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Journey to motherhood: Owatonna woman celebrates her first Mother’s Day
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Karen Legault is getting used to her new title, a name which she has wanted for a long time: Mom.

After years of trying to have kids, Karen and her husband David Legault now have twin four-month-old babies and Karen will celebrate her first Mother’s Day Sunday.

The couple began trying to have kids well over six years ago, Karen said. She recalls becoming pregnant for the first time, the excitement and preparation, even going as far as to buy a onesie with the phrase, “My daddy golfs better than your daddy.”

But a miscarriage would challenge their dream of becoming parents. A massive emergency surgery in Mexico followed for Karen, a terrifying moment for both Karen and David. More miscarriages and emergency room visits followed through the years.

“Every single time we had a miscarriage, it was just the constant, having to deal with that emotional rollercoaster of being excited and then mourning the loss of it and then getting ready to do it again,” Karen said.

After multiple miscarriages, the Legaults began considering other options. Surrogacy would still allow them the option of having biological kids, which was important to Karen and David. The couple began researching the arrangement.

Just two weeks after that initial search into surrogacy, Karen’s cousin left a long voicemail for the couple. Karen remembers listening to the message, perplexed about where the seemingly random and lengthy message was going. Then finally near the end of the voicemail, Karen’s cousin offered to carry a baby for the couple. Karen immediately started bawling, passing the message onto David.

“They had no idea that we were even looking at this option,” Karen said. “They just knew that we had all these struggles and she came and offered up just an amazing beautiful gift.”

For years the couple had been praying for kids. They were financially ready and they had the resources to make it work, but having children the traditional route was simply not in the cards. Instead with her cousin’s offer and with the talent and skills of scientists and doctors, the Legaults’ dream of becoming parents would come to fruition.

The surrogacy process was intense and at times overwhelming. It involved lots of doctor appointments and check-ups to ensure things were good to go. After two rounds of in vitro fertilization and some uncertainty, the couple was informed in the spring of 2020 that an egg transfer to Karen’s cousin was a success. At first the couple was hesitant to make an announcement and Karen wanted to wait longer so as not to prematurely get her hopes up.

Fast forward to today and the couple now has twins, which they knew was a possibility when two embryos were implanted. While the surrogacy process was very intense, Karen says it was all worth it.

Just this week, her daughter Abrielle’s first laugh was caught on video, a heartwarming moment for the couple who had been wanting kids for years. Abrielle reached the exciting benchmark not too long after her older brother by two minutes, London.

Despite being only a few months old, Karen says London and Abrielle’s personalities are starting to emerge. Abrielle is already cooing, taking after her father’s talkative nature. Whereas London is an observer and listener like his mother. Karen has noticed London enjoys being active, moving and wiggling around, similar to David’s tendency to be moving about. Abrielle is described as “a little bookworm,” intently observing her baby books, and taking in the world.

“It’s kind of crazy to see how the characteristics and the strengths that Dave and I have, and how that’s developing in our kids,” Karen said, adding that she is looking forward to watching them develop their personalities even more.

Although still new to the title, Karen says the best part of being a mom is watching her children develop, observe the world around them and learn. She loves waking them in the morning and seeing their cute little grins, ready to learn, grow and take on the world.

The path to parenthood wasn’t easy and Karen credits her husband, who she said has been supportive throughout the long and sometimes scary journey. Today it brings her joy to see her husband interact, smile and laugh with their kids.

“It’s the best thing to watch and I couldn’t imagine going through it with anyone else,” she said.

Karen said she hopes that by opening up about her story, it will help others with similar struggles to not feel so alone. Through talking about her own experience with miscarriages and IVF, Karen has found that many people have similar experiences.

“I think that’s probably the biggest message, is when you’re sitting there and you’re bawling your eyes out because you had that fourth miscarriage, just feel free to give yourself the grace to just cry your eyes out,” Karen said. “You do what you need to do, not what people think you need to do.”

Met-Con looks to spark economic development with business park expansion
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Met-Con is seeking to expand the number of businesses surrounding its northwest Faribault operation, work that could bring economic development to an area that has already grown several times in recent years.

The Faribault Planning Commission earlier this week approved re-platting three lots in association with the development: One is 4 acres and expected to be acquired by Daikin Applied for its existing stormwater basin and truck staging area. A second lot, 10 acres, would be available for industrial development, and the third, 2 acres, is expected to be purchased by the city for a future water tower to service the area. Also, a 29-acre outlet, currently mainly used for farming, is expected to be re-platted in the future for industrial lots. The Faribault City Council could greenlight the changes at a meeting later this month.

