White Bear Press: 2019 Year in Review

Paging through every 2019 issue of the White Bear Press for our annual look back really jogs the memory. So many stories. So much news. The year got off to a sad and tragic start with the passing of master potter Warren MacKenzie and a murder-suicide in White Bear Township, the year's top online story. The dominant headliner last year was, of course, Water Gremlin. The company reported violations of its air quality permit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in January and its infractions escalated from there. Water Gremlin is now in court over lead exposure. The carcinogenic solvent spewed into the air, TCE, has been put on the back burner. Legislators promise to work on a statewide ban of TCE, however, with some exceptions for use, in the upcoming session. The school district's bond referendum also received much important coverage. The $326 million referendum was the largest ask in state history. As usual, it was impossible to include all the pertinent coverage of cops and courts, schools, sports and government news, but highlights have been gleaned as is tradition in this retrospective. The myriad stories and photos brings home the value of a community newspaper. It is information you wouldn't get anywhere else.

January

• America lost master potter Warren MacKenzie of Grant who died at home Dec. 31. He inspired and enriched many lives with his handmade pieces of pottery.

• Two White Bear brothers died in a murder-suicide on Jan. 1. Officers found Larry Klimek, 54, and Leon Klimek, 56, dead inside their mother's township home. Leon was said to be in poor physical health but did not have any known mental health issues, according to his mother. He shot Larry soon after Larry arrived at the home on New Year's Day.

• The city of White Bear Lake joined six others in federal lawsuits blaming coal tar refiners for contaminating stormwater ponds. The ponds are contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in coal tar sealants used on driveways and parking lots. The city banned its use in 2010.

• Residents explored a half dozen options for a downtown bus station during an open house at City Hall. The next steps include receiving input from White Bear City Council on a preferred location. The project is at least five years from breaking ground. Buses could start running in 2026.

• Lake ice was pretty much perfect on White Bear for ice boaters. Enthusiasts said they could wait a decade for a season like this one.

• Legislation is in the works to fund segments of the 10-mile Lake Links trail. Co-Chair Steve Wolgamot is helping area legislators draft language for a $4.1 million ask.

• District secures more land for a Hugo elementary school. A 10-acre piece of land on Everton Avenue N. would be added to 30 acres already under purchase agreement. The district is considering a bond referendum to pay for the school.

• Zephyr hockey celebrates its 65th season with special jerseys and special anniversary program. Craig Roberts, a Zephyr zealot, is the driving force behind the celebration.

• The collapsed Vadnais Sports dome may not be a dome in the future, but it will have a future. Ramsey County commissioners agreed to keep the structure but it will be rebuilt with trusses instead of air.

• St. Mary of the Lake's social justice committee sponsored an immigration event highlighting the paths four immigrants took to live in the United States.

• A stolen truck was found running on White Bear Lake with only one wheel. The Dodge Ram was stolen from a Highway 61 dealership.

• The Flame Bar may have a new owner in Chris Cosgrove, who owns Cozzie's Tavern & Grill in Stillwater. Owner of the Willernie bar, Ken Lohr, thought he had sold the business last summer but the deal fell through.

February

• The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Health announce they are investigating community exposures to an industrial solvent used by Water Gremlin. The company informed the agency Jan. 11 its equipment was not functioning properly and emitting too much trichloroethylene (TCE) into the air. About 5,500 people are impacted.

• A historic home built in the 1880s goes up for sale for $1.1 million on First Street. The Queen Anne-style home was one of the first built in White Bear as a year-round residence.

• White Bear icemen wrap up Suburban East crown after a three-year absence. The Bears won the championship Feb. 2 by turning back Stillwater 3-0.

• Neighbors unhappy about a 189-unit apartment project on the corner of County Road E and Linden Avenue. Some homeowners said they will likely sell if the four-story apartment complex is built.

• Officer Antonio Brown patrols White Bear streets as a DWI enforcer. He doesn't respond to 911 calls on his overnight shift; he spends his time on the lookout for impaired drivers.

• Chuck & Don's, which sells specialty pet foods, is purchased by a New York company. CEO and President Bob Hartzell of White Bear Lake is retiring. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

• Longtime Finance Director Don Rambow retired from the city after 25 years. Kerri Kindsvater, assistant finance manager, was named to replace Rambow.

