So, what's wrong with Socialism?

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News

Reporter/editor's note: I met Magaly “Maggy” Ickes in 2003 when I interviewed her while working for the Bedford Gazette in south central Pennsylvania. She was a Cuban refugee. Her story began with Fidel Castro’s six-year revolution culminating in 1959 with the overthrow of Cuban Prime Minister Fulgencia Batista. Under Castro, Cuba became a socialist state.


Maggie’s story

Thanks to a woman Magaly (Falcon) Ickes calls her guardian angel, she is able to tell her story and express her gratitude for the gift of freedom.

Her guardian angel made it possible for her to survive three brutal years in Fidel Castro’s labor camp where she worked cutting sugar cane and picking vegetables, awaiting her turn at America and freedom.

Maggie, who is now a resident of Dutch Corner, in south central Pennsylvania, was only 6-years-old when Fidel Castro became dictator of Cuba. The date was July 26, 1959.

“It was a day I won’t forget. He called it our independence day,” she mocked.

“Everything was rationed. You were given a passport-type book and you could get a pound of coffee, one of meat, sugar, rice and other staples per person, plus a liter of milk for a family to last a month.”

She and her father, Jesus Falcon, supplemented those rations by using slingshots to hunt for frogs and small birds, “Like the ones you see on cows backs,” she explained. They weren’t allowed to own guns.

“The only thing I didn’t eat when I was in Cuba was a snake.”

Families didn’t have the most basic necessities, no toilet paper, no soap, not even a Band-Aid.

“The worst thing, though, was not being allowed to worship God,” Maggie said.

During the first year of Castro’s reign, Cubans could leave freely - if they had the money. But, by the time he declared the island government socialist in April 1961, Castro had already nationalized the United States oil refineries and banks in Cuba. The U.S. had broken off diplomatic relations and placed a partial embargo on the island nation, excluding medicines and food.

Maggie’s father, a road builder, got paid less and less after Castro came into power.

In the early part of 1966, six years after Castro had become dictator of the island just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, Maggie’s father decided he didn’t want to live in Cuba anymore and refused to join the Communist Party.

This set the grueling path marked with personal sacrifice, but one that eventually led to freedom for the Falcon who lived in the tiny town of Entronque de Fierro.

Cubans could leave the island and relocate in America if they had someone in the United States who would sponsor them. Maggie had two uncles in Virginia who would sponsor the Falcon family. The uncles were her mother’s brothers, Sergio and Antonio, whose last name oddly enough was Castro.

Her father applied to leave the country and the family was given a number. It was 104,684. It was called their “nuclear” number.

The senior Falcon rejected the alternative - escape. He told his family he wouldn’t do that because they would all be imprisoned, probably for life if they were caught.

“It was like declaring war on Castro when you applied to leave,” Maggie said. “They called us worms, imperialists, traitors and Yankees.”

Those words would be nothing compared to what they would endure the next three years.

Until the Falcon’s nuclear number came up, two members of the family would have to work Castro’s sugar cane and vegetable fields. The reason, “Before you have the ham, you have to have the ham bone,” Maggie said, repeating Castro’s dictum.

Maggie would serve the family’s time because her mother, Lidia, was still nursing her youngest brother. Her older sister, Maria, 17, had chosen to stay in Cuba because she was engaged. The next in line was Maggie, 12.

Her mother would stay behind and care for the children including another sister named Maria, 10, Jesus, 7, Jorge, 5, and Jimmy, 3.

Boys who were between the ages of 15 - 27 were not allowed to leave. They were obligated to serve in Castro’s military during that time.

Time was running out for Maggie’s brothers.

One week after Maggie’s father applied to leave Cuba and move to the U. S., dump trucks pulled up to their home to get her and Jesus Falcon. He was taken to one side of the island and Maggie to the other.

For the next three years, Lidia would have no news of her husband or daughter. She did not know if they were dead or alive. Nor would father and daughter know the fate of each other or of their family.

The cane fields where they would live had been turned into concentration camps. There were chicken coops as shelters for the 250 woman in Maggie’s camp.

That’s where she met her “angel.” Mercedes, an ex-prostitute, a beautiful black-haired, green-eyed woman about 30 years old.

“When I got there, I knew no one. I was terrified. There were all these women there. We were taken off the truck at the gate and told to report - to give our name to the guard,” Maggie said.`

“Hi. My name is Mercedes,” the black-haired woman told Maggie.

“HI. My name is Magaly.”

