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Ninth coronavirus case confirmed in state, Farm and Power Show cancelled

The number of confirmed presumptive cases of the novel coronavirus in Minnesota went from five Wednesday to nine on Thursday, with the most recent case being confirmed in nearby Dakota County according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Shortly following this announcement, the Tradexpos Inc. of Austin, MN announced the cancellation of the upcoming North American Farm and Power Show. The annual show was scheduled to take place on Thursday at the Four Seasons Centre on the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna.

“After many discussions with all involved, and after serious consideration for the safety of our exhibitors and the attendees who come to the show, the Tradexpos staff felt this was the safest option,” the press release reads.

A representative with Tradexpos confirmed that the decision was directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and that at this time there is no discussion of rescheduling the 2020 show.

Over recent years, the Farm and Power Show has brought thousands of people to Owatonna and Steele County.

COVID-19 test results from the MDH Public Health Laboratory are considered presumptive, or tentative, until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done additional testing. Minnesota health officials consider presumptive results actionable.

The most recent case is a resident of Dakota County who traveled to Europe in February. After the patient sought care, samples were collected from the person and sent to the MDH Public Health Laboratory for testing on March 11 where it was determined to be a positive case. Similar to Minnesota’s previous presumptive cases, MDH has sent the samples to the CDC for confirmatory testing.

“The resident is currently isolated at home,” said Bonnie Brueshoff, Director of Dakota County Public Health. “We are working with health officials from the Minnesota Department of Health to evaluate where this person has traveled and who they might have come in contact with. People identified will be asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days from their exposure date and will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.”

Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik shared his support and emphasized the importance of partnerships.

“Dakota County is fortunate to have strong public health and emergency preparedness teams to keep our residents safe and healthy,” said Slavik. “By working collaboratively with local, state, and national agencies, we’ll be better able to monitor and contain this outbreak.”

Also following the announcement of the ninth case in the state, the Minnesota State High School League decided to limit the number of people at the postseason tournaments scheduled for this weekend. The decision impacts the Girls Basketball Semifinals and Finals, the Adapted Floor Hockey Tournament, and Section Boys Basketball games. All state and section championship brackets will be played. Consolation and third place games for State Girls Basketball and Adapted Floor Hockey have been cancelled.

Attendance at tournaments is now limited to rostered participants, coaches, event staff, TV network partners, credential media, and a small number of school-approved spectators of each participating team.

Since the outbreak was first reporting in December 2019, more than 118,300 cases and 4.200 deaths have been reported in countries around the world. That total includes more than 900 U.S. cases and 29 deaths.

In a majority of cases, COVID-19 causes milk or moderate symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. Health officials recommend individuals and families make a plan in case someone gets sick. The also suggest following the same steps for avoiding the flu, including staying home and away from others if sick, covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue, washing hand frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water, and avoiding touching your face throughout the day.

MDH has set up a public hotline that will be open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The hotline number is 651-201-3920. Any person can call this number with questions about COVID-19.

Visit cdc.gov and health.state.mn.us for more information about COVID-19.

Bakery building found no longer contributing to historic district

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — After a review by the State Historic Preservation Office, a Blooming Prairie building hollowed out by a Jan. 28 electrical fire has been deemed no longer contributing to the surrounding historic district.

This will allow property owners of both The Bakery building and its neighbor to the west, which housed Sportstitch, Inc. and was not under review by the preservation office, to proceed with reviewing bids for demolition and moving forward with a planned tear-down of both structures.

The Bakery was housed in what the preservation office referred to as the historic First National Bank building, located at 345 Main Street E., in the heart of the town’s two-block Blooming Prairie Commercial Historic District. The area was approved for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places back in 1994.

Following the fire, City Administrator Andrew Langholz said he reached out to the preservation office along with other government agencies to determine next steps. Officials sent him a damage assessment checklist, and Langholz photographed and performed a visual inspection of the site to send in.

Late last Friday, he said he received word from the agency that the building was found to be no longer contributing. Amy Spong, director of the State Historic Preservation Office, said that this finding means the structure no longer has enough physical integrity to convey its significance.

“Due to the significant loss of historic material resulting from the January 28th fire, the First National Bank building does not retain sufficient historic integrity at this time,” wrote environmental review program manager Sarah Beimers, in a March 6 letter to Langholz, “and is therefore considered noncontributing to the NRHP-listed Blooming Prairie Commercial Historic District.”

This finding means the property owners are now free to move forward with demolition without any additional environmental review. Langholz said they received two bids last Friday and are in the process of determining next steps. He added that, while this is not a city project, he’ll continue to assist both individuals in an advisory capacity.