• Local sports team go to state. Bear girls hockey gets three shutouts with help of stellar goalie Calla Frank to win the Section 4AA championship. Frank was later named Senior Goalie of the Year by Let's Play Hockey. Mahtomedi gymnastics captured the Section 4A championship. Bella Frattalone won three of the four events. She went on to win state all around.

• Paws to Read pal Sting the greyhound passed away after a battle with lymphoma. Sting was 11. He made the news a year earlier when he spent a lonely night at the library when no one came to his reading session. A Press post for reading pals went viral and he was fully booked after that. He was even featured on the Today Show.

• Water Gremlin spokesman tells residents the company is “profoundly sorry” for releasing a pollutant into the air. Residents were attending a meeting called by the MPCA and MDH at North Campus theater. Spokespeople from both agencies discussed the ongoing investigation of TCE leaked from the plan at levels above legal limits.

March

• Water Gremlin was slapped with a $4.5 million civil penalty by MPCA for violating its air quality permit. The company must also conduct air monitoring and take corrective actions at a cost of $1 million and conduct two supplemental environmental projects valued at $1.5 million. It is one of the largest environmental penalties in state history. The company is allowed to restart production but with an alternative solvent to TCE.

• The downtown bus stop along the Rush Line route will go on the corner of Seventh Street and Washington Avenue. Owners of Beartown Bar & Grill are not happy about it. The station requires a piece of land they own behind the restaurant. Sandra Claussen and her son Joe provide a statement in the March 6 paper.

• Unprecedented snowfall is causing a storage headache for the city. February 2019 is the snowiest on record. By the end of February, Public Works had exceeded its budget for overtime, contractual labor and salt.

• Both Mahtomedi and White Bear boys hockey teams advance to state after winning section championships.

• Community ice arena scores Grant City Council support. The 42,500-square-foot arena planned by Rinc 2 will be located next to playing fields east of the high school. The land is owned by Mahtomedi Public Schools, which approved a 20-year land lease for $1 per year.

• MPCA holds second community meeting on Water Gremlin. Spokesman Jeff Smith said it took six months for the agency to determine the seriousness of the emission problem and shut the operation down. Smith blames Water Gremlin.

• A bipartisan group of legislators introduce a series of bills to ban TCE and create a TCE Emission Response Account.

• Bear skaters go 0-2 at state tourney. Zephyrs place third at state after heartbreaking loss to Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin 3-2 in overtime. Coach Jeff Poeschl named state Class A Coach of the Year by the hockey coaches association.

• Cup and Cone opened March 6. Realtor Joe Benson is first in line on a 10-degree morning.

• Zephyrs set for state hoops after 58-year absence. They lost in first round “but it was fun,” said senior guard Zac Centers.

• A West St. Paul man, 25, died after a two-vehicle accident at Highway 96 and I-35E. The driver of the other vehicle, a delivery van, was transported with non-life-threatening injuries.

April

• Litigators present case to Water Gremlin neighbors. Residents in the red zone around the plant are lawyering up with Schmidt & Salita for possible legal action. The Minnetonka firm specializes in personal injury, wrongful death and worker's compensation claims.

• Minnesota's newest listing on the National Register of Historic Places is the White Bear Lake Armory, constructed in 1922-23 on the corner of Fourth Street and Cook Avenue.

• The Neighborhood Concerned Citizen's Group (NCCG) forms in the township to assume Water Gremlin watchdog role. The five women, Sherry Hastings, Kelly Tapken, Leigh Thiel, Catherine Sullivan and Sheri Smith, all live within the 1.5-mile radius of Water Gremlin impacted by toxic emissions of TCE.

• Coach Jerry Kwapick ends 10-year tenure coaching Bear girls hockey. He had 148 wins, 99 losses and 27 ties.

• A single high school and new elementary are possible answers to growing enrollment. Consensus of the 90-member facilities planning committee is one-campus high school model and a new elementary school in Hugo. There is potential for a $326 million referendum.

• Restaurateur faces six felony counts for underpaying sales tax. Acqua owner Daron Close said bookkeeping errors are to blame.

• Ice-out was declared April 18. Mean ice-out date is April 15.

• The Court of Appeals reversed a 2017 district court decision in the lake level lawsuit. The appellants argued that the district court erred by allowing respondents to pursue claims under the wrong statute. White Bear Lake Restoration Association has 20 days to file a petition to appeal to the Supreme Court.

