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The North Shore News Hour includes up-to-the minute weather, North Shore happenings in local news, sports and entertainment, as well as a variety of features from WTIP staff and volunteers. If you miss the North Shore News Hour at noon, tune in for a replay Monday through Thursday beginning at 5:00 p.m.


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Lutsen Trail Breakers Snowmobile Club logo -- Image courtesy of the snowmobile club .JPG

Another break-in on Cook County's West End

Less than a month after the Tofte Fire Department reported a break-in at its Fire and Rescue garage, another remote West End structure has had a theft. The Lutsen Trail Breakers Snowmobile Club today announced that someone had broken into its groomer storage building over the weekend.

The Trail Breakers say the break-in occurred sometime between 5 p.m. on Friday, February 11 and 9 a.m. Sunday, February 13. Items taken were a Craftsman toolset, two Stihl chainsaws, and a Dewalt cordless tool set.

The Trail Breakers are offering a $300 reward for information that leads to the prosecution of those responsible for the theft. The Trail Breakers can be contacted via their Facebook page or by email to: lutsentrailbreakers@gmail.com.

The Tofte township is still hoping to find out who broke into the Tofte Fire and Rescue garage, taking emergency medical and radio equipment on January 22. There is a $500 cash reward for information leading to the arrest of the individuals. Tofte Supervisor Craig Horak said anyone with information can contact him at 218-343-5966 or through a private Facebook message.

Anyone with any information on either theft may also call the Cook County Sheriff’s Office at 218-387-3030.
 


 
Local child care providers received a cheerful invitation to an appreciation event. Image courtesy of Cook County EDA

Early Childhood Coalition celebrates child care providers

The Cook County Early Childhood Coalition works to provide services for children from birth to six years old. One of the concerns identified by this group is the shortage of child care in the community. The coalition is working to find creative solutions and two events are coming up that the group wants people to know about.

The first is a Child Care Provider Appreciation Event on Thursday, February 17. This is an online event to which about 30 child care providers have received special invitations. Thanks to a grant from the Northland Foundation, a small gift will also be delivered to providers. Members of the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition, like Bill Hansen, who spoke to WTIP about the event, explain that this event is a small way to show appreciation for child care providers who have been essential workers throughout the pandemic—long before. Hansen noted that child care providers don’t take on this job to get rich, they do it because they care about the children. He said they are vital to the wellbeing of our community in many ways.

The other event that the early childhood coalition hopes will garner broad community support is a community town hall titled Child Care Solutions for Cook County on March 14 from 6:30 – 7 p.m. The event will be online and links will be available on the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and the Cook County Higher Education websites. The event and the ongoing work of the coalition are funded by the First Children's Finance Rural Childcare Innovation Program.  

For more information on efforts to create child care options in Cook Count, contact Nancie Deming of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at (218) 595-0600 or by email to: ndeming@sawtoothmountainclinic.org. Information on the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition can also be found on Facebook.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence speaks with coalition member Bill Hansen about these events and about the current child care situation in the county in this interview. 
 

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The Cascade River, looking like a whipped cream dessert on Feb. 12 - Submitted photo

Grand Marais woman survives a near-disastrous snowshoe hike on Cascade River

A wonderful winter hike turned disastrous for a Grand Marais woman last weekend. It could have been worse if not for her resiliency and for a cadre of friends who stepped up to get her to safety.

A group of 10 friends set out Feb. 12 to do something many Northlanders do in the winter, a snowshoe hike along a local river. The friends chose the Cascade River, starting from the Pike Lake Road, a route familiar to many. However, because of recent snows, the well-traveled path along the river was obscured at many points. When the group was about two miles in to their hike, enjoying the “whipped cream dessert” snowy views, one of those gaps led to disaster.

Karen Neal of Grand Marais, leading the group, slipped off the edge of the trail, into the water, becoming soaked and trapped by her snowshoes in the water and her waterlogged clothing. It took a major effort on the part of her friends to get her out of the river and back on the path.

But that was only part of the problem—the women were two miles from vehicles and warmth. Survival mode kicked in and Neal’s friends got moving. The hike, which took 99 minutes going in, took just 49 minutes out. The women rushed Neal to the local emergency room, where she was treated for hypothermia.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Neal about the harrowing experience, as well as her thoughts on how anyone adventuring outdoors can prepare for incidents like this. Here’s their conversation. 
 

