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The Top 10 Stories of 2017 in Faribault County

By Staff | Jan 1, 2018

Our top story this year: Walmart closes its doors, while Bomgaars prepares to open theirs.

1. Walmart closes; Bomgaars coming

The rumors starting to circulate around Blue Earth right after a banner sign went up on the Walmart building in early September that read “Store Closing.”

Then came the official announcement that the store, which had been a fixture in the Blue Earth business community for 30 years, was indeed going to close.

The pharmacy would close by Sept. 22, it was announced, and the store would close Oct. 3.

Residents were upset and there were many rumors going around on Social Media as to what caused the store to close. Not all of those were true.

Wells continues their city council meetings without the assistance of their city administrator, Robin Leslie, who resigned earlier this year.

Despite efforts by the city of Blue Earth, the decision had been made by Walmart and was not going to be reversed.

Then the big news broke in the Nov. 20 edition of the Faribault County Register that Bomgaars Supply, a farm and ranch, Iowa-based retail store chain had reached an agreement to lease the empty Walmart building and have their 83rd store be located in Blue Earth.

Bomgaars is a fourth generation company, privately owned by Roger and Jane Bomgaar. It was started in 1952 and has stores in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho.

The Blue Earth store is expected to open this spring, possibly in April or early May, with a grand opening later that month. They will employ 20-25 people.

2. Assault case and bullying concerns

The conversation continues into the new year between citizens who are both for and against the development of wind towers in Faribault County.

The news broke in the Nov. 27 edition of the Register that four Blue Earth Area students had been arrested and charged in court in a case involving an assault at a party at a home in Winnebago back on Oct. 19.

The four students were two adults, Dalton Nagel and Wyatt Tungland, and two minors, Blake Barnett and Caden Ochsendorf. All four were members of the BEA football team, as was the alleged victim in the incident.

All four are still in the court system at this time, and at least one, Barnett, has pled not guilty.

The incident caused a public outcry about bullying incidents at BEA Schools, and nearly 200 people attended the following School Board meeting to express their concerns about bullying at the school.

The School Board formed a Bullying Task Force to study the matter and it has met one time, but will continue to meet throughout the coming year.

3. Wells city administrator resigns

After being under fire for most of the 2017 year, Wells city administrator Robin Leslie abruptly resigned in late September, according to the story in the Register dated Oct. 2.

She cited differences with the City Council as her reason. Earlier in the year there had also been a petition presented to the council from citizens demanding she be fired.

Strangely, the council did not immediately accept her resignation and the Oct. 16 Register asked “Is she in, or is she out?” as Leslie sent a letter to the council saying she would be back on the job the next day if her resignation was not accepted.

The Oct. 30 edition reported Leslie and the council reached an agreement on her separation package.

The city of Wells is now beginning its search for a new administrator. Chief of police Tim Brenegan and deputy city clerk Jennie Kloos are the interim city administrators at this time.

4. FCDC votes to dissolve

In somewhat of a surprise move, the board of directors of the Faribault County Development Corporation (FCDC) voted unanimously in a special meeting in November to dissolve.

The private company had contracts with the cities of Wells and Blue Earth and Faribault County to provide economic development services.

Again, there had been a few rumors going around that the city of Blue Earth and its economic development authority (EDA) were considering not renewing their contract with FCDC, after quite a few years of doing so.

A story in the Nov. 13 Register asked the question, “What is FCDC’s future? A story the next week answered that question.

The dissolution of FCDC left the EDAs in the county scrambling to decide what they would do next.

As the year 2017 grew closer to its end, the Blue Earth EDA and City Council were deciding to go with a company called Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA), and were working on a possible agreement with the county and other cities to be in on the contract.

CEDA is a private, 501(c)(3) non-profit agency headquartered in Chatfield, Minnesota.

5. Judge Doug Richards retires, Troy Timmerman will be the new judge

In the Oct. 9 edition of the Register the big announcement was that Faribault County District Court judge Douglas Richards, and court reporter Orv Terhark were both going to retire together on Nov. 1.

The two good friends had been working together for 22 years, ever since Richards was appointed judge in 1995.

The big question became, of course, who would be the next judge in Faribault County.

Several people applied for the position and for the other open judge position in Watonwan County, and four were interviewed by Governor Mark Dayton.

The Dec. 4 Register announced the decision had been made and current Faribault County attorney Troy Timmerman would be the new judge.

The next question, of course, is now who is going to be the county attorney. And, also who will be the next court reporter.

Stay tuned.

6. Blue Earth’s Three Sisters saga continues

Ironically, the Three Sisters buildings in downtown Blue Earth were our No. 6 story of the year in 2016.

At that time, the story was how the city was trying to take over ownership of the buildings.

That happened early in 2017. The rest of the story became what was the city going to do with them, now that they owned them.

The city and its economic development authority (EDA) spent time and money fixing up the buildings including new windows, roofing and other improvements.

