Driverless bus cruises into Monticello
By Miriam Orr
Technology is on the rise around the world, especially in the form of the Autonomous Vehicle. This technology is a global advancement, and it has found its way to Minnesota, and even closer to home in Wright County - Monticello.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation issued a pamphlet providing information on the Autonomous "driverless" buses developing globally. They say that since Minnesota has such a unique climate with all four seasons and their elements, testing these vehicles here is optimal to observe performance and study data.
According to the informational pamphlet, the overall goal of these vehicles in Minnesota will be to "better position the state to influence national policy and prepare Minnesota transportation owners and stakeholders for the future."
The technological advancement, in relevance to Minnesota, is important. MnDOT concluded that each year, approximately 300 people are killed due to traffic-related crashes, and the injury reports are up-wards of the thousands. Also, they noted that over 90% of traffic-related crashes involve human elements such as impaired driving, distractions, and speeding. Their conclusion is that driverless vehicles remove the human element, thus reducing - or potentially eliminating - crashes of this nature.
The goal of testing in Minnesota is to see how these vehicles - and their tech - progress in cold climates. MnDOT also wants public interaction, to see what citizens think of this technology and what it offers.
The buses themselves are entirely driverless, and they are electric shuttles that can transport up to 12 individuals; six seated, while six remain standing. With no steering wheel, it operates on pre-programmed routes. They are manufactured by Easy Mile, and operated by First Transit. So far they have transported approximately 160,000 people and logged over 60,000 miles around the world.
Speculation has risen within communities regarding this technology's arrival and the current dispute between professional drivers in Minnesota, specifically public transit in the Twin Cities area, and if this technology is a motion to outgrow the demands of the public. That information has not surfaced, and remains unknown.
This testing will be the first use in Minnesota, and the first in winter environments. Riding opportunities involve Super Bowl LII, where public riders will have an opportunity to board the vehicle at no cost. The buses will be tested in a closed segment of Nicollet Mall, from 3rd Street to 4th Street. Operation times will be posted on MnDOT's website and will depend upon weather conditions.
What's more, additional testing operations are in talks with MnDOT and other partners across the state, scheduled for 2018 after winter testing has concluded.
Project goals include preparing the industry for snow and ice conditions, to prepare for improve mobility through driverless vehicles, identify infrastructure that is needed for driverless transportation, and also to build partnerships between government and the autonomous vehicle industry.
Buffalo man dies in tragic accident
By Miriam Orr
On Dec. 13, 2017 approximately 8:41 a.m., the Washington County Sheriff's Office responded to a reported MVA involving a tractor trailer and front-end loader in Hugo, Minn.
Deputies discovered Aaron Reich, a Buffalo resident, pinned between two vehicles on site. Lifesaving measures were unsuccessful, and Reich was pronounced dead at the scene.
The most recent crash study published through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety was in 2015. The report states that the four leading contributing factors regarding fatal MVA's are: speed, distractions, impaired driving, and failing to buckle up.
In 2015, speed attributed to 78 deaths; 74 fatalies stemmed from distracted driving, 95 were due to impaired driving, and 91 deaths were from failing to buckle up.
In the same study, research confirmed that Minnesota reported 411 deaths on the road, with approximately 30,000 in-juries. The cost to the state was well over a billion dollars.
The study showed that on an average day in Minnesota, 205 accidents were reported, resulting in at least one fatality and 82 injuries.
It is not yet known what contributing factors were involved regarding Reich's accident, as the case is currently under investigation by the Washington County Sheriff's Office, with the assistance of the Minnesota State Patrol, and Ramsey County Medical Examiner. Aaron leaves behind his loving family consisting of his wife, three sons, and an upcoming baby in summer 2018.
See the full obituary in this issue of the Wright County Journal-Press.
Wright County watercraft decontamination study update
By Miriam Orr
With County Commissioner Charlie Borrell recovering from knee replacement surgery, Commissioner Mark Daleiden oversaw the Board on Dec. 19.
