development


This just in from our sometime Fish Wrap Correspondent, Black Molly.  Seems the Little Falls City Council is due to hear a conditional use request tomorrow night (October 13, 2008) at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall for the proposed placement of a 190-foot mono-pole telecommunications tower at 107 13th Street Northwest.  That location appears to be in a block just south of Pine Grove Park and Zoo, basically across the street from the entry side.  Here’s what Black Molly has to say about the issue in her letter to the City Council:

To:  Jake Depuydt, Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Little Falls City Council Members, Bruce Kiesling

I’m writing in regards to the proposed placement of a 190-foot mono-pole telecommunications tower at 107 13th Street Northwest in Little Falls.  If I’m not mistaken, this address is located across the street from Pine Grove Park, which means that a tower of this size will certainly be noticed by those visiting the park.  After all of the money that has been spent to make improvements to the park and zoo, why would the City allow a tower to be installed that would mar the aesthetics of one of its visitor attractions?

As you ponder this question, consider a similar situation that has been the subject of some hand-wringing over the years.  Billboards, also known as “Litter on a Stick,” have become a visual distraction for those entering the City of Little Falls, especially on Highway 10 south of town, where they are practically stacked one on top of another.  While the existing billboards fall outside of the City’s jurisdiction, they serve as a cautionary tale about how zoning issues, if not given enough forethought, can get out of hand.  Do we really want mono-pole communications towers cropping up willy-nilly all over the city without any regards to the overall historic aesthetic that the City has been attempting to achieve for decades?

That said, I am not against progress.  In order to remain competitive in a wireless world, it’s obvious that we are going to need tall structures that can accommodate telecommunication services, be they mono-poles or the pre-existing water towers.  Instead of deciding upon such projects one at a time, as they come before the Council, I would like to see the Little Falls City Council examine the issue of mono-pole placement and find a suitable location for said towers – perhaps in the industrially-zoned areas.  Then, the City needs to remain committed to its decision and not grant every conditional use permit or request that comes up, as this effectively nullifies the ordinance or zoning restriction that has been passed.  The exception should not become the rule.

For these reasons, I’m urging you to deny the conditional use request for the placement of a mono-pole tower at 107 13th Street Northwest.

If you feel strongly about this issue, one way or the other, be sure to attend the Little Falls City Council meeting tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.

The legals are a fine place to swim,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Recently, Brett left a comment under my Which Majority? post that makes a good point.  The discussion was about global warming / global climate change and Brett said,

Advocates of global warming claim that skeptics are all paid off by the oil industry but we never hear what kind of money is being exchanged for supporting the global warming cause. Money will always confuse the issue and it is sad that we will never get a straight answer from the supposedly objective scientific community.

He is correct in saying that we don’t typically hear anything about potential conflicts of interest concerning scientists who believe we should act now to try to reverse global warming.  How many of these scientists are being paid off by the solar, wind, and ethanol energy industries?  How many are being paid to throw the research on compact fluorescent bulbs?

We could spend our time quibbling over all the conflicts of interest that happen on both sides of the debate, but this ignores the larger issue – the planet is showing evidence of warming.  Whether that warming is a natural cycle or produced by humans or some combination of both misses the point.  If the planet is warming, we are going to have to adapt and the only thing we can control is our own behavior.  There is no available temperature switch we can easily throw on Mother Nature in order to rebuild the polar icecaps.

Further, Mother Nature doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about whether we stay on this planet or not.  If we’re driven off by drought or excessive storms or disease or hunger, all the better for her to rebuild her natural resources.  The only ones who care whether we are here or not are human beings.

Setting global warming aside for the moment, we have some practical issues that we immediately need to address.  We are in the middle of an energy crisis with the cost of oil getting so high that consumers are deciding to find other less costly ways to get around.  Globally, a food shortage has developed, partially due to the hoarding of food stuffs for use in energy production.  We are also facing fresh water shortages in certain areas of the globe.  All of these are signs of our excessive consumption (and/or global climate change, if you choose to believe that it’s happening).  While these shortages may be good economically for those who control the resources, they aren’t good in the long run as far as creating a stable base of consumers.   If populations are killed off due to food and water shortages, industry will have lost a potential customer base, which means that the economy is going to contract, rather than continue to grow.  It’s an unsustainable system no matter how you slice it – unsustainable for homo sapiens, that is.

