Taconite Harbor was on the right track

In 2007, Taconite Harbor celebrated its 50th year of operation in Schroeder.

In 2007, Taconite Harbor celebrated its 50th year of operation in Schroeder.

Just after we put last week’s issue “to bed” we received the disheartening news that Minnesota Power was going to idle the Taconite Harbor Energy Center in the fall of 2016.

I felt sick, thinking of all the friends who work at the plant, who rely on their job there to be able to live here on the North Shore.

I understand that Minnesota Power will try to help the 40-plus employees find work elsewhere. But that means families will have to either have long-distance lives or will have to leave their homes. It means taking kids out of schools and spouses away from well-established jobs in the community. I’m heartbroken for the Taconite Harbor folks who are facing this overwhelming change.

In addition to feeling sad for the families, I’m concerned about the impact this will have on our county’s economy. Minnesota Power is a major commercial taxpayer—will the value of their property be as high for a shuttered power plant as an operational one?

Will our schools, which are already struggling with declining funds because of decreased enrollment, be able to carry on with even fewer students? How will our clinic and hospital absorb the loss of that many families with decent medical insurance?

And, if the power plant ceases to exist, will it nullify our relationship— and therefore the credit we get on our property taxes— because we reside in what was a taconite district?

Will the idling have an impact statewide? According to Minnesota Power officials, when running at full capacity the Taconite Harbor Energy Center provides electricity for about 120,000 residential customers. Will taking that much electrical production out of the statewide power pool drive rates higher across the board?

Although hints of the idling have been coming for years, I didn’t really believe it would happen. I grew up with the power plant in Schroeder and went to school with kids who lived in the bustling town of Taconite Harbor. Crossing the county line and coming into Schroeder to see the billowing white steam clouds was part of coming home.

I know the cause of the closure is a mix of market forces and environmental issues. But as a kid I didn’t think much about the health effects of coal. As an adult, living away from the North Shore, I remember hearing environmental concerns about emissions from coal burning power plants. But truthfully, I still didn’t think much about it.

When our military family lived in Mannheim, Germany in the late 1970s, I was more bothered by the towers of the nuclear power plant we drove by on a regular basis.

The ugly side of coal was revealed to me on our second stint in Germany. When the Iron Curtain started to slip in 1989 and Czechoslovakia opened its borders to American tourists, we took advantage and visited Prague.

Our family was welcomed kindly by the Czech people. We enjoyed seeing the Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, which is featured in the opening scene of the first Mission Impossible movie. I bought an exquisite crystal vase and a matryoshka doll and we enjoyed crepes made by street vendors. It is an amazing town and we could see why it is sometimes considered equal in beauty to Paris.

I did notice though, that the stunning old buildings were dingy. A haze hung over the historic city. We enjoyed the trip nonetheless, but when we returned to Germany the subject came up. I asked why the former communist country seemed so smoggy? I was informed that it is because of the prevalence of coal—and the lack of environmental oversight.

I was glad then, when I moved back to Cook County in 1995 and started working at the local newspaper to learn—and write about— Minnesota Power’s efforts to meet and exceed the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. I was pleased to work on articles detailing the millions of dollars being invested in the plant to reduce its sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions while producing power.

But recently I’ve been troubled by the push to eliminate coal from our country’s portfolio forever. For some groups no matter how low the emissions go, it is not low enough.

I’m not an engineer, but Minnesota Power’s plan to keep improving its coal burning techniques made sense to me. We need power to operate our computers and charge our cellphones and heat our houses. I don’t think enough power can be generated from wind farms and solar panels for all of us. I’m not an energy broker, but I think coal needs to be part of our country’s energy portfolio— especially coal that can be processed in compliance with U.S. standards for emissions.

I’m not a scientist, but I thought Minnesota Power was on the right track in Schroeder. I’m sorry it won’t get to continue down that path.

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In times like these it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.

Paul Harvey


America’s Coolest County?

It is nice to see community members celebrating the designation bestowed on the city of Grand Marais last March by Budget Travel magazine, America’s Coolest Small Town. There’s a banner hanging over Wisconsin Street, coasters in cafes and bars and stickers in nearly every business window announcing that Grand Marais is “the coolest.”