Water Resource Specialist Alicia O'Hare presented an update regarding the Wright County Regional Watercraft Decontamination and Inspection Program, which was approved October 3.
From October 11-21, boats entering Lake Syliva, Lake John, or Pleasant Lake were required to undergo a free craft inspection. The study is an effort put forth by The Wright County Regional Watercraft Decontamination Inspection Program, Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Annandale, the Greater Lake Sylvia Lake Association, the Pleasant Lake Association, and the Lake John Association in hopes of increasing the number of vessels inspected for invasive species, and to stop cross-contamination due to such species.
The study proposes that those vessels deemed in need of decontamination would receive a Proof of Inspection to place in the towing vehicle, and the watercraft would have a zip-tie seal affixed. When the watercraft is launched, the individual would place their seal in a collection box at the lake access. The study was conducted on vessels that met requirements such as being motorized (not kayaks, paddleboards, or canoes), and were not stored in riparian areas that traveled on public roads.
O'Hare continued in her presentation saying that the study was productive, and that they learned much from the pilot. Of the findings produced, O'Hare noted that approximate 2/3 of seals affixed to vessels were returned for study. She approximated that 254 operational hours were invested in the program, having conducted over 319 inspections, where at least 8 vessels were labeled for decontamination.
Since this pilot study is the first of its kind in the state, O'Hare confirmed that it was, for the time being, entirely educational. Brochures were presented during inspections to educate the public regarding the study and to promote the seriousness of lake contamination and invasive species. During the study, O'Hare reported that there were 66 violations, and that 23 resulted in law enforcement calls.
Law enforcement's cooperation with the effort has been positive, though O'Hare suggested that they wanted to tread lightly when it came to including police during a pilot study. She estimated that approximate 18 hours of deputy time was involved with the project.
Commissioner Potter commented that running an educational study, for the time being, was the best approach to this kind of effort, and encouraged O'Hare to forward the results to Senator Ingebrigtsen, who currently serves as the chairman for the committee of Environment and Natural Resources Finance.
O'Hare confirmed that that the pilot had been presented to the DNR for partnership in 2018 testing, but so far nothing has been confirmed.
MCAA Award of Excellence presented to Frazier
Brought before the Board by Assistant County Attorney Greg Kryzer was the request to recognize Minnesota County Attorneys Assocation's Award of Excellence, which was presented to retired Assistant County Attorney Terry Frazier, which was celebrated Dec. 7. The award was given in honor of Frazier's engagement in activities, high levels of dedication, service, and community contributions not only as the previous Assistant Attorney, but as an active member of society, as well.
Frazier shares the award with a standing history of recipients, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, and many others. The Board expressed their appreciation of Frazier's services, with Commissioner Christine Husom stating that Frazier was a "humble man", and that he had a "wonderful career" in work that he was both dedicated, and passionate, about. Commissioner Mike Potter motioned for the approval of the request to recognize, and it was seconded by Husom to carry unanimously.
A request was made to adopt the Ditch 38 resolution, findings, and order correcting drainage system records by Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala, to which Assistant County Attorney Kryzer spoke.
Kryzer presented findings from public comments both submitted and made in regards to Ditch 38, and mentioned that several other messages which had been sent to Commissioners on Dec. 18 should be disregarded, as they were submitted after the allotted time-frame had been closed. He remarked that the submissions were an attempt to bypass the County Auditor, and he greatly advised the Board to not consider them while making a decision to adopt.
A member of the public interjected to address the board, and Kryzer firmly advised against the Board opening the panel for discussion, as it was not in fairness to the community. As acting Chairman, Commissioner Daleiden moved to hear the public comment. However, Commissioners Potter and Husom both advised otherwise. It was motioned, without public comment, to adopt Ditch 38's resolution, findings, and records. It carried 3:1 with Daleiden opposing.
Also presented by Hiivala was the resolution establishing Wright County as an Absentee Ballot location for the current election cycle, due to end Dec. 31. It carried after being motioned by Husom and seconded by Commissioner Darek Vetsch.
