From Wabasha to Warroad, from Sleepy Eye to Silver Bay, Dateline Minnesota scours the state to bring you breaking news from outside the Twin Cities.

Big Stone Co. GOP chair: Muslims are terrorists, we should 'frag 'em'

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: November 20, 2014 - 2:50 PM

A Minnesota Republican Party official issued a “call to arms” against Muslims Thursday, calling them “terrorists” and “parasites” and suggesting that someone should “frag ‘em.”

Jack Whitley, chairman of the Big Stone County Republican Party, has no apology for a series of inflammatory posts on his personal Facebook page -- remarks state GOP officials have condemned as "outrageous."

“Muslims are terrorists. They don’t belong in this country,” Whitley told the Star Tribune Thursday. “Their attitude and their agenda don’t belong in this country. They cause terror and discontent, total chaos everywhere they are.”

The Minnesota Republican Party rejected Whitley's statements.

"I condemn the outrageous comments posted on Mr. Whitley's Facebook page," Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey said in a statement Thursday. "They could not be further from the Republican Party's beliefs, nor more contrary to the efforts we have undertaken to include Muslim Americans, and every American, in our Party.  We recently moved our office into the heart of Minneapolis, were proud to endorse our first Somali-American candidate for the state legislature, and have worked hard to welcome the fine Americans from these communities into our Party."

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Whitley wrote:

"I have no desire to hold hands and play pattycake with these people," he told the Star Tribune. "It's pointless. They don't understand peace...They understand one thing, and that's aggressive force."

That, he said, includes any American Muslims who do not "stand up and deal with the aggression and terrorist activities within their own ideology."

His post was one of many on his Facebook page condemning Islam, homosexuality, Communism and other topics. This post, first spotted by the Bluestem Prairie blog, brought protests from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It’s very disturbing to see a Republican Party leader engage in outright bigotry and hate,” CAIR-Minnesota executive director Lori Saroya said in a statement. “These broad-brush smears of the entire Muslim community remind us of similar smears against Catholics, Jews and others in the past.”

Whitley, for his part, sees no reason to apologize. In a fresh blog post this morning, he wrote:


When asked whether his feelings about Muslims extended to peaceful Muslim-American men, women and children – including Minneapolis’s Muslim-American congressman, Keith Ellison,

“I don’t really see much of Islam being peaceful at all,” he said. “Don’t come into this country, infiltrating this country with your terrorist activities and terrorist agendas and call it a ‘holy war.”

If statements like "frag 'em" -- a reference to detonating a fragmentation grenade -- creates an atmosphere of violence against Muslim-Americans, Whitley said followers of the religion bring it upon themselves if they fail to reject Islamic extremists.

"You have the right to follow any path of religion you choose, as long as it does not violate other people's peace," he said. "Your association with those in your religion who have those terrorist activities, and your unwillingness to call them on the carpet for it? No, you no longer have the right to practice that religion if it infringes on the peace and the tranquility of this nation and the people around you. That nullifies your constitutional right to practice your freedom of religion."

MnDOT recommends massive bridge to replace Iron Range highway

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: November 18, 2014 - 4:44 PM

The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to build the state's tallest bridge to replace a stretch of Iron Range highway that's about to vanish into a pit mine.

The big bridge was the route recommended Tuesday by the engineers and planners who have been working for four years to figure out how to reroute a section of Highway 53 that sits on top of a valuable ore deposit on land the state was only leasing from the mining companies.

Rerouting the highway around the mining operation and across a water-filled pit mine just east of Virginia will cost an estimated $220 million -- almost as much as it cost the state to rebuild after the collapse of the I-35W bridge . This recommended route, which now faces a detailed environmental and community review, was the least expensive of the three options the state was studying.

“This is MnDOT’s best thinking, and we want to hear from the public,” MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in a statement Tuesday. “From an engineering and cost point of view, this route stands out. We expect that the environmental process taking place now will support it. However, we want to make sure we haven’t missed anything, and encourage comment on the recommendation.”

