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Former Falcon gives back as high school's new resource officer
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Faribault Police Officer Josh Sjodin wanted to give back to his alma mater, see his former teachers and have a positive influence on its students.

Not only that, but he wants to “show [students] that the police are people too, and we’re doing a job. We can make a positive connection with kids who might not always have a positive connection with the police.”

As Faribault High School’s new resource officer, Sjodin has the opportunity to do just that. A 2008 FHS graduate, he has returned to familiar hallways after serving with the Faribault Police Department Patrol Division for the past seven years. Sjodin officially stepped in as resource officer March 22, replacing Officer DJ Skluzacek, who has returned to the Patrol Division after four years at FHS.

So far, Sjodin said, “The students are awesome; I like the staff I work with. Everybody’s been awesome.”

Being a resource officer, Sjodin’s responsibilities are more than security and safety. His main job is to be a positive connection for students if they have a problem and don’t know where to turn. His office is the best place to start if students want to find him, but he’s often seen roaming the halls to greet those in passing and become a familiar face.

“They can literally come to me for anything,” Sjodin said. “I can get you to the right place to go and to talk if something is going on in life. Several kids just walk by and say 'hi' and I love it.”

Not terribly long ago, Sjodin was an FHS student himself. As a Falcon, Sjodin was a three-sport athlete involved in football, basketball and baseball. To this day, basketball is a sport he plays in his spare time.

Apart from attending college in Mankato and living there for a time, Faribault has been his home nearly all of his life. 

Sjodin's wife Sara also works with students, as a first grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School. Since Sjodin is a 13-year veteran of the Army National Guard, he has visited his wife's classroom over the years to read to students, show them his Army gear and let them try on his vest and helmet. Most recently, he did a virtual call with first-grade distance learning students on Veterans Day.

Together the Sjodins have two children: 5-year-old Nolan and 1-year-old Nicholas. Outside of work, Sjodin said he likes being outdoors, playing with his sons and simply spending time with his family.

Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen noted that Sjodin has easily connected with students over the years by stopping by to shoot hoops with them and being involved with the Connecting with Kids program the department organized a couple years ago. The events of this program involved officers playing basketball with children and sharing food among other activities.

“Josh is a local kid so he’s a Falcon and we’re excited to have him in the school,” Bohlen said. “ … It’s good for him to have an opportunity to do something different and I think he’ll do well.”

More frequent severe weather may have some planning for the future
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As Severe Weather Awareness Week begins Monday, area residents are encouraged to consider their own emergency plans.

It’s fair to say southern Minnesota has had its share of severe weather events. These major events not only pose a risk to safety, but they often leave behind infrastructure damage.

Last month the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency made the case for a $2.9 million proposal to help communities plan and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate, including potential improvements to stormwater and wastewater infrastructure. A changing climate and an increase in extreme weather present new challenges, and the cost of inaction is too high for communities to handle, MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop said.

There are three major trends occurring across the state due to climate change. The state is getting warmer and wetter. The third trend is the state is seeing more frequent and intense precipitation events, or mega rains.

“In fact, these mega rain events are now four times more likely than they were just a generation ago … extreme storms are risks of public safety, they damage public infrastructure, and they can have devastating effects and result in costly cleanups for families, homes and businesses,” Bishop said.

The region’s history is spotted with heavy rains, tornadoes and even damaging hail. Several of these events have led to significant damage, costing millions of dollars in repairs.

On September 20, 2018 multiple tornadoes barreled through southern Minnesota, including Waseca, Le Sueur and Rice counties. The evening storm significantly damaged Faribault Municipal Airport, tossing planes and destroying hangars. The extreme weather collapsed farm buildings, uprooted trees, knocked down power lines, left homes uninhabitable and even forced area schools to open late the following day.

