Two dozen Minnesota counties and two tribal nations have been officially declared federal disaster areas as they work to clean up in the aftermath of early summer floods.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency expanded its disaster declaration for the state Friday to 24 counties and two tribal governments. Conditions in six other counties are still under FEMA review, including the Twin Cities region.
Heavy rains and flash floods pounded much of the state in June and July, flooding homes and crops, washing away bridges and infrastructure and causing millions of dollars in damage. A federal disaster declaration, issued only to hardest-hit regions, allows FEMA to shoulder 75 percent of the cleanup cost, and makes it easier for state and local governments and nonprofits to get access to assistance and to hazard mitigation funds to prevent future flooding.
The new disaster declaration includes: Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Dodge, Faribault, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Nicollet, Redwood, Rice, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca, and Yellow Medicine counties, and the tribal governments of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Prairie Island Indian Community.
The state had requested federal disaster assistance for 30 counties, but FEMA is still reviewing the requests for Dakota, Hennepin, Lyon, Ramsey, Watonwan, and Wright.
FEMA had issued a major disaster declaration for eight other counties on June 11: Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock.
By Pam Louwagie
WASECA, Minn. – Prosecutors announced in court Wednesday that they will appeal the dismissal of the most serious charges against a teenager accused of plotting to kill his family and set off a school massacre.
The case against 17-year-old John LaDue was put on hold with that announcement. A judge on Monday had dismissed four counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree damage to property against LaDue in juvenile court, saying prosecutors hadn’t shown that the boy’s actions went beyond “mere preparation.”
The judge let stand six counts of possession of explosive devices.
LaDue appeared in court Wednesday for a hearing where prosecutors were seeking to certify him as an adult. That hearing was postponed while they appeal the dismissal of the charges.
Defense attorneys said they were surprised by the appeal Wednesday morning, and hinted that they may ask the judge to reconsider the conditions under which LaDue is being held. He has been confined to a juvenile facility in Red Wing.
The appeal will delay the teen from getting into mental health treatment, defense attorney Steve Bergeson said after the hearing.
“The judge has to consider whether there are better conditions of release, specifically conditions that would allow John to begin mental health” treatment, he told reporters.
Bergeson said defense attorneys could ask for a range of possibilities, including going to a less secure facility. “Talking about [LaDue] going home is simply premature,” he said.
Minnesota has expanded its request for federal disaster assistance to cover more than a third of the state, adding 30 more counties and two tribal governments to the list of regions still struggling to rebuild after the June and July floods.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to declare federal disasters in areas ranging from the Twin Cities to the Canadian and Iowa borders. Damage assessment teams have combed the state for weeks, tallying up the damage from the storms that washed out roads and dams, swamped cropland and neighborhoods, and pushed many of the state's rivers over their banks.
On Tuesday, the state requested federal disaster assistance for: Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Dakota, Dodge, Faribault, Hennepin, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Nicollet, Ramsey, Redwood, Rice, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca, Watonwan, Wright and Yellow Medicine counties, as well as the tribal governments of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Prairie Island Indian Community.
Eight counties are already federal disaster areas -- Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock Counties. The designation makes it easier for local governments and nonprofits to secure federal aid, both with cleanup and with mitigation efforts to try to prevent future flooding.
The city of Duluth won another round in its ongoing battle to keep a notorious downtown head shop out of business.
On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the injunctions that shut down the Last Place on Earth, whose owner openly sold banned forms of synthetic drugs.
Store owner James Carlson was convicted of 51 felony counts stemming from his synthetic drug businesses and is currently in prison and awaiting sentencing.
In the year since Duluth secured a court order to close Last Place on Earth, city officials say crime and emergency calls have declined sharply. It’s a far cry from the days when customers would line up down the block to get into the last store in the state that still sold products like synthetic marijuana and bath salts.
“It’s been great for downtown. It’s amazing how much has changed in just a year,” said Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson. “What was a real scourge on the city, on our business community, on our public safety – the police department, the fire department, the hospitals – has been lifted.”
In the first 23 days after Last Place on Earth closed, the city saw an almost 44 percent drop in emergency calls to the neighborhood.
At Carlson’s trial, emergency room physicians from St Luke’s hospital testified that they went from seeing at least one synthetic drug overdose case per shift – raving, screaming patients who sometimes had to be placed into induced comas until the drugs left their system – to seeing none, said assistance city attorney Nathan LaCoursiere.
“It’s like night and day. It’s like the lights were turned back on” in downtown Duluth since the shop closed, La Coursiere said.
In his appeal, Carlson’s attorney Randall Tigue argued unsuccessfully that the city’s local ban on synthetic drugs was unconstitutional and the public nuisance charges against were unfounded. The appellate court affirmed the district court’s permanent injunction against the business.
Tigue has not yet responded to a call for comment, but the Associated Press reports that Carlson plans to appeal.
Minnesota has hired a director to lead its newly created Office of Medical Cannabis.
The Legislature legalized the limited use of medical marijuana this year and on Wednesday the Minnesota Department of Health named Michelle Larson to oversee the program.
The new Office of Medical Cannabis has one year to set up a statewide system that can produce, distribute and regulate the use of medical marijuana. Larson comes to the job after serving as deputy director of the health department's Office of Statewide Health Improvement, which tackled hot-button issues like tobacco, obesity and nutrition.
Larson's to-do list for the next few months will include screening and selecting the manufacturers who will produce medical marijuana, developing rules to govern the operation of the dispensary system and building a patient registry.
Minnesota has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws among the 23 states that have legalized the drug for medical use. Starting in July 15, patients with certain doctor-certified conditions like cancer, seizure disorders, glaucoma or terminal illnesses, will be able to legally buy marijuana in liquid, pill or other non-smokable forms. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance with no recognized medical use.
Two in-state manufacturers will produce all of Minnesota's medical cannabis, which in turn will be distributed at eight dispensaries around the state. Who those producers will be, and where those distribution centers will be located are among the first issues Larson and her 10-person staff will tackle this summer.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said the medical cannabis program will need to ramp up quickly and Larson -- an environmental health specialist who has also worked in the department's Office of Emergency Preparedness and served in the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth -- has experience and skills for the job.
“This position requires a skilled administrator, but it also requires someone who can work with people from a range of backgrounds,” Ehlinger said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Michelle brings a strong background in public policy and administration, as well as a history of working with the public health community, law enforcement and security, pharmacists, health care providers and community members. She has the ability to work with people to get things done right.”
Larson starts work on Aug. 13. For more information about the medical cannabis program, visit: www.health.state.mn.us/topics/cannabis/index.html.