• For the first time in 15 years, water is leaving White Bear Lake and flowing into Bald Eagle Lake. The lake measured 924.8 feet. The outlet is set at 923.3 feet.

May

• District's schools running out of space. Recommendations from a 90-person facilities planning committee are summarized in this May 1 report. Enrollment could hit 11,000 students in 10 years; current capacity is 8,700.

• The district's 2019 teacher of the year is Abby Kath, a 2002 White Bear alumna and Lincoln Elementary kindergarten teacher.

• Air monitoring around Water Gremlin since March 1 shows a reduction in dichloroethylene (DCE), the less toxic solvent that replaced TCE. MPCA said results do not cause concern.

• Plaintiffs in lake level case petition Supreme Court. It's the last step in a long case that started seven years ago when the White Bear Lake Restoration Association blamed historic low lake levels on the DNR and took the agency to court.

• Restaurant owner works on compromise to lessen impact of backyard bus station. Joe Claussen of Beartown Bar & Grill worries that he will lose precious parking spaces. Discussion with the city and county led to a new configuration for the bus platform.

• Water Gremlin installs new pollution control equipment. The company informed MPCA that new equipment is designed to control emissions of volatile organic compounds, including t-DCE.

• The meaning of Memorial Day, one of history's most solemn days, is featured in the May 22 paper.

• Bears alum Elsa Bruestle is new girls hockey coach. She's a 2010 graduate who played for Union College.

• Digging should start late summer for market-rate rentals on County Road E. Developer Schafer Richardson has tweaked the plan, nixing three-bedroom options, bringing the total units to 193 instead of 189.

• White Bear resident Tim Black teaches sailing to veterans in a new program called Operation Vet Sail: A Salute at Sea. The program is intended to combat PTSD.

• The White Bear Lake Conservation District agrees to create a No Wake zone near Matoska Marsh. Bird watchers and kayakers requested the zone to protect wildlife in the area.

• Archer Edna Siniff, 82, draws a bow with best of them. The Mahtomedi grandmother has led an interesting life. She is currently training for the Senior Games in New Mexico.

June

• In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-day, the Press reran a column by Ernie Pyle, the legendary WWII war correspondent. Called “A Pure Miracle,” the column was made available by the National Newspaper Association.

• Old iceboats aren't for faint of heart. Iceboat owners get their vintage vessels ready for the Manitou Days boat show.

• Disappointed that legislation to ban TCE in the state failed this session, nonprofit group NCCG vows to continue fight to ban carcinogen.

• Bear track star Erika Townley wins a gold medal in 300 meter hurdles. She is one of the most decorated girl tracksters in school history.

• Moms turned lobbyists with Decoding Dyslexia Minnesota and key area legislators get historic legislation passed to help dyslexic and other struggling readers get help in public schools.

• Johnson family buys publishing business up north. New publications become part of Northstar Media, Inc. in Cambridge, a company owned by Gene and Carter Johnson.

• The school board is on board with proposed plans for a one-campus high school, new elementary school in Hugo and other building updates. Members authorized district administration to to come back with detailed plans for a bond referendum. Neighbors are upset that the district wants to buy their homes for school land.

• End of era for tire company as Venburg Tire + Service closes. The family owned business, started by Keith and Irene Venburg in 1968, prepared to close July 3. Pat and Carol (Venburg) McFarlane thanked loyal customers for their patronage.

• Debilitating dementia has family focused on living each day to fullest. Larry Largent Jr. was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called frontotemporal dementia. His wife Erica and his mom Jenny have taken on the unexpected role as caregivers. The family is this year's Tour De Bar beneficiary.

July

• As a tribute to Jerry Spiess, the world-class mariner who died June 18 at age 79, the Press reran a feature about the sailor 37 years after his cross-Atlantic adventure.

• Pull-tab pie: everyone wants a piece. Members of the Kramer-Berg American Legion Post 507 worry about their future as their revenue stream is shrinking. Other charitable gambling groups are displacing them in the pull-tab booth.

• $326 million bond expected on fall ballot. Tax impact on a $275,000 home would be $280 per year and about $1,300 for a $1 million commercial building.

• Residents remember mankind's giant leap on 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's lunar landing.

• MPCA denies Water Gremlin's request for an extension to test its pollution control equipment. The company is subject to a $500 per day fine until it has completed its testing.