The National Weather Service estimated 21 tornadoes were created throughout the duration of the storm in the southern Minnesota and eastern Wisconsin region that evening. There were no reported fatalities or major injuries reported following the event, according to the Faribault Daily News. The event led to a record for the most tornadoes in the month of September for the state, according to the NWS. Of the tornadoes Rice County saw seven, Goodhue County six, Waseca County four, Steele County two and Le Sueur County one.

A week after the storm, NWS confirmed a tornado had touched down in Owatonna. That particular twister was an EF1 with an estimated 95 to 105 mph wind, traveling 27 miles and passing through Owatonna. The strongest tornado, an EF2 twister, began in Morristown, traveled through the Faribault airport and headed to Dennison. It was estimated that those winds reached between 120 to 130 mph.

That wasn’t the only time a group of severe tornadoes have impacted the region. In March 1998, tornadoes left behind significant damage to St. Peter and nearby cities. The tornadoes resulted in two fatalities, multiple injuries and over $200 million in damages. A total of 14 tornadoes touched down in southern and central Minnesota reaching from near the South Dakota and Iowa borders eastward toward Wisconsin.

In August of 2006, the region experienced baseball-sized hail, creating millions of dollars worth of damage to roofs, cars and crops in Rice County. At the time, Joel Walinski of Northfield’s Public Works Department said city-owned vehicles alone sustained $198,000 in damages.

Planes were flipped at the Faribault Municipal Airport after a storm on Sept. 20, 2018. Power lines and trees were knocked down and blown over around the neighborhood. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

Looking at the past helps us prepare for the future

Reflecting on these extreme events from the past, residents may feel the need to prepare for future events. Severe Weather Awareness Week begins April 12 and runs through April 16, the week is devoted to informing people about severe weather and encouraging individuals, families, schools and businesses to determine or review an emergency plan in the event of severe weather.

Two statewide tornado drills are scheduled for April 15. The first drill is intended for businesses and schools and the second drill, in the evening, is for second shift workers and families to test out their emergency plan.

On average, the state experiences 28 tornadoes a year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In 2018, 44 tornadoes made their way through the state. A record was set in 2010 with 113 tornadoes touching down within Minnesota.

Being prepared for weather events can help save lives, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety notes. While severe weather events can be a hazard to people’s immediate safety, damages and cleanup can be very costly to taxpayers.

Severe weather frequently causes damage throughout southern Minnesota, but there are ways individuals and communities can better prepare.

Steps to mitigate severe weather

Bishop expressed concern for some Minnesota communities’ inability to deal with increasing challenges due to a changing climate, pointing in particular to water infrastructure such as stormwater system sewers and wastewater treatment plants as these facilities continue to age. With the more frequent rainfall, inadequate infrastructure may result in flooded streets, water backing up into homes and businesses, millions of dollars in damages to public and private property and wastewater overflows, Bishop notes.

“We can help Minnesota communities adapt to our changing climate, and more extreme weather by supporting their efforts to prepare, plan and invest in water infrastructure,” Bishop said.

Gov. Tim Walz is proposing a $2.9 million investment over the next two years to help more communities do that work, Bishop said. The funding would allow the MPCA to provide grants to communities and governments for climate resilience planning. This planning includes assessing local infrastructure risks, developing climate community plans that increase climate resilience and planning and pre-design work that is needed to improve and better manage stormwater and wastewater infrastructure.

“Data from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA, shows that for every dollar of investment in resilient infrastructure, $6 of benefits accrue to communities from avoided loss due to extreme precipitation, flooding and other disasters,” Bishop said.

The MPCA could assist up to 15 communities a year, but demand is likely to be higher than that. Bishop said the proposal is a starting point and is just one component of investments needed to help communities adapt to a changing climate. The MPCA is working with other state, regional and federal partners to identify resources to help speed the planning and implementation process along.

Some local governments are taking measures to mitigate future weather-related problems. The city of Faribault was recently awarded a $2 million grant, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, to fund a portion of a project that would help keep flood waters away from the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The plant is located very close to the banks of the Straight River. The infrastructure project is set to finish the flood mitigation and bank stabilization project by this fall for an estimated $4 million project cost.