So then, we can continue on as we have been and not make any changes in our behavior until we definitively prove the cause of global climate change and find ourselves in straits more dire than we are currently experiencing, or we can figure out how we’re going to adapt by finding solutions that are well-considered  and sustainable for all sectors of society.  What would you rather do?

When homo sapiens is gone, fish will once again rule the world!!

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Following is a post from Fish Wrap correspondent Black Molly. – P.F.A.P.

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The Spring 2008 issue of Initiative Quarterly, a magazine produced by the Initiative Foundation, has recently been released. The Initiative Foundation, for those of you who don’t know, attempts to assist the fourteen counties it serves in central Minnesota with economic development, leadership training, natural resources projects, and children, youth, and family issues. The Initiative Foundation meets a portion of its mission through loans and grants and works to grow the funds it manages in order to expand upon its programs. The Initiative Foundation is one of six Minnesota Initiative Foundations in the state, all of which were started by The McKnight Foundation in the 1980s. In fact, the Initiative Foundation used to be called the Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

For each quarterly magazine, the Initiative Foundation picks a topic of focus. This quarter’s topic is stated on the cover: “Ready or Not? Minnesota’s Future Workforce.” While the magazine does indeed focus on the up and coming Generation Y or Millennials who will soon be entering the workforce, what’s curious about one story, “Workforce Interrupted” by Dawn Zimmerman, is how it spotlights the entry of the Millennials into the workforce as a replacement for aging Baby Boomers, who will soon be leaving the workforce in droves. As I read the article, I sensed there was something missing within the Boomer-Millennial polarity that was being presented. What was missing was Generation X. It was almost as though Millennials were expected to take over for the departing Boomers with nary an Xer in sight.

I have a particular bias toward Gen X because I can be counted among this cohort. I also tend to be sensitive about generational discussions because I typically see that Gen X gets the short end of the stick when it comes to coverage.

The Boomers are huge because, well, they’re huge in numbers. They seem to have been the first named generation and they got the name because of the massive population boom after World War II. The boom lasted from 1946 until 1964 and, thus, those born within these years are considered to be Boomers. Sometimes the Boomers are split into two groups, the Baby Boom Generation (1942-1953) and Generation Jones (1954-1965). (Generational dating is obviously not an exact science because you’ll see some overlap in dates between the generations.)

Gen Xers, who are generally considered to be those born between 1965 and c. 1982, were first called the “baby bust” generation because of the drop in births in 1965. This was five years after the introduction of the birth control pill, which, according to the FDA, was being used by about 5 million women in 1965.

The years associated with the Millennials haven’t been precisely pinned down, with dates ranging from 1978 to 1984, c. 1980 to 1994, or perhaps 1988 to 2008. There’s another named generation, only it was named after the fact, by Tom Brokaw, no less. It’s the Greatest Generation and is supposed to include those who came of age during the Depression and World War II.

That last point is key. While generational discussions can be irritating because they pigeonhole us and don’t describe the individual very well, part of what defines a generational cohort for sociologists and marketers, other than population numbers, is the kaleidoscope of cultural events occurring during our formative years. The thought is that those of us who grow up through the same critical moments together develop a particular view of the world. For the Boomers, it was the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Feminist Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. You can also count the Summer of Love and Woodstock among the Boomers’ cultural influences.

I’ve said before that what seems to have defined Gen X is the ill-defined threat. We had the Cold War, with its constant threat of nuclear holocaust. (Remember the movie “The Day After”?) We had the Shuttle Disaster, the start of the AIDS epidemic, and a president who was almost assassinated. We lived through a ton of divorces and moms entering the workforce. We became latch-key kids. We had reduce, reuse, recycle and the first major energy crisis. (Gas lines, anyone?)

Gen X women grew up knowing we’d have to work. Staying home wasn’t the option it had been for older generations. We were told that we had to put our careers ahead of having children, and many of us did. We watched as major companies threw responsibility out the window when it came to their employees and laid them off right before they were due to retire, thus avoiding having to pay pensions. We were promised good jobs if we went to college, but when we graduated, no good jobs were to be found. Due to these economic forces, we lost the concept of loyalty to a corporation. We became free agents, changing jobs that didn’t suit our lifestyles, retraining when necessary for completely different careers than we’d first been educated for. We were called slackers and cynical, yet we became independent and entrepreneurial out of necessity. (It’s pretty hard to be entrepreneurial if you are a slacker.)

