Twin Cities Community News

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Eric Wenzel joins us today to talk about Coats of Kindness, a charity in St. Paul. The local nonprofit started six years ago based off a cancer event and pay-it-forward initiative at Eric’s church. His kids were involved from the beginning and it’s been growing ever since. This year, they’re close to giving away 10,000 jackets throughout the Midwest, mostly within the Twin Cities. Donations vary from individual contributions, small businesses, and Cub Scout troops.

The coats go directly to shelters and other locations. It’s not exactly like a food pantry. It’s a discount store that counties subsidize. Additionally, they’re teaming up with a homeless project in Minneapolis with thirteen buildings and 3,000 residents.

If you have a coat you’d like to drop...

Lowry Avenue Bridge to Celebrate Veteran's Day


New Lowry Bridge



This Sunday, November 11th is Veteran's Day (although the federal holiday is on Monday, giving many the day off). In honor of the day, and in honor of all those who have served this great country, the Lowry Avenue Bridge is going to be lighting up with the colors red, white, and blue. The bridge will be lit with said American theme from Saturday the 10th until Monday the 12th.


The Lowry Avenue Bridge just reopened in late October and is fitted with programmable LED lights that give the city freedom to light the bridge many different ways. The bridge will be changed based on city events or holidays. 


Emerald Ash Borer Discovered in Minneapolis

The dreaded emerald ash borer has been discovered in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Agriculture Department confirmed the infestation of four trees at Tower Hill Park, not far from known infestations in St. Paul and Falcon Heights. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will cut down the trees before spring and intensify efforts to find other diseased trees.

This is not an unexpected turn of events. With the discovery of the green beetles last spring in St. Paul and later in Falcon Heights, officials are trying to slow the spread. A widespread and expensive infestation could threaten the state's 940 million ash trees.

Last year, 82 diseased trees were found and removed in the South St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul and one tree in Falcon Heights. Earlier this year, crews in St. Paul began cutting down 355 nondiseased boulevard ash trees in other parts of the city as part of a broader strategy to slow the spread of the beetle. The Como Park neighborhood is experimenting by pre-emptively cutting down 40 undiseased ash trees. In the spring, crews expect to focus their efforts on removing diseased trees in the infested area.

In Minneapolis, crews participating in an ongoing survey of trees recently found D-shaped exit holes and other indicators of the ash borers in the trees, all within a mile of the St. Paul infestation. The new location indicates the infestation is likely part of the original one discovered last year, according to Mike Schommer, an agriculture department spokesman.

"Finding it in Minneapolis is not a real big surprise because we know that infestation had been in place for about three years before it was found,'' Schommer said. "We also know adult beetles can fly up to two miles on their own.''

"Really, this is just sort of a natural outgrowth of that ground zero area,'' added Jim Hermann, forestry program manager for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation...

Eagan Takes a Preemptive Strike Against Emerald Ash Borer

Eagan is striking a preemptive blow against the emerald ash borer. The city's weapons of choice? An $89,000 grant and some chainsaws.

Come spring time, Eagan city workers will be evaluating boulevard trees and removing any that have defects which could make them attractive to the emerald ash borer. If a tree is deemed vulnerable, the resident will get an offer for a city worker to remove it to help stave off the nasty beetle. Residents with vulnerable trees on their property, provided they're on boulevards where the city has the right-of-way, will be able to get replacement trees free. The types of trees to be offered are hackberry, honeylocust, bicolor oaks and Kentucky coffee trees.

Minneapolis, Saint Louis Park, and Eagan MN received the 3 largest of 15 grants awarded by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by Minnesota voters in November 2008. Cities that have found the beetles, including St. Paul, are receiving bigger grants to battle the ash borer.

"We don't have it yet," added Paul Olson, Eagan's superintendent of parks, "but this is a lot like controlling a major forest fire with a firebreak. We'll be taking out high-risk ash trees, but also using insecticide trunk injections to preserve high-quality ash trees."

Eagan has already taken an inventory of its trees, identifying about 100 that are at currently at risk and need to be removed. About 20 ash trees on boulevards will be treated with pesticides for protection. Eagan has a total of 3,600 ash trees in the city right of way.

The grant covers only the boulevards. Private homeowners can pay for their own protection or removal, but city officials will come out and help assess risks and any...

Battling the Emerald Ash Borer

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has awarded $1.9 million in grants to cities and organizations to arm themselves in the fight against the destructive emerald ash borer.

The emerald ash borer was first found in May in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. It has since been discovered in Falcon Heights and on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. More than 100 infested ash trees have been destroyed so far.

St. Paul will get $723,000 to help manage infestation in the city. The University of Minnesota will get $200,000, and Falcon Heights will get $77,400 to fight the pest. The Agriculture Department also awarded $875,000 in grants to 15 cities and agencies to prepare for infestation, including Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Roseville and St. Louis Park.

The St. Paul City Council recently adopted an ordinance declaring the emerald ash borer a public nuisance, which gives the city the authority to inspect trees on private property and the power to order the removal of infested trees.