The grant is much needed after some serious flooding events resulted in negative impacts for the city. In December 2010, water flooded the wastewater treatment plant, forcing the city to pump untreated diluted sewage into the river. Many of the businesses relied heavily on water usage throughout the day and the city requested some businesses to reduce operations for some time. Then again in 2014 and 2016, the city and its treatment plant were forced to deal with high waters once again.

Saturday deadline to submit your 2021 high school grad's information
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The Faribault Daily News will again publish its annual special section featuring area high school graduates. And just like last year, we’re celebrating the seniors two ways.

Not only will we publish a printed section, we’ve got a special online version where seniors can create and personalize a page of their own to share with friends and family.

There’s no cost to be included in the section. Area high school graduates or their parents just need to submit a photo and information about the student by going to the Daily News website, bit.ly/3t6yEL3. The News will not accept paper submissions; all submissions must be done online.

And while that may not sound much different than what we’re done before, this year students can share additional information, photos and even videos to create a truly memorable experience. The site will allow them to search for classmates as well as friends attending other area schools.

The deadline for graduate submissions is May 6.

Photos should be at least 1MB. Photos should be vertical images, wallet-size or larger, preferably picturing the student from the waist up.

For more information, contact Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134 or editor@faribault.com.

Faribault council backs passenger rail, former mayor more hesitant
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Faribault’s City Council seems set to once again back efforts to bring passenger rail downtown, but a former mayor who backed the project back in 2015 could now be a crucial voice of skepticism.

Under the bill, introduced last month by Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, $500,000 in state dollars would go to study a proposed passenger rail corridor from the metro to Albert Lea. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday by Sandy Pappas, a St. Paul DFLer. In addition to the Faribault route, which would utilize existing rail lines traveling alongside the Straight River through the heart of downtown, the bill would also study an east-west auxiliary line that could run from Winona to Mankato, through Owatonna and Rochester.

Lippert also co-sponsors HF 1639, which seeks $160 million in bonding dollars for rail lines identified in the state rail plan including the I-35 corridor route though not the east-west auxiliary line across southern Minnesota.

While HF1393 has only has DFLers sponsors thus far, HF1639’s Senate companion bill was introduced by a pair of Republicans, Sens. Jeremy Miller, of Winona, and Mike Goggin of Red Wing, greatly boosting its chances of passage in the divided legislature.

Upon its introduction, HF1393 was referred to the Transportation Committee while HF1639 went to Capital Investment. While Lippert doesn’t serve on either committee, Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, is a member of both.

Goggin’s Legislative Assistant, Marissa Manteufel, noted that funding for the bonding project won’t be considered until 2022, as per Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Tom Bakk’s wishes. However, she that Sen. Goggin wans to start the conversation early.

According to Manteufel, the project would be particularly beneficial for students, providing easy access not only to the Twin Cities but also Winona State University. In addition, she said that if the state is willing to commit some money, federal dollars could follow.

As they did five years ago, the Faribault council voiced support for the potential project. Mayor Kevin Voracek said he envisioned the downtown district and proposed park along the Straight River as being enriched by and somewhat built around a well-located depot.

Northfield City Councilor Suzie Nakasian, an ardent supporter of passenger rail who founded the Minnesota Regional Passenger Rail Initiative, said that she has heard from developers all over the country interested in investing in projects near potential depots.

Jasinski served as Faribault’s mayor back when the council last endorsed the project in 2015. A real estate professional, Jasinski said the opportunity for development along the river should passenger rail come seemed like a clear win.

Now that he’s in St. Paul, Jasinski is expressing more hesitance. He raised concern about the project’s significant price tag as well as about the potential burden on lines owned and utilized by freight rail companies.

Jasinski suggested that times may have changed with passenger rail ridership down. While that decline might largely be due to COVID, he questioned the wisdom of investing in passenger rail at a time when lines like the Northstar Line are losing money.

“It’s an issue of looking at the budget at a big picture level,” he said.