Met-Con Chief Financial Officer Troy Zabinski said though there are no development plans for the 10-acre site or the outlet, re-platting makes the 10-acre site shovel ready. He said the business frequently receives inquiries about the area from businesses it has an existing relationship with or through partnerships with Rice County, Faribault or the Minnesota Department of Economic Development and Employment.

Zabinski says he sees possibilities for expansion in the area with the south metro continuing to expand closer to city limits.

“We believe it has a lot of potential for companies to locate there and expand into the future,” he said of the site.

As part of the proposed plat, a public street would extend south from the western edge of 156th St. W to the northern part of the outlet, ending with a temporary cul-de-sac. If Met-Con re-plats the outlot into buildable industrial lots, the proposed street is expected to be extended to the south end of the outlet, connecting with Acorn Trail. Met-Con owns land on both sides of Acorn Trail.

Faribault Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen said the possible expansion serves as an extension to recent nearby projects at the business park, including B&B Manufacturing, Daikin and Trystar. She noted Met-Con has been marketing and positioning the area for development for “many years,” adding the possibility of expansion fits with city plans. Faribault annexed the property in 2018.

“It’s progress, and it’s exactly what a community wants to see,” she added.

Trystar, which recently relocated to the area and expanded the existing facility, has announced that it plans to move the operations of Load Banks Direct, a Kentucky-based company it purchased last November, to its Faribault headquarters.

Met-Con, a family of commercial construction companies founded by Tom McDonough in 1978, is considered a full-service general contractor. The firm has worked on a number of major local construction projects, like the Trystar building, Randolph school, Western Avenue Marketplace in Faribault and the Rice County Government Services Building.

In 2006, when the company was looking to expand, it built on a farm McDonough had purchased a few years prior. Shortly after that, Met-Con built a distribution center for Malt-O-Meal in Faribault, doubling the size of the food manufacturing facility. Later, Malt-O-Meal sold the building to Daikin.

Faribault’s 2040 plan identifies the site as being zoned as a mix of commercial/industrial, with the latter more heavily used.

Late last month, Faribault received a $2 million grant to help fund the new water tower from the Business Development Public Infrastructure Program through DEED. The City Council approved plans for the water tower in 2019 with an expected completion date of July 2021. However, the project was delayed by about a year as the city worked to select a final location, design the new water tower and secure the grant dollars needed to pay for it. Groundbreaking could now take place this summer with completion in 2022. The city is expected to request bids for the water tower in June.

Faribault mayor charged with drunken driving
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A lit cigarette, reportedly tossed from a passenger’s side window, has led to drunken driving charges against Faribault’s mayor, Kevin Voracek.

Voracek, 42, was initially cited following an April 7 traffic stop, but late last month he was formally charged with three counts of fourth-degree driving while impaired.

According to court records, a Faribault police officer noticed the cigarette being throw out the car window, then “observed the vehicle drifting within the lane and toward the curb and back to the center line” as it headed west from downtown.

Voracek reportedly told the officer that he had had two beers, the last one 20 minutes prior. He later said he had had six beers within a three- to four-hour period. After administering several sobriety tests, the officer reportedly had concerns that Voracek was impaired, and called a state trooper to repeat the tests, an effort to ensure there was no conflict or favoritism due to Voracek’s position as the city’s mayor.

The trooper administered several sobriety tests to Voracek. During the one-leg stand test, the trooper reportedly observed the following signs of impairment: swaying while balancing, using arms to balance and putting his foot down multiple times. A preliminary breath tested showed a blood alcohol content of .092, according to court records.

Voracek was arrested and taken to the Rice County Jail. A second breath test reportedly registered a blood alcohol content of .08.

The jail is not booking individuals facing misdemeanor charges due to COVID-19, so Voracek was cited and released.

“This is a personal issue and I’ve been advised by my attorney not to make any comment,” Voracek said Friday afternoon.

Voracek was convicted of misdemeanor driving while impaired in January 2008. He pleaded guilty and was given a stayed sentence of 90 days in jail and two years probation. Court records show he was also required to seek chemical dependency evaluation/treatment, attend a DWI clinic for first-time offenders and attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Impact Panel.

When asked, the mayor said the two incidents are “completely unrelated.”

Voracek was first elected to a seat on the Faribault City Council in 2008. He began his tenure as mayor in 2017. He was elected to a second term last November when he ran unopposed.

Voracek’s next court date is June 14.

