politicians.

She then took the leap into local politics, winning election to the Wabasha County Commission board in 2010.  She said it didn’t take long for her to begin finding things she didn’t like.

“About three months into my first term, I began to turn over stones, looking for answers to questions,” she said.  “I’d ask for information because I like to fact-check things.  I wanted to be sure things were right, and I was learning, which I figured was the right thing to do as a new commissioner.”

Deb said, “I’d ask for more information.  I’d ask why do we do that, or where does this come from.”  She said, “They didn’t want me to know answers to my questions, because then, the curtain gets pulled back on how government is really working.”  That’s when the stonewalling began.

“I’d either not get the information, or I’d feel like I was getting the runaround,” said Roschen.  “I’d wonder if I was getting the full story, and my B.S. indicator was going off.  At that point, I realized that if I wanted answers, I was on my own.”  She said the last three-and-one-half years have found her at the computer every weekend, doing research on the questions she wanted answers to.

“When I’d bring the information I found into Board meetings, I’d say wait a minute, this is what I found,” said Roschen.  “Then, they got mad.”

Deb’s questioning of county government led to an effort to recall her election in November of 2011.  Keep in mind; Roschen had been on the County board for less than one year.

An article in the Winona Daily News website detailed some of the accusations that were filed against Roschen.  They included overstepping her authority, attempting to circumvent open meeting and data practices law, and conflicts with various county employees.  The article does note that the accusations are based on disputed minutes that were kept by County Administrator David Johnson, who the board ultimately fired from his job in late 2011, in what was then called a move to reduce the size of government.

The four-month recall effort ultimately failed, according to another article in the Winona Daily News.   The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed the recall effort in late February.  Chief Justice Lori Gildea wrote in a court order that the charges against Roschen did not amount to “malfeasance in office.”  Gildea wrote that some allegations failed to show that Roschen “willfully” exceeded her authority, and others didn’t meet the specificity standards to force a recall.

Röschen was involved in a couple different lightning-rod issues in Wabasha County, first as a resident, and the second as a county commissioner.

A copy of the letter from the State Auditor’s Office telling Wabasha County the jail facilty would soon close down (Photo from Deb Roschen)

A copy of the letter from the State Auditor’s Office telling Wabasha County the jail facilty would soon close down (Photo from Deb Roschen)

According to an article in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, The Minnesota Department of Corrections informed Wabasha County that it’s jail would no longer be allowed to continue operations after 2007.   The facility was built in 1916, and in 2003, was authorized to hold no more than 14 prisoners at a given time.  At the time, that meant other inmates had to be held at another county facility, and Wabasha had to foot that bill.

The County held listening sessions and public forums for ideas on how to finance and build a new justice center.  The cost and scope of the new building was another lightning rod for countywide controversy.

In January 2007, the County Board authorized a Minneapolis-based architectural firm to proceed with building a new facility that was expected to cost no more than 25 million dollars.  A citizen group called Concerned Citizens for Wabasha County distributed fliers encouraging residents to turn out for listening sessions, and push for a new building that would cost no more than 7 to 8 million dollars.

The County board authorized the architectural firm to proceed with the project on a unanimous vote in April 2007.  The Concerned Citizens group circulated a petition, asking Commissioners to reduce the cost of the facility, which they termed as a “fortress to honor tyrants, and a palace for criminals.”  The petition drive was unsuccessful, as the Board proceeded with the project, which they called a “Chevrolet, and not a Cadillac,” and the new facility opened in 2009.

The controversy over the new jail facility was the catalyst that inspired Roschen’s tumultuous foray into county politics, and she was elected in 2010 to a four-year term.

After “turning over stones” in the first three months of her term, Roschen began to question the validity of the driver diversion program run by Wabasha County law enforcement.

The County law enforcement had operated a “safe-driving” program since 2003, in which drivers cited for some traffic offenses to pay a flat 125-dollar fee to take a class and maintain a clean record.  The problem was whose coffers the money went into.

According to the kstp.com website, the county had been keeping all of the money it earned from the program, instead of giving the state a cut like it would if violators had been issued a ticket and paid a fine.

 

Despite an opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and the State Auditor Patricia Anderson calling the report illegal, Wabasha County continued the program until a group of citizens from Wabasha County filed suit to stop the program.  Commissioner Roschen was among the group that filed suit.  The mprnews.com website reported that Minnesota Third Judicial District Court Judge James Fabian issued a permanent injunction stopping the program in early January 2014.  KSTP.com filed a report after the decision was announced:

The group’s attorney, Eric Kaardal, was quoted on mprnews.org as saying the Judge made the right decision.  “People who were pulled over for traffic violations in Wabasha County were being offered an illegal alternative to a ticket,” he said.  “They were shaking down people rather than giving them tickets in order to fund their own county programs.”

“I hope this wakes people up,” said Roschen.  “The rule of law says Safe Driving (program) is illegal, but not in Wabasha County.”  She said, “We justify our behavior by the end means.  We need money in our county, therefore, it’s okay to run this scheme.”  She called it Robin Hood behavior.  “It’s okay to take from people, as long as you think you’re doing good with that money.”

She said her effort to “do the right thing” has produced negative fallout:

 

Attack ad aimed at Roschen, which ran in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, funded by Mn Teamsters and Law Enforcement Employees Union (Photo from Deb Roschen)

Attack ad aimed at Roschen, which ran in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, funded by Mn Teamsters and Law Enforcement Employees Union (Photo from Deb Roschen)

In addition to her private data being scanned over and over, her husband Jim and daughter Meagan had their private data accessed many times too.  She said that’s not legal:

 

 

Roschen said her family has to live with the knowledge that their private data is out there, and can be accessed by anyone who might want to hurt their family.

An Op-Ed Piece in the Wabasha County Herald, written by Editor Mike Smith (article provided by Deb Roschen)

An Op-Ed Piece in the Wabasha County Herald, written by Editor Mike Smith (article provided by Deb Roschen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The political fallout has hurt their extended family too:

 

 

What has she learned from the last four years of turmoil:

 

 

She said, “I had to learn a costly lesson, but I’m a better person for having gone through the last four years.”