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Join the WTIP News Staff for a program packed with news, music and some humor.  This program covers politics, local news and issues. DayBreak airs 7-8 a.m. on weekdays.

What's On:
Denise and Treg Axtell shared the news of their positive COVID result on October 23. Photo courtesy of the family

Hovland couple shares their COVID-19 experience

As of October 27, there have been 18 cases of COVID-19 in Cook County, with 10 active cases. 
Because a person's medical status is private under confidentiality regulations, information about the people who have contracted the coronavirus has been minimal.  The Minnesota Department of Health and Cook County Public Health release only the gender and age of the COVID positive individuals. 
And to date, those individuals have elected to remain silent about their positive test result or illness.
These factors have led to a lot of questions--and for some community members, frustration. Despite the major effort of local contact tracers reaching out to anyone believed to have a possible exposure, some members of the public have voiced concern that they may have had contact with the individuals. Learn more about the local folks doing contract tracing in this interview, WTIP talks with COVID contact workers in Cook County
Concern was heightened last week when officials from North Shore Health and Sawtooth Mountain Clinic released the news that staff members at both facilities had tested positive for COVID-19. Here's WTIP's Joe Friedrichs, speaking with Dr. Kurt Farchmin on WTIP's Daybreak about that news. 
That led to even more questions, including what was the risk to the patients who had interacted with these employees? Both the hospital and clinic assure the public that any contacts those staffers had with patients are considered to be low-risk exposures because of the personal protective equipment (masks and face shields) used in all medical facility settings. 
In an effort to allay some of the public's concerns and to hopefully diminish the potential stigma of contracting COVID-19, the two local health care workers who were found to have the coronavirus spoke with WTIP. They are Treg Axtell, a physical therapist at North Shore Health and Denise Axtell, a nurse at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. They agreed to talk to WTIP's Rhonda Silence about their positive testing and their prognosis. 
Here's that conversation. 

Booker Hodges-Photo by CJ Heithoff

Dept. of Pub.Safety AC Booker Hodges Visits North Shore

Minnesota Department of Public Safety Assistant Commissioner, Booker Hodges has been coming to Cook County since he was twelve years old.  He stopped by WTIP with his two sons before heading up the Gunflint Trail and spoke with WTIP's CJ Heithoff about safety issues including the new Hands-Free Cell Phone law that goes into effect on August 1st.


A member of Lutsen Ski Patrol collects information from skiers after the chairlift rescue - Photo Rhonda Silence, WTIP

Lutsen Ski Patrol rescues skiers from Caribou Express chairlift

 About 25 people had more of a ski adventure than planned at Lutsen Mountains on Sunday, March 31 when the Caribou Express chairlift malfunctioned around 3 p.m., requiring an evacuation from the lift.

The Lutsen Ski Patrol has practiced numerous times for this scenario and they went into action to belay chairlift passengers to the ground. Passengers were then transported to the ground by the Lutsen Gondola. 

A page went out to the Cook County Ambulance and Lutsen First Responders at about 4 p.m. to standby at the Lutsen Ski Patrol building in case their services were needed. Fortunately the medical response was precautionary and by 5 p.m., all of the chairlift passengers had been lowered safely to the ground.

The Caribou Express high-speed, six-person chairlift opened in 2013. Lutsen Mountains co-owner Tom Rider said the lift was back in operation within an hour. The malfunction was due to an electronic card that failed and needed to be replaced. 

Lutsen Mountains is scheduled to be through this week and then on weekends  until May 5, conditions permitting.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence was on the scene and talked to two people who were rescued from the lift. Here’s her report.


Hovland resident Marcia Lacey questions planners about the proposal to expand the law enforcement center. Photo Rhonda Silence

Plenty of public comment at jail facility information meeting

The public information meeting regarding the proposed Law Enforcement Center/Jail Facility on Thursday, March 21 was very well attended. There were about 90 people crowded into the commissioner’s room at the courthouse, with about another 15 trying to hear from the lobby.

