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HEADLINES FOR APRIL 11, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Council getting ready for Settlers Parkway construction

This illustration shows plans for the Settlers Parkway project being constructed this summer.  The junction of Highway 25 and Settlers Parkway features a roundabout (left).  The connection with Highway 55 is near the Target store site (right), along with a new railroad crossing.  (Illustration courtesy of the City of Buffalo)

 

By Ed DuBois

            The long-awaited Settlers Parkway project, which will connect Highway 25 near the Buffalo Heights Golf Club with Highway 55 near the Target store this summer, was a central topic at the Buffalo City Council meeting last Monday, April 7.

            A railroad crossing agreement was approved.  A no parking resolution was approved.  A resolution for a cooperative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) was approved.  And the Council also discussed some issues and concerns expressed by a group of residents who live in the Settlers Parkway project area.

            The railroad crossing agreement involves the installation of a new Settlers Parkway crossing just across Highway 55 from the Target store site.  The railroad is getting some crossing closures in exchange for the new crossing.  The County Road 147 crossing just south of the Menards store site will be closed.  The Soo Town crossing has already been closed, and the 1st St. crossing near the Valvoline store site has already been closed.

            The city is agreeing to pay $528,000 for the new crossing.  The cost figure is close to the amount paid for the 5th St. crossing just west of the Culver's restaurant site.

            Mayor Brad Nauman mentioned the total Settlers Parkway project cost is around $6.1 million, and the city is paying $1.4 million.

            Next, the City Council approved a resolution stating there will be no parking along the entire length of Settlers Parkway.  It has a parkway design with graceful "traffic calming" curves and will have a 30 mph speed limit.

            A resolution that supports entering into a cooperative agreement with Mn/DOT involves work on Highway 25.  The key component of the work will be a roundabout at the junction of Highway 25 and Settlers Parkway.  Other designs were considered, including traffic lights, and a roundabout was considered the best option.

            The group of residents who came to speak with the Council expressed concern about children who live in the area and a problem with some drivers who like to travel too fast through the area.  They pointed out that the Settlers Parkway design has no stop signs, no crosswalks and no sidewalks, and they are concerned that some drivers will travel along Settlers Parkway at as fast as 60 mph.

            One of the residents said he is worried about children walking to their school bus stop.

            Mayor Nauman and Council Member Steve Downer stated the parkway will have sidewalks.

            Brad DeWolf, a consultant who serves as the city engineer, said the parkway probably will not meet Mn/DOT warrants for a four-way stop, but he added that the new roadway will be monitored, and traffic volume will be watched.  At some point a four-way stop could be added if traffic warrants (such as a high enough traffic volume) are met.

            Police Chief Mitch Weinzetl spoke about the importance of traffic warrants for a four-way stop.  He explained that if a four-way stop is installed where the warrants do not exist, some drivers will ignore the stop signs.  He has seen it happen in another part of town, and it amounts to a traffic enforcement nightmare for the Police Department.  He added that a four-way stop being ignored by some drivers creates a false sense of security for children.

            Council Member Teri Lachermeier suggested the school bus company will likely be willing to make bus stop adjustments to help improve safety.  She suggested the residents should contact the school bus company.

            Council Member Scott Enter said crosswalks are not out of the question.  The neighborhood can request them and get them put in, he said.

            Mayor Nauman concluded that the city will monitor Settlers Parkway, and the Police Department will conduct enforcement work.  He added that the city plans to install many visible 30 mph signs along the parkway.

            In other business:

 

MAILBOX PARKING

            Police Chief Mitch Weinzetl asked the Council for action regarding people who habitually park their vehicles in front of mailboxes and interfere with postal service deliveries.  He recommended amending the parking ordinance to prohibit parking in front of mailboxes during mail delivery times.  The amendment, which includes a provision for a warning before an offender is cited, was approved by the Council.

            Council members expressed the hope that common sense will prevail in regard to parking in front of mailboxes.

 

SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL

            Chief Weinzetl delivered the news that Buffalo is receiving a Safe Routes to School grant.  The money will used to hire a Mn/DOT approved consultant to work with the school district, the Police Department and the city engineer on a safety audit-style study regarding the Buffalo Community Middle School campus.  The study will address pedestrian safety and more.  It will also look at what happens during high school football games at the site.  The end result could be a plan for safety improvements.  Weinzetl said he will keep the City Council posted.

 

WELL BID

            A re-bid process for a well and water main improvement project was successful.  Five bids were received, and the low bid, $448,398 from Kuechle Underground, Inc. of Kimball, is a better result than the previous bidding process provided.  The Council approved the low bid.

            The project includes the construction of a 12-inch raw water main from well number 8 in Mills-Sturges Park to well number seven, and a second 12-inch raw water main from well number five to the water plant.