“I don’t have any children. You will be my baby,” Mercedes declared.

Maggie wasn’t sure what to think of the woman who had taken her under her wing.

“Who knows? She could have been crazy.”

In Cuba, a girl wasn’t considered a woman until her Quinceanera or 15th birthday.

“That is an important time for every girl. Your family gives you a huge party. It’s when you become a woman. You can wear make-up, shave your armpits and legs and wear panty hose. I was just a girl.”

Maggie would miss those times. She would also miss the guidance and direction of her mother. Mercedes wasn’t her mother but the closest thing to a mother she would have until her nuclear number came up.

She put her arm around Maggie and guided her to her chicken coop. She said Maggie would sleep on the top bunk.

Guards followed.

“That’s when she told the armed soldiers, ‘Anything you want to do to her (Maggie) you can do to me instead.’ But, they made me watch, Maggie said. At that time, I didn’t believe much in God.”

Maggie never lost sight of Mercedes. “No matter where she was, I was there.”

While the sugar cane matured, they picked garlic, onions, radishes, watermelon, grapes or whatever other produce was ready to pick. Swinging a machete was a strenuous job for the frail, young girl.

Prisoners were given daily quotas.

“Sometimes it was four rows of cane, sometimes six or more. As soon as Mercedes finished hers, she would help me with mine. I was never beaten.”

Mercedes took all punishment and physical abuse directed at Maggie. However, Maggie still wears the scars on her hands from the machete she used.

“I am an ex-prostitute,” Mercedes told Maggie. “I didn’t have children because I didn’t want to embarrass them. God never gave me a child. He gave me you.”

Food was scarce and they were hungry. Some meals were just rice, some were beans with bones. Sometimes there was split pea soup with bones.

“The fresh bones were okay but sometimes they would have bugs in them because of the heat.” Mercedes took the bugs out.

Maggie, at 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighed just 85 pounds. Mercedes kept her clothed, making things for her out of burlap sacks.

Finally, she’d served her time. Maggie was 15 when her number came up.

“I hadn’t known any other life for three years. I didn’t want to leave Mercedes. Though I’d never called her mother, she’s the closest thing to a mother that I could have had.”

The guards called Maggie’s name and put her outside the gates. It was up to her to find her way home.

“I didn’t know where I lived or how to describe it.”

She hitchhiked her way back home. A semi driver picked her up, then found another ride for Maggie with another driver when he had to let her off. That driver did the same.

“They all shared food with me and never touched me. God was there protecting me. I didn’t know it then.”

When she finally made it home, she was told by neighbors that her sister was married and had a two-year-old boy. Her mother and the rest of the family had been kicked out of their home. Maggie’s father had made it back before her. While they waited for her return, the family accepted the generosity of neighbors who let them sleep on their porches and gave them food.

Maggie caught up with her family.

“We never went to sleep hungry. Mom would cut things in little pieces so everyone had some.”

The next obstacle was to make it to the airport and no one in town was allowed to help them.

“We walked and hitchhiked to the airport. When we got there a day-and-a-half later, they checked every orifice of our bodies,” Maggie remembered.

The refugee plane left Cuba for the U.S. twice-a-day, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. It was three days before the Falcon family’s name was called.

They were among 150 Cuban refugees onboard the four-prop plane which left Cuba for the U.S. on Feb. 14, 1969, at 3 p.m. The stewardess announced when the plane left Cuban airspace.

Maggie smiled as she recalled a moment forever preserved in her memory.

“The stewardess came out and said, ‘Welcome to the United States of America’ in broken English. Everyone screamed. The cheering and clapping shook the plane. We landed in the United States at 3:45 p.m.”

Passengers were taken to “The House of Liberty” in Miami, which was a warehouse-style building where doctors examined them and took chest x-rays, gave them shots and sent them on to their family.

Maggie was given vitamins and medicine for worms. The rest of her family members were given a clean bill of health. They were all given one outfit, flip flops and her father was given $25.

They arrived in Washington, D.C. National Airport, now Ronald Reagan International Airport.

“When we got off the plane, there was snow. We had never seen snow. We started eating it from the tops of cars and we all got strep throat.”

The Falcons lived with their uncle, aunt and three children in a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington, Virginia.

“My uncle said he lived in a residence in Virginia. In Spanish, residency refers to a sprawling estate-type home. We didn’t know.”

They went to churches, the Salvation Army and anywhere they could find people to help them. A month later they were able to move out. The children went to school. Maggie attended school for two days.

