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Luke Vinar is one of five seniors with varsity experience returning from last year’s team, and one of four defenders in that group. (Daily News File Photo)

van Sluis reconsiders, council shelves chicken discussion

Despite support from Councilor Jonathan Wood and pleas from some city residents, Faribault’s City Council decided against revisiting the city’s ban on allowing chickens within city limits.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Kathy and Zach Klecker asked councilors to consider overturning the city’s longstanding ban on chickens. Faribault residents for more than 25 years, the Kleckers have kept chickens within city limits for much of that time.

Now, their flock of six chickens will need to pack up and move out to live with a family friend in the country. Kathy Klecker has said the adjustment process isn’t likely to be easy for the chickens, as the now highly domesticated creatures adjust to less controlled environment.

Last week, Councilors Wood, Elizabeth Cap and Peter van Sluis had expressed interest in revisiting the topic. Mayor Kevin Voracek strongly recommended against reopening the debate, which was the cause of significant discussion in 2017.

Nonetheless, Voracek asked City Administrator Tim Murray to email councilors with a detailed analysis of the issue. Had at least half of the Council continued to show interest in revisiting the ordinance, he said he would allow debate to proceed despite his opposition.

This time, van Sluis joined Councilors Royal Ross, Tom Spooner and Janna Viscomi in opposition to the proposal. van Sluis said he had previously been on the fence with regard to its wisdom and subsequently received a large volume of negative feedback. van Sluis at the council’s Tuesday meeting said that for many city residents, concerns about the smell produced by pet chickens was paramount. Others raised concerns about noise, as well as the general process by which complaints would be handled.

The councilor also highlighted the risk that poorly kept pet chickens could contribute to the spread of bird flu. That’s a big enough concern for one of the city’s largest employers, Jennie-O, that the poultry factory came out in strong opposition to 2017’s legalization proposal.

Since then, concerns around avian flu have subsided. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found a virulent strain of avian flu in a South Carolina turkey plant — the first case in U.S. commercial poultry since 2017.

Even when avian flu was more prominent, proponents of allowing chickens within city limits have argued the risk of pet chickens spreading bird flu is relatively low. Wood argued this could be further mitigated by a proper regulatory code and responsible chicken owners.

Despite Jennie-O’s opposition, the council initially moved to override its own Planning Commission in 2017, and asked city staff to draft an ordinance that would have allowed residents to keep a limited number of chickens within city limits. Such a move would have placed Faribault in line with many other cities in the region, from Rochester to St. Peter to Northfield, which have legalized the chickens to accommodate rising interest in urban farming.

Many of those cities have enacted loose regulatory ordinances, or loosened their ordinances after receiving few complaints. By contrast, City Planner Dave Wanberg’s proposal would have enacted a complex regulatory code, attempting to address concerns raised even by supportive councilors. After several councilors reconsidered, Wanberg’s 2017 proposal was ultimately shelved. However, it likely would have been front and center had councilors decided to discuss the issue this year.

In the area of biosecurity, it recommended that backyard chicken owners be required to minimize the risk of any issues by adopting safety measures similar to those already used by commercial producers and processing plants.

That would have meant requiring chicken owners to complete a course on the warning signs of bird disease and register with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. In addition, chickens would have needed to be contained at least 25 feet from nearby bodies of water. In addition to concern about the risk of disease, other portions of the proposed code extended from how many chickens to allow in a single coop, to restrictions on the dimensions of each coop, to the amount of distance each coop would be required to be from the nearest property line.

Council considers precedent as it weighs Camp Faribo sewer expansion

A campground located just outside of Faribault’s city limits could hook up to the city water and sewer if plans reviewed by the City Council Tuesday night come to fruition.

The request came from the prior owners of Camp Faribo, a 50-year-old private campground located along Bagley Avenue. Though it’s not adjacent to property current in city limits, Camp Faribo sits less than a mile from the I-35-Lyndale S exit.

When the property’s current owners, Steve and Janet Slaveski, bought the property from Esther and John Albertus in 2018, a regular inspection determined that the septic system did not meet state regulations. Though the sale still went through, a clause included in the purchase agreement specified that the Albertuses would bear responsibility for solving the septic issue. They hired contractor Tom Wirtzfield of Northfield-based Advanced Septic Solutions to explore solutions.