Call me irritable, but when I see a magazine article that seems to hint that Millennials are a direct replacement for the Boomers (i.e. they get to jump right into the high-level jobs being vacated by the Boomers), the cynic in me makes an appearance and starts thinking that the Gen Xers are getting kicked in the teeth again. If employment attrition works as it traditionally has in the past, the ones who should be directly replacing the Boomers are the Gen Xers, who hopefully have been in the workforce long enough by now to have acquired useful experience and some of those soft skills this issue of Initiative Quarterly is encouraging the Millennials to learn.

I don’t think the article’s author really intended to slight Gen Xers. Her focus, after all, was elsewhere. But, when we’re looking at “a workforce exodus about the size of Minneapolis” as the Boomers retire, I don’t think we can afford to discount an entire group of people when we look for solutions. Rather than ignore the Xers, why not take advantage of their continual training and wide range of employment experiences? As the Boomers retire, some Xers may be ready for another career change, maybe into one of the areas for which employee shortages are predicted. How about having Xers and Boomers collaborate on giving Millennials some pointers on the employment experience?

While it may be easy to put us into generational boxes with cute names, we have to be careful about the judgments we make about each of those generations, especially in relation to the economy and our livelihoods. No matter what our age, we all want to be taken seriously in the workforce and know that our labor matters.

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

In this week’s issue of the Morrison County Record (March 23, 2008), there’s an article by Liz Verley about the Little Falls City Council’s discussion concerning the Dewey-Radke house.  (See Section A, page 4, or do a search on the Morrison County Record’s website using the term “little falls city council”.  The article is called, “Council discusses whether to repair Dewey-Radke house”.)

The Dewey-Radke house is located next to the entrance of Pine Grove Park.  The Deweys offered the house to the City of Little Falls in 1974 so that it could remain a part of Pine Grove Park.  This makes sense because the park wraps around the house’s property.

For as long as I can remember, the house has been little used by the city.  The West Side Improvement Association has been using it for meetings and activities for the past few years, but this organization’s use also appears to be minimal.  The trouble is that it is a house – great for living in, but lousy for any kind of intensive public use.  Most houses are not built to be handicapped accessible, but this particular house, which is of the 1890-1920 vintage, was constructed long before society took that sort of thing into consideration.  Also, like most houses, the floor plan isn’t conducive to public use, what with the rooms designed for individual, private use and small gatherings, not large group activities.

The city is now struggling with what to do with the home.  It is in need of repairs, to the tune of $150,000, according to the Record.  That’s a lot of cash and the city isn’t sure the home is worth it.  Jerry Lochner, the city’s Public Works Director, has suggested that it may need to be torn down “if we can not find a public purpose for the building.”

The City Council isn’t taking the situation lightly, which is a good thing.  Little Falls has become known state-wide for its active pursuit of historic preservation.  If the city starts knocking down historic buildings willy-nilly, people will note the hypocrisy.  Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult for a city or municipality to own a formerly-private home because of the costs involved in repurposing and maintaining it.  Taking care of homes is not the first priority of a governmental unit.  In fact, houses and their attendant property are revenue streams for the government, so owning private homes works against a city’s budget in more ways than one.

Compounding the problem for the City of Little Falls is that it owns not one private home, but several.  In addition to the Dewey-Radke home, it owns the Burton/Rosenmeier home, which houses the Little Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Weyerhaeuser and Musser homes, collectively known as Linden Hill.  This is contrary to what Council member Brian Crowder is quoted as saying in the Record.  He said, “As a city we do not have anything to do with Linden Hill.  We need to look at taking care of city property.”  Well, Linden Hill is city property and while the homes are being looked after on a day-to-day basis by the Friends of Linden Hill, ultimately, the city does still have responsibility for the homes.

The city ended up with these properties through the generosity of those who bequested them and, in the case of at least three of the homes, the city was given funds to assist with maintaining them.  Frank and Alice Dewey provided funds for the Dewey-Radke home and The Musser Trust provided an endowment for Linden Hill.