“Everyone sounded like chickens. I was 15 but I was too old for school. I had seen too much.”

She enrolled in beauty college and became a hairdresser.

The family didn’t settle in Florida because, Maggie said, her father wanted his children to learn to speak English.

Maggie became an American citizen when she married her husband Bill Ickes, who was a D.C. police officer. Her mother’s greatest wish was to become a U.S. citizen. It wasn’t to be. When she went to take the citizenship test, the only English she spoke was “yes, hi and ‘I don’t know.’” Maggie explained. When she was asked if she was ever a Communist, she said, “I don’t know,” meaning she didn’t understand. She was denied citizenship.

Maggie’s father refused to apply for citizenship when his wife was denied.

Her sister left her Cuban husband and came to the U.S. in 1980 during the Mariel Boatlift. Her mother made the arrangements. She found a shrimp boat captain who would bring her daughter and two grandchildren for $1,000 apiece.

Lidia Falcon managed to raise the money and worked out a deal to pay her own way by cooking for the captain of the boat. For each person who left the country, Castro forced the rescuers to take 10 prison inmates with them.

When the boat finally left Cuba, there were more than 250 aboard, and Lidia was cooking for all of them.

Maggie remembered her mother left before Mother’s Day that year. She didn’t return from Cuba until June 10. The shrimp boat was lost at sea for 40 days.

Maggie has two cousins who also escaped from Cuba. Their homemade vessel, a car body filled with inflated inner tubes, is in a museum in Key West, Florida.

Cubans planned their escape to the U.S. even though they may be caught and imprisoned for life in Cuba. The risk was worth the possibility of freedom in the United States, Maggie said.

She doesn’t know what happened to her guardian angel. Mercedes wrote to her six months after she left and asked her to send rings so she could marry a colonel in Castro’s army. Maggie sent them. But, because of Mercedes’ new status as the wife of a Communist colonel, she was never able to contact Maggie again.

“People don’t live long in Cuba,” she said.

Maggie, who is now 63, has lived with her husband, Bill, in Dutch Corner, Pennsylvania, since 1992.

Her parents are both dead now as is one brother, Jorge. Maggie makes a point of keeping in constant touch with her brothers and sisters.

She has no immediate family left in Cuba and is thankful because she considers the Castro brothers to be terrorists.

Fidel has a brother, Raoul, who Maggie predicted would take over in the event of Castro’s death.

“Things won’t change because he’s been his brother’s right-hand man since Fidel took power. Unless they’re both gone, there’s no hope for Cuba,” Maggie said. “What he (Fidel) has done to the people of Cuba isn’t human.”

With Castro’s death and the recent events in Cuba, the country of her birth, Maggie expressed these thoughts:

“It’s hard to watch them glorifying him (Fidel Castro). He was nothing but a criminal. People in Cuba don’t know there are better things out there. They don’t know any better.

“Lots of people still have moms and dads in Cuba. They are still poor and necessities are expensive and must be purchased on the black market.

“I didn’t feel anything when Castro died, no unhappiness, no sadness. I just say thank you Lord that he is gone.

“I tell you, Ailene, you really have to be a good, good Christian, a perfect Christian to believe God would forgive everything he’s done - for all the lives he’s taken.”

Recently, Maggie realized her “American dream,” of owning her own business. She opened up a small pet grooming business in her home.

She is often asked to speak and share her story. Her message is to be careful not to take freedom for granted - all freedoms.

“To me I’m Cuban only because I was born there. I think most Cuban-born Americans wouldn’t go back. This is my country. I am proud to be an American and I value my freedom and being able to worship God.”