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

            During an announcements portion of the meeting, Mayor Nauman welcomed Council Member Scott Enter back after a health-related absence.

            Council Member Paul Olson's Environmental Moment involved advice for buying outdoor plants.  He suggested looking for hardiness zone four and five plants.  He added that local lilac blooms are a good signal for applying pre-emergent crabgrass killer.

 

REPORTS

            During reports, the Council learned this year's Buffalo Days Fly-In Break-fast will be on June 8.  The idea of providing bicycles at the airport for rides into town was discussed by the Airport Board.  Council Member Teri Lachermeier talked about efforts at the Buffalo Community Center to pass on positive affirmations and words of encouragement.

            Council Member Steve Downer said solar array projects will be coming in the relatively near future to sites in Wright County, including one along CSAH 35 near Buffalo and one near Montrose.

 

MISC.

            In other actions, the Council:

            * reappointed Judie Rose to the HRA (Housing and Redevelopment Authority) Board;

            * accepted donations amounting to $7,115 for the Buffalo Community Center and the Flora of Buffalo program;

            * appointed Andy Marquette to the position of utility billing coordinator, which was held by retiring Mary Augustin 33 years; and

            * approved an agreement that allows time for the new owner of a house at 907 3rd Ave. N.E. to be rehabilitated after being declared a hazardous building.

 

 

County Attorney offers reasons why Drive Wright could prevail in class action lawsuit

By Ed DuBois

            A program that allows people accused of traffic violations to choose a driver improvement class instead of paying a fine is the subject of a class action lawsuit involving several counties.

            In Wright County, the program is called Drive Wright and Teen Drive Wright.  Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly said the suit has origins in Wabasha County, where an accusation was made that fees for a driver diversion program were being used to supplement the sheriff's budget.

            Following a court ruling that said state law does not allow revenue from the program to be used to supplement the sheriff's budget, a number of counties shut down their driver diversion programs.  Wright County is among just over a dozen who are continuing their programs and thereby are included as defendants in the suit, Kelly said.

            Drive Wright has been underway since about 2005.  It was initially administered by the Sheriff's Office, and since 2009 it has been administered by the County Attorney's Office.  Kelly said it is not run the same way as the program in Wabasha County.

            In Wright County, Drive Wright is offered through a partnership with nonprofit organizations, Safe Communities of Wright County and MEADA (Methamphetamine Education and Drug Awareness).  A $75 fee is paid by program participants, and about $50 goes to Safe Communities to cover program costs.  Roughly $25 goes to MEADA for its work involved with the registration of participants.  Kelly said any money left over is used for education efforts in areas such as: drug awareness, texting and sexting awareness, seat belt promotion, information about Sober Cab, etc.

            "No one is forced to take part in Drive Wright.  Each person has a choice of either enrolling in a two-hour class to help become a better driver or go to court," he explained.

            The advantages of choosing Drive Wright, Kelly said, include: paying no fine, not being convicted, becoming a better driver, and not getting a violation on your record, which can affect your auto insurance cost and coverage.

            The program is offered to both adults and juveniles.

            Kelly mentioned that possible legislation could soon better define the rules for diversion programs like Drive Wright.

            Kelly is not directly involved with defending the county in the class action suit.  The county is being represented by a Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust (MCIT) attorney.

 

 

Ready to promote local farms, Wright County Dairy Princesses and Ambassadors crowned

 

            Representing the dairy farmers of Wright County, the new 2014 Wright County Dairy Princesses and Ambassadors were crowned and honored on Saturday, April 5 in Buffalo.  They have firsthand knowledge of what it takes to produce delicious, high quality dairy products because they either live on or work on local farms.

            They hope to see you at area events this June to celebrate Dairy Month.

            Pictured are: (front row, from left) Dairy Princesses Katie Hirsch (daughter of Lyle and Mary Hirsch, Howard Lake), Bethany Kozitka (daughter of Wayne and Lorrie Kozitka, Howard Lake), Taylor Walter (daughter of Mark and Tanya Walter, Montrose), not pictured Kyla Mauk (daughter of Harlen and Chris Mauk, Howard Lake) and Mackenzie Uter (daughter of Steve Uter and Kris Uter, Waverly);

            (Back row) Dairy Ambassadors Jessica Howell (daughter of Thomas and Rita Howell, Big Lake), Maisie Walter (daughter of Mark and Tanya Walter, Montrose), Anna Benson (daughter of Tammy Benson, Howard Lake), Ali Spiers (daughter of Barry and Julie Spiers, Monticello), and Morgan Krause (daughter of Charles and Robyn Krause, Buffalo).  (Photo courtesy of Jen Rasset)

 

 

'The Matchmaker' opening at BHS
            Buffalo High School sophomore Emma Maxson (right) plays Mrs. Malloy, who is being manipulated by Dolly Levi, played by senior Katie Miller (center) to date the sly and rude Mr. Horace Vandergelder (left), who is played by senior Mickey Capps.  "The Matchmaker" will be performed April 10-12 at the Performing Arts Center beginning at 7:30 p.m.  See more in School News.  (Photo by Rob LaPlante)

 

 

Five-year-old saved by CPR

            A five-year-old Howard Lake boy on a youth wrestling trip to Rochester almost drowned while swimming in a hotel pool.  Fortunately, he was pulled from the water and saved by CPR.