Driver's Privacy Protection Act/Opioid Litigation
Chief Deputy Attorney Brian Asleson brought to the attention of the Commissioners the current situation regarding Wright County's standing violations of the Driver's Privacy and Protection Act (DPPA), which prohibits the use or release of personal information obtained from state motor vehicle records.
Asleson stated that Wright County has a number of these violations, some which have gone to a level of federal lawsuit. At least two have already reached settlement and have had damages paid out regarding Wright County, and others have either been dismissed federally or settled entirely.
Wright County, along with Mille Lacs and Crow Wing, are involved in a case that is going to federal court sometime Jan. 2018 regarding county employees having looked up information. The plaintiffs are Wright County citizens who are involved with the media, and a St. Paul law firm is currently handling the case further. It has been estimated that Wright County has already invested approximately $80,000 in this effort.
A settlement meeting is set for Dec. 22, before matters progress further.
Asleson also presented the request to authorize Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP and Gustafson Luek PLLC to be responsible in representing the county in potential claims against the manufacture and potential distribution of opioid drugs, of which County Attorney Tom Kelly spoke. The two were approached late Sept. on the growing issue of opioid distribution and manufacture, and have been working with the aforementioned firms to cooperate and assist in the prosecution of litigation of the opioid drug issue. Recently it has been confirmed by the Medical Examiner's report that these drugs have been involved with the death of a minor youth. Both Kelly and Asleson highly recommended the Commissioners to move forward with this authorization; Kelly stating that it was "a good thing to pursue, considering where we are at."
Commissioner Potter motioned for the request to be tabled upon Commissioner Borrell's return, where he inserted that Borrell might want the information presented to him in person before the Board made a decision. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Husom, and was tabled.
- The Consent Agenda consisted of items put forth by Administration, which were approved. Items included the approval of the 2018 Non-Union Salary range; the approval and authorization on the Labor Agreement for Sheriff Essential Supervisor Unit, Teamsters Local 320 for 2017-2019, and the memorandum of agreement for Off Duty Work that is consistent with labor negotiations and the Award of Arbitration; the approval and signatures on the memorandum of agreement for Country contributions for the 2018 heath insurance plans with Wright County Deputy's Association.
- 2018 Tobacco licenses were renewed for: Albertville's CL Gentile, Inc., Geeze Sports Bar and Grill, West Side Liquor of Albertville, Inc. Monticello's Cub Foods #1632, SuperAmerica #4479; Montrose's Doug and Sally Roepke, Inc., The Ugly Bar; St. Michael's SuperAmerica #4267 and #4554.
- New tobacco licenses were issues for Kwik Trip #104 in Clearwater. Additionally, the Nov. re-venue/expenditure budget report was approved, where changes had been made from its previous presentation.
- Acknowledgement warrants were issued between Dec. 6, 2017 and Dec. 12, 2017.
- Notary certification fee was changed from $10 to $5 per Minnesota Statue 359.061.
- Kevin J. Casserly was approved to perform appraisals for purposes of Tax Court
- The "Condition of Register, $50.00" was removed from the recorder's fee schedule in accordance with the 2017 Legislative Changes, per Minnesota Statue 508.82, subdivision 1, as they are obsolete.
- The minutes from Dec. 13's Committee of the Whole meeting were examined and approved unanimously, as were the Personnel and Ways and Means committee minutes.
- Mileage reimbursement was examined, and carried to remain at $0.50, despite the IRS' increase to $0.54. Wright County has historically been less in reimbursement of mileage in regards to the IRS. Commissioner Potter suggested that discussion continue as the budgetary meeting approaches. Commissioner Husom seconded on the condition of further discussion.
- The Wright County Board will meet Dec. 26, 2017, 11 a.m.; Jan. 02, 2017 11 a.m. to prepare for meeting with Minnesota Legislation, and Jan. 23, 2018 at 11 a.m. to address Legislators.
Christmas in color
With Christmas being right around the corner, it is no surprise that Buffalo is decorated to meet the holidays.