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Some of the Polar Plunge participants at the Cool School Plunge this fall - Bryann, Kayla, Rosabella. Submitted photo

Local team heading to Special Olympics Polar Plunge--in red flannel

For ten years now, some Cook County folks have taken part in the Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, led by Bryann Bockovich of Grand Marais. This year, Bryann’s team, “Holli’s Hope” has the most participants it has ever had, with 15 people taking the plunge in the Duluth harbor on Saturday, February 19.

Many of the brave folks taking the plunge are from Cook County, but they have recruited beyond the local area. But all are gathering to support Special Olympics. They are team leader Bryann Bockovich, Greg Gresczyk, Rosabella Arrellin, Kayla Bronikowski, Serena Nelson, Rachel Hovde, Kyli Bonin, Bethann Corwin, Tiffany Corwin, Penny Miller, Cheri Duvall, Saya McNearney, Sheila Steen, and Cristina Coppala.

As always, there will be a team theme. Bryann told WTIP that this year the team is donning red flannel onesies and mad bomber caps. Check out the photo slideshow to see the warm--but soon to be wet--attire. 

The team has a lot of fun, but there is a very special reason for their jump. Bryann said they jump to celebrate a dear young friend, Holli, who is a Special Olympics athlete. Holli has participated in swimming events and she continues to compete in bowling.

The event is open to the public this year, so anyone wanting to watch the frigid fun may head to Park Point, 5000 Minnesota Avenue, in Duluth to watch on Saturday, February 19. The plunge begins at 2 p.m.

For those who prefer to observe from someplace warm, the Duluth Polar Plunge will also be live-streamed.

For more information on the Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for Special Olympics or specifically about the Holli’s Hope team, visit the website here.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence talks to Bryann Bockovich about the Polar Plunge coming up on Saturday, February 19 in this interview.
 

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The Sweetwater Company owners, Brooke Youngdahl and Kelsi Williams in front of the store's future dressing room. Photo R Silence

New owners bring major renovations to former Grand Marais gallery

WTIP recently reported that longtime business owner Nita Anderson had sold the 8 Broadway Gallery building in downtown Grand Marais. The community wondered who purchased the building and what would be happening there. In this interview, WTIP visits with the new owners, Brooke Youngdahl and Kelsi Williams, to learn more.

The women are sisters-in-law and now business partners in The Sweetwater Company, a very different retail offering in downtown Grand Marais. The Sweetwater Company will be a boutique featuring women’s clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry, as well as home goods such as wall coverings, throw pillows, candles, and more. They plan to provide a fun fashion experience for women looking for more current fashions, with a nice seating area for trying on shoes and comfortable dressing rooms. 

It will be a while before shoppers get to peruse their offerings—the former 8 Broadway Gallery is currently undergoing a major renovation. The women hope to open the doors of The Sweetwater Company in May, with a grand opening in June. 

Join WTIP’s Rhonda Silence as she gets a peek at the progress and gets the scoop on the business name.

If you know of North Shore business owners who should be featured, give us a call at 218-387-1070 or email: Rhonda@wtip.org. WTIP would love to tell their story!
 

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Tony Hegg, Jessica Vega and son, Wylan, born during the coronavirus pandemic in Shanghai, China - Submitted photo

Checking in with Tony Hegg and family in China

When the global coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, WTIP reached out to a former Cook County resident who was living in Shanghai, China, Tony Hegg, to see how he was faring. We’ve checked in with him several times throughout the pandemic to talk about the differences in how the coronavirus situation has been handled in China and here in the United States. With all eyes on China during the 2022 Olympic games in Beijing through February 20, WTIP decided to check in with the North Shore expatriates once again.

Tony and his wife, Jessica Vega now have a 15-month-old son, Wylan, who was born in October 2020. They have adjusted to life in the country that has a vastly different way of handling COVID-19 outbreaks. 

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Tony about what it was like having a child in a foreign country during a pandemic and what day-to-day life is like in Shanghai at this time. Here’s their conversation. 
 

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The Cook County Real Estate Group could play a role in development in Grand Marais and Cook County. Image courtesy of REVocity

Learning about the Cook County Real Estate Fund

Recently, a group of community members announced the formation of a new organization, the Cook County Real Estate Fund. WTIP wanted to learn more about what this new entity means to Cook County, so we reached out to two of the people involved, Steve Surbaugh of Cascade Vacation Rentals and Lori Bonin, CEO of REVocity.

WTIP asked Surbaugh to tell us, in terms that someone who is not a realtor or a financial advisor can understand, what is the purpose of the Cook County Real Estate Fund. Surbaugh explained, “I think as you look at communities, particularly smaller communities, there are always real estate needs that need to be met in order for a community to be vibrant, and to have all the various spaces and services to really function in a productive way.