According to Brian Crowder, the Dewey Trust has earned “over $1 million in interest used by the city,” and he suggested using some of that to repair the Dewey-Radke home.  What a sensible idea.  But, if the city hasn’t been using that money on the home to date, what have they been doing with it?

Even if there is funding available to make necessary repairs, the city is still going to have to figure out how to use the Dewey-Radke home, something it hasn’t managed to do in the 34 years it has owned the structure.  I’m sure it’s not for lack of brainstorming sessions; it’s just that sticky a problem.

While I offer no solutions to the current dilemma, I would like to offer a tip.  If you are considering donating your house to a city or municipality – don’t do it.  Just don’t.  I know you have an emotional attachment to seeing your house preserved as is for all eternity, but that isn’t how things will work out.  What you’re doing is putting a governmental unit into a position that it is not equipped to handle, even if you provide a generous amount of funds for the home.  Much better to create a nonprofit organization devoted directly to the house and turn the funds over to it.

My other piece of advice is this.  If you are a governmental unit – don’t accept a house.  Just don’t.  Learn from the situation Little Falls is in and save yourself the hassle.

The weeds I’m in are bound to decompose,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I’ve taken a couple of trips to the Twin Cities lately.  For those of you unfamiliar with our Minnesota lingo, the term ‘Twin Cities’ refers to Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are joined at the hip physically, but have distinct personalities.

On I-94, going south, I saw a billboard near Rogers.  It’s a simple billboard, with a picture of Al Gore and the words:  “an inconvenient truth: Gore Lies, Gets Nobel Prize?”  The billboard is sponsored by GlobalClimateScam.com.  I suppose they think the question mark gets them off the hook for libel.

When I see something this blatantly accusatory, I’ve got to know who is behind it.  So, when I got home, I looked up GlobalClimateScam.com.  The purpose of the group is to debunk the role human activity plays in global warming.  From the group’s About page:

“Mankind has a moral obligation to be a responsible steward of God’s creation for the good of future generations.  Protecting and preserving our earth’s ecosystems must remain a high priority for citizens of every nation.

“However, we oppose the alarmist agenda employed by most global warming “evangelists.”  In many cases, their agendas are based upon questionable scientific data and erroneous claims about global climate change. They claim the “science is settled” when, in fact, it is not.  Scientists do not agree on the cause of climate change, the role of carbon dioxide (CO2), the degree to which man contributes to atmospheric CO2, and whether global warming is anything other than a naturally occurring phenomenon. 

“Global climate changes have been occurring for centuries.  Global warming is most likely occurring today.  But there is much evidence to suggest that temperature fluctuations are part of a natural cycle of climate change, not man-made causes.  To conclude that man bears the brunt of the blame for rising temperatures is morally irresponsible and politically reckless.  Nature itself produces the greatest contributions to climate change.”

Note the use of the words ‘mankind’ and ‘God’ and the complete absolution of human beings for causing global warming.  Sounds awfully neo-conservative to me.  I dug a little further, noting that GlobalClimateScam.com was sponsored by the Minnesota Majority.  Upon arriving at Minnesota Majority’s home page, I discovered that their tagline is “Standing Together for Traditional Values.”

The term ‘traditional values’ is typical neo-con jargon and means that the group is all for legislating how people live their private lives (i.e. no abortions ever! no gay marriage ever!  follow our Christian religion and the morals we set forth always!), while at the same time claiming they want government out of our lives.  They want to allow the free market to reign unchecked and if you’re not wealthy, well then, it’s your own damn fault.  It’s the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and agree with my way of thinking, but I’m not going to give you any boots” philosophy.  (Check out the site’s drop-down menu under Our Principles for the full screed.)

Funny thing, that.  I’m a Minnesotan, but I’m not a part of their majority.  I disagree with the Minnesota Majority on pretty much everything they stand for.  While it might be understandable that this li’l ol’ fish might fall into a minority of thought in the state, why is it that our state consistently seems to be a blend of both liberal and conservative values, as seen in the way we elect our government officials?  Could it be that we have two majorities?

Beware of who you allow to speak for you.  Now, the Freedom of Speech right the Minnesota Majority supports is something I can ascribe to (although I’m pretty sure the group is not going to like what I have to say).