A technicolor wonderland of moving lights mixed with holiday merriment and classic music, the lightshow on Montrose Blvd, just after the Buffalo Adult Day Center, truly does try to beat the band. The lights are set to radio music and move in sync with songs broadcasted from 105.1, and you don't even have to leave your car to enjoy them.
With a display of candy canes, a train, dancing trees, and the towering tree pictured above, the show is both a festive and cheerful way of going out on the town to enjoy the season's festivities. (Photo by Miriam Orr)
Column changes in 2018
Ed DuBois' retirement brought a lot of bitter-sweet moments for the staff at Journal Press and The Drummer. However, Ed will not be the only one to retire from the Journal-Press. His popular column "Dubious Distinctions" will be retiring with him at the beginning of the year. He will publish two more columns until the new year switches over.
With that said, Miriam Orr is starting a column to fill the gap - "Access" it on the opinions page.
Photos of Wright County wanted
Wright County wants your seasonal photos. Whether it's Christmas cheer around the community, or a winter sunrise, Wright County wants your pictures.
To submit pictures, go online to co.wright.mn.us. Higher resolution photos will be given preference. The maximum file size per image is 10 MB. The image size needs to be 2048x409 or larger.
Lantern ski Jan. 6
The Wright County Parks and Recreation is thrilled to announce a host of upcoming events for the start of 2018.
Kicking off the events planned is the Lantern Cross-Country Ski event, taking place Jan. 6 from 6 -9 p.m. at Ney Park in Maple Lake.
Planned for the night are groomed trails, lit with lanterns to help guide skiers through the winter wonderland of Ney Park.
Inside the Nature Center sweet treats and warm drinks will await participants, and outdoors will provide the opportunity to sit fireside and enjoy the winter night.
The event is free to the public, and if you don't have your own equipment, rentals are available for $5 a person.
For any questions, call Robert Ney Memorial Park Reserve at 1-763-682-7894.
Early copy requested for holiday week
Office closed Dec. 25
Christmas is coming fast, and in observance of that Holiday, Wright-County Journal-Press and The Drummer will be closed Monday, Dec. 25.
Those in the community who provide news and advertising copy are asked to do so a day early, or sooner if time permits, as this will help us prepare for our return Tuesday Dec. 26.
Additionally, the office of the Journal-Press and The Drummer will be closed Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 in celebration of the coming new year. As aforementioned, those who provide copy are asked to make submissions at least a day early, but sooner is preferred.
We at the Wright County Journal-Press and The Drummer wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a safe, cheerful rest of 2017.
Festival of trees still in full swing
Wright County's Historical Society still has its glittering display open for viewing during regular business hours, until Jan. 5, 2018 (Photo by Miriam Orr)
Zoning request sent back to planning commission
By Rob LaPlante
Paxmar LLC's application for a zoning district amendment was carefully considered, but momentarily voted down by members of Buffalo City Council at Monday's meeting at the City Center.
The targeted property is located on 4th St. S. between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave. The applicant also provided a concept plan for a plat that would include 21 lots with homes that would look similar to those in Settlers' Pointe if R-3 zoning area is approved.
The property is currently zoned R-1 Single Family Suburban and has previously been recommended for R-2 Single Family Urban designation. Paxmar proposes the property be rezoned to R-3 Single and Two Family. The property is currently undeveloped and prior preliminary plats proposed on the property have been abandoned.
A thru-street has been included with previous concepts, but the developer would like to instead have a cul-de-sac.
Kent Roessler of Paxmar LLC presented information regarding values surrounding the property and stated many developers have looked at this parcel for potential development over the years. Roessler stated the property has been left undeveloped for 25 years.
Roessler would like a cul-de-sac rather than a thru-street in order to create a neighborhood for the new homes. He believes the graveyard and current industrial use to the south would be deterrents for the development if a thru-street is required.
Arguments for and against the amendment were discussed during an open forum segment.