“But sometimes those projects are a little bit more difficult to get off the ground and require the breadth of knowledge from a number of different people. And so, if you can bring together groups of individuals that have experience and maybe have some assets, and then also partner with an organization that has done a lot of development projects, maybe you can do projects that are a little bit more marginal, or maybe a little bit bigger, as opposed to just trying to do something on your own. And so that's really what this is all about.”

That is where REVocity comes in. Surbaugh and Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority President Howard Hedstrom first met with the firm to discuss possible assistance for the businesses who lost their buildings in the devastating fire in downtown Grand Marais on April 13, 2020. Although REVocity wasn’t the right fit for those business owners, Surbaugh and Hedstrom felt there were other ways REVocity and the community could work together.

We asked Bonin to tell us about REVocity, which is based in Northfield, Minnesota, but works with a number of communities across Minnesota. Bonin said REVocity (then Rebound), started back in 2011 and has established three community real estate funds there since then. Bonin said her firm focuses on “Impact investing.”

“This is where we are pulling capital and investment from individuals from the community from the individuals of Cook County in this case, and we're taking those investments and we're investing them in real estate in Cook County. The idea of impact investing is the investment provides both a financial return and a community return because we specifically select projects that are going to have a positive impact to the community that economic development,” said Bonin.

She shared some examples of the success found in Northfield, such as the use of a vacant building that was ultimately used by two existing and two new businesses. The firm built an apartment building in downtown Northfield. And, she said they have worked on projects on the Historic Register, bringing new or different tenants to the first floor and in some cases, providing apartments on the second floor.

REVocity has also worked on several projects in the Grand Rapids area, such as a retail building that now houses three businesses. There are plans for an apartment complex for student housing at a community college and for an 82-room hotel in Grand Rapids under development. In addition, REVocity is working with investment groups in Decorah, Iowa, Fairbault, Grand Rapids, Owatonna, Red Wing, Northfield, Hastings, Spring Grove, Waseca, Winona, and Rochester.

For Cook County, Surbaugh told WTIP that there are no projects to announce at this time, but he said the group has recognized a need for housing, noting that is a topic at every meeting that has been held. He said there is also a need for commercial office space and dining establishments in the community.

If the Cook County Real Estate Fund successfully develops a project, WTIP asked who would own and manage it?  Surbaugh answered that the project would be owned by the Cook County Real Estate Fund, LLC. He said there is a seven-year “sunset” created at the very beginning of the project, which can be extended three times for one year. After that, the project would be sold to someone in the community and the funds would be used for other community investments.

WTIP asked if there are any guarantees that when that sunset date arrives and properties are sold, they will continue to be used for the intended purpose—for example, will an affordable or moderately-priced housing complex continue to be used that way? Surbaugh said the real estate group has not looked that far into the future yet. He replied, “At the moment, we're just trying to gauge what are the needs within the community.  We all know that we need housing, and we need a mix of housing, rental housing, and also affordable housing.”

Surbaugh said the difficulty in developing housing has been demonstrated by the EDA and One Roof Housing’s lengthy and complicated efforts on the Nordic Star development in Grand Marais and the Four Directions Dwellings apartments in Lutsen. He said at this time the group is focusing on identifying projects that are “doable.”

WTIP asked Surbaugh if a result of the Cook County Real Estate Fund purchasing buildings and land could be a loss of opportunity for others—perhaps for a young family or new business owner? Surbaugh said he didn’t think that was the case. “I'm not interested in chasing individual residential plots.  That's not something that's of interest to us. And that really wouldn't be the mission of the group, the projects that we're chasing are the ones that are difficult to get off the ground.

"And if somebody else wants to do a project, we're not going to stand in their way. I mean, there's plenty of projects that could happen within the community. And if it's better suited for somebody else to do it, then then we'll just move on to something else," said Surbaugh. 

Surbaugh said the members of the Cook County Real Estate Fund would like to hear from community members about potential projects. Who is involved in the real estate group? Its members to date are Surbaugh, Howard Hedstrom, former president of Hedstrom Lumber Company; Ann Possis, program director at WTIP Community Radio; Gary Latz, vice-president of strategic affairs with A2B Fulfillment; Jeff Latz, former owner of Clearview General Store in Lutsen; Roger Opp, a former banker with CoBank ACB; and Grand Marais business owners Tim and Beth Kennedy.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence shares more in this report. 
 

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City Hall building banner - File photo Rhonda Silence

City considers land sale, passes Climate Emergency Declaration

At the last meeting in January, the Grand Marais City Council talked about a possible sale of city land, climate change, and mask mandates. 

