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'Forever chemicals' found in groundwater across the state
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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently announced Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination in groundwater at closed landfill sites in 41 counties throughout the state, giving a glimpse at will likely become a larger problem in the future for every Minnesotan.

There are still many unknowns regarding PFAS, the extent to which PFAS are present in the environment is still something officials are trying to determine and quantify. PFAS are emerging contaminants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. MPCA officials are working to get a better understand of these chemicals, their impacts on human health and the environment. While released data only contains information from sites within the Closed Landfill Program, there are still plenty of active and private landfills across the state and in the region without quantifiable data at this point. According to the MPCA there are no Steele or Rice county landfills within the Closed Landfill Program, but PFAS can come from a variety of sources beyond landfills.

These chemicals are now widespread in the environment and do not break down. PFAS, often called “forever chemicals” can bioaccumulate in humans and other organisms, some are known to be toxic, according to the MPCA. PFAS are a group of around 5,000 various synthetic chemicals which are resistant to heat, water and oil and used in products like non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, food packaging, fire-fighting foam and personal care products, among others.

“We know that PFAS is everywhere. It’s in our water on our land, and even in our fish,” said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop, during a press conference last week. “Because it’s a forever chemical future generations will be required to deal with past and current contamination instances.”

PFAS were invented in the 1930s, but new PFAS are being created and introduced into the environment each day. The first recording of PFA contamination in drinking water within Minnesota was in the early 2000’s. In just the last few years MPCA has been sampling for substances at its closed landfill sites, according to Kirk Koudelka, MPCA assistant commissioner.

Bishop and Koudelka were joined by state legislators and community advocates last week at a press conference underlining the PFAS problem specifically in the state’s Closed Landfill Program. Under the program, closed mixed municipal waste landfills are handed over to the MPCA to deal with after the site meets program criteria. The program uses mostly tax dollars to continue long-term management of the closed sites to protect the environment and human health.

“(CLP) was created to address contamination at old unlined landfills that were not making any progress through the state and federal Superfund processes,” Koudelka said.

MPCA has found PFAS contamination in 97% of the closed landfills within the program. Nearly 60 sites recorded contamination which exceeds the Minnesota Department of Health’s guidelines with 80% of those sites located in greater Minnesota.

“These closed landfills are throughout the state. They are in suburbs, greater Minnesota, regional centers and small rural communities. They are next to our homes, our businesses and our farms,” Bishop said.

Fifteen sites recorded at least 10 times over the health-based guidance values, including multiple in the southern Minnesota region. One landfill, Gofer Landfill near Fairmont in Martin County, has PFAS contamination 1000 times the state’s guidance values.

According to a map released by the MPCA, PFAS have been detected at Waseca County Landfill, but other regional landfills are seeing higher levels of contamination. Sun Prairie Landfill in Le Sueur County recorded PFAS which exceeded MDH guidance. Tellijohn Landfill and Minnesota Sanitation Services Landfill, both in Le Sueur County, are sitting at 13 times and 19 times over the health-based values set by MDH respectively. While the MPCA’s data is concerning, the data only takes into account landfills within the CLP. The scope of the PFAS problem at active and private landfills is still unknown.

More robust monitoring must be done to get a complete picture of the impact of PFAS contamination. Thus the MPCA is looking for some flexibility and access to funds from the Closed Landfill Investment Fund during the state’s current legislative session. According to the current law, MPCA has to wait until the legislature appropriates funding before the agency can respond to a contamination, which can postpone action on unexpected environmental incidents.

“This existing structure really impedes our ability to act quickly and use discretion in addressing the most pressing needs at each site,” Bishop said.

The MPCA plans to expand its drinking water monitoring and work to better understand the magnitude of the contamination. The agency will continue to uncover potential actions for clean up and to prevent further pollution.

In February, the MPCA put out the state’s PFAS Blueprint, a strategic approach created by various agencies in an effort to protect Minnesotans from PFAS. The document highlights 10 priority areas, new health guidelines for drinking water and food protections. It also explores options for cleanup, prevention and includes short- and long-term strategies.

The 10 priorities from the state’s PFAS Blueprint in an effort to protect Minnesotans include:

• Measuring PFAS effectively and consistently

• Understanding risks from PFAS air emissions

• Quantifying PFAS risk to human health

• Preventing PFAS pollution

• Limiting PFAS exposure from drinking water

• Limiting PFAS exposure from food

• Reducing PFAS exposure from fish and game consumption

• Protecting ecosystem health

• Remediating PFAS contaminated sites

• Managing PFAS in waste

A map by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency marks landfills in the Closed Landfill Program which have measured PFAS levels. (Photo courtesy of the MPCA)

Currently the MPCA is working with landfill operators to create water quality standards for PFAS and working on potential pre-treatment of leachate to lower PFAS concentrations. Officials would also like to monitor PFAS in groundwater at active landfill sites. Another major initiative is prevention. PFAS that make their way into the waste stream and go to solid waste facilities can be costly to address. The most strategic approach to manage PFAS is to prevent them from ever entering the waste stream.