Wolves pose danger to economic health of East Central Minnesota

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Grey wolves are protected by federal law.
They are responsible for 30 verified attacks on cattle in Pine County in 2019, according to United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Biologist and District Supervisor John Hart.
Hart spoke, Tuesday, at the regular meeting of the Tri-County Cattlemens Association (Pine, Carlton and Chisago County).
Hart said the reason for the attacks, which run in a swath from Kittson County in northwest Minnesota to Pine County, is the overlapping of the habitat of cattle and the habitat of wolves.
The proximity of wolves’ habitats such as state parks and memorial forests, to farms, paves the way for wolf attacks.
It is a blueprint for financial loss for livestock owners in Minnesota.
The grey wolf is protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). Over the years since ESA legislation was adopted, the wolf has been listed and delisted, in Minnesota.
Minnesota has the “strongest and strictest” environmental rules, Hart said.
Currently, the grey wolf is listed as a ESA threatened species, in Minnesota, which means it has the potential to become endangered.
The current political administration is poised to have the grey wolf taken off the endangered species list. The last time this happened in Minnesota was 2012. At that time, licensed hunters harvested 413 wolves. It is back on the ESA list.
Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber has introduced legislation which would put the management of wolves back in the hands of the state, Isaac Schultz told livestock farmers at Tuesday’s meeting, held at the Pine County Historical Museum, in Askov. Schultz is Stauber’s aide.
Every business owner works to identify threats to the health of their business. Livestock farmers have learned how to control herd losses from disease or poor nutrition. They have no control over wolf attacks. The loss of just one calf has the potential for long term loss in future beef or milk production and maintenance of farmers’ herds. Farming is a volatile business. Recent statistics have shown many farmers have given up the farming, listed as the fourth largest  business in Pine County.
Keith Carlson’s business is farming. He maintains a beef herd in east central Pine County. His business, handed down through generations, suffered five confirmed losses from wolf attacks this year.
Carlson said they lost eight calves to attacks, though the Wildlife Service could only confirm five were from grey wolves.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture compensates farmers for livestock lost in confirmed wolf attacks. Though the reimbursement covers the cost of the animal, Carlson said, it does not compensate for future loss.
Hart said the Wildlife Service’s trappers can only trap wolves up to a half mile from where the attack occurred.
Morris Carlson asked who sets that distance.
Federal judges have set that distance which used to be one mile back when the ESA was made law, Hart explained.
“Two or three miles for a wolf at night, is like you going to your mailbox,” Hart added.
Ideally, he said, spring is the best time to trap wolves because cows aren’t in the pastures, on paths or around watering holes.
Hart said the the wolf population in Minnesota is more than 2,500 and and continues to grow. The numbers also rise as wolves move in from Wisconsin, where they aren’t killed. They also come in from Canada.
The county with the highest number of wolves taken this year was St. Louis with 31, Pine County had 30, Aitkin - 17, Carlton - 8 and Kanabec - 7.
Carlson asked how many trappers they have in Minnesota.
Hart said there are 16, but there are only two or three who trap wolves. Those trappers also trap beaver which helps subsidize the service. The state and federal budget for wolves is $250,000.
Hart urged farmers to contact the local Department of Natural Resources officer if they suspect wolves have attacked their livestock. Then, contact his office at 218-327-3350 and leave a message. Hart said the messages are constantly monitored and the Wildlife Service will get back to the caller about sending someone to investigate the loss.

Minnesota's over 65 residents why they are being profiled

By Jean Priest for PiCK News

Licensed Minnesota drivers over the age of 65 may be surprised to find the state’s license bureau has taken the liberty of adding the word “senior” to their renewed license. Some may not even realize it until they have carefully inspected their card. Some seniors are saying they are being profiled.

The state of Minnesota is requiring all drivers to have an enhanced drivers’ license by 2020. The enhanced drivers’ license is needed for air travel within the U.S. only.

However, a passport will cover all travel requirements and there would be no need for an enhanced license.

The author of the enhanced drivers’ license bill was Dennis Smith, a Republican from Maple Grove, Minn. Minnesota was the last state to comply with the federal security standard for the Real I.D. Act of 2005 which was mandated legislation in response to the 9/11 attacks.

When applying for the enhanced license, the government is asking for a significant amount of additional information  drivers did not have to provide before. The State apparently wants to establish the driver’s identity. The enhanced drivers’ license has its own look with different lamination and more holograms. 

Recently, the state issued the enhanced drivers’ license contained the word ’senior’ written on a renewed license of a 70-year-old, Pine County acquaintance. She did not request it nor was she asked if she wanted it written on her renewed license.

This begs the question, “Is the enhanced drivers’ license, mandated by the state of Minnesota by 2020, designed to support senior citizens or single them out, and essentially profiling them? And why?”

This acquaintance thought this was odd since her date of birth is also clearly written on her renewed license. Her husband, also in his 70s, renewed his license at the same time. It was not the enhanced license. His also came back with the word “senior” on it.

State Senator Erik Simonson was contacted to get more information but did not answer. Minnesota District 11B Rep. Jason Rarick was contacted and did not return the call. Dave Lislegard, District 6B State Representative, was contacted, again by email. To his credit, or to that of his aide, a response was received within 24 hours of the enquiry.

