State rushes relief to frozen septic systems

The state of Minnesota is rushing relief to homeowners whose septic systems are in a deep freeze, despite the early spring thaw.

Subzero cold, paired with little insulating snow, hit the state’s septic systems hard this winter. “We’re seeing a lot of frozen tanks,” Dave Hacker, owner of Backhoe Pete, told the Park Rapids Enterprise.

To help the companies rushing to clean out the slushy septic systems before they rupture and create a bigger mess, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an emergency executive order waiving seasonal load restrictions on septic trucks that would have gone into effect March 11 in the south, southeast and metro frost zones.

The order will remain in effect until June 1.




Estimates of state’s elk population rise

Minnesota’s elk population is up a bit from last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources’ annual aerial survey.

Three distinct herds totaling 131 animals roam far northwestern Minnesota. Spotters counted 79 elk in the Caribou-Vita herd (also known as the Cross Border or International herd), up from 51 counted in 2014. This is Minnesota’s largest herd, which migrates between northern Kittson County and Manitoba.

“We continue to see more elk in this herd on the Minnesota side of its range,” said John Williams, DNR’s northwest regional wildlife manager.

The Caribou-Vita herd’s population goal is 150-200 elk inhabiting both sides of the Canadian border.

Spotters counted 34 elk in the Kittson-Central herd, compared with 37 in 2014. This year’s count remains above the population goal of 20 to 30.

Grygla’s herd is at 18 elk, down from 20 counted last year and 28 in 2013. Williams said the decline of this herd in Marshall County is troubling, because it hasn’t been hunted since 2012. The population goal is 30 to 38.

The DNR’s herd counts, taken in late February, are estimates based on the number of elk actually spotted.



Newspaper request in Smith trial denied for now

A Star Tribune request to file a brief criticizing a courtroom closure in the Byron Smith trial has been denied. The newspaper may ask again later if the closure issue is raised by Smith on appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. On Friday, defense attorneys filed paperwork saying they do plan to raise the issue.

Smith is appealing the life prison sentences he received after shooting two teenage cousins who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

Transcripts show that the court was closed briefly during trial, while the judge decided not to allow testimony from one of the cousins’ friends about prior break-ins at Smith’s house.

Pam Louwagie @pamlouwagie