2008 Top 10 News Stories
#1 Mankato Clinic Closes Blue Earth Site
News the Mankato Clinic would be closing its Blue Earth site rocked the community when it was announced in mid-June. No other story caused quite as much controversy.
Mankato Clinic closed the Blue Earth Medical Center as of Aug. 29. It had been operating since 1994 in the Blue Earth area.
Dr. Kirk Odden moved his primary care practice to the Lake Crystal Clinic, also operated by Mankato Clinic. Thirteen other staff members, including Physicians Assistant Mary Lamusga, relocated to other medical sites.
Odden had been a physician in Blue Earth since 1984.
The announcement was followed by several follow-up stories in the pages of the Faribault County Register, as well as many letters to the editor, protesting the decision.
Dr. Mark Matthias, head of the Mankato Clinic, said the decision was based on a problem keeping primary care physicians on staff at the Blue Earth site, in competition with another primary care facility.
In the end, the clinic closed, but Dr. Odden continues to see patients at St. Luke’s Care Center despite working in Lake Crystal.
#2 Economic Development Corporation Formed
Like many of our top ten stories of 2008, the formation of a new private county-wide economic development corporation (EDC) was a continuing saga all year.
This story first broke in the pages of the Register in April when it was announced United Hospital District was investing $30,000 towards the formation of the new EDC.
Four businesses were involved in the formation of the new entity; Wells Concrete, UHD, Bevcomm and Corn Plus. Since then, other businesses have joined the group.
By September the group was up and running, and interviewing for an executive director. The announcement came in October that the group had hired David Piggot of Stillwater for the position.
In November, another announcement was made that the name of the corporation was changing from Faribault County Economic Development Corporation, to ‘Go Minnesota.’
The formation of the entity came after the City of Blue Earth went the year without an economic development director, and the Faribault County EDA lost its director, Gayle Jones, who resigned effective May 30.
Both Blue Earth and Faribault County had made significant donations of funds towards the new corporation.
#3 UHD announces construction plan, three new doctors
United Hospital District announced a $19 million master construction plan, as well as the hiring of three new doctors in 2008.
The master plan first surfaced in a story in March, but was formally explained in November.
The plan calls for a $4 million new adolescent treatment center in Winnebago, and a new $15 million clinic in Blue Earth, attached to the hospital.
In the meantime, the old hospital, which had housed the Mankato Clinic’s Blue Earth Medical Center, will be remodeled to temporarily house the UHD-Clinic. The clinic will be moved from its current location in the Ag Center, sometime in April.
It could be in the temporary quarters for two years as the new clinic is built, just to the south of the current hospital.
New labs, entryway, ambulance area and helicopter pad are also part of the plan.
UHD also announced in March that Iowa resident Dr. Kevin Kimm would be starting at the clinic beginning in June.
Then in September the announcement came that Dr. Aaron Johnson, also from Iowa, will begin practice at UHD in August 2009.
A December story detailed how a third new doctor, Jennifer Smith of Pennsylvania, will also come to Blue Earth in August, to begin practice at UHD.
#4 Wells and Blue Earth hire new city administrators
Both the cities of Wells and Blue Earth had their city administrators resign and had to go looking for replacements.
In May, Ronda Allis called it quits in Wells, and the council began a long process of replacing her.
They received over 20 applications in the first attempt at hiring a new administrator, and narrowed it down to two; Diane Miller of Canby and Zoa Heckman of Wells.
However, in July the council decided not to hire either one, and started the process over again.
Finally, in September, the Wells council hired Jeremy Germann of Aberdeen, Ohio as their new administrator.
Meanwhile in Blue Earth, Ben Martig left the top city post in May when he accepted the administrator position in Marshall.
Blue Earth hired Bill Bassett of Mankato as the interim city administrator while they narrowed 15 applications down to five, and then to two.
In July, the council chose Garden City resident Kathy Bailey, the Madelia city administrator, over Cheryl Nymann of Altura.
Bailey started her duties in August.
#5 Kerry Group re-builds after fire
Our No. 1 story in 2007 was the Kerry fire, which destroyed a portion of the manufacturing plant and warehouse in the Blue Earth industrial park.
It was big news in February of 2008 when the announcement came that not only was Kerry going to rebuild the area damaged in the fire, they were going to expand.
The City of Blue Earth and Kerry Group announced the plan which included $10.8 million in total project costs.
There was $2.7 million to build a 48,000 sq. ft. warehouse, 8,000 sq. ft. larger than the one destroyed in the fire; $6.3 million for new packaging equipment, a $1 million relocated extruder, and an $800,000 new one.
Kerry also agreed to keep all 20 current employees, as well as add eight more under a JOBZ program with the city and state.
The city agreed to exempt property taxes on the new warehouse until 2015, as well as other tax breaks.