It is something to celebrate that Grand Marais beat out much bigger towns like Fort Myers Beach, Florida; Old Orchard Beach, Maine; Pismo Beach, California; Snohomish, Washington; or Washington, North Carolina. But our little town on the bay didn’t do it alone. To get more votes than these larger towns, it took a concerted effort by all of Cook County—organized or unorganized!

It also took the participation of friends and families beyond our borders. People who lived in Cook County in the past, people who want to live in Cook County in the future, all went to the Budget Travel magazine website every day for more than a month to vote for Grand Marais.

It would be nice if the award was for America’s coolest county. Because not only did the entire county help Grand Marais win the honor of America’s Coolest Small Town, there are many other cool spots all over the county.

That is why this newspaper is the Cook County News-Herald, not the Grand Marais News- Herald. That just doesn’t sound right. Because for 124 years, the community newspaper has shared the activities of residents and visitors from the Cook/Lake county line to the Canadian border, from the Lake Superior shoreline to the end of the Cramer Road, the Sawbill Trail, the Caribou Trail, the Gunflint and the Arrowhead Trail.

Sometimes the news is about disasters— devastating wildfires, tragic accidents or extreme weather events; sometimes there is conflict amongst the citizenry. But overall there is some pretty cool stuff in the News-Herald every week.

At the finish of the 4th of July Tofte 10K -- one of the cool (albeit muddy) events in the cool County of Cook!

My sister-in-law Nicole and I at the finish of the 4th of July Tofte 10K — one of the cool (albeit muddy) events in the cool County of Cook!

The 4th of July weekend is a perfect example—there were celebrations all over the county. As I strolled around the Hovland Arts Festival, hiked the Tofte Trek and watched the Tofte parade, and joined the Girl Scouts in the Grand Marais parade, I was reminded time and again of how nice it is to call Cook County home. Everywhere I went, there were fun activities, good music, and someone I knew cheerfully calling out, “Happy 4th of July!”

It felt a little surreal. No one in Cook County has a perfect life. Sometimes it’s hard to live here. A lot of us work multiple jobs to be able to pay our rent or mortgage. There are people with medical challenges who face a long and bumpy road to Duluth or beyond for treatment. It’s hard to find fresh fruit and vegetables because we’re at the end of the food delivery route. Winters are long and often bitter cold. Summer brings vicious mosquitos and black flies. And there are no 24-hour stores to visit for last-minute needs.

But on the 4th, it seemed that everyone forgot the struggles and came together to celebrate our nation’s birthday. Independence Day was a big countywide, party and we were all invited to take part. That’s pretty cool.

Maybe we should lobby Budget Travel to sponsor an America’s Coolest County contest. I know there are some special places that could be considered, such as El Paso County, Colorado with Pike’s Peak and the Air Force Academy; Norfolk County, Virginia with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and stunning Virginia Beach; Marin County, California with the Golden Gate Bridge and giant redwoods, King County, Washington, home to the Space Needle and Pike Place Market; and of course nearby Door County, Wisconsin with its five lighthouses and trolley and ferry rides.

Maybe that’s not realistic. Those counties all have much higher populations and landmarks more renowned than Cook County. So we likely would never win the title of America’s Coolest County. Maybe that is why we all are so happy about the Grand Marais title.

We may not all live within the Grand Marais city limits—or even in the unorganized territory of Grand Marais—but it is our town just the same. And that is pretty cool.

*****************************

What we seek when we wander usually leads us back home.

Gina Greenlee


Finding Minnesota nice

As the tourism season kicks into high gear, my husband Chuck and I headed out of town for a few days to celebrate our anniversary. It is really fun to visit other communities to check out different restaurants, lodging and just to see how visitors are treated. I’m happy to say that in the towns we visited, customer service was great. We encountered a lot of Minnesota nice.

We went to a concert at Black Bear Casino, which was a bit crazy. In our younger days we attended a lot of concerts, rocking out to eardrum-shattering music in smoke-filled auditoriums. Things have definitely changed—no smoked out concert hall at Black Bear. And, we weren’t as thrilled by the high decibels. But the performers were great.

