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Waseca’s Melady Renteria, pictured earlier this season, led the Bluejays with 12 points in Tuesday’s 49-44 loss against WEM in Waterville. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

Farmamerica to host second Charm on the Farm event
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The Sleigh and Cutter festival continues this weekend with some s’mores and horse-drawn carriage rides through Farmamerica’s snowy landscape.

Farmamerica is hosting another Charm on the Farm event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20 after its first Charm on the Farm event was a hit. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $5 at bit.ly/WinterCharm.

Visitors will be able to snowshoe, snow paint and take a horse-drawn carriage ride. Hot cocoa will be available to sip while roasting s’mores over campfires while social distancing.

Charm on the Farm was born out of necessity with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the number of events being planned during the dark wintertime. Farmamerica felt the need to offer visitors a chance to experience winter and find fun in the season.

“Even getting out of the house for an hour to roast a s’more or try something new like snowshoeing can add a little magic to any winter day, no matter how cold or dark it may seem,” said Farmamerica Program Director Samantha Meyer.

The Sleigh and Cutter ice sculptures dedicated to first responders were completed last week and can be viewed outside the Public Safety Building in Waseca.

The annual Sleigh and Cutter parade, Frosty reveal and fireworks have been postponed until Saturday, Feb. 27.

House committee passes bill to rename Highway 13 after Caleb Erickson
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Legislation is continuing to move forward to rename a section of Highway 13 after Cpl. Caleb L. Erickson, a Marine from Waseca who was killed in Afghanistan in 2014.

“It is always important to remember and honor our American heroes and Corporal Erickson was certainly that,” Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, said in a statement.

The Minnesota House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee passed Petersburg’s bill, House File 482, which is the companion bill to Sen. John Jasinski’s bill, Senate File 302, that’s currently moving through the state Senate. The bills would memorialize Erickson with renaming Highway 13 from the southern border of Woodville Township to the northern border of Blooming Grove Township.

“I’m very pleased this memorial seems to have gained momentum in the House and is also making good progress in the Minnesota Senate,” Petersburg said. “I am very optimistic that we will pass this legislation into law this session.”

Petersburg noted that the House transportation committee may also include the proposal as part of a comprehensive transportation legislative package to be unveiled later this year.

Erickson was a Waseca native who joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Waseca High School in 2012. He deployed to Afghanistan and was killed on Feb. 28, 2014 in Helmand Province when his convoy came under attack by a suicide bomber.

Waseca County approves improvements to County Ditch 19
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The Waseca County Board has approved repairs and improvements to a 101-year-old county ditch.

The approval is the last step in a process that began in 2016 with several residents and Farmamerica petitioning the county for repairs. However, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has objections to the project.

The county board’s 4-1 vote on Tuesday came after two hours of a public hearing and discussion. Commissioner Doug Christopherson was the sole opponent in the board’s vote, saying he was having trouble supporting the project because the DNR had concerns and the project’s cost-to-benefit ratio for residents was “questionable.”

The work on County Ditch 19, which is located about 5 miles west of the city of Waseca and whose watershed includes the Farmamerica property, is expected to benefit all 432 acres in the ditch’s watershed. The ditch’s outlet is a tributary to the Le Sueur River.

The project, expected to be completed by the end of 2021, will include replacing the tile and abandoning the old tile and creating a 1.2-acre, 3-foot-deep storage pond on private property. After the improvements, the ditch’s benefit will be worth $635,000, compared to its current benefit of $255,000.

The project is estimated to cost about $320,600. A $50,000 state grant was secured a couple years ago to defray the cost of the storage pond construction and the deadline to complete the project to receive the funding was extended to the end of April due to the pandemic. But project engineer Steve Penkava of Albert Lea-based Jones, Haugh and Smith said there’s “zero chance” the project will be completed by the deadline.

The DNR took issue with the storage pond during Tuesday’s hearing and in a letter sent to the county on Feb. 12.

Dan Girolamo, an area hydrologist with the DNR, told the commissioners that the pond’s proposed design and size was “insufficient” to mitigate the project’s impacts on the watershed and it could add to the problems in the Le Sueur River, which is already in “trouble” as an impaired waterway.

“Working to incorporate a storage structure is a big plus … but unfortunately it’s a drop in the bucket,” Girolamo said. “As a result, the project will compound additional connected drainage improvement actions in the watershed and further contribute to the altered hydrology and associated impairments driven by this stressor.”

Penkava told the commissioners that the storage pond was designed to the specifications for the $50,000 grant set by the Board of Water and Soil Resources, a state administrative agency that’s separate from the DNR.

Kurt Dieter, an attorney with Rinke Noonan who provides ditch authority counsel for the Waseca County Board, told the commissioners that the DNR’s letter about the storage pond was an advisory opinion and the commissioners weren’t required to implement the DNR’s requests because a DNR permit isn’t needed for the project.

County commissioners said they were disappointed the DNR made its concerns known only a few days prior to the public hearing and they were hesitant at first to make a motion to approve the project, with Christopherson wondering if they could postpone the vote.

“If it’s a tough decision today, it’s going to be a tough decision four months from now,” Dieter responded.

Commissioner Brad Krause agreed, pointing out that residents petitioned for the project and the ditch needs to be repaired. Having an approved project will also show the state that the county is serious about completing it in the hopes of securing another grant to replace the $50,000 grant the county will likely lose out on in April, he said.

“In Waseca County, we need to keep the water moving,” Krause said.

In other news, Waseca County businesses with liquor licenses will receive a break from the county due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing impact.

The county board unanimously approved waiving the liquor license fees for 2021 during its meeting Tuesday. The waived fees total $1,600 and the loss will be supplemented in the county’s budget with remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds, according to County Administrator Michael Johnson.

The county board reduced liquor license fees last year and the board’s action on Tuesday largely affects businesses in rural areas outside of city boundaries, Johnson said.

Johnson noted that it would be a “nice gesture” to defray the burden on businesses who may have been entirely closed due to Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders.

“We’ve seen hardship bestowed upon them by restrictions put in place by executive orders,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said the county could receive more federal funding if Congress passes a new COVID-19 relief package, which is currently set at $1.9 trillion, but the amount the county would receive isn’t yet known.

Bunkers COVID-19 vaccine Mayo Clinic

Dr. Brian Bunkers, a family medicine physician and CEO of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna and Faribault, receives his COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Diane Kaplan in Owatonna on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Mayo Clinic Health System)