The city is also providing a demolition grant in the amount of $13,000 to applicant Gregg Fristedt, owner of The Bakery and its three adjoining structures to the south. Prior to the bids, Langholz had estimated demolition could run anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 and would likely not be entirely covered by insurance given special precautions due to the age of the The Bakery’s structure.

While Langholz noted that the bones of the First National Bank building are still sound — there aren’t any concerns of it collapsing —he estimated that it would cost upwards of $1.6 million to rehabilitate it into a usable space. He added that the city has been asked to notify the preservation office once demolition is complete, so that the agency can update its records.

Beimers added in her letter that the office would also be available for consultation in the event of new construction on the site, and would be able to provide guidance on a compatible design, “so as not to further adversely affect the remainder of the NRHP-listed historic district.”

Bridget Kranz / By BRIDGET KRANZ bkranz@owatonna.com 

Romantica will be returning to the Steele County History Center this Saturday with a blend of Irish-Americana music just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. The group is based out of the Twin Cities and includes, from left, members Ryan Lovan, Aaron Fabbrini, Ben Kyle, Dave Strahan and Tony Zaccardi. (Photo courtesy of Romantica)

Jeffrey Jackson / By JEFFREY JACKSON jjackson@owatonna.com 

The seating area at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is empty as media and staff mill about, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Indianapolis, after the Big Ten Conference announced that remainder of the men’s NCAA college basketball games tournament was cancelled. (AP)

Amid coronavirus fears, Walz pushes for 'skinny' supplemental budget

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Amid rising fears over a global coronavirus pandemic that has now reached Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday proposed a scaled back supplemental budget.

Walz’s supplemental budget asks for $525 million in investments over the next two years, focused on disaster relief, public health, student well-being programs and health care. It fit on a single page, a rarity the governor remarked on in his press conference.

With the economy strong, the state is enjoying a projected $1.5 billion budget surplus. DFLers had called for $500 million in new spending, largely focused on early childhood education, while Republicans pushed for nearly a billion in new tax cuts. Although the governor praised many of those proposals as sound, he eschewed them in favor of a cautious fiscal approach. Under his proposal, roughly 80% of the state’s $1.5 billion projected surplus would be left unspent.

Still, DFL legislators offered their swift backing, with House Majority Leader Melissa Hortmann quickly releasing a statement in support. Republicans were also open to the governor’s proposal, though details will still need to be worked out between the two sides.

“A lot has changed in a couple of months and the governor seems to be responding to that,” said Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield. “We need to be focused on reasonable proposals right now, as we try to make sure we have the resources to respond to COVID-19.”

Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said that Senate Republicans would like to see additional investment in infrastructure along with several tax changes. However, he offered cautious praise for the overall proposal.

“At first glance it looks reasonable,” said Jasinski, whose district includes most of Steele County. “I think the governor is being somewhat conservative in his approach, to keep a good amount on the bottom line.”

While it wasn’t included in his proposal, the governor said he’d be open to bringing the state into full compliance with Section 179 of the federal tax code. Under that provision, businesses can deduct the entire cost of certain equipment from their taxes.

Due to the state’s lack of conformity with the depreciation provisions of the law, ag producers can be disadvantaged when they trade in their equipment. Proposals to change that enjoy strong bipartisan support, and Jasinski has cited it as a priority.

Walz noted that the change had been part of his budget proposal last year, but was ultimately left out of the final agreement with the Legislature. He said that if lawmakers can get such a proposal to his desk, he’d sign it.

Last year, Walz backed efforts to replenish the state’s rainy day fund, created in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Although the state is currently enjoying one of the longest stretches of economic growth in its history, Walz said a bear market could be on its way.

At the same time, the governor has asked the legislature to consider what would be the largest bonding bill proposal in Minnesota’s history. In addition to $2 billion in borrowed funds, his proposal included $571 million in additional funding, including general fund cash. Republicans, who control the State Senate, have pushed for a much smaller bill, potentially below $1 billion. Jasinski has said a final compromise agreement is likely to run at around $1.1 to $1.3 billion.

Yet even Walz’s proposal came in well below the amount that could be legally borrowed, according to the state’s Management and Budget Office. While acknowledging an abundance of worthy projects, Walz cited the need for fiscal caution as a reason for his smaller bill.

Change of plans

In recent weeks, state public health officials have become increasingly focused on the coronavirus epidemic. As of Thursday, the disease had spread to nine confirmed cases in seven Minnesota counties, two in southern Minnesota.