Concerned citizens currently living in the area suggested their concern about the speed of current traffic will only get worse if a cul-de-sac was developed. Other concerns included the addition of homes and how a cul-de-sac would congest traffic even more with one-way in, and one-way out traffic.
R-3 zone currently is an older plat, which potentially could encourage families to buy older properties for cheaper value with the hopes of booming the local economy for home improvement needs.
Mayor Teri Lachermeier says she is in favor of housing development. She noted that the development would help protect jobs in the local school district, as kindergarten numbers in the district are currently down.
Council unanimously voted the amendment down, and to send it back to Planning Commission for further discussions at possible re-zoning. The Planning Commission voted the amendment down 3-1 at its Dec. 11 meeting.
- Council ratified a unanimous vote at a Dec. 5 Fire Department meeting to appoint John Harnois as Fire Chief.
- Donations were accepted in the amount of $2,660 from Montrose Lions to the Community Center Toy Shop. Buffalo American Legion also donated $1,000 to the Toy Shop. Brendan Spirala donated $500 to the Bison Fishing Forever program.
- Council approved to adopt the 2018 operating budget, wage program, capital improvement plan, set rates, and to certify the levy.
- Eric Ritter, Manager at Wild Marsh Golf Course, was approved to attend with his groundskeeper the 2018 Gold Industry Show and an educational conference next February in San Antonio, Texas. The events will be paid for by the city, but all other aspects of the trip at self-funded. Season-pass fees next year at Wild Marsh will remain the same, but council approved Ritter the ability to adjust daily fees accordingly.
55+ driver's improvement class offered Jan. 4
The Minnesota Highway Safety Center will be offering a 55+ Driver Improvement Refresher Course on the following days: Jan. 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Presbyterian Church. Also, on Jan. 8, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Community Center. Fees for this class are $22 and require pre-registration.
The Driver Improvement course is open to the public. A MN Highway Safety & Research Center certified instructor teaches this cl-ass. By utilizing the most up-to-date research in the field, participants will be provided the latest information in regards to driver safety, new laws, and vehicle technology. Persons age 55 and older who complete the course qualify for a 10% discount on their auto insurance premiums for three years, according to Minnesota law. First time participants must complete the initial eight hours of training and a four hour refresher class every three years to maintain the 10% discount.
Christmas Eve candlelight services
There is no better way to celebrate Christmas than with beautiful music, lovely candlelight, and the good news of the season.
Join the Buffalo Covenant Church as the embrace the story of Christmas together in a beautiful candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Services are held 1:30, 3:00, and 4:30 p.m. Buffalo Covenant Church is located on Hwy North, just past Walmart.
Straight out of the movies
Buffalo man stages Hollywood-style marriage proposal
By Miriam Orr
Standing on Fridley High School's theatre stage 24 years ago, never in a million years did David Ulrich anticipate he would ask his good friend to marry him. Especially with a full Hollywood production camera-crew focused on the two of them.
However, it happened on October 4, 2017.
24 years in history
David Ulrich, event planner and a now resident of Buffalo, remembers performing as Buddy Holly in his high school's musical production of "Buddy," Then a senior, his close friend was Jodi Dinsmore, a freshman, who was cast as a dancer in the same production.
"We were really close friends," Dinsmore explained. "And we had lots in common, even back then."
Jodi explained that she'd heard bits and pieces about David after graduating and moving on, but never anything more as she pursued her career, which now has led her to North Memorial where she has been a Medical Assistant for two years.
It wasn't until a post on Facebook a year ago, that drew both of their attentions, that they "came on each others radar."
"Mutual friends of ours posted on Facebook, and I remember seeing him there and thinking 'Wow, it's been 24 years,'" Jodi expressed.
Quickly connecting online, June 2017 brought on a conversation that was as simple as deciding to go to lunch.
Being in love like the movies
On July 3, David met Jodi. It was the usual "interview," as David remembered. Mutually, they asked all the typical, awkward questions one encounters while on that first date, mostly to catch up.