We really went to see the warm-up act The Swon Brothers. Chuck and I are fans of the TV program The Voice and The Swon Brothers were finalists in that musical competition. They did a fairy mellow, semi-acoustic set that we really liked. The headliner was Parmalee, a country rock band—heavy on the rock. I had only heard a couple of songs by Parmalee and expected a modern country show. It turned out to be a country show ala Jimi Hendrix.

They were good, just not what we expected. There were some hardcore guitar solos and lots of high energy. It was fun, but our ears were ringing by the time the show ended.

We spent some time at the “Quadna Mud Nationals” in Hill City, Minnesota. There was a lot of craziness there as three ATV riders at a time tried to see who could cross the giant mud hole dug in a farm field first. It was fun to watch the slipping and spinning and mud slinging. There were more than 1,000 people watching the mud cross and obstacle course races, most of them camping at Quadna Mountain Resort, so we decided not to stay there, but instead headed down the road.

One of the beautiful trails Chuck and I ventured down on our anniversary adventure.

One of the beautiful trails Chuck and I ventured down on our anniversary adventure.

We hadn’t made reservations, so we weren’t sure where we would end up. Fortunately, it only took two stops to find a motel with a vacancy and it was a lovely little place right on the Ripple River in Aitkin. It made me think of the Grand Marais Municipal Campground in miniature. As we got our key—an actual key, not a key card!—I asked for dining suggestions. The motel clerk suggested a couple of places, including one called The Landing just a few blocks down the road.

Since I am sad that Cook County’s The Landing at Devil Track restaurant has closed, I thought it would be nice to check out another Landing. We were quite glad we did. It was a small restaurant/bar, tucked in a mini-mall, but inside it was really nice, decorated with historic photos and kitsch. The food was fabulous. I had a shrimp dish with a hint of lime that was amazing, so I recommend The Landing if you ever get to Aitkin.

We spend a couple of nights at McQuoid’s Resort in Mille Lacs and that was completely like being in an alternate universe. We ate at several lakeside restaurants and happily the food was great at all of them.

And also fortunately, like Cook County there was lots to see and do everywhere we went. We did a lot of ATVing and hiking, so we were able to work off all that good food. It was a wonderful break from our usual routine and a very nice way to celebrate our anniversary.

As fun as our mini-vacation was, it is good to be home. I may be biased, but I think Cook County has the best restaurants, places to stay and customer service. It’s fun to check out other tourism communities, but there really is no place like home.

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No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.

Lin Yutang


Where are we in June?

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

Where are we? Give us a guess!

Where are we? Give us a guess!

We had many guesses in May—all correct. The waterfall that appears on the upper side if Highway 61 near Five Mile Rock is a familiar site to many. The waterfall has slowed to a trickle now and a winner has been drawn from the correct entries.

Congratulations to Don Hill of Lakeville, Minnesota who recognized the waterfall near 2021 East Highway 61 in the Colvill area.

Try your luck! Take a look at the June photo. If you think you know where we were when we took this picture, send us your answer.

You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.

Whoever is drawn from the correct entries will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Return answer by mail, e-mail or fax to:

Cook County News-Herald

PO Box 757

Grand Marais MN 55604

starnews@boreal.org

Fax: 218-387-9500

Answer to the June WHERE ARE WE? must be received by July 13, 2015.


Buried by technology

I received a great email from someone recently, apologizing for taking so long to get back to me with an answer to a question I had asked. She stated that the email “got buried” in her inbox.

I can so relate to this! We get hundreds of emails every day at the News-Herald. The majority of them are junk or not relevant to our community. But each and every message has to be perused to make sure it’s not important.

There have been many times when I’ve been set to “trash” a message and at the last moment realized that the text of the email included the name of a local business or individual being recognized—or included a link that led to some exciting news for our readers.

For every 500 or so emails that claim to have a “local” connection, there is one that truly does.

It’s overwhelming at times and sadly, as my friend noted, sometimes things do get buried as new messages push the old ones further and further down the inbox list. I try to reverse the order in which I retrieve my messages occasionally, but that’s risky as then some get missed in the middle.

