St. Louis County District Court in Duluth will soon launch the state’s newest veterans treatment court, a special program designed to assist military veterans in the criminal justice system who are struggling with chemical or mental health issues.

The county has been holding a special court calendar for veterans since early 2014. In 2016, officials began taking steps to turn the effort into a recognized veterans treatment court program.

The Minnesota Judicial Council recently gave formal approval to launch the South St. Louis County Veterans Treatment Court. Program features include comprehensive assessment and treatment, intensive supervision and random drug and breath testing.

The program will accept veterans charged with misdemeanors and felonies where the defendant is screened as a high risk to reoffend and in high need of treatment or services.

Mark Brunswick

Winona County

Sand company call for appeal of frac mining ban

A Winona County ban on frac sand mining is unconstitutional, a frac sand company said in a statement issued last week.

Minnesota Sands lost a suit against the county last year but filed an appeal in January. The company said last week that it appealed to protect landowner rights.

The ban, according to Minnesota Sands, violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and constitutes a taking (a legal term for regulations that render a property owner’s land worthless) under the state and federal constitutions.

Winona became the first county in Minnesota to ban frac sand mines in 2016. The mining company has said it is fighting for jobs, property owner rights and the chance to profit from the nation’s oil industry. Opponents say they fear mining operations will destroy scenic bluffs along the Mississippi River and contaminate the air and groundwater.

Winona County, like several other areas in southeastern Minnesota, is home to large reserves of fine silica sand that is considered the best material for propping open cracks in the underground shale formations that produce oil and natural gas.

Matt McKinney

Grand Marais

Cook County sheriff warns of phone scam

Scammers posing as representatives of the local public utilities commission are targeting residents of Grand Marais, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office warned last week.

Multiple residents have been called by scammers and told they were behind on their bill, and that if they didn’t provide credit card information immediately, their power would be shut off within 15 minutes.

If residents questioned the call, they were told to look at their caller ID, where they saw a number for “GM PUTIL/City Hall.” It is a trick that telephone scammers often use, the sheriff’s office said.

The utility notifies residents of overdue bills in writing several weeks before it would disconnect a utility, the sheriff’s office said. Residents are reminded not to supply callers with credit card or bank account numbers.

Pam Louwagie