Officials are still trying to understand PFAS impacts and determining a way to regulate them. It’s safe to say we will continue to hear more about PFAS as discussions, research and monitoring continues.

WWII veteran turns 100, honored with vehicle parade
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“I’ve never been this old before” is how Joe Skodje describes what it’s like to approach 100 years.

A World War II Army Air Corps veteran, a world traveler and a centenarian on March 30, Skodje has packed a lot of living into the past century.

A resident of Faribault Senior Living since 2018, Skodje spent 48 years — nearly half his life — in Clearwater, Florida. But at 97, he decided to move close to his son Kurt. Some of his favorite places in town have been Buckham West, Buckham Memorial Library, and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where he is now the oldest member.

In celebration of Skodje’s milestone birthday, the Faribault American Legion is hosting a vehicle parade with staging at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Central Park. The community is invited to participate in the parade and toast Skodje at the Legion afterward.

Skodje looks forward to celebrating with his three adult children: Carol Skodje Westervelt of White Coast, Virginia, Kurt of Faribault and Kristen Skodje Davies of Crofton, Maryland. It will be the first time the four of them come together since before the onset of COVID-19.

A lot of living

A first generation American on his dad’s side, Skodje’s parents were from North Dakota and Norway. He had two brothers — one older and one younger — and both died in their 70s. Skodje’s parents also died young — his mother at 40, and his dad at 62.

“I’m almost as old as my mom and dad combined when they died,” Skodje pointed out.

The day of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a memorable one for Skodje. To this day, he remembers going home to Fargo, North Dakota, from his cousins’ house to find a telegram waiting for him. The day was Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, and the telegram read “Report to the OQMC (Office of the Quartermaster General) in Washington, D.C. without delay!”

It was in Minneapolis where Skodje was accepted into the United States Air Force, which was then called the Army Air Corps. Training took him to Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska and Indiana. Assigned to the 442 Troop Carrier Squadron, he flew in the Invasion of Holland. With his most prized plane, the Fairchild PT-19, he made his first solo flight June 9, 1942 at Arledge Field in Stamford, Texas.

Joe Skodje flew with the Army Air Corpse in World War II, assigned to the 442 Troop Carrier Squadron. (Photo courtesy of Joe Skodje)


Skodje married his wife, Helen Larson, Sept. 11, 1943 while stationed in Kansas. They had known each other since they were teenagers growing up in Fargo, where Helen’s dad was his Sunday school teacher. He still recalls everyone at the wedding hearing “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters from the drinking establishment across the street, carrying through the open church windows.

“Not a lot of guys remember their wedding song, but I do,” Skodje said with a laugh.

After the war, Skodje earned his degree in engineering at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. This made him the first in his family to receive a college diploma, he said. With that education under his belt, he landed a job as an engineer at Honeywell, first in Minneapolis and then in Clearwater, Florida. He and Helen moved there in 1960 with their children.

Growing up 10 minutes from the beach, Skodje Davies said her dad hated sand in the car. To solve this issue, he brought a pail along and filled it with water so all the passengers could soak their feet before stepping into the vehicle. He also installed his own safety belts in his convertible and waited to hear the same number of "clicks" as passengers before driving away.

One special memory for Davies is acting as clowns with her dad at Christmas parties when he was a member of the Honeywell Minnrig, an organization for longtime employees. Skodje remembers this too; he said his daughter rode a unicycle and he rode an adult tricycle.

Throughout their nearly 72 years of marriage, Skodje and Helen took trips nationally and internationally and cultivated their interests on a local level through numerous organizations like the Suncoast Lodge Sons of Norway and the De Norske Singers and Dancers.

Joe Skodje is pictured here with his late wife, Helen, dressed in their Norwegian dance costumes. (Photo courtesy of Joe Skodje)

During their marriage of nearly 72 years, Helen and Joe Skodje traveled the world. They’re pictured here by the Alps. (Photo courtesy of Joe Skodje)

Skodje’s apartment at Faribault Senior Living contains photographs, paintings, and relics of all types that give evidence to his long and adventurous life. A map of the world, hanging on his wall, is filled with pins that mark all of his travels, from his southernmost trip in Ushuaia, Argentina to his northernmost trip to Svalbard, an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole.

In his 100 years, Skodje can say he’s ridden on the back of an elephant in Thailand, sailed on the replica Viking ship the Saga Siglar, ziplined, flown in a hot air balloon and gone parasailing.

At Faribault Senior Living, Joe Skodje pages through a memory album containing photos of his World War II days as a pilot, trips with family and even an appearance in a yacht magazine. Skodje turns 100 years old Tuesday. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

“I let [Helen] go first to see if it was safe,” Skodje recalls of parasailing. “She would do any of those things.

Said Kurt Skodje of his mom, who died in 2015: “She was competitive, and anything Dad would do, she would try to do it a little better.”

Reflecting on growing up, Kurt Skodje said, “Our parents always showed interest in what we were doing and gave us opportunities to do a lot of things. They let us find out what we liked and what we didn’t like.”

Through that process, Kurt discovered that he shared a lot of interests with his father, mainly photography and woodwork.

