Three Washington County communities -- Oakdale, Woodbury and Newport -- were awarded nearly $1.3 million in grants from the Metropolitan Council for economic development projects that are either underway or in the planning stages.

The largest was a $1,171,566 development grant to Oakdale. It will help pay the cost of demolishing the Oakdale Mall and for street enhancements for a large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment of the 18-acre site at Interstate 694 and 10th Street N. The vacant and blighted 180,000-square-foot mall currently occupies the site. New construction at the site will include a 125,000-square-foot commercial space, including office, office-medical, office-tech flex and retail space and 80 units of senior rental housing.

Woodbury received a $100,000 pre-development grant to support a market study and master planning for a new mixed-use, high-density development identified in the city's comprehensive plan as the "Urban Village" at the southwest corner of Bailey Road and Radio Drive. City officials say mixed-use development at the site will provide needed goods and services to southern Woodbury and create a setting for housing in an environment that will provide safe and convenient movement of both vehicles and pedestrians.

Newport also received a pre-development grant for $69,350. The money will be used to create land use and implementation tools to guide development around the Red Rock commuter rail station and reunite the city in the wake of the recently constructed Wakota Bridge and Hwy. 61 interchange. The planning applies to an area south of I-494, west of Hwy. 61 and north of 20th Street, the site of the former Knox Lumber Co. WASHINGTON COUNTY

County attorney feted at retirement party

Family, dignitaries, friends and colleagues paid tribute Monday night to Doug Johnson, who retired as Washington County attorney.

Johnson had been the county's chief prosecutor since 1999, and was an assistant county attorney for 12 years before that. He also had served as Wadena County attorney.

Speakers at Monday's retirement reception in Stillwater included Paul Anderson, associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton and John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, of which Johnson is a former president.

Johnson was lauded for his integrity, dedication, compassion and commitment to the cause of justice.

Reflecting on his job, he told the crowd of about 200 that he was often asked how he could work at a job so often steeped in heartache, violence and criminals.

"I always tell people: 'All you can do is complain about it -- I get to do something about it,'" he said.


Candlelight hike planned at state park

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is offering many family-friendly programs and special events to take advantage of the season's ample snowfall, including 25 candlelight events at Minnesota state parks and trails.

Candlelight events provide an opportunity to walk, hike, ski or snowshoe on trails illuminated by the warm glow of candles. Park and trail visitors can then warm up around a cozy fire and roast marshmallows or enjoy a hot drink.

The candlelight hike at Afton State Park is from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5.

The events are free, but a vehicle permit is required to enter Minnesota state parks. Vehicle permits ($5 for a one-day permit or $25 for an annual permit) can be purchased from the parks or at Twin Cities REI stores.

Before skiers age 16 and older hit the trails, they also will need a Minnesota Ski Pass. Daily ski passes, which cost $6, can be purchased at park offices on the night of the event, or online at They also are available from any of Minnesota's more than 1,500 electronic license system vendors.

In case of bad weather, events may be changed or canceled. For weather updates, directions to parks, and information on where to get a ski pass, call the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 in the Twin Cities or toll-free at 1-888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Changes at park may include parking lot

A small parking lot may be added this year near the north entrance of Afton State Park, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is inviting the public to offer their opinions on the plan.

The small lot -- about 10 spaces -- is intended to alleviate on-street parking problems on 50th Street S. near the entrance. The problem has inconvenienced residents and created safety concerns, according to Ronald Moorse, interim city administrator.

A hearing on the plan will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at Afton City Hall, 3033 St. Croix Trail S.


Car seat clinic offered at Fire Station No. 2

Children who are both under age 8 and shorter than 4 feet 9 must be fastened in a child safety seat that meets federal safety standards.

Regions Hospital and the Cottage Grove Fire Department are holding a car seat clinic from 4-7 p.m. on Jan. 25 at Fire Station No. 2, 8641 80th St. S.

Call 651-357-2798 to sign up, or e-mail carseatinfo@health

Blizzard can't stifle spirit of generosity

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train was supposed to arrive in Cottage Grove on Dec. 11 -- right when 20 inches of snow was falling, forcing cancellation of the annual fund-raising event.

The weather may have been frightful, but it did not diminish the spirit and generosity of Cottage Grove and nearby communities.

Donations of cash, food and toiletries still poured in, exceeding the $50,000 goal. The $71,987.48 raised represents a 22 percent increase over 2009, and with the support of local businesses, the cities of Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park and the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, the administrative expense for the fundraising and the event was less than 1 percent.

More than 10,000 pounds of food and toiletries were collected.


Ex-volunteer, educator to speak on Pakistan

Nancy Parlin was a Peace Corps volunteer in Pakistan from 1962 to 1965 and returned to the south Asian nation to visit in 1977 and 1991. She was most recently there two years ago when she worked in a teacher training program.

Parlin, a retired sociology professor and the former vice chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, will share her observations on how the country has changed over the past few decades when she speaks from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Grand Banquet Center, 301 S. 2nd St., Stillwater.

Her talk titled "Return to Pakistan: 1962 to 2009," is part of the Conversations of the Valley luncheon lecture series put on by the St. Croix Valley Foundation.

In recent years, Parlin has spent time in Iran with a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation and has traveled to Israel and Palestine with the Interfaith Peace Builders. She also has done work with Habitat for Humanity and Global Volunteers in India, Kenya and Costa Rica.

Tickets, which include lunch, are $17. They are available by calling 651-430-3830 or at