While not in imminent danger of failing, Wirtzfield’s analysis showed that the septic system faces stress during peak times. As potential solutions, the construction of an onsite mound septic system or wastewater treatment plant were considered.

Wirtzfield ultimately determined that both of these options were not feasible. Given the site’s location in the floodplain, as well as its soil quality, Wirtzfield concluded that an onsite mound system would need more land than is currently available to ensure adequate capacity. On the other hand, an onsite wastewater treatment plant was dismissed as far too pricey for the seasonal campground. With both of those options eliminated, the campground instead began to look at connecting to city sewer.

The idea has the support of Marilee Degroot of Rice County Environmental Services. On the whole, Faribault’s City Council expressed interest in helping Camp Faribo, though councilors expressed a desire to see a more detailed agreement first.

“Eventually we’re going to expand there anyway, so why not do this now to prepare for the future?” asked Councilor Peter van Sluis. “By law, we don’t have to be good neighbors, but why not help them out?”

A centerpiece of any agreement is likely to be annexation. Camp Faribo has expressed a willingness to apply for annexation if needed to obtain sewer service, but would prefer for work on the line as soon as possible.

The city would have the option of annexing just the Camp Faribo property, thereby creating an “island annexation” similar to the one that exists around Met-Con in north Faribault. An alternative could be to annex several neighboring properties. While only a handful of neighboring properties would need to be annexed to ensure the city’s boundary remains contiguous, that could increase the amount of time and consultation needed for the annexation to be finalized.

While Camp Faribo proposed paying for the construction of a private line at the cost of $136,000, annexation would open the door for the city to construct a larger, public service line that could reach other homes and businesses in the area.

It’s unusual for the city to provide water and sewer services for a property outside the city limits. One exception came in 2012, when the city signed an agreement with Rice County to provide sewer services for several properties in the Roberds Lake area.

That scenario was vastly different than Camp Faribo’s, however. Aside from city staff time spent on the project, the county billed residents and covered all costs related to the project, which in turn was largely covered by state grants and local funding.

Through the county, the city also made sure to charge Roberds Lake area residents more for water and sewer than city residents. Then-Councilor Steve Underdahl said it only made sense, as county residents don’t pay city taxes.

Within the last year, the city also considered requests from the city of Medford and the proposed Wolf Creek Autobahn for sanitary sewer lines. Councilors reacted favorably to both proposals, with the expectation that residents of both would pay more.

Proposed by Twin Cities based developer Neal Krzyzaniak, Wolf Creek promised to bring residential , recreational and commercial development to a portion of Forrest Township adjacent to I-35, with 300 luxury villas centered around automotive entertainment. The project was put on hold in December after the developer lost access to a portion of the 466 acre-plot intended for development. Kryzaniak indicated a desire to move forward with a modified version of the development, but no application has been filed.

The city hasn’t managed to come to an agreement with Medford either, though financial analyses have suggested it could be a cost-saving move. Currently, the small town’s growth potential is currently inhibited by its aging wastewater treatment plant.

As City Administrator Tim Murray again told the Council at Tuesday’s meeting, agreeing to take on wastewater from other cities could improve the efficiency of Faribault’s plant, but comes with potential downside as well.

While the city isn’t currently near capacity, and expanding services to a project like Camp Faribo would certainly only make a miniscule dent in it, Murray raised concerns that expanding services to properties outside city limits could set a troublesome precedent.

Should properties outside of city limits begin to take up a significant portion of the treatment facility’s capacity, Murray warned that could restrict the Faribault’s ability to accommodate new business development inside city limits.

In new book, FHS alumna verifies 4th great-grandmother's heroism

Tamara Thayer grew up hearing that her fourth great-grandma, Barbara Fritchie, stood up to Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson during the Civil War in Frederick, Maryland.

According to the story, Fritchie was 95 years old when Jackson’s Confederate army came through town Sept. 6, 1862 and vandalized the Union flags residents displayed in their yards. Fritchie refused to take down her Union flag and waved it from her attic window, taunting the soldiers. One of the men shot at her — and missed.

According to the story Thayer heard from her grandfather, Jackson thought Fritchie reminded him of his own grandmother — opinionated and patriotic — and commanded his soldiers to stop shooting. Fritchie’s flag, he told them, was the only Union flag he would allow to wave in Frederick.

