Reopening will take time

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2011 - 9:19 PM

Employees return as of 6 a.m. Thursday, but parks, services and road work may not be fully going again until next week.

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A MNDot crew fills potholes.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Like a rusted, frozen-up wheel that just got a shot of lubricant, Minnesota's state government is starting to get back to business.

About 22,000 state employees, out of work for 20 days, were to start reporting back to work Thursday, beginning at 6 a.m. or at the start of their usual shifts.

For the public, services and amenities are starting to reopen too. The Department of Driver and Vehicle Services will be processing driver's licenses, vehicle registrations and drivers tests by Thursday morning. Online tab renewals also will be available.

Minnesotans who are feeling luck can buy state lottery tickets on Thursday morning, and those who want to hit the track will find that racing is getting underway at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.

A spokesman for the owners said the state's Racing Commission, which regulates the track, once again would be ready to regulate it, after being in limbo during the shutdown. The spokesman said the track's card casino, featuring poker tables and other games, would open at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Some state parks will be open for day use by Friday, others by the weekend. Parks at St. Croix and Afton will take longer to repair damages from storms and vandals. Although new camping reservations won't be accepted until next week, visitors with existing reservations will have those honored, the department said.

By Saturday, the Minnesota Historical Society's 26 historic sites and museums will be open for business, after being shut down since July 1. That includes the Minnesota History Center and Fort Snelling. The society also announced that its programs, including weekend music series, would resume.

State Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter warned Tuesday, before the new state budget was approved, that fully restoring all of the functions of state government could take days or weeks.

He offered no specifics on how quickly state offices that issue licenses and perform other regulatory functions could be fully operational and said it could be weeks before certain road construction projects are back on track.

Transportation Department spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said officials hope to have most highway rest areas reopened by the weekend and said motorists should start noticing the resumption of work on some road construction projects by early next week.

Fishing licenses, another high-visibility casualty of the shutdown were being issued online Wednesday, the department reported.

Although many questions about the resumption of state services remain unanswered, employees were simply told to show up Thursday. On a state website, they were told, "Welcome back. We are glad to have you and your team together again to serve Minnesota."

In one other headline-grabbing element of the shutdown, the beer will keep flowing across Minnesota.

The state government budget bill passed on Tuesday night included a last-minute provision that will allow liquor retailers to use expired liquor purchasing cards until July 31.

Hundreds of retailers were slowly drying out because their cards expired and they were unable to get them renewed, with no state employees available to do the job.

Bob von Sternberg • 651-222-0973

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