The last action at the council meeting was a closed session to “to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the sale of city-owned real property located at 1800 West Highway 61,” which is a lot at the former Tomteboda Resort, now owned by the city. It is to the west of the city’s Public Works Facility.

The city council is allowed to have a closed session to discuss real estate negotiations. DeCoux said an offer has been made on the property. He told WTIP that in the closed session the council discussed appraised values and descriptions of the property and put together what the city believes is a suitable, fair, offer to the city would be. DeCoux said that information would be shared with the potential buyer and if accepted the sale would move ahead. If not, the matter will show up on another city council agenda in another closed session.

Discussion of this property was initiated by former City Councilor Tim Kennedy in July 2021. Kennedy completed his city council term in December 2020. As a citizen, he suggested that the city obtain an appraisal in case interested buyers approached the city. At that time, he said he had very tentative plans for a new business, a bike shop, and he said the city property could be a good location for that. Kennedy told the city council that if the lot came up for sale, he would be interested. Kennedy said if he was able to acquire the lot he would like to build and operate a bike repair business there.

At that July meeting, the council acknowledged Kennedy’s request and stressed that there are no plans to sell the lot at this time. However, the council directed city staff to research what needs to be done for a sale of city property to take place. In WTIP’s follow-up conversation with then Councilor Kelly Swearingen, she reiterated that the lot was not being sold at that time. Once a determination has been made of how to go about selling the lot, it could end up being purchased by anyone, Swearingen said, not necessarily Tim Kennedy.

Since that time, the only mention of the city-owned property was in a December 8, 2021 report from City Administrator Mike Roth who told the council that the city is waiting on an appraisal and engineering for sewer service before beginning the discussion of placing city property for sale.  Roth told the council the value will be based on usable space.

According to the League of Minnesota Cities, cities do have the power to sell land or buildings they no longer need to anyone, other than public officials and certain employees. The league states that generally, a city does not need to get permission from the public in order to sell land. Sales of land are usually not required to use the competitive bidding process.

City makes Climate Emergency Declaration
The meeting started with a public comment period, which included citizens speaking in favor of a Climate Emergency Declaration Resolution for the city, both in-person and via Zoom. Two community youths, Olya Wright and Naomi Tracy gave a presentation on their concerns about the impacts of climate change.

The city took up the question of whether or not to join 16 other cities that have proclaimed a Climate Emergency Resolution for the city. Mayor DeCoux said the city of Grand Marais has already taken steps to acknowledge climate change and in fact has a Climate Change Action Plan. So passing a declaration is more of a signal to state and federal government, calling for preparation for climate emergencies. DeCoux said in the event of a major fire or flooding event, there is little funding available to help small cities like Grand Marais. He shared the scenario of a massive flooding event damaging the city’s wastewater treatment plant. He said as a city of 1,300 people, there is no way the city could make those repairs.

The council had some discussion, with concerns from City Councilor Craig Schulte, who noted the cyclical patterns of weather in Cook County. He noted that growing up in Grand Marais, he had seen the ever-changing weather. A discussion of climate versus weather followed, but the city council ultimately voted to pass the resolution declaring a climate emergency in the city of Grand Marais. The vote was unanimous, with Schulte ultimately voting yes.

Citizens ask for city mask mandate
Council members reported that they had heard from some citizens asking the city to implement a mask mandate for the city in light of the recent spike in COVID-19 positive cases in the county. DeCoux said he checked in with City Attorney Chris Hood to see if the city had the authority to do this. The city’s attorney said no. To declare a mask mandate, there would have to be an emergency declaration of some sort. Hood told the city such as declaration would best be addressed by state government.
DeCoux and councilors noted that individual businesses are requesting that customers wear masks and they said they hope that everyone will consider doing so, but agreed there is no way to the city to adopt or enforce a mask mandate at this time.

In other business
The city again discussed the proposal to change zoning in the Cedar Grove Business Park to allow residential use on business park lots affiliated with a business. However, as there were still some questions on the compatibility of residential and business uses, as well as concerns about adequate infrastructure for pedestrian use, the decision was postponed. The council asked the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority to put together more information for the council.
The city also stressed the need for citizens to come forward to serve on various boards and commissions. The city needs someone to serve on the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission, the city Planning & Zoning Commission and the Grand Marais Park Board. Anyone interested in joining these boards is encouraged to contact City Administrator Mike Roth at 218-387-1848 or by email to: administrator@grandmarais.city.

