Septic system case goes from criminal to civil

Misdemeanor charges have been dropped against a Fillmore County couple accused of failing to get a building permit before starting on construction of a house and failing to install a "gray water system" for waste water, which they argue doesn't comply with their Amish religious beliefs.

Instead, the Fillmore County attorney has filed a suit against Ammon and Sarah Swartzentruber, seeking to make the couple destroy and remove the dwelling. A judge this week granted the county a temporary restraining order to halt any further construction or occupation of the building.

The Swartzentrubers are accused of building without a permit on an agricultural section of land near the small town of Harmony. The house under construction is the fourth dwelling on a 40-acre parcel, where only two are allowed. It was being built without a wastewater treatment system in compliance with the county's zoning ordinances and state law, the suit alleges.

County Attorney Brett Corson said a civil suit is "probably just a better forum to have a discussion for both of the parties about the building and whether there's any constitutional issues."

A hearing in the suit is scheduled for late January. The Swartzentrubers were listed in court files as representing themselves. They could not be reached for comment.

Pam Louwagie @pamlouwagie

Ash River

Lodge destroyed by fire

A fire wiped out the lodge at the Ash-Ka-Nam Lodge and Resort in northern Minnesota last week.

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Department responded to the fire and reported that it appeared to have started in the resort's restaurant. "The restaurant was destroyed by fire," the department said in a news release.

The lodge and resort, which was unoccupied at the time, are owned by Mark and Lynette Hraban. Their daughter, Mindy Hraban, told the Duluth News Tribune that "we do plan on rebuilding."

The sheriff's department and the Minnesota state fire marshal are investigating.

Jenna Ross @ByJenna


Changing of the fire guard goes to a familiar name

Bryan Bushey was sworn in as Duluth's new fire chief on Wednesday. The deputy chief replaces John Strongitharm, who led the department for a decade and retired at the end of the year.

Strongitharm said he was "pleased" at the selection of Bushey, and that he would miss the strong relationships he'd built working for the department since 1986. Strongitharm said that since he started his term, gear has become more efficient and the force has made better use of its staff.

Bushey has 35 years of public safety experience, and his father, Larry Bushey, was the city's fire chief in the 1980s and '90s.

MAYA RAO @Mrao_Strib