For David, however, he knew right away that Jodi was the one.
"It was a 20 year recap of history," David remembered, "but I knew from that lunch that she was the woman I was going to marry."
After lunch, David confessed that he sat in his car outside the restaurant as Jodi left, jotting down everything they had talked about over their time together.
"I knew I was going to ask Jodi to marry me, so I wrote down everything she had said - and she had mentioned that she'd never 'been in love like the movies,' so I didn't want to miss anything to make that come true."
For Jodi, the realization didn't come right away.
"For me, it was just going to lunch with an old friend," she explained.
What Jodi didn't know, however, was that she was falling in love like in the movies, and Hollywood was really just right around the corner.
Bringing Hollywood to home
From his notes after that first date on July 3, David would spend six weeks preparing his "straight out of the movies" marriage proposal to Jodi - and, as David recalls, it was a process.
"I knew that the [Fridley] high school stage was the place," David said, "and I wanted it to be big, like out of the movies. Who better to do that than people who actually make movies?"
Being an event planner has given David contacts all across the region - Hollywood, Cal., included. Ulrich stated that he knew people in the "Hollywood business," but he really got the ball rolling by getting the school in Fridley involved, as well getting individuals from their high school years, and others, in on the event.
"I had to be pretty sneaky," David explained, "to make it look real. I did everything from create a fake production company, logos, and a documentary series to actually pull it off. It all had to look real."
Creating a fake production company and writing up official-looking documents for a "documentary series" broadcasting in Fridley took both a lot of work, and coordination. There was no doubt in Jodi's mind that the documentary would be real. But, she did have doubts as to whether Ulrich was going to pop the question during filming.
"David's not a really good secret keeper," Jodi disclosed.
She explained that multiple times during David's charade, he had slipped up here and there, which only continued to confirm her suspicion that David would be asking her to marry him during their documentary interviews.
The day of the production was when Jodi really observed David's growing anxiety. She explained that over the day he had been fidgety and acting "a bit weird," walking around with an expensive production set microphone clipped to his back.
"I knew something was up when he was walking around with the mic pack," Jodi jibed, "knowing a bit about movies like I do, I highly doubted any producer or director would let him just walk with a mic."
She continued, "That's when I got nervous. I was thinking, 'Is he really going to ask me during the interview on stage during production?'"
It still had not crossed her mind that the proposal was the very production she was worried about.
Jodi remembers the ride over to Fridley's high school, where filming was to occur. It was Oct. 4, and David was growing more anxious by the minute.
The elaborate set up is set to the song "Perfect," by Ed Sheeran. After purchasing rights to use the song on camera, it was a matter of staging the production within the song's time-frame.
"It's like a four minute song," David said, "and when we realized it had taken two minutes to actually walk into the auditorium, our plans sort of bottomed out and we had to just wing it from there."
All nine cameras that the production team had brought were rolling, and by that time, Jodi already had an idea that things were not exactly as they had seemed. With a display of over 200 candles and lights, Jodi remembers being overwhelmed when David took a knee and asked.
"I was totally flabbergasted," Jodi remarked, "I couldn't believe it was all happening. I was completely floored."
Having a Hollywood production team and crew actually create the moment came with an added bonus for the couple - they gave them the advice to put up a Facebook page and post a video online to garner attention and "really take it somewhere."
Jodi explained that it had traveled a bit farther than she had thought. While she was at a dentist appointment, one of the ladies there had recalled seeing something online about a man taking his girlfriend to Fridley's high school to propose marriage to her - and that there were Hollywood cameras filming the whole thing.
"I was like, 'That was me!' And she said, 'No way!'" Dinsmore said.
Knowing that her engagement was one of those special ones that people look up online is still surreal, Jodi went on to say. As a professional event planner, however, David saw it as a matter of fulfilling the dreams and desires of someone special.
"I wanted to give her the romance she'd always envisioned," David said.
Ulrich and Dinsmore currently reside in Buffalo. Their wedding date is anticipated sometime in 2018, with nothing currently set.