Grid congestion caps Minnesotan's rooftop solar ambitions
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The explosive growth of community solar projects to meet demand from Twin Cities customers is curtailing clean energy options in Northfield.

City residents have a strong interest in clean energy, reflected in a solar adoption rate three times the state average. In 2019, city leaders passed a climate action plan that calls for eliminating carbon emissions by 2040, in part through the expansion of rooftop solar.

But grid congestion from a flurry of community solar projects is threatening those ambitions, forcing homeowners to abandon solar plans because of steep fees for equipment upgrades to connect to Xcel Energy’s system.

Xcel has long warned regulators that interconnection spots outside the Twin Cities are reaching capacity. Minnesota’s community solar law limits developers to selling subscriptions in the same or adjacent counties to where the projects are built. Northfield in the largely rural Rice County — just south of two of the state’s most populous counties — making it a prime location for community solar, with 39 MW of projects complete and another 40 MW in development.

“We are starting to see congestion in some areas of the state, including Northfield, as more distributed energy resources, like customer-owned systems, rooftop solar and community solar gardens connect to our grid,” the utility said in a statement.

Northfield sustainability program coordinator Beth Kallestad said the problem came to her attention after learning about two homeowners who abandoned projects after being asked by Xcel to pay $8,000 and $16,000 for equipment upgrades before they could connect their rooftop panels to its grid.

Minnesota’s interconnection rules place financial responsibility for any necessary upgrades on distributed energy producers, a group that includes homeowners adding solar to their rooftops. “What Xcel is doing is following the rules, but it doesn’t work well for our residents,” Kallestad said.

The interconnection expenses have prompted solar companies to stop seeking new customers in the area. A countywide solar program that planned to use bulk buying to reduce residential installation costs recently closed after it couldn’t find solar installers to submit bids.

Peter Murphy, program director for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, said it had never run into a jurisdiction having too little capacity to attract a solar developer. Clean energy companies said they were not interested in the bulk-buying program because they did not want to deal with homeowners likely to face expensive fees caused by distribution barriers, he said.

The association planned to use Xcel’s capacity map to give clients an idea of whether they might incur additional costs, but even that strategy failed to impress installers because of the lack of current capacity data.

“The feedback that we got from sellers is that (the problems are) more widespread than we thought,” Murphy said. “It’s also quite costly, which we knew, but the fact of it being widespread was the problem.”

Xcel also does not calculate distribution upgrade costs until months after homeowners apply. Xcel said it cannot determine whether customers will need upgrades until completion of studies, and “this can take some time.”

Faribault also has several neighborhoods without any capacity left to add clean energy, according to Xcel’s capacity map. Faribault City Planner Dave Wanberg praised Xcel’s work with cities on energy planning, but he worries that grid congestion could hamper initiatives such as adding more electric vehicle charging stations.

“It seems like an opportune time to discuss how we address these issues,” Wanberg said.

Michael Allen, president and CEO of All Energy Solar, said his company operated a successful discount solar program in Northfield several years ago and called the city one of his best markets. He spoke to Midwest Renewable Energy Association about the bulk buying program before deciding it carried too much risk.

“It would be really hard for us to do a program like that knowing that reality is probably 70% to 80%, maybe 90% of the customers that want to go solar are going to be required to incur some additional expenses to upgrade the grid,” he said.

The issue has drawn state lawmakers’ attention, and they have incorporated a potential solution into pending legislation. A stakeholders group and the Public Utilities Commission have begun to study several potential solutions, including possible carve-outs for smaller systems and cost-sharing approaches.

The Minnesota House is considering a bill permitting Xcel to tap $550,000 from the Renewable Development Account to improve Northfield’s distribution system. The development account’s budget comes from annual fees Xcel pays in return for permission to store nuclear casks at its two nuclear facilities in Minnesota.

One potential solution would identify the available capacity for additional renewable energy and set aside 25% for smaller-scale systems. “This would avoid the situation we’re seeing in Northfield and other areas of the state where larger projects have essentially taken all the space on the local grid, precluding smaller projects from being installed without incurring prohibitive upgrade costs,” Xcel said in a statement.

Secondly, the utility proposes pooling together applicants to share the cost of interconnection upgrades. “Those costs would be spread over all Community Solar Gardens, rooftop and other customer-owned systems so that no single customer has to bear the cost,” it said. The utility also said the capacity maps will be updated quarterly starting in summer.

David Shaffer, executive director of Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, believes that other communities will soon share what Northfield and Rice County are experiencing: “It’s ground zero for what might be a more common problem in the future.”