            Among those saving the boy was Howard Lake youth wrestling coach Luke Long, according to Fox 9 News.

            Everyone was having fun, but then the boy was spotted at the bottom of the pool.  Long and others administered CPR, and the boy was revived.  He is now doing fine, the TV station reported.

            The incident occurred last Saturday, April 5.  Long said it was a scary moment because it was not known how long the boy hadn't been breathing.

            The boy's family wasn't ready to speak publicly, but they did want to help get out the message that CPR does save lives.

 

 

Man who damaged churches sentenced

            A Buffalo area resident who threw rocks and damaged several churches in Buffalo almost a year and a half ago has been sentenced.

            At the time of his arrest in September 2012, Wade Murray explained he was motivated to commit these acts due to his anger with God over personal issues.

            Murray was sentenced on Monday, March 31 for felony criminal damage to property, according to the Wright County Attorney's Office.  He was sentenced to a stay of imposition for five years on conditions of probation, serve 71 days in jail, with credit for time already served, follow all recommendations of his treatment program, remain medically compliant, complete 70 hours community service, have no use or possession of alcohol or non-prescription drugs, have no use or possession of firearms or dangerous weapons, obtain permission before leaving the state, provide DNA sample, and have no same or similar violations.  He had served his time in jail before being sentenced.

            With assistance from the FBI, Murray was arrested on Sept. 26, 2012 in connection with poster and vandalism incidents at local churches in Buffalo.  He reportedly confessed to the incidents and was held in the Wright County Jail.

            At the time of the arrest, Buffalo Police Chief Mitch Weinzetl thanked the media for attention to this case, which he said was instrumental in bringing the matter to a quick and safe resolution.

            Between Saturday, Sept. 22 and Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, the Buffalo Police Department responded to a series of incidents at several local churches.  Four of those incidents initially involved the placement of handwritten posters containing inflammatory messages.  Damage to the church buildings was subsequently reported at two of the four locations, and one additional location was also involved, the Police Department reported.  The incidents were investigated as a bias crime.

            The churches affected included: St. Francis Xavier, Zion Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Buffalo Presbyterian, Hosanna Lutheran, and Buffalo United Methodist.  Damage at the churches mostly involved windows that were broken by thrown rocks.

            Fortunately, no one was injured.  The rock throwing was seen by some as a call for help, and it was hoped Murray would receive help dealing with issues that led to his actions.

            Murray was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial and was sent to a state mental health treatment facility.  The ruling took place on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 at the Wright County Government Center.

 

 

I-94 lane closures begin April 14

            Motorists driving along Interstate 94 through Monticello will encounter lane closures, work crews, heavy equipment, and possible slow traffic as both directions of the road are reduced to a single lane during non-rush hours beginning Monday, April 14, reports the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT).

            The lane closures will occur overnight seven days per week.

            The closures are needed as crews construct temporary crossover lanes and conduct other work as part of the I-94 Monticello re-construction project.

            The project will preserve and improve I-94 from Wright County Road 18 to just west of Highway 25. Crews will reconstruct all lanes of I-94, add an auxiliary lane to westbound I-94 between County Road 18 and Highway 25, reconfigure ramps at Highway 25, and upgrade other infrastructure while lanes are closed for construction.

            When complete in fall 2014, the project will result in improved traffic flow and safety with a smoother ride along more than two miles of I-94.

            For more project information, visit the I-94 Monticello website at www.mndot.gov/d3/monti/.

            For real-time travel information anywhere in Minnesota, visit www.511mn.org.

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Thirty years of assistance

Wright County unique in the employment of two crime victim-witness support providers, instead of just one

By Ed DuBois

            Thirty years ago, efforts were made to protect the rights of crime victims and provide them with support and someone who can answer their questions about the criminal justice system.

            Today, counties employ victim/witness advocates who make themselves available to work with victims of crime.

            Wright County has gone a step further.  Two victim-witness assistance professionals, one in the County Attorney's Office and one in the Sheriff's Office, make Wright County's Victim-Witness Assistance Program somewhat unique among all of the counties.