It used to be said that the number of keys a person carried was a good indicator of how busy his or her life was. Now I think it depends on the number of electronic methods of communications an individual has to deal with.

It’s hard to believe that email, which was relatively new in the 1980s has become such a vital tool in our everyday lives. And it’s hard to believe that what was once cutting edge technology is becoming passé. Now there is Facebook, Facebook private messaging, Messenger, Twitter, blogs to follow, forums to frequent, chatrooms, Skype and Facetime and so much more.

Just a few of the ways information reaches my desk these days!

Just a few of the ways information reaches my desk these days!

It’s a bit mind-boggling keeping track of it all. Especially when you add in telecommunications—a few decades ago most of us had only two telephone numbers to share with others, work and home. Now with the omnipresent cell phone we all have three and along with it, text messaging.

It wouldn’t be so difficult if everyone was on the same page, but no such luck. I recently wanted to send out a message to a group of friends and found myself typing and then cutting and pasting the same message into a Facebook message, an email and a text.

Keeping track of the preferred method of communication for different friends and colleagues can be complicated. So, I could empathize with the friend who found my email message days after it had been sent. It made me feel better about the many times the same thing has happened to me.

Maybe we’d be better off just writing a letter and dropping it in the mailbox!

*********************

Your email inbox is a bit like a Las Vegas roulette machine. You know, you just check it and check it, and every once in a while there’s some juicy little tidbit of reward, like the three quarters that pop down on a one-armed bandit. And that keeps you coming back for more.

Douglas Rushkoff


Unorganized scouting territory

As I’ve mentioned in the past, sometimes I take a detour while writing Unorganized Territory. I start out with a certain subject and veer off to another, completely changing the topic and the tone of my weekly column.

That is exactly what happened last week when I started with a mention of being a Girl Scout leader. I meant to write a column about the joys and frustrations of being a leader and I somehow ending up commenting on the school board meeting that I missed because I was being a Girl Scout leader at the Court of Awards.

So this week, I’m back on the Girl Scout path. We’ll see if I can stay on task.

I really do want to share some thoughts on Girl Scouting, as our local group really needs more leaders and co-leaders. I’m hoping to entice some women who want to have an impact on the girls of tomorrow to join us.

One of "my" Girl Scouts, Kylie.

One of “my” Girl Scouts, Kylie.

Leaders grow with their girls. The little ones that start with us in kindergarten get a new troop number that they keep through their years of scouting, along with their leader. I started as co-leader when “my girls” were first grade Brownies. I’m now the leader of the soon-to-be fifth grade Juniors of Troop 4109.

Leaders eventually work themselves out of their volunteer jobs. For example, Leader Arvis Thompson has had her troop members graduate high school and go off to college and other great adventures. Sandy Stover and Laura LaFavor’s girls are getting closer to graduation.

It’s a nice system of mentorship through the years. But it also creates a void. This year’s kindergarten troop of Daisies becomes next year’s first graders with the same leader. So we need leaders to step up for the next group of girls. We need moms or grandmothers or aunts to join them on their journey.

It is kind of scary. There are Girl Scout rules and regulations and a few financial forms to complete for dues and cookies. The established Girl Scout leaders help out as much as they can with meeting templates and activity suggestions and so on, but when it comes down to meeting time and keeping a bunch of energetic girls engaged, it can be challenging.

There have been more than a few meetings that I felt as if I spent the entire time barking orders. “Don’t tip your chair.” “Wait until it’s your turn to talk.” “Please put away your cell phone.” “If you can’t get along, you won’t get to sit next to each other.” And so on…

There have been weeks when I am scrambling to come up with an idea for a meeting activity to fulfill a badge requirement. My co-leader daughter-in-law Michele and I try to plan ahead, but let’s be realistic. We’re talking about unorganized territory here.

I don’t share the downside of scouting to dissuade someone from becoming a leader. On the contrary, I just want to be honest. Sometimes it is downright hard.

But, it is so worth it. For example, my troop has embarked on a wonderful community project with which to earn the Girl Scout Bronze award. I will not give away their secret, but I will say a lot of work is involved.

