The Coon Rapids Fire Department began carrying the anti-overdose drug Narcan to aid victims in an emergency almost a year ago and has successfully used it at least six times since then, including twice recently.
The fire department was one of the first in the state to carry the drug in each of its fire rescue vehicles. It has seven.
Narcan, also known by its generic name, naloxone, is often referred to as a heroin antidote, but it also counteracts overdoses of prescription pain medications, including Vicodin, Norco, Percocet and OxyContin.
"The heroin rate for overdose is going up just because it's a cheaper drug to get a hold of," said Nick House, firefighter and fire inspector in Coon Rapids.
City public safety leaders decided last year that fire rescue vehicles would be the best place to carry Narcan, because the department responds to all medical calls, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"For the most part, we beat the ambulance to a call, and the majority of our cases we have [Narcan] administered by the time [the ambulance] arrives," House said. (Ambulances also carry the drug.)
The price of Narcan has doubled in the past year, House said. The fire department is "comfortable with what we have," he said. He doesn't know if they'll purchase more.
A state law that went into effect in August 2014 allows emergency responders to administer the drug. Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies also carry Narcan.
Northstar commuter rail
The Northstar rail line, plagued with delays last year, is back on track. The north suburban train service that carries passengers between Target Field in Minneapolis and Big Lake in Sherburne County arrived on time 92.7 percent of the time in July and 95.8 percent in June.
Confronted with track congestion due to freight traffic and weather issues, Northstar saw its on-time arrival slip to 66 percent in late 2014. That also caused ridership to dip 8 percent.
BNSF, which owns the tracks, has made upgrades and scheduling changes that have helped Northstar bounce back. There is also an emphasis on customer service, including station improvements, the addition of Wi-Fi to all trains in 2014 and notifying customers in advance about delays, says Metro Transit, which operates Northstar.
"We are optimistic," said Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla. "We think riders are continuing to see the value in riding the commuter system."
Ridership through June of this year was 306,521, not including rides for Minnesota Vikings or Twins games or other special events. That compares to 313,815 for the first six months of 2014.
The six-year-old Northstar has seven stations in Anoka, Hennepin and Sherburne counties.
Emerald ash borer
The invasive metallic green beetle, first seen in Minnesota six years ago in St. Paul, continues its march into the suburbs. Scientists found the ash borer in Chisago County this month just north of the Washington County border.
State Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed Anoka County's first emerald ash borer infestation on private property in Ham Lake in March after a tipster called in a suspected tree to the department's Arrest the Pest Hotline. There are five known infestation sites in the county, all near the intersection of Lexington Av. and Bunker Lake Blvd.
North metro communities including Blaine and Lino Lakes have been preparing for the infestation for years, thinning ashes from the canopy and replacing them with a variety of other trees.
In December, scientists identified the first emerald ash borer case in Dakota County, at Lebanon Hills Regional Park on the Apple Valley-Eagan border.
Scientists track cases of the beetle at http://gis.mda.state.mn.us/eab/
Experts have said the beetle likely got a ride to the suburbs in firewood rather than by naturally migrating. "The insect doesn't have to be very efficient because humans move it. It's very sad," said Lino Lakes Forester Marty Asleson. "It went to the first ash tree when it emerged from the wood pile."
Scientists implore residents to follow quarantines in effect for affected counties: Anoka, Chisago, Dakota, Fillmore, Hennepin, Houston, Olmsted, Ramsey and Winona. The quarantines regulate the movement of firewood, wood products and live nursery trees.
Elm Creek DAm
Crews have demolished most of the historic Elm Creek Dam that stood near the city's Mill Pond for 79 years and are working on its replacement. Residents should see visible changes with the new structure by this fall, said Todd Tuominen, assistant city engineer and project manager. Workers have been busy treating groundwater near the area, so there haven't been many noticeable physical changes, Tuominen said.
The original Elm Creek Dam, built in 1936 to power a flour mill, needed repairs and had outlived its effectiveness. The opening in the dam, or spillway, was too small to let enough water flow through during downpours. The new dam, expected to be completed by May 2016, will have a large spillway and other waterways to control heavy rains and severe flooding.
Design plans showed that, with the new dam, flood plains adjacent to the Mill Pond could be reduced by as much as 60 acres, saving residents a total of about $100,000 in flood insurance.
City officials are seeking any historic photos or materials of the dam for storyboards and signs that will be displayed throughout the new structure.
The new Brooklyn Park library, part of the Hennepin County Library System, is going up on a 6-acre site at the intersection of 85th Avenue N. and W. Broadway Avenue. It's on schedule to be completed in a year.
Knutson Construction, the contractor, has a worksite camera linked up to its website, and day-to-day updates can be seen by going to http://oxblue.com/open/knutson/all and clicking on the "Brooklyn Park Library" tab. To get an idea of how much work has been done since May, click the "time-lapse" tab.
At just over 39,000 square feet, the new library will be more than double the size of the current building at 8600 Zane Av. N. Plans for that building to be reused by Hennepin County in some way are in the works.
Brooklyn Park officials stress the importance of the new library. They hope it will anchor new development near the proposed Bottineau light-rail project and improvements at North Hennepin Community College to help turn the area into a community hub.
Whisper the horse
Whisper was a member of the University of Minnesota Police Department in 2008 when his calm presence helped keep things steady during unrest outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Before that, he'd done stints with the Minneapolis Police Department and Minneapolis Park Police, following a career as a racehorse at Canterbury. A knee injury in late 2008 ultimately led to his retirement in 2010.
When the Star Tribune last checked in 2014, Whisper was 22 or 23 years old, living a quiet life of retirement on a farm near Princeton, Minn.
And now? Whisper is 23 or 24 and continuing to live a good life, one of seven horses on that same farm. "He's doing wonderfully," said Page Heig, his owner. "He's got all his pals around."
Is he behaving? "He's one of the best out there," Heig said.
KAREN ZAMORA, SHANNON PRATHER, JIM KERN