The next Grand Marais City Council meeting is Wednesday, February 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the city council chambers at city hall. The public is welcome to attend. City meetings can also be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence speaks with Mayor Jay DeCoux to learn more about actions at the meeting in this interview. 
 

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Children at Iron Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron - Photo courtesy of Iron Tykes

Iron Tykes Learning Center--an example of a successful community daycare project

Although Cook County is a wonderful place to raise a family, it also has its challenges. Housing is in short supply for young families.  It can be difficult to find full-time jobs with adequate wages. And often, if a job is found, a family cannot find daycare.

WTIP Community Radio has reported on this situation, most recently with the potential closure of one childcare option in the county, the Cooperation Station, due to staff shortages. Parents and community members are working to keep the Cooperation Station open, but that is only part of the childcare puzzle in the community.

It is agreed that more childcare is needed, but how to reach that goal is something yet to be determined. As part of a WTIP series Childcare Challenges for Cook County three years ago, we spoke with another community struggling with this issue, Mountain Iron, Minnesota. At that time, that community was working to build a large daycare facility

Iron Tykes Learning Center opened its doors in November 2018. It is an 8,500 square foot building with five classrooms, a kitchen, two playgrounds, and a gym. Shawntel Gruba, the center’s CEO tells WTIP that there are 25 staff members.

Iron Tykes Learning Center is licensed for 90 children, but serves more than that, as not all kids are at the center every day, all day. Gruba told WTIP that while this helps the childcare crunch in Mountain Iron, it has still not solved the problem. She said there is still a long waiting list for families wanting to enroll.

In this interview, WTIP’s Rhonda Silence revisits that conversation to learn more about how this project came to fruition, through major public-private partnerships. Gruba worked with the Small Business Development Center, which helped her with grants from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, Northland Foundation, the United Way, and Cleveland Cliffs Mining. Gruba said the city and county also supported the project.  

WTIP asked Gruba if she had any advice for the people in Cook County tackling the childcare shortage in our community.
Gruba’s answer? “Don’t give up.”

She noted that when she started her quest to build Iron Tykes Learning Center, she was working for $8 an hour. She said she didn’t think there was any way she could get a loan for over a million dollars to construct a new business. “It can happen,” she said, “You just need to find the right person who wants to own it, wants to operate it, and wants to work it, who has that passion.”  
“Dreams could come true,” said Gruba. 

 

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The Cedar Grove Business Park is operated by the Cook County EDA - File phone by Rhonda Silence

Local Economic Development Authority needs another member

The Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) had some ups and downs in January, with the resignation of a board member and the disappointing news that a grant to assist with the ongoing childcare shortage in the county will not be coming to the county.

Before the January 11 EDA meeting, EDA Board Member Virginia Detrick Palmer submitted her resignation to the EDA. Palmer was appointed to the EDA board in January 2021 to fill the vacancy created by the passing of longtime board member Hal Greenwood. The board accepted Palmer’s resignation, with regrets.

In the past, this seat on the EDA has been filled by a resident of the City of Grand Marais. However, the EDA had some discussion of whether that is absolutely necessary. Director Beth Drost was asked to review the EDA bylaws to define the process.

In the meantime, anyone in the city of Grand Marais who is interesting in serving on the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority may contact EDA Director Beth Drost by email at director@prosperitynorth.com or Grand Marais City Hall at 218-387-1848.

At the January meeting, Director Drost shared some good news regarding a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) grant to help the community deal with the ongoing childcare shortage. It was thought that the Cook County/Grand Portage Child Care Initiative would receive a grant of $140,000. However, the good news was short-lived. A few days later, Drost learned that there was an error on the part of the granting agency and the money will not be coming to the county.

Drost tells WTIP that does not mean efforts to find solutions to the childcare shortage in the community will not continue. She said the Child Care Initiative group continues to work with Rural Children’s Finance. There are some upcoming events that will be of interest to young families. An appreciation event for local child care providers is being planned for February 17. And on March 14, a town hall is being planned for anyone interested in the child care situation who would like to learn more or who would like to share ideas on how to ensure families have safe and reliable child care.

Cedar Grove Business Park is always an agenda item for the EDA and that was the case in January. Drost reports that over a third of the lots in the business park have been sold. Some lots are pending, but there are 10 lots still available. The latest lot sale finalized was to Three Families Brewing, which will be used as a storage area for Voyageur Brewing Company. 

The EDA meets again on Tuesday, February 8 at 4 p.m. in the Cook County Commissioners Room at the Cook County courthouse. The meeting is open to the public. Masks are required.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Director Beth Drost about all this. Here’s their conversation.  
 

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