They also held an auction sale in April to get rid of a lot of the stuff inside the buildings, including dozens of pianos and organs. A story in the May 1 edition of the Register reported that some of the pianos and organs sold, and some did not, at the auction. A later story reported the EDA made $719 at the auction, after expenses.

After much more work cleaning out the buildings, the city requested proposals from anyone interested in taking over one or more of the buildings.

In June, the city accepted a proposal from BlueProp LLC, and gave them a 90 day option on the buildings in order to have time to inspect and get bids on remodeling work.

Unfortunately, in mid-September, the city was back to square one when BlueProp LLC rescinded their proposal, due to high bids for the costs of remodeling.

Recently the city received another proposal for the buildings, this time from a group called Rural Renaissance Project, headed by BEA grad Janie Hanson.

She was also given a 90 day option on the properties to determine whether her proposal would be feasible or not.

If something happens to the Three Sisters in 2018, as the city hopes, there is no doubt it will move up the list of our Top Ten stories next year.

7. Protests over wind power development in Faribault County

The possibility of more wind power turbines coming to Faribault County sparked a lot of protest from the landowners in Pilot Grove and Barber townships.

The protests were reported on several times over the year in the pages of the Register.

In April, a story about the County Board meeting reported that some residents of Pilot Grove Township wanted the county commissioners to make the wind ordinance in the county much more strict, especially as far as set backs for the towers go.

Those changes were debated by the board again at their second April meeting.

Then in the Oct. 2 Register there was a story about a wind power company, EDF, proposing a wind farm of between 80 and 100 towers in Barber Township.

In November, EDF attended a County Board meeting and agreed to make some changes to their plans, including a larger setback for the towers.

At a Faribault County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at the end of November, residents made it clear they were not in favor of more wind towers in either Pilot Grove or Barber townships.

EDF was at the meeting requesting a conditional use permit (CUP) to install a MET (wind speed measuring) tower in each township. It was approved despite the protests of residents.

That same request for a CUP went before the County Board where it received final approval in early December.

8. Blue Earth Chamber to build new welcome center-office-museum building

It has been in the planning stages for some time, but in 2017 the official decision was made to proceed with a new building for the Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce.

The building will be on the site of a former convenience store, right in front of the Green Giant statue and Giant Park.

The Chamber had purchased the old building with the help of a loan from the Blue Earth EDA, and had the building demolished last year.

Now, in 2017, it has been all about getting everything in place to build, and that includes raising money to pay for it.

In June it was announced that the Chamber had received a $300,000 grant from the state to go towards the building fund. The building cost is expected to be around $800,000, when all is said and done. More fundraising is being done to reach that goal.

In early September the architects plans of what the new building could look like were released to good reviews.

Chamber executive director Cindy Lyon says they plan to advertise for bids in January, open and award the bids in February with construction starting in April. Completion would be in the fall.

No doubt the Chamber building will be one of top stories on our Top Ten list next year.

9. Housing development and other big dollar projects

The city of Blue Earth is taking on some serious high dollar projects in 2017 and 2018.

Topping the list is a new housing development on the northeast side of the city, near Lampert Lumber.

The Blue Earth City Council listed housing as their No. 1 priority for 2017 back in January, and discussed the new housing project all year long.

In August the plan was almost certainly a go, after the council had looked at other options as well.

Then in the Oct. 9 issue of the Register it was reported the council had finally given the go-ahead to the project, but had cut down the number of lots from 38 down to 17, which dropped construction costs from $1.7 million to $973,000.

Construction began almost immediately and then will continue next spring.

It is not the only big dollar project going on.

The city has a $7.3 million renovation project underway at the wastewater treatment plant. They also are finishing up a new building under construction at the airport.

Then they are also looking at another multi-street reconstruction project in 2018, as well as a new Public Works Department building where the former city liquor store was located.

Wells also has several projects in the works, including construction of a $1.5 million new Wells Business Park. 10. Upheaval at County Veterans Service Office

There were some serious employee issues at the Faribault County Veterans Service Office in 2017, now located at the Ag Center in Blue Earth.

On April 24, the Register reported that Ryan Bromeland, the assistant Veterans Service Officer, was terminated from employment on March 21 after an investigation of alleged workplace misconduct found that he had violated at least four different personnel policies.

Bromeland had begun employment with the county on Sept. 22 of 2016 and had been placed on administrative leave just three months later.

Then on Sept. 11, the Register reported that the Veterans Service Officer (VSO), Dave Hanson, and the county, had reached a separation agreement and Hanson would no longer be employed by the county effective back to Aug. 4.

The Register learned Hanson had also had a complaint filed against him and had been on administrative leave for some time. However, the nature of the complaint and the result of an investigation into the complaint were not made public, with the reason being the separation agreement included Hanson’s resignation was designated as “in good standing.”

The county then began a search for a new Veterans Service Officer.

Finally, in the Oct. 23 issue, it was announced that Jenna Schmidtke was hired as the new VSO. She was formerly the office administrative assistant, and had been the acting assistant VSO in the absence of Bromeland and Hanson.

The county had received 14 applications for the position and had interviewed six of those.