• Banksy's brother, also known as the mysterious White Bear Lake sign artist Mark Schwartz, strikes again. Signs have been spotted all over town, including a new one at Press Publications.

• Area food shelf names Perry Petersen as new executive director. Before joining the food shelf, Petersen worked 20 years in various roles at Community of Grace Church in White Bear Lake.

• The state Supreme Court agrees to review the Court of Appeals decision in the lake level lawsuit.

• White Bear schools' $326 million bond referendum was unanimously approved at July 15 school board meting. If passed, the bond would be the biggest in state history.

• Bad actors on bad behavior 'ruining lake life' said a few lake residents to the White Bear Lake Conservation District board. One resident showed video of jet skis and boaters operating recklessly and carelessly within 100 feet of other watercraft.

• Relay for Life celebrates 25 years with special guest Patty Warner, co-founder with late husband Keith Warner. Their personal fight grew White Bear Relay to be among largest in the state.

• Two new traffic lights are proposed in White Bear to accommodate future Rush Line bus transit. Lights would be installed at Highway 61 and Whitaker Street and Highway 61 and Eighth Street.

• White Bear Lincoln Mercury is selling a rare 1968 Mustang Shelby GT 500. The price tag is $139,900.

August

• Hands-free cellphone law: Here's what to know. The new law went into effect Aug. 1.

• Watchdog group NCCG claims MPCA is failing to enforce imposed limits on Water Gremlin. The group says the company is operating in direct violation of its stipulation agreement with the state.

• Ramsey County Water Patrol has eye on misbehaving boaters. A pole-mounted camera near the county beach is meant to act as a deterrent to boaters breaking the law.

• Trail work underway in Dellwood for perimeter path around White Bear Lake. The segment is part of the Lake Links trail. Land is being cleared on easements provided by Thane and Blanche Hawkins.

• Members of American Legion Post 168 hope its community pork chop feed draws new life to the club, celebrating 100 years this October.

• The White Bear Lake school district secures land for elementary school in Hugo. Purchase agreements for two parcels north of the post office and west of Highway 61 are approved by the school board.

• Water Gremlin stands its 'contaminated' ground. After finding more contamination at the manufacturing plant, MPCA asked the company to voluntarily cease operation of its coating process. Water Gremlin refused to comply.

• Help wanted: school bus drivers. Drivers are in demand as bus companies and school districts struggle to fill open positions.

• MPCA orders Water Gremlin to stop its coating operation. Commissioner issued an administrative order to stop the coating line after learning DCE was found in soil vapor beneath the plant.

• Attorney Dean Salita sues MPCA for failure to provide public records regarding Water Gremlin.

• Township becomes pollinator-friendly community for implementing a pollinator protection resolution.

September

• Manufacturer continues to weather media storm. Every day seems to bring more news on Water Gremlin and its modus operandi. The company was discovered moving its coating process to Wisconsin, something it said was not a secret. Sen. Roger Chamberlain wants the county attorney and legislative auditor to look for possible criminal violations.

• The district starts campaigning for the referendum, asking the community to invest in aging facilities that average 50 years old.

• 4 Seasons restaurant in Mahtomedi is back with fan favorites like broasted chicken and homemade root beer. Brothers Brandon and Austin Bevins are re-opening the eatery.

• Solid Ground celebrates 30 years of bringing homeless home. The supportive housing agency based in White Bear Lake, works with homeless families and landlords to find placement.

• Water Gremlin speaks out about pollution investigation. The Press sat down with Carl Dubois who wants the community to know the company is working to make things better.

• Auger's Garage celebrates 100 years of automotive service. An open house was planned to honor the occasion. The garage is one of the oldest family owned and operated businesses in White Bear Lake.

• Hemp is a new and old cash crop. It is not your everyday marijuana plant. A grower along Hwy. 96 talks about his front yard hemp plants and the oil he extracts to make CBD.

• White Bear Lake City Council Oks a $6.9 million proposed tax levy. The amount is $563,000 higher than last year to account for an increase in the general fund budget and debt service.

• Soil vapor testing at Water Gremlin indicates no risk to residents, according to an environmental consulting and engineering firm. The firm was looking for TCE and t-DCE on the property.

• District rings centennial bell. White Bear Lake celebrates 100th anniversary of first graduating class with an all class reunion, car show, pancake breakfast and book signing.