Legislators have had no choice but to follow. On Wednesday, Walz signed a bill providing $21 million in funds to fight coronavirus. He said more funding may be needed to combat the disease, amid fears that the Legislature might even have to go on hiatus. Coronavirus has already hit nation’a capitol hard, with several members of Congress choosing to self-quarantine. On Thursday it was announced that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s Communications Secretary Fabio Wajngarten had tested positive for coronavirus, days after meeting with President Trump, Vice President Pence and other U.S. officials.

On Thursday, House DFLers also released their plan to help Minnesotans affected by coronavirus. It included provisions to make it easier to access unemployment benefits, mandate that health plans cover coronavirus tests, and give Walz additional powers to address the crisis.

Due to the economic blowback related to the virus, the projected surplus is likely to shrink. Last month, state officials increased their surplus projection to $1.5 billion, but that report assumed that coronavirus would only have a modest economic impact.

Since then, projections of nationwide economic growth have been reduced amidst a stock market tumble. Budget Commissioner Myron Frans has warned that his projection is likely to change, but it won’t be released until April 10.

With the stock market tumbling, Walz said that argument for a cautious fiscal approach has been vindicated even sooner than he’d anticipated. He added that much could yet change, given the growing state of the pandemic.

“Last Thursday, I said we will be in a different position next week, and we will be in a different position by next Thursday also,” Walz said. “I’m encouraging the Legislature to get its work done and protect Minnesotans.”

As of noon Thursday, the virus, known as COVID-19 had infected 1,215 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has been reported in 43 states and the District of Columbia, and killed 36 in this country. Italy on Thursday reported its 1,000th death from the pandemic, while China recorded nearly 3,200.

Medford accepts feasibility report for 2021 Main Street project

MEDFORD — It was a long meeting in the Medford City Hall as the city engineer went through the ins and outs of the preliminary engineering report for the 2021 Main Street project.

Joe Duncan, who is contracted as the Medford city engineer through Bolton and Menk, Inc., presented the feasibility report for the street and utility improvements in relation to the reconstruction of Main Street to the Medford City Council during a special meeting on Wednesday evening. The council did not have to approve the project at this time as presented, but they did unanimously agree to accept the report and move forward with hosting a public hearing in April. The council can still make changes to the overall design plan before approving the project.

“This report shows the existing conditions, the proposed conditions, and the potential costs and assessments that may come into play with this project,” Duncan explained.

In June, the City held an open house for the general public and various interested parties to provide comments and general feedback on the potential reconstruction of this corridor. The project, which has been the source of some controversy between city officials and a handful of Main Street residents who disagreed with certain elements of the proposed design, is scheduled to start construction in spring 2021.

“Concepts presented for comment [in June] included a mini-roundabout at the intersection of Central Park and Main Street, streetscaping elements in the business district, pedestrian and bike facilities, parking, and watermain improvements,” Duncan said. “The mini-roundabout drew substantial opposition from the public and was ultimately removed from consideration by the city council in favor of maintaining the all-way stop.”

Numerous workshops have taken place since the June open house, with both Steele County and the City favoring keeping the configuration from 2nd Avenue NW to 2nd Avenue S similar, with minor lane width modifications to reduce the overall roadway width. ADA-compliant parking will be included in the business district.

“Several alternatives south of 2nd Avenue South were considered with general consensus landing on a section that includes a travel land in each direction, a center left turn lane, and parallel parking on the west side,” Duncan added. “Pedestrian alternatives were also debated and ultimately Steele County directed inclusion on both sides of the street, excepting out the east side north of Central Avenue.”

The road will be designed for 10-ton axle loading with new concrete curb and gutter will be constructed, with curb cuts and concrete aprons for existing driveways. Duncan stated that any property along Main Street that currently has more than one driveway will need to produce a valid County permit in order to perpetuate the driveway.

The portion of Main Street from 2nd Avenue Southwest to 2nd Avenue South will feature a 10-foot parking lane on the each side of the road, two 12-foot driving lanes, a 13-foot continuous center left turn lane, and a 15-foot sidewalk on the west side of the road along the commercial businesses.

The section of Main Street south of 2nd Avenue Southwest will include a 9-foot parallel parking lane on the west side of the road, two 11-foot drive lanes, a 12-foot continuous center left turn lane, and 6-foot sidewalks on each side of the road. There will be a 7-foot boulevard between the sidewalks and the roadway.

Because Main Street is a portion of County State Aid Highway 45, the County will be covering 75% of the cost on all State-Aid eligible items, with the remaining 25% falling on the City. The total estimated project cost is currently $2,713,400, which includes soft costs such as engineering, administration, legal, and bonding. A 7.5% contingency factor has been included to account for items of work not included in the estimate and for variances in unit prices.

The public hearing on the feasibility report is scheduled for Wednesday, April 29, at 5:30 p.m. in the Medford High School choir room.