Representative Lislegard said the licenses had to conform to a specific set of standards from the Federal Government so that “they can be used to re-enter from North American countries.” According to the State Department, since 2009 a pass card may be used to reenter the United States by land from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Air travel from these places always requires a passport. (Contact or 877-487-2778 and follow prompts for more information.)

Furthermore, Lislegard said, if the word “senior” was printed on the ID there would be no question of eligibility for senior discounts and programs.

Again, the date of birth of the individual is clearly written on the license or ID. Getting senior discounts are given in many places of business and public transportation even without proof of eligibility. 

The clearest information received was gathered from a representative who answered a call placed to the license division of the Department of Public Safety. The phone call lasted 15 minutes. He left the phone to get more information a number of times explaining that he was at a call center. He was unable to say who created the design for this license. He did say that when applying for this license the clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is supposed to ask the applicant if he or she wants to have the “senior” designation on the license. The acquaintance was not asked. The representative returned to the phone at one point to say a replacement license without the word “senior” needed to be purchased.

Before the call ended, the representative at the license division gathered the acquaintance’s license information and said he would send a new license at no cost with the word “senior” removed. The revised license was received a couple weeks after the call.

Jean Priest, in her report for PiCK News, contacted Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson. He was asked if he or his deputies noted the word “senior” on a license and if it would be of importance to him or his deputies in conducting a traffic stop. Would the word “senior” cause them to look differently at the situation.

“I am not sure what purpose that would serve,” Nelson said. “I can’t think of a reason that would matter.” He said the only considerations would be the reason for the stop and that the drivers’ license was valid.

Still the question remains. What is the purpose of the designation of “senior” on an enhanced drivers’ license when the date of birth is easily seen on the license? Is this designation an attempt to subvert the plight of the elderly?

Many pieces of legislation seem beneficial, or at least benign at the outset but, in time, can create loopholes for the unscrupulous to subvert justice.

Those over 65 and older are urged to contact their legislators and/or the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles, Driver and Vehicle Service Division, if they have a question or want their license changed to eliminate the unrequested “senior” designation on their drivers’ license.

Driver Services




Secretary of State answers voters, election judges questions at forum

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
There was a light turnout for the Voting and Elections Forum held at Pine Technical Community College, in Pine City, Sept. 16, 2019.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, Pine County Auditor-Treasurer Kelly Schroeder and Pine Tech Government and History teacher Phil Darg offered their opinions on whether voters votes count and if they matter.
Schroeder said she was frustrated by the short time frame of 2019 year’s special elections in Pine County and how difficult it was to get everything completed for the primary. She also talked about the the absentee ballots from out of state being most affected by the short time frame for the primaries and elections.
Simon said he was in favor of extending that time frame for special elections. He said Minnesota’s elections are thorough and honest and that the state was number one in elections with only 11 election fraud convictions.
Darg said each vote counts and it validates the democracy which he said is the type of government in America.
The upcoming presidential primary being held March 3, 2020 inspired questions from the audience.
PiCK News asked about the likelihood gerrymandering will be a product of the March primary because voters will be required to reveal the party they are voting for before receiving a ballot. The voters’ information will be accessible by the chairs of the four major parties. With 2020 census and reapportionment, the information could be used to redraw districts such as the five commissioners’ districts in Pine County.
Simon explained the term “gerrymandering” which is the practice of dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party and unfair advantage in elections.
His proposed solution to gerrymandering is to form an independent commission made up of two judges appointed by each of the major political parties and one independent appointee to draw the redistricting lines. They could not be sitting judges nor could they or their spouse be running for office.
This would take the redistricting job away from the elected officials and prevent them from drawing a map that favors their political party.
Pine County resident, Terry Lovgren, who also works in the auditor’s office, commented that special elections need to have a longer timeline from filing to the primary and election.
Simon said there is legislation supported by Senator Jason Rarick which would address the timeline.
Resident Connie Glattly wanted to know where the legislation originated which separated the presidential primary and backed it up to March.
Simon said he would get that information for her. He also said it came from the 2016 elections where too many people were “turned off and turned away” from voting. Minnesota had to do this, he added, so delegates can be represented at the conventions which would no longer allow them to register as “unaffiliated” with a party.
Another resident remarked about not exposing a voter’s party preference.
“I’m an advocate for voter privacy,” Simon said.
Schroeder said there will be an hour long training, for election judges in Pine County, dealing with primary concerns. They are focusing on polling place options where no one could identify who is choosing which party.