Just before school ended, we had to make an appointment to talk to Principal Gwen Carman and Student Success Coordinator Anna Sandstrom about the project. I told the girls when we would be meeting— at noon on a Tuesday, not our regular Girl Scout day or time.

The meeting date arrived and after an extremely stressful morning, I entered the school in a not-so-cheerful state of mind. I thought surely the girls had forgotten and the office would have to page them to Ms. Carman’s office.

I should not have doubted these delightful young ladies. Not only had they not forgotten, they had reminded Ms. Carman of the meeting— several times.

They arrived outside the office at the appropriate time, all smiles and ready to explain their project. I couldn’t have been prouder. After our discussion in Principal Carman’s office, I said goodbye to the girls, but not before some high fives and hugs. I exited the school grinning, the crummy events of that morning forgotten.

It’s days like that that make it all worthwhile!

********************

Ours is a circle of friendships
united by ideals.

Juliette Gordon Low


Almost instant replay

Last week I missed an all-important meeting of the School District 166 school board because it was on the same afternoon as the Cook County Girl Scouts’ Court of Awards. At the time, I wasn’t too upset. As I told School Board Chair Jeanne Anderson before the meeting, I’d rather hang out with the Girl Scouts than sit in a school board meeting.

The Court of Awards is the Girl Scout year end finale. It’s hectic but fun. There is a dinner for parents and important adults. Awards are bestowed and each local Girl Scout Troop has a few minutes in the spotlight. Some of us give a video presentation; some sing; some dance. But everyone has something to share. My troop—No. 4109— sang Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.

This year’s Court of Awards was at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts and taking place simultaneously, in the Jane Mianowski Conference Room to the right of the auditorium, the School Board was meeting. As I visited with parents, helped Girl Scouts with uniform issues, posed for a troop photo, practiced “our” song and more, I glanced now and then into the conference room.

It was packed. Citizens had come out in force to speak their minds about potential budget cuts. I saw some people crying. Again, I was glad I was outside the room with the noisy, but happy, Girl Scouts.

Since I missed the actual meeting because I was wrangling those Girl Scouts, I watched the video on the school’s YouTube channel late last night.

Yes, you read that correctly, there is a School District 166 YouTube channel. If you want to check it out, just Google “Cook County Schools ISD 166 YouTube” and a page will come up with videos of not just school board meetings, but events like the recent band concert and graduation. Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 10.26.11 PM

The meeting was really long and sometimes it was difficult to hear because of all the people moving around, but it was so helpful to have the video. I was able to listen to the parents and students who were concerned that fine arts programming was to be reduced. Passionate statements were made in support of teachers Kerri Bilben and Mary MacDonald and choir director Erika Ternes.

Later in the meeting, Superintendent Beth Schwarz gave an explanation of how the proposed reduction in teachers’ workweeks would impact students. By then most people had left the meeting, so I encourage folks to “go to the tape” on the website. Some of the angst may be relieved by the superintendent’s report.

Perhaps not, because the bottom line is the teachers who may be impacted are losing time spent with students and they would see a corresponding cut in pay. It is possible that the teachers could decide not to continue working for School District 166. And I agree with many who said that would be a great loss to our school and our community.

I hope amidst all the emotion and upheaval, those teachers are feeling how loved they are by their students and the community.

Another topic was discussed at the school board meeting that I would have thought would have also garnered citizen comment— or at least interest. School District 166 has let bids and accepted bids for changes to the entrance and parking lot at the school. This summer construction will begin— trees will be cut down and green space will be lost to parking.

The video shows that no one came to ask questions about that. I’m guessing there will be an outcry when the work actually begins.

One never knows what agenda item is going to get citizens to come out to a government meeting. As Commissioner Heidi Doo- Kirk told the school board at the start of the video, she empathized with them. She noted that it is tough to be sitting in front of a crowd of tearful or angry folks. She wished them well. I do too.

If you want to see what the school board faces on a regular basis, just roll the tape!

***************

Don’t worry…about a
thing…cause every little
thing…gonna be alright.

Bob Marley


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