“In Minnesota, I don’t think people really know or remember reading [the ‘Barbara Frietchie’] poem in school,” said Thayer. “But on the East coast, she was very, very famous. I think that it’s time people realize yes, her story you heard as a kid is true … She was a great woman, and I’m proud to be her descendant.”

Thayer, a 1980 Faribault High School graduate, learned in her adulthood that historians and residents of Frederick, Maryland, widely regard Fritchie’s story as a myth. Embracing her interest in genealogy and writing, Thayer set out to learn the truth about her ancestor and wrote about her discovery in her second book, “The Mystery of Barbara Fritchie: A True Patriot.”

Published through Minnesota Historical Writers, “The Mystery of Barbara Fritchie: A True Patriot” was released June 5 and is available at tamarathayerbooks.org. Starting next week, copies will be available on Amazon as well. Locally, Nook & Cranny as well as Beauty Nook Salon will have copies for sale.

Thayer’s research began with the poem she read as a child called “Barbara Frietchie,” written by the subject’s friend, poet John Greenleaf Whittier. While working as an American Sign Language interpreter, Thayer rediscovered the poem while teaching third-graders and consulted Wikipedia to refresh her memory of her lineage to Fritchie. To her surprise, the Barbara Fritchie Wikipedia page declared Fritchie never had children.

Thayer called Wikipedia to ask who wrote the page about Fritchie and discovered the article was written and submitted by the historical society of Frederick, Maryland. She then contacted them to ask which sources they consulted.

“They said, ‘Our town has known for a long time it was just a made up story on behalf of Whittier to get people excited about the war,’” said Thayer. “… That’s not what I had heard all these years.”

At a family reunion, Thayer talked to her paternal aunts and uncles and her dad’s cousins about their connection to Barbara Fritchie. One of her dad’s cousins had even been named after the iconic figure. The oral history had been passed down for generations, but Thayer wanted solid proof.

“As far as my bias goes, I told my relatives I might be disproving our connection to Barbara,” said Thayer. “ … For a while there, it didn’t look so good.”

Over the course of a few years, Thayer collected diary entries, newspaper articles, photographs, letters and other documents that revealed what she’d hoped to find all along: that she is a direct descendant of Barbara Fritchie, and Fritchie did wave her Union flag from her attic window.

However, Thayer felt something was missing from the secondary sources she located. She couldn’t figure out why Frederick, Maryland, wanted so much to disprove Barbara Fritchie’s story. Thayer visited Frederick three times while researching Fritchie and discovered the town was oddly “anti-Barbara,” and some even claimed she was a hypocrite who owned slaves — a proclamation Thayer proved false. Some even believed Fritchie never existed in the first place.

Historians also insisted Stonewall Jackson was never in Frederick, but diary entries and a hitching post named for Jackson told Thayer a different story.

“All this proof says he was there,” said Thayer. “Current historians were either not doing research or trying to cover it up. I was at a standstill; I couldn’t figure out why two stories were being told.”

After more research, Thayer found a journal entry in which one of the Confederate soldiers revealed Jackson’s reputation would be at stake if people believed he would spare an elderly woman. But Thayer believed there was more to the story.

Further research about the Civil War led Thayer to new conclusions. She realized if Frederick, Maryland, historians believed Jackson was in town on Sept. 6, 1862, it would dismantle a complex narrative relating to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Special Order 191, also known as “the lost order.” Thayer further details this connection in her book.

Thayer said both her parents inspired her writing. Her dad, the late David Thayer, worked for 35 years in education as a teacher, coach and principal and wrote a book about how to coach football. Edna Thayer, her mom, wrote her first book after retiring from nursing and delivered book presentations in over half the U.S. and abroad.

Ellen Bisping, former Faribault Middle School English teacher, served as the main editor for Thayer’s book. She credits Bisping for inspiring her love of reading and writing.

“… Despite meeting dead ends and conflicting evidence along the way, [Thayer] conducted extensive research with passion and unwavering energy, continually questioning the authenticity of information she encountered,” Bisping wrote in her endorsement of Thayer’s book. “At the conclusion of her journey, she arrived at convincing conclusions that validate her admirable family legacy and pride.”