One special memory for Skodje Davies is acting as clowns with her dad at Christmas parties when he was a member of the Honeywell Minnrig, an organization for longtime employees. Skodje remembers this too; he said his daughter rode a unicycle and he rode an adult tricycle.

Skodje continued to try new things and accept opportunities himself into old age. Several years ago, he participated in Honor Flight Central Florida, which transports U.S. veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials dedicated to their service.

Of that experience, he said, “That was probably one of the most memorable days of my life.”

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s found ways to stay occupied with a virtual bible study, lunch with a neighbor and playing bingo. He doesn’t actually like the game, he said, but he likes seeing people in person. For that reason, his children hope the birthday parade is a success. 

Property owners dealing with 2nd fire in five weeks
  • Updated

Faribault homeowners are dealing with a second fire on their property in a little more than a month.

The residents, whose garage burned in the early morning hours of Feb. 21, are now looking at the loss of their home.

Firefighters were called to the home at 6 Fifth Ave. NE shortly before 2 p.m., finding smoke coming out of the home and flames showing from the porch, according to a release from Fire Chief Dustin Dienst. The property owners, who came home and reported the fire, told law enforcement that nobody was inside the house.

Firefighters knocked down the flames and ventilated the structure by opening windows. Walls and ceilings were opened up and exposed to ensure that the fire would not spread inside the walls to other parts of the home. The home suffered extensive fire, heat and smoke damage and is uninhabitable. Red Cross was contacted to assist the homeowner. Crews cleared the scene at 4:34 p.m.

“Thankfully the homeowners came home when they did. Quickly calling 911 and getting us there made a difference in the amount of damage done by this fire,” said Dienst.

The 1,700-square foot home was built in 1933, according to Rice County records. The two-stall garage, which housed two vehicles when it caught fire, was built in 1997. The garage fire was ruled accidental.

The Faribault Fire and Police departments along with the State Fire Marshal’s Office are actively investigating this fire.

Pandemic, Texas freeze shock increase building prices
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Local builders and organizations are hoping to make significant headway in addressing the region’s shortage of affordable housing this year , but a major increase in building prices has hampered those efforts significantly.

Lumber prices have risen by a staggering 180% since last April, according to a study published last month by the National Association of Home Builders. That’s led the average price of constructing a new single-family home to increase by close to $25,000. According to the NAHB, much of the issue has been driven by a combination of both increased demand and limited supply. The pandemic itself has exacerbated the issue, tightening borders and leading to temporary shortages of some products.

Despite the price increases, the housing sector appears to continue to be an unstoppable force powering the economic recovery. Ken Warner, Manager of Faribault’s Chadderdon Lumber, has seen no signs of a slowdown.

“Sooner or later demand will go down if prices keep going up, but right now demand is so high that no matter what people keep buying,” he said.

Faribault City Councilor Jonathan Wood, who owns of his own construction company, said that the burden often falls on builders to eat the cost.

“You can’t just pass on costs to the consumer because the consumer is held hostage by the mortgage company and the underwriter,” he said. “The underwriter will look at the comps — what someone else is selling per square foot. They don’t care what lumber costs.”

Just a few years ago, Wood said he could buy enough lumber to build a house for about $24,000. Now things have changed. After scouring the market for the cheapest deals, he secured a quote of about $36,000 and expects it to end up higher than that.

It’s particularly difficult for builders to make those prices work in cities like Faribault or Owatonna, which tend to have lower property values than southern Twin Cities metro communities like Burnsville or Apple Valley.

That’s led to a severe shortage of new homes so severe that as Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson recently noted, there are 300 vacant jobs in Faribault and just 20 homes on the market.

As a result, Johnson said that the city is “busing checks out of Faribault,” hurting local businesses, depleting the tax base and exacerbating the workforce shortage, all of which could endanger the robust growth the region has enjoyed in recent years. To address the challenge, the Chamber recently launched a partnership with South Central College, Faribault Public Schools, the Chamber Trust & Vision Task Force that is designed to provide an affordable path to homeownership.

Johnson said that rising material prices will be among the biggest challenges faced by the partnership. Within the task force that will oversee the partnership, a subcommittee has been established with a specific focus on addressing building material costs.

Northfield Housing Coordinator Melissa Hanson said that the state’s tax credit formulas for affordable housing are also often more favorable to builders in the metro area. She also said that rising gas prices have hurt the region’s appeal to commuters.

The crisis in Texas significantly increased fuel costs, hurting a number of construction-related industries. Andy Michaletz of Owatonna’s Poly Plastics, which produces a variety of recycled plastic products, said there’s been sharp increases in plastic and resin prices which include a number of housing materials.

Michaletz says he doesn’t expect prices to come down until summer, and that supply has become an issue as well. Consumers saw electric bills increase as well as local energy providers forced to switch to backup sources of power by the extreme conditions.

Rice County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Dayna Norvold said that in addition to rising lumber prices her organization has had distribution issues with everything from basic appliances to paint, forcing the organization to buy items that would normally be donated.

“What it translates into is we can’t help families at a lower income,” she said. “They’re the ones who really suffer.”