The meeting started with brief comments by Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen, County Attorney Molly Hicken, County Administrator Jeff Cadwell and John McNamara of Wold, the firm that has been conducting research about the project.
County Attorney Hicken talked about the complicated process of transporting prisoners for court.

She added comments from the probation office, the public defender and the judge, all stating benefits of having a Class 3 jail facility, which would allow inmates to stay at the Cook County jail for more than 72 hours.

Public Information Director Valerie Marasco facilitated the meeting and invited members of the public forward to ask questions, stressing questions only. She asked that people hold their comments until the end of the meeting. More than 20 people came forward with questions, which the presenters answered immediately if they had the information.

People asked about the cost of the study and what has been paid to date; about what really needs to be fixed or remedied to the building now; about the role of other jails and the Northeastern Regional Correction Center (NERC); about the average prisoner county and current cost for transportation vs. future operational costs if a Class 3 facility is built.

Unfortunately, there were not answers to all the questions. Apparently because of the way the inmate population has been counted and logged over the years, there are gaps in the data, which raised more questions.  

There were several questions about future maintenance costs with some citizens expressing frustration that the county has not yet estimated operational costs for a larger, Class 3 jail. In answer to repeated questions about the costs, the Sheriff and Administrator Cadwell said the proposal was not at the point to calculate those expenses.

And while it seemed the majority of the citizens present were opposed to spending up to $5 million for an expanded law enforcement/jail facility, there were a couple who seemed supportive, such as Grand Marais attorney Tyson Smith, who is the assistant public defender.

Citizen Steve Nielsen wondered if this is something that would happen eventually no matter what.

No decisions were made at the meeting, however, there appeared to be an indication of what is ahead for the proposal in a back and forth conversation between Bob Swanson of Hovland and Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen

When pressed as to whether the numbers support an expansion to Class 3 at this time, Sheriff Eliasen answered that at this time it is probably not a viable option.  

There were more questions including an inquiry from Anna Hamilton about who gets to make the ultimate decision. Hamilton asked if public input matters, and Administrator Cadwell said indeed it does.

However, Cadwell also said there are services that the county must provide under mandate by the State of Minnesota and the federal government.

All that was really clear at the end of the informational meeting is that what happens next is not really known.

Although all of the county board members were there, they sat in the audience as members of the public. Meeting facilitator Valerie Marasco invited the commissioners to speak at the end of the meeting. Commissioners Ginny Storlie, Myron Bursheim, Heidi Doo-Kirk and Dave Mills all spoke, thanking citizens for coming. They all said they would consider the public comments before making any decisions.


The Alpine girls' team took 2nd at 2019 Section meet to advance to the State Meet on Feb. 13

Cook County Alpine ski team is State meet bound!

Cook County/Silver Bay skiers had a great showing at the Section Meet at Giant’s Ridge on Tuesday, February 5. Three individuals will be advancing to represent the Cook County Vikings at the state tournament and the girls’ team is heading to state with a second place in sections.
Reilly Wahlers had two excellent runs, claiming 2nd place.

Sela Backstrom also put together two great runs and made it to 12th place to also advance to the State meet.

Reilly and Sela, along with Elsa Lunde and Kalina Dimitrova, skied strong and claimed 2nd for the girls’ team. The Cook County team was just behind Stillwater.

On the boys’ side, Will Surbaugh raced as an individual and showed true grit as he had a miscue on his first run. He went all out on his second run, which was good enough to land him in 16th place and a berth at State.

The Vikings now head to the State meet at Giant’s Ridge on Wednesday, February 13, 2019. Racing starts at 10 a.m.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with Alpine Ski Coach Charles Lamb to hear his thoughts on the very successful showing at Sections.

Photos courtesy of the Cook County/Silver Bay Alpine team



Right-of-way acquisition may delay Highway 61 construction

The Cook County Chamber of Commerce committee that is meeting to develop a plan to help businesses during the reconstruction of Highway 61 through Grand Marais cancelled a meeting this week because of a possible delay.