Highway 53, which runs from Duluth to International Falls and the Canadian border, is a lifeline for the Iron Range communities of Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert and Mountain Iron. Uncertainty about the highway's future had haunted the communities for years, and left businesses unwilling to move to town or expand their operations until they were sure the highway would still carry customers to their door.

"We're happy with this route," said Virginia City Councillor Charlie Baribeau, one of the community leaders who has been keeping a close eye on the relocation planning process. "This is one of the preferred routes."

If all goes well, Baribeau said, the community was told construction on a 1,100-foot bridge across the Rouchleau Pit could begin as early as fall 2015. The bridge -- which would be even taller than the John Blatnik “High Bridge" in Duluth -- poses unique engineering challenges. It would be built on some of the hardest rock on the planet, across a quarry that serves as Virginia's water supply.

Two other proposed routes would have been even more expensive. A longer bridge across the quarry would have cost an estimated $360 million and a proposal to route the highway across an active mine pit would have cost the state at least $460 million.

The state's dilemma traces back to the 1960s, when Minnesota accepted the local mining companies' offer to run the highway across their land, at no cost. The catch was that if the mining company decided it needed access to the minerals under the road any time after 1987, Minnesota would foot the cost of relocating the highway.

In 2010, the two companies that currently own the land under the highway, United Taconite and RGGS Land and Minerals, alerted MnDOT that they would need access to the minerals under the road. The state asked for a seven-year grace period to come up with a way to reroute the road.

Cliffs Natural Resources, which operates an active pit mine that stretches to within 300 feet of the existing highway, hopes to begin mining the taconite under the highway by 2017.

The state's review process will study the preferred route, as well as the alternatives -- including the option of doing nothing. But selecting a preferred route is a crucial step forward for the project. Now, said Highway 53 project director Patrick Huston, the state can select a design firm and a contractor to begin planning the bridge.

“We understand this has been a long and emotional process for the community, and we appreciate the public’s patience,” Zelle said. “Because of the project’s complexity, however, we needed the time to make sure we made the right decision now to achieve the most efficient and effective outcome.”


 

Warming car goes missing

Posted by: Pam Louwagie Updated: November 18, 2014 - 2:11 PM

Duluth police are reminding people that thieves work even in frigid temperatures.

A driver who tried to warm up his car by leaving it running near the Miller Hill Mall area on Monday night got a rude surprise when he returned five minutes later: His 2005 Toyota Corolla was gone, according to a Duluth Police statement.

The car was later found crashed and abandoned off Skyline Parkway.

The department wrote in bold and all caps: “THIS WAS A PREVENTABLE CRIME.”

It reminded drivers that it’s against Duluth city law to leave a vehicle unattended with keys in it.  Police suggested investing in a remote car starter because “these devices have security features that will shut the car down if someone tries to enter it or drive it without the key.”

’Tis the season.

Minneapolis Grain Belt sign might be about to get lit

Posted by: Pam Louwagie Updated: November 12, 2014 - 6:00 PM

The iconic Grain Belt beer sign, which has loomed dark along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis for almost 20 years, might soon be lit again.


New Ulm-based August Schell Brewing Company, which now brews Grain Belt, announced plans Wednesday to buy the historic Nicollet Island sign and the land it sits upon.


The family-owned company plans to donate the 1940s icon to the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, which will raise money to light and maintain the sign.


“People love the sign,” Schell’s president Ted Marti said Wednesday afternoon. “At least we ensure the sign is saved … that’s sort of the bottom line.”


People assumed Schell’s already owned the sign, Marti said, but it was never part of the package when the beer brand changed ownership, including when Schell’s bought it in 2002


The sign originally graced the top of the Marigold Ballroom on Nicollet Ave. and was moved to its river location in 1950.