Hinckley's snowmobile ordinance outlines penalties for sled's owner

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Hinckley Council put some time into revising its ordinance which regulates the operation of recreation vehicles within the city limits. They repealed and replaced the ordinance at the Tuesday, June 11, 2019 regular meeting following their final discussion.
A special meeting was held May 30, 2019 specifically to address the changes in the ordinance and the enforcement.
To address council’s concern for the age limit for operation, City Administrator Kyle Morell looked into Pine County’s language on its recreational vehicle ordinance. On Tuesday, he told the council he did not find limits and did not contact the sheriff.
He told the council they could approve the ordinance and make changes at a later date, if necessary. In a 3-1 vote, Council Member Troy Westrum was absent, the council approved the revised ordinance. Council Member John Frank voted no.
With these changes, no one under age 14 shall operate a snowmobile or cross city streets. Anyone operating a snowmobile under age 18 must have a valid snowmobile safety certificate in their possession.
The revised ordinance also states the owner of the snowmobile is breaking the law if they allow someone to operate their vehicle who does not meet these requirements.
The revised ordinance also addresses hours of operation, operation on private property within the city limits, noise and negligent operation.
The council also put teeth in the penalty and enforcement portion of the recreational vehicle ordinance, in a unanimous vote approving Ordinance 04-2019.
Approval of the amended ordinance allows the city to recover costs incurred while enforcing the ordinance.
It covers such action as remediation, correction and abatement required following the violation and includes administration and legal costs.
The amended ordinance states a bill will be mailed to the owner after costs are tallied. If the bill isn’t paid within 30 days, the city may obtain a judgement against the owner and the charges will be applied to their real estate taxes.
In other business:
- Fire Chief Elliot Golly told the council he was looking for their support in organizing the first responders under the Hinckley Fire Department.
Changing the bylaws and determining a budget were part of the work ahead of them. Golly also said the first responders would have to join the fire department to be eligible for its pension.
The budget will come to the council prior to certifying the preliminary levy. Until those issues have been resolved, the first responders will remain a separate entity.

Pine Co. Sheriff release's final update on CO Wynn's death

Pine County Sheriff's report

Final update on the investigation of the water accident 04-19-19
The investigation was led by the Pine County Sheriff’s Office and included several witness interviews and a watercraft inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard.
On 04-19-19 at 2025 hours, Minnesota Conservation Officer Eugene Wynn and Pine County Sergeant Scott Grice were in CO Wynn’s boat while Pine County Deputy Cody LaRoue backed Co Wynn’s truck to the water to launch the boat. The plan was to drive the boat in a loop and circle back to pick up Deputy LaRoue. CO Wynn accelerated the boat away from shore and then suddenly made an abrupt left turn. The boat corrected and both Wynn and Grice were thrown from the boat. The boat continued on its course until it beached on the west side of Cross Lake. It travelled about 800 feet on the water and about 50 feet onto land. The boat is owned by the MN DNR and is a 2004 River Pro with an inboard jet drive.
Witnesses on the south-east side of the lake and Deputy LaRoue saw the two officers in the water and Deputy LaRoue went to the neighboring property to use a rowboat that was on the shore. Before he could reach Sgt. Grice, CO Wynn was under the water. LaRoue attempted to paddle the boat and assist Grice with holding onto the boat. Deputy Aaron Quesenberry used a peddle boat to attempt to assist in the rescue and ultimately ended up in the row boat while LaRoue held onto Grice. The two deputies were able to get Grice to shore where he was transported to Firstlight Hospital in Mora. Grice was treated and released for temperature related injuries.  Property owners on the lake reported seeing large chunks of ice floating on the lake until the evening of the 20th. It is unknown if the evasive maneuver was related to debris on the lake but no parties report hearing an impact while the boat was on the water. The surface temperature of the water was in the low 40’s.
The Coast Guard inspection did not identify any abnormalities to the boat that would have contributed to the accident.
There were two life jackets in the boat at the time of the accident, but the officers were not wearing them.  MN law does not require life jacket use for adults.
We strongly recommend that all people that are enjoying the natural resources in Pine County use all safety devices that are appropriate. That would include life jackets, helmets, seatbelts, and tree stand safety harnesses. Accidents happen very quickly, even to the very well trained and experienced. The safety devices only work if people put them to use before an accident happens. In this case the officers were thrown from the boat within a minute of being on the water and were not able to continue swimming within minutes. ATV crashes and tree stand falls happen as quickly with similar unfortunate outcomes.
We wish to express our continued support for the family and the deep sense of loss of a partner and friend.  