Chamber members said there is apparently a delay in efforts to acquire right-of-way for the project, which could delay the overall roadwork.

The city of Grand Marais is hoping to set a meeting with Minnesota Department of Transportation officials soon, but in the meantime, WTIP’s Rhonda Silence reached out to Michael Kalnbach of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to learn more.

Kalnbach is the project manager for the Highway 61 project, which is intended to repave and reconstruct the highway from the Cutface Creek Rest Area to the east end of the city in 2019-2020. More information on the plan can be found here.


The Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission is installed new, advanced meters in the City of Grand Marais

Advanced metering and new rates at Grand Marais Public Utilities

Grand Marais residents who receive services from the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently received a letter in the mail announcing a pilot project for an advanced metering infrastructure program.

It has raised some questions, such as why does the PUC want to initiate this metering program? What is the benefit to the city—and to consumers?
In a related matter, at the last meeting of the Grand Marais City Council, City Councilor Tim Kennedy, who is the city’s PUC representative, said rates for PUC customers will not go up for water or electric services, but will increase 2 percent for wastewater.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down to talk with Grand Marais City Administrator Mike Roth about that increase and about the new metering program. Here’s that conversation.


It was standing room only at Grand Marais City Hall for the MnDOT presentation on road construction coming in 2019-20.

Full house for MnDOT Highway 61 construction update

The Minnesota Department of Transportation held an Open House on Wednesday, November 7 at Grand Marais City Hall. It was standing room only in the council room as about 60 community members gathered to hear the latest on the plans for reconstruction of Highway 61 as it runs through the city.

Brad Scott of LHB Engineering gave an overview of the project, reminding the public that this process began in February 2016.
Michael Kalnbach of MnDOT gave a presentation of the plan, explaining the two-stage process starting in 2019 on the outskirts of Grand Marais and then continuing in 2020 in the heart of Grand Marais.

Kalnbach described the detours and traffic control measures that would be in place throughout the process. He shared photos of just what visitors and community members can expect to see as the project advances, such as the 10-foot deep trench that will be cut for utility work and when the contaminated soils are removed from the Cobblestone Building and Harbor Inn area.

The agenda for the meeting called for one-on-one discussion following the presentation, however members of the public said they would like to hear questions from others, so MnDOT and LHB answered questions from the audience for about an hour before breaking into smaller discussion groups.

There were questions about traffic control about specific intersections; about MnDOT’s work at Fall River where a bridge is being built on the Gitchi Gami Bike Trail; about access to businesses; and about future snow removal in the city. Concerns were expressed about parking during the project.

Grand Marais resident Dick Powell asked if MnDOT would help repair the roads that were to be used as detours, such as the road he lives on, County Road 7.

Although officials have said the highway design has been finalized, public comment forms were available for the public, with MnDOT asking for feedback on suggestions for minimizing disruption to the community during the construction project.

Anwers to questions and other information will be posted to the MnDOT Highway 61 project website.

WTIP was at the meeting and Rhonda Silence shares this report.


Alyssa Fenstad spikes the ball back to Esko at the August 30 home game

Vikings volleyball defeats long-time rival Silver Bay

 The Cook County Vikings volleyball team fell to the Esko Eskomos in their first home game on Thursday, August 30, but bounced back to defeat North Shore rivals, the Silver Bay Mariners.
The scores on that Tuesday, September 4 game were 25-23, 25-22, 26-24.
For the Vikings, Reilly Wahlers had 13 digs; Sophie Eliason had 21 digs and 9 set assists. Alyssa Fenstad added 14 kills and 11 digs and Bianca Zimmer had 15 set assists.

Photos courtesy of Michael McHugh/ISD 166


Voter Registration - Kathy Sullivan

Kathy Sullivan talks with North Shore Morning host, Bob Padzieski, about voter registration.

Anyone with more questions about voting or the registration process may call:
Cook County Auditor's Office      218-387-3642
Minnesota Secretary of State       877-600-8683