• Warner Nature Center is closing after 52 years. Little is known about future plans for the land, owned by White Bear Lake-based Manitou Fund. An official statement indicated fund trustees are exploring options.

• Senior Pastor Bob Merritt announces he is retiring March 2020 from Eagle Brook Church. He will retire on his 63rd birthday March 1.

October

• School district clarifies eminent domain issue, assuring it will not be used to acquire properties for the one-campus high school. The district would like to purchase about 20 homes near North Campus for expanding parking and sports facilities but only if homeowners are interested in selling.

• American Legion celebrates 100 years. Post 168 was chartered by Congress Oct. 6, 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization dedicated to “mutual helpfulness.”

• Lincoln Elementary is among 10 schools in the state to be named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.

• Water Gremlin issues an update to inform the community of its efforts regarding toxic TCE.

• Youth vaping rates surge leading to more reports of lung illness.

• Orange and black make green. The school district is making environmental strides. Six schools will generate power using solar energy: Oneka, Willow, Birch, Lakeaires and Matoska elementary and Sunrise Park Middle School.

• Water Gremlin watchdog group meets with the governor. NCCG gets 30 minutes with Gov. Tim Walz to air concerns about TCE.

• White Bear City Council pushes decision on Goose Lake boating ban to January 2020. To improve lake quality, an aluminum sulfate treatment is required, which VLAWMO says requires a temporary ban on motors.

• Lead contamination is Water Gremlin's latest public affliction. A report by WCCO indicated elevated lead blood levels in employees and their children. Commissioners of the MDH and Department of Labor and Industry stop operations related to production of lead products and ask a district court judge to issue an injunction extending the stop order.

November

• District court judge allows Water Gremlin employees to return to work Nov. 5 after attorneys work out an action plan to keep lead dust from leaving the plant.

• Army veteran credits military for his service mentality. Jeff Loeks was honored with a community service award by his employer, HealthPartners, for his charitable work.

• Looking at felonies from eyes of incarcerated. After serving time, many people with felony convictions have a hard time reestablishing their lives. Ex-offenders discussed the problem at a criminal justice forum.

• Voters pass the $326 million bond referendum by a 2,200 vote margin. First up: Hugo can expect a new elementary school to open fall 2022.

• Large pledges jump-start ice arena fundraiser. Rinc 2 Corp. has received $700,000 in pledges so far. The Mahtomedi ice arena is estimated to cost $15 million.

• Zephyr girls three-peat as state soccer champs. For the third year in a row, the Mahtomedi team captures the title, beating Orono 3-2.

• Loon Chronicles wraps up season IV. It was another chickless summer on White Bear Lake. Chronicler Ellen Maas offers a retrospective on the lake's loons, noting a DNR expert has offered to assist in placing manmade nests at strategic spots in 2020 after ice-out.

• Water Gremlin is hit with new pollution charges. MPCA issues administrative order Nov. 5 requiring the company to make changes to the way it manages hazardous waste.

• Newly elected Ramsey County Commissioner for District 1 is Nichole Joy Frethem. She fills the seat vacated by Blake Huffman.

December

• Polar explorer Will Steger is guest speaker at two area events, the Shoreview Community Foundations's annual dinner and an environmental awareness forum at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church. When Antarctica's Larsen B ice shelf broke up in 2002, Steger said he knew it was time to focus on education, not just exploration.

• The Brickhouse restaurant opens on Washington Square. The 1886 building underwent extensive restoration. Seating is for 160 patrons on two levels.

• Student-run coffee shop brewing at South Campus. The project has been a year in the making. Heading it up are students Maddie Verkerke, Trevor Motzko and Marissa Metzler.

• Getting the lead out: Water Gremlin issues progress report at Dec. 4 court hearing. The third-party report for the court shows employee adherence to hygiene practices was not quite 100%.

• Underage vaping can lead to unintended addiction to harder drugs. Mahtomedi High School students hear from recovering addicts in health class.

• Water Gremlin files appeal objecting to court order requiring testing and cleaning 1,270 homes of current and former employees for lead dust. The company says decontamination will cost millions and question's court's authority to require the action.

• A township Santa seamstress is one of maybe six people in the country who custom-make suits for the jolly man in red. Santa Paul Carlson has one of Deborah Mumaugh's creations.

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