Worm farming in Pine County, Minnesota

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News

Warm days and sunshine are the perfect mix to conjure up dreams of lazy days fishing on the river.
Bring a can of worms down to a favorite fishing hole, prop up against a rock, load the hook up with worms, attach a shot and slip sinker and do a little river fishing
Drop a line from shore, drag set just right and get ready for a little snooze.

If those worms were picked up from a bait shop or dispensing machine, they may have been home grown in Sandstone, Minnesota.
Skip Thomson is a farmer; a worm farmer, and has been for 20 years.
When asked how he got into the business, his answer is, “Someone lied to me.”
He got into the business after talking to a local bait seller who said if someone could learn how to grow good worms, they’d make a good living.
“I've figured out how to grow good worms, but not how to make a good living,” Thomson kidded.
Growing worms is not just throwing dirt and worms together and - voila! Developing the right feed and the customers are critical to the business.
Thomson has had ups and downs and has perfected the time from egg to finished product; cutting the time from 18 weeks to 12 weeks.
He began by taking a class from “a little old grandma in South Carolina.” Thomson paid for the class and worked on her farm for four days. Then he purchased 20,000 to 30,000 worms from “a little old grandma in Illinois.”
He breeds, hatches and incubates the worms in plastic totes. If everything works right, it takes three to four weeks to hatch the eggs.
The worms will lay four to five eggs in a cycle which is a month to several weeks. The eggs, which are about the size of a BB, are counted and then checked for fertility - how many hatch.
The tub system of hatching and growing begins with a dark blue covered tub of eggs which he puts feed into three times a week. The feed is a mixture of Vitamins A, D, E, B, corn, barley, fish meal, alfalfa meal, linseed meal and Saluten - a poultry nutritional balancer of different minerals. Thomson developed the custom feed with company that supplies his feed.
He credits the shortened time from egg to harvest with this custom food blend.
The hatched worms are then put into a larger black open tubs. When the tub is full of feed from the three times a week feedings, he takes the worms out and counts them. A larger tubular, rotating, screen drum separates the castings (manure) from the worms.
Counting worms would be tedious. Thomson counts them by weight. He takes enough worms to make an ounce, counts them, multiplies by 16 to get the number of worms to a pound.
“I have perfected how many worms I can do in a tub,” Thomson said.
A specific number is put in each light blue, growing/harvesting tub. Too many in a tub and they won’t grow big enough. Too few in a tub and they get too big, too soon and waste space.
When they get a bad batch of feed or peat moss, it takes months to find out what caused the problem.
Thomson has a grinding mill which he uses to grind the feed into floor and then he mixes it with peat moss and other feed components. He mixes 16 pounds of feed to every bale of peat moss. From April through June, he buys feed by the ton.
When the worms are harvested and separated from the castings, they will be transported in a shipping bag which holds 6,000 to 8,000 worms.
With that much feed and peat moss, the castings build up, but they don’t go to waste. Thomson has devised a system to fill one-and-a-half yard bags which are purchased by nurseries.
“Worms sell best when kids are out of school because they are the ones who go pan fishing,” Thomson said. Most of his worms are purchased in Wisconsin in the summer, and in Alabama in the winter because they can fish year round.
Thomson continues to perfect and upgrade his business. The worm barn was replaced with the current building. It has an addition with modifications for capturing the castings. When that system is complete, it will auger castings from the barn to an addition on the west side and into the casting bags.