The Minneapolis Brewing Co., the original maker of Grain Belt, leased the bottlecap sign from the Eastman Family, descendants of early entrepreneurs in the city. The sign is now owned by the Eastman Family Trust, according to a spokesman for Schell’s.


Schell’s officials would not reveal the sale price. The deal is expected to close later this year if “due diligence leads[s] to the conclusion that the sign can be relit,” according to a company statement.


Marti said he doesn’t yet know how much money it will take to light up the sign. At one point “years and years ago,” estimates of $500,000 were thrown around, but with LED and other new technology the price could be less or more than that, he said.


Marti said in 2009 that the company was interested in bringing the sign back to life, but that building a financially and physically sound brewery had been the top priority. 


“We spent a lot of time concentrating on our business and, to be honest, you can’t make beer with a sign,” Marti said Wednesday.


This year, though, “it seemed like the right time to sort of get off the dime, so to speak, and get the sign purchased,” Marti said. “It was time to ensure that it didn’t fall into someone else’s hands and then we would kind of lose control of it.”


Founded in 1860, Schell’s is the second oldest family-owned brewery in the United States. It became the largest brewery in Minnesota when it acquired Grain Belt.


The company will donate the landmark to the Preservation Alliance “because we’re still not in the sign business,” he said, laughing. “Obviously they can help us … It feels like a good partnership to us.”


Preservation Alliance Executive Director Doug Gasek said the group will begin fundraising and will need “the help of everyone” to make sure the sign gets re-lit and maintained.


Marti said the company will “absolutely” contribute to that: “We’ll be participating in whatever it takes.”


The Grain Belt sign and other historic icons along the riverfront are, “kind of touchstones for the community” Gasek said. “It’s really engrained in … the continuity of culture from one generation to the next.”

Medical marijuana advocates push for expanded access

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: October 30, 2014 - 4:15 PM

Every candidate for governor has pledged to support the expansion of Minnesota's new medical marijuana program -- except Gov. Mark Dayton, who signed the program into law.

Patients and supporters gathered at the State Legislature Thursday to call on the Democratic governor to join his Republican, Independence, Libertarian and Grassroots party challengers in a pledge to broaden the state's not-yet-launched medical cannabis program to give more patients with more conditions access to the drug.

"This is not a partisan issue," said Patrick McClellan, a Burnsville resident with muscular dystrophy who uses marijuana to treat the painful, debilitating muscle spasms. "I do qualify for the medical cannabis program, but unfortunately tens of thousands of people do not."

The governor, however, is holding off on a marijuana policy discussion until after the election.

"I have not discussed any legislation with any group and will not until after next Tuesday's election," Dayton said through a spokesman.

The medical marijuana advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care asked every candidate this week whether they would support expanding the program to patients with conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A broader bill -- one that would have given more patients access to the drug and allowed it to be sold in plant form at dozens of retail outlets statewide -- passed the Minnesota Senate earlier this year. But after law enforcement groups objected, the Legislature passed a more limited, restrictive version.

Under the current law, an estimated 5,000 patients in Minnesota will qualify to buy medical marijuana when it is legalized next summer. It will only be sold in liquid or pill form and will only be available for sale at eight closely regulated locations around the state.

The other gubernatorial candidates, including Republican Jeff Johnson, signed off in support for the Senate version of the legalization bill: "I support the expansion of our limited medical cannabis program to include the provisions of SF 1641 approved by a bipartisan majority of the Minnesota Senate. Seriously ill Minnesotans who suffer from intractable pain, PTSD and wasting should not be left behind, and patients should be allowed to administer their medicine in the manner recommended by their doctor."

The Minnesota Health Department is in the process of selecting two companies to grow and refine the drug into a non-smokable form. The cannabis will be distributed at eight retail locations around the state to patients with qualifying conditions -- including terminally ill Minnesotans, adults and children with seizure disorders and cancer patients.

The first legal medical marijuana sales in Minnesota should take place on July 1, 2015.

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