            Jenny Paripovich is the victim-witness assistance coordinator in the County Attorney's Office, and Stacy Doyle is the victim-witness advocate in the Sheriff's Office.  They have both been on the job here a little more than a decade, answering questions, explaining the court process, keeping families informed about the status of their cases, and being there to provide support.

 

Before charges are filed

            Paripovich and Doyle said former Sheriff Gary Miller saw a need for crime victims in situations not involving the County Attorney's Office.  Sometimes charges are not filed by the County Attorney's Office, and sometimes a fair amount of time passes before charges are filed.  Miller began efforts to create a victim-witness advocate position and hire someone who could assist victims before the County Attorney's Office gets involved.  Doyle was the person hired for the position.

            Both Doyle and Paripovich provide services for which prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officers have little time and not much specific training.

            "The work we do allows the attorneys and the officers to focus on their cases," Paripovich explained.

            Working together, Paripovich and Doyle have a goal to set up a seamless transition.  Doyle assists victims following an arrest or an incident, and then Paripovich takes over after charges are filed.

 

Support each other

            Besides helping victims, they help each other, as well.

            "We bounce things off each other," said Doyle.

            "Our job would be more difficult if we did not have each other," Paripovich added.

            They both feel they have support from their respective departments, and they said both County Attorney Tom Kelly and Sheriff Joe Hagerty have a strong belief in victims' rights.

 

Crime Victims' Rights Week

            National Crime Victims' Rights Week is being observed from April 6-12.  The theme this year is, "30 Years Restoring the Balance of Justice."  Three decades of progress on behalf of millions of victims since the passage of the Victims of Crime Act is being celebrated.

            Just 30 years ago, crime victims had no rights and no assistance.  The criminal justice system often seemed indifferent to their needs, and victims were often excluded from courtrooms and denied the chance to speak at sentencing, according the County Attorney's Office.  They did not have access to victim compensation or services to help rebuild their lives.  There were few avenues to deal with their emotional and physical wounds.  Victims were on their own to recover their health, security and dignity.

            Today, every state has enacted victims' rights laws, and they all have compensation programs.  More than 10,000 victim service agencies now help people throughout the country.

 

Information table

            In honor of Crime Victims' Rights Week, an information table has been set in the commons area of the Wright County Government Center.  The information highlights resources available to crime victims in Wright County.

            Paripovich and Doyle sometimes refer crime victims to specific programs, such as Rivers of Hope (which helps victims of domestic violence) and the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center.  They said a fair amount of collaborating with other programs takes place.

 

'What happens next?'

            They often hear from crime victims by phone and email.  Walk-in contacts also take place regularly.  Doyle said she sees walk-ins every week.  Because Paripovich is located in the same facility (Wright County Government Center) as the courts, she sees walk-in visitors daily.  (Doyle's office is in the Law Enforcement Center located just north of Buffalo.)

            A common question for Paripovich is, "What happens next?"  Most crime victims are not familiar with how the court system works.  Trying to figure it out can be confusing and frustrating.

            On top of that, victims are often already traumatized and dealing with pain and feelings of anger.  They often feel violated by an intrusion into their lives.

            The crimes involved with the Victim-Witness Assistance Program cover a wide range of offenses, everything from criminal damage to property and theft to criminal vehicular operation, domestic violence, sexual assault, and even homicide.

 

Inspired by victims

            Besides answering questions, the victim-witness service providers sometimes accompany victims to court.  Paripovich mentioned she sometimes helps with preparing victim impact statements.

            Paripovich and Doyle said they both have come away from the experience of working with victims feeling privileged.

            "Some families really impact us when we see their strength and how resilient they are at a very difficult time," Paripovich said.

            "We feel honored to work with them and to get to know them.  We learn a lot from them," Doyle commented.

            To see victims conquer their trauma, move forward and live for a better time is very fulfilling.

            Paripovich and Doyle were asked if their work gets them down at times.

            "We often talk about the effects on us," Paripovich said.

            "Some people are meant to do this," she added.

            Doyle commented that, although the work can be difficult emotionally at times, having the support of the County Attorney and Sheriff's Offices is a major positive factor.

 

Restoring the balance

            A Victim-Witness Assistance Program pamphlet distributed by the County Attorney's Office says, "If you or someone close to you is affected by crime, you may be shocked, angered and afraid."  But the Victim-Witness Assistance Program "is available to answer your questions and offer guidance through the maze of the criminal justice system."

            The numbers to call are 763-682-7340 (County Attorney's Office), 763-682-7349 (Paripovich), 763-682-1162 (Sheriff's Office), or 763-684-4537 (Doyle).

            Thirty years ago, victim-witness assistance hadn't been available.  But people like Paripovich and Doyle have been working on "restoring the balance of justice."