The Year 2013 might be summed up as the year Chisago county seemed to be turning a corner on the lagging economy that was the backdrop for everything being sluggish for the last four years or so.... The Highway 8 reconstruction project through Lindstrom became driveable and started to get finishing touches, streetscaping projects will continue in 2014.
In October the Lindstrom community celebrated a sculpture installation that is the focal point of the west end “plaza” of the one-way pairs configuration. Two of three statues were completed and ready for public view. The unveiling was covered in the October 10 paper. Sculptor Ian Dudley, who has the commission for the trio in Lindstrom, also completed a regional library piece, Nelly Gustafson, mid-wife and buggy, which was unveiled in mid-July at the Chisago Lakes Area Library. More good economic news came with an announcement that the county’s housing construction permits had (at minimum) doubled from what they were for 2012-- and that was just at the mid-point of the year.
The county zoning department had processed 56 permits in August compared to 25 pulled for the whole year before. Ribbon cuttings were taking place on new projects like the St. Croix Regional Medical Center Clinic in Lindstrom and Fairview’s new clinic in North Branch. The economic brightening continued with WineHaven’s new winery and event facility being opened officially in July in Chisago City. The new skatepark in Wyoming also was a big draw, and something for the younger set. Built mostly with park fees accumulated over the years from developers, and with local business support-- the area’s newest skatepark is in Goodview City Park. The Chisago Lakes Community Foundation also initiated a well-received fundraiser to build its bank account supporting community improvement grants the foundation distributes annually.
“Life is Great on Highway 8” is a campaign that places creatively decorated lawn chairs made in the Adirondack style, along the highway corridor and a public auction with people bidding for a desired chair all summer long. There was continued down-sizing in some sectors , however, with Central Bank closing its center City branch and consolidating operations into Chisago City and Almelund’s branch of Lake Area Bank closed. Local communities experienced controversial topics in 2013... like the outpouring of citizen support during the North Branch Police Department dissolution debate.
The North Branch Council starts analyzing the cost-benefit of maintaining a municipal police force compared to contracting with the sheriff for deputy hours. Council meetings are jam packed with residents who argue to keep the local police force. Lawn signs pop up all over town in support of the NBPD. In the end the police as a city department is included into the city’s 2014 budget. Wyoming voters had their chance to speak in a referendum on street reconstruction. City Council members wanted to borrow through bonding to “kick-start” a long list of roadwork projects, deferred because people generally oppose assessments whenever a street project is mentioned. Voters at the end of August defeated the request to bond, 549 no to 362 yes.
Council members are chipping away at a new street reconstruction assessment strategy. Residents in the Chisago Lakes School District voted to allow the district to do an “excess levy” to increase funding for schools. The vote was 1,599 to 1,525. The sand processing plant in North Branch caused a stir when state regulators fined Tiller Corp for not obtaining an air quality permit for the operations in North Branch. Environmental study and many well-attended public meetings were held in North Branch and in Harris on the access issues. Eventually the PCA and Tiller Corp resolved the permitting violations and worked out conditions for the company to operate under. The countywide community of Senior Citizens stepped up and took the reins when county funding of the senior center’s director wages was pulled.
County commissioners defunded about $30,000 that the county contributed, when no contract for services was developed after the county requested an agreement with all its “partners.” There’s a new volunteer Board running the senior center in North Branch now, and their goal is to move forward and rebuild cooperation with the county and services/programs previously provided through the center. Another volunteer effort had to be admired in Taylors Falls, which resulted in the rehabilitation of the historic municipal library. Taylors Falls has an independent facility that is not part of the East Central Regional Library consortium, and library friends won a grant to re-roof, paint and do other repairs to the building. Relay for Life, an all volunteer program that holds its annual overnight cancer fundraiser at the Threshing Show grounds in the summer, was led by co-chairs Twyla and Leroy Mitchell.
A Brush With Kindness takes its maiden voyage as an off-shoot of Habitat for Humanity here in the county. Several needy homesites are rehabbed, roofed or otherwise made safe in neighborhoods from North Branch to Wyoming, to Chisago City. The program pulls together a “mission week” style effort where volunteers can sign up to work all week or one day. Mission Week runs Sept. 14 to 21( and a couple extra days get thrown in to finish up a house.) It’s a huge success and readers should be aware of A Brush With Kindness if they know of a needy family or individual. Watch this paper for on-going volunteer opportunities.
Sheriff Rick Duncan and area police chiefs develop a volunteer opportunity in the form of Citizens’ Academy. The hands-on law enforcement learning sessions run over several weeks in late summer and there’s an academy “graduation” held in November. Police officers walk people through many of the skills needed in today’s departments, there’s field trips and equipment demonstrations.