As for the idea that human beings have nothing to do with global warming, I think I’ll listen to the ice core samples scientists have pulled out of the Antarctic that show elevated levels of carbon dioxide trapped in the ice at the point that the American Industrial Revolution started.

With frosted fins,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I have occasion periodically to drive past the newest park in Little Falls.  Have you been there yet, or have you blown right past it without even knowing it was there?  If you’ve done the latter, don’t feel bad.  The park is barely visible from Lindbergh Drive South.   It is hidden by a berm upon which railroad tracks run.

Mill Park, as it is known, was fashioned out of the former Hennepin Paper Mill site.  Several artifacts of mill operations have been purposely left on the site, including a portion of the smokestack, brick arches, a metal spiral staircase, and a massive wall that was part of the canal’s raceway through the mill.  The City of Little Falls has made several improvements to the site, paving a long ramped sidewalk, adding railings, and laying down sod.  I can’t do justice to the site by merely describing it, so you’ll have to go see it when the weather cooperates.

For as wonderful as Mill Park is, I am concerned about its lack of visibility.  It’s been hard enough to control vandalism in more visible city parks, but Mill Park’s hidden nature is an open invitation for this sort of thing.  While I’m sure the city police patrol the area, we can’t expect them to have an officer permanently assigned to the site.  Instead, I’d like to suggest that the city create an informal Park Watch, which would be useful for not only Mill Park, but for the other city parks, as well.

Park Watch doesn’t have to be a complicated program with loads of bureaucracy.  It would be a program of encouragement.  Those of us who enjoy the city’s parks tend to have favorite ones in which we like to hang out.  As long as we’re there anyway, why not pick up any trash we see and report signs of vandalism to the police?  Once or twice a year, spring and fall, perhaps, the city could have clean-up days in the parks.  I wouldn’t make Park Watch any more complicated than this, unless maybe to provide simple badges to those who want to participate.

While I am sure there are already people who do this sort of thing, the point of Park Watch, other than keeping our parks clean and safe, would be to build community through a shared connection and pride in our surroundings.  That’s what city parks are supposed to do for us.  Park Watch would enhance the effect.

Willing to do shore duty,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I’m connecting the dots with a couple of stories that have appeared in recent issues of the Morrison County Record.  In this week’s issue (February 24, 2008), there was an article in the Education section on a Swanville student who had to be out of school for surgery.  (I’d link to the story, but it doesn’t appear to have been put online.)  So that he wouldn’t miss much during his recovery, school district staff Cheryl Johnson and Neal Weisz rigged up a webcam in the student’s home that was connected to his classroom.

What a brilliant idea.  And, according to Johnson, one that hasn’t been done in this area before.  Now that the Swanville district has taken the lead and shown the possibilities for home education through technology, perhaps other districts will get on board.  This would have been a simple solution to implementing the 504 plan for Olive Rockfish’s daughter in the Little Falls district.  (See here and here.)

Aside from innovative uses of technology in the classroom, where else might technology transform our usual way of life?  How about that library folks in Pierz would like to see built?

Technology has already seriously affected how libraries operate and you have to look no further than the Carnegie Library in Little Falls to see that it is so.  When I was a kid, you could check books out of the library, or look at magazines in the library, and that was pretty much it.  Now, you have your choice of not only books and magazines, but books on tape or CD, music CDs, movies, and on-site access to the internet.  The Carnegie is a part of the Great River Regional Library system, which has implemented an online book catalog and check-out system.   This means that if you have internet access at home, you can peruse the library catalog at your leisure outside of regular library hours and place holds on items for check-out at your convenience.

The entire production and distribution of all kinds of media has turned topsy-turvy with the internet, which will naturally cause changes in how libraries operate.  As downloadable audio books and e-books become standard, could it be that the space we devote to books in our public libraries will shrink?  That would seem to be an obvious outcome.

I am not privy to the specifics of Pierz’s library plan, but I do hope the building’s planners are taking all of these factors into consideration.  Building a ‘traditional’ library at this point in time doesn’t seem to be the wisest course of action.  Envisioning a futuristic library, one that would meet needs we can only imagine at this point, is what Pierz should be shooting for.  Think what can be done with webcams nowadays.

Fish is brain food, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t look at me in that light,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

If you’d like a weighty read on book circulation in libraries over time, check out this study done by Douglas A. Galbi.

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