Kerry also agreed to pay for half of a sampling station, and make a $35,000 (over seven years) donation to the Blue Earth Area Schools Foundation.
City officials called it a win-win situation for Blue Earth and the Kerry Group.
#6 Little Giants moves to new facility with new name
It may have suffered through nearly six months of delays, but when Little Luke’s Child Care Center moved from its home at St. Luke’s Care Center, it was big news.
The child care got a new home at the Ag Center in Blue Earth, through a gift, a loan and a grant.
Bevcomm donated the building to the city, which in turn is leasing it to the Blue Earth Area School, which operates the child care center through its Community Education fund.
The city also got a grant and a loan from the USDA to fund all the remodeling needed to turn the area into a child care center.
In October, Little Luke’s became Little Giants Early Learning Center, with a much larger emphasis on education, and not just child daycare.
The center also expanded from being licensed for 42 children to 63 in the facility. They accept children six-weeks old to six-years of age.
What started out as a possibility in February 2006 became a reality in October of 2008.
#7 Winnebago City Council changes members
In 2007 our number five story was about changes in membership on the Winnebago City Council.
That saga continued in 2008.
In January, Dennis Lynch resigned from the council. Three persons – Paul Loomis, Thomas Owen and Michele Weringa – applied for the spot. The council chose Loomis to fill out the term.
Loomis and long-time councilman Maryann McClain did not file for re-election in September, although several others did file.
Incumbent Rick Johnson, along with Michele Weringa, John Schavey, Chris Ziegler and Scott Robertson, filed for the two four-year seats, while Bob Weerts and Brett Osborn filed for the two-year seat.
Problems arose quickly however, as Robertson was not a resident of Winnebago and had to file with the city to have his home annexed into the city, before the election.
Osborn had been placed on the ballot for the four-year term, and had to go to court to get his name on the two-year race.
When the dust settled after the November election, the winners were Rick Johnson and Chris Ziegler for the four-year posts, and Bob Weerts for the two-year spot.
The saga wasn’t quite over, however, as Scott Robertson asked for a recall of the election totals. It was conducted, with no significant changes in the results.
#8 Unusual court cases in Faribault County
It was a year of unusual court cases in Faribault County court in 2008. Several were shocking and sad to report.
There was a case of a baby being scalded in a bathtub, with both the father and then the mother charged in the case.
A standoff with law enforcement officers in rural Blue Earth resulted in a man arrested on a weapons charge.
One young man in Blue Earth was charged, and then convicted, in a case involving possession of explosives and intent to build a bomb.
A sex offender from Winnebago was convicted and sentenced to 58 months in jail.
And in one of the most unusual cases of the year, a doctor on his way to work in the emergency room in the hospital in Blue Earth was arrested near Winnebago on a DWI charge, and later convicted.
There was also a series of court cases earlier in the year which continued to deal with the killing of Miguel Lopez in Winnebago in 2007.
Marcos Gonzalez was sentenced in February to 86 months in prison for the killing.
Then in an odd twist, Lopez’s brother, Eduardo Lopez Chavez, and another man, were charged with causing a riot and terroristic threats in the same case.
They later pled guilty to lesser charges in a plea bargain agreement.
#9 State cuts local government aid
It wasn’t the Christmas present local cities and the county wanted to hear.
The national and state economic woes came home to Faribault County in December when the State of Minnesota cut its Local Government Aid payments to the county and three cities.
The cut in the 2008 funding came at the end of the year, after budgets – and levy increases – had already been set.
The local government bodies will have to scramble in 2009 not only with this cut, but also two more LGA cuts looming on the horizon, as the state attempts to balance its budget amid revenue shortfalls.
The county LGA payment was reduced by $133,635, Blue Earth was cut $109,755, Winnebago lost $37,633 and Wells’ payment was reduced by $60,806.
#10 Two tragic accidents strike area in July
Two tragic accidents happened in the county within an eight day period last July.
On July 14, Grant Bahls was killed in a two vehicle accident south of Huntley.
The pickup truck Bahls was driving collided with a semi-tractor/trailer driven by Rick Johnson of Winnebago.
Bahls, of Huntley, was well-known in the area for his firearm safety classes, work with the Lura Lake Association, Center Creek Gun Club, and various sportsmans groups.
On July 22, a Bricelyn teen was accidentally shot in the head.
Collin Jacobson, 15, was at a rural home with a friend, Dan Stallkamp, 18, when the accidental shooting occurred.
Jacobson was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, where he was operated on.
Jacobson, the son of Steve and Kim Jacobson, has been on a long road to recovery ever since.
Collin’s friends at school, and members of Trinity Lutheran Church – where Kim Jacobson is employed – have held benefits for him.
Members of several Faribault County communities have been involved as well.