Sen. Rarick, Pine County officials report to townships

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Township Association met for the first of their two yearly meetings, last Saturday.
Most of the 33 townships were present to listen as county officials and newly elected District 11 Senator Jason Rarick talked about current issues of state and local government.
Rarick said there was discussion in the Senate concerning expanding broadband rurally by treating it as a utility like electricity.
PiCK News reporter Ailene Croup asked him to comment on the townships’ decreasing gas tax formula. The townships’ tax formula gives them $14.03 per resident and $325 per mile. That is a decrease from 2018 by 12 cents per capita and $3 per mile. Croup asked if that trend will continue.
Rarick said the Senate is working on increasing the share of gas tax to townships which are responsible for 40 percent of the roads in Minnesota and receive only 5 percent of the funding.
With increasing the gas tax part of the governor’s agenda, Rarick touched briefly on the discussion in the legislature about having GPS in every car and charging tax by the number miles driven.
The cost of the special primaries and elections for the cities, townships and the four counties, and the possible reimbursement from the State has also been discussed, Rarick said.
Governor Walz appointing District 11 Senator Tony Lourey to direct the state Department of Health and Human Services, in January, triggering the first special primary in January and the special general election in February. Rarick, who was District 11B Representative at that time, won the seat which sparked the second special primary and general election, in March, for his seat. Many townships felt the burden of the nearly $1,000 per election and primary which strained their budgets early in the year. Cities spent $2,000 per election and Pine County spent $16,000 for the combined primary and general election.
Rarick was also asked to get answers as to why townships weren’t getting a share of road fines collected in townships after the state passed statute 484.90 ensuring a portion of the fines went to townships and not just into the state’s general fund.
Lori Houtsma, who was appointed by Pine County Board to take over the assessor’s duties when Kelly Schroeder was appointed to the auditor’s job, said most residents will see “and uptick” in the value of property. She reminded the township representatives of the board of equalization coming up in April and their need to have at least one supervisor trained on each township board.
County Board Chairman Josh Mohr described his testimony to the State House committee concerning increasing the amount of tax returned to each township from casino taxes. He said half of the proceeds go back to the casinos and half goes to the state. Only 10 percent of what the state gets is then redistributed to the counties.
Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson said his biggest concern for the county is substance abuse. He also reported the county has a 16 percent chance of minor flooding with the spring thaw.
Nelson was asked why there were so few deputies patrolling at night. He said it goes back to budgeting, what the county can fund and how that impacts public safety. He said to address questions to the county commissioners concerning funding additional evening patrol deputies.
Katie Draper, Director of Government Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, spoke to the townships and offered these statistics. The Band owns 6,000 acres in Pine County and they are the largest property taxpayer in Pine County paying more than $1,256,000 last year.
Veterans Service Officer (VSO) Ben Wiener said the county has hired an additional VSO. Mindy Sandell will also be working in the Sandstone office to serve the county’s veterans.

Goodbye 55: MnDOT plans to raise speed limits

to 60 m.p.h. by April

from MnDOT for PiCK News

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is increasing speeds on 5,240 miles of state highways based on the recommendations of a five-year study released this week. The speeds will increase from 55 to 60 miles per hour.
Of the 7,000 miles studied, speed limits ultimately will be increased on 77 percent of rural, two-lane state highways, according to the final report. New speed limits go into effect once new speed limit signs are posted. Most of the signs posting the new speed limits are in place, with the rest expected to be up by spring 2019.
The Minnesota Legislature in 2014 mandated that MnDOT study on all Minnesota two-lane roadways with a speed of 55 miles per hour.
It is the most comprehensive study the agency has made in terms of miles studied and level of detail, according to Nathan Drews, engineering specialist in the Office of Traffic Engineering.
The study is also the largest system-wide change in Minnesota speed limits since the national maximum speed limit of 55 mph was included in President Nixon’s Emergency Highway Conservation Act bill in 1974. The Minnesota Commissioner of Highways later that year established an executive order about speed limits.
The $1.2 million study included collecting travel speed samples on each section of roadway and evaluating roadway geometrics and hazards to determine if a speed limit could be changed without affecting motorist safety.
The recommendation for a speed increase along each of these roadways considered the speed that 85 percent of motorists drive at or below along with an evaluation of other factors, such as access points, shoulder width, vertical grades and crash history.
MnDOT has conducted before and after studies on many roadways that recently increased to 60 mph. There was no change in the overall 85th percentile speed from before the speed limit change to after. The mean speed, which is the average speed of all drivers, increased by one mile per hour and the standard deviation, which is the measure of how spread out the drivers’ speeds were, reduced slightly.
“This means that after speed limits increased, travel speeds at the locations sampled were slightly more consistent between each vehicle,” said Drews. “In other words, more drivers traveled at a similar speed after speed limits increased. This is a desirable outcome, but this change is very slight and may not affect the frequency or severity of crashes.”
This most recent study echoes results from the previous studies. From 2006 to 2013, MnDOT increased speeds to 60 mph on 1,550 miles of two-lane rural highways. Studies conducted to determine the impact of raising speed limits on those roadways found that the overall 85th percentile speed before and after the changes were the same, the average speed increased slightly and the variation of the speeds decreased.
Drews said a properly selected speed limit can potentially increase the safety of the roadway by creating uniform travel speeds for all vehicles.
MnDOT plans to study the effect of the changes over the next several years to ensure these roadways continue to operate safely.
For more details about the study, see the “Final Report on the Evaluation of Certain Trunk Highway Speed Limits,” which lists the highways studied statewide and their speed recommendation.

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