Blaine MN, taking a cue from cities in the east that became ash-less in the 5 years following the discovery of an infestation, is taking a more agressive approach. The city of Blaine has a new plan to remove all ash trees from city-owned land before they're hit by the emerald ash borer. The move is meant to spread out the emotional pain of losing mature trees and the financial pain of replacing them. The city has already started looking for distressed trees to be targeted for later removal.

The Chinese bug was discovered in the U.S. in Michigan in 2002. It has destroyed tens of millions of trees in the Midwest. The pest's larvae kill ash trees by burrowing into wood and feeding on nutrients, effectively starving the tree.

Unfortunately, the ash tree was the preferred replacement for elms after Dutch elm disease hit in the 1970s. Additionally, it is a predominant tree...

Snowpocalypse Aftermath in the Twin Cities

Now that the holiday storm has dumped piles of snow on the Twin Cities, colder weather is moving in, which will make it even more difficult for public works crews to remove the snow and ice from roads.

In Minneapolis, streets are fairly clean on busier streets. High-demand on-street parking areas will likely have curbside snow and ice until it warms up a little. Some potholes are forming alreadyand may not get filled immediately.

In Saint Paul, roads east of Snelling are good, while those to the west are a little rough still. Some St. Paul streets were missed during the snow emergency because of new plow drivers. If your road in St. Paul isn't cleared soon, might want to let them know.

There is a bright spot amidst the storm. Officials in St. Paul and Minneapolis are praising residents for heeding snow emergency warnings called on both Christmas Eve and Christmas. The total number of vehicles towed in Minneapolis was 1,211, compared to the 1,651 towed during the snow emergency that started Dec. 9. In St. Paul, where officials didn't deploy taggers ahead of plows, amazingly only one vehicle was towed. (With all the colleges closed for Christmas break and many people traveling for the holiday, St. Paul officials decided to lighten up). 1,000 metro-area households lost power and more than a 1,000 vehicles wound up in ditches.

Additionally, it appears there were only 2 weather-related fatalities attributed to the 4 day storm, which is incredible. Driving conditions were challenging, but authorities believe that so many people were hunkered down at home with family that there were just fewer people on the road in general. Many made plans to either travel ahead of the storm or changed plans to stay closer to home.

Something fun and worth checking out is this time elapse video of 40 hours worth of snowing in...

Doomsnow or Snowmagedon? Regardless, It's Here

Will it be a white-out Christmas? If you've been paying any attention, you know that a snowstorm threatens to turn last-minute shopping and holiday travel into possibly dangerous tasks. The forecast indicates there could be the deepest Christmas snows on record across Minnesota and parts ot the midwest, with the storm already well started as I write this and expected to linger well into Saturday.

The storm is capable of dropping 16 to 22 inches from Iowa to the Arrowhead. The heaviest snow is predicted for central and northern Minnesota. The snow will likely be heavy and wet, so be careful as there will probably be a lot of ice on the roads. Wind gusts could exceed 20 mph.

Will it really be Snowmagedon? Will the Doomsnow hit us as hard as they say? Time will tell, but the weather forecast guarantees that snow emergencies will be declared in Minneapolis and St. Paul over the holiday weekend. That will require most cars parked on streets to be moved at least once or be towed away at significant owner expense. Though we have information readily available for Minneapolis and Saint Paul snow emergencies, residents of other cities will have to look up snow emergency rules for their specific community. No one wants to spend Christmas cash on getting a car out of the impound lot!

Keep warm, travel safely, and have a happy holiday!


Be Careful on Lake Ice in Minnesota

It is the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night. Even as the days grow longer from here on out, the cold season has just officially begun. Because of the unseasonably warm weather we had well into fall, the lake ice in Minnesota which has normally frozen solid... really hasn't yet. Especially when it comes to lakes in the southern half of the state.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends that there be at least five inches of ice to support snowmobiles or ATVs and more than double that before it will support a car or truck onto a lake. In smaller lakes, there is less of a danger and ice has likely been able to form thick enough to support some of these activities. But the ice is dangerously thin in many places.

Just ask Dan Fruechte of Swanville, as his manufactured fish house has fallen partially through the ice on Long Lake. Equipped with a flat-screen TV and stereo, the house was worth about $15,000 and has maintained so much water damage it is totaled.

Not saying everyone has snazzy ice houses worth tens of thousands of dollars, but what would have happened had he and his son been inside? It just goes to show, just because you see other cars or houses on the lake doesn't mean the ice is thick enough. Be safe out there!


Twin Cities Residents Riding the Rails

At long last, the Hiawatha light rail line is finally complete. The last planned stop, the America Boulevard Station located in Bloomington at 34th Avenue, opened on Saturday. And it opened ahead of schedule, as the work wasn't even supposed to be finished until January.
The $3.3 million station was included in the original plans for the light rail line, but its construction was deferred when the south end of the 12-mile route was redesigned, said Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metro Transit. Money to build the new station came from the Bloomington Port Authority, Hennepin County, Metropolitan Council and the federal government.
The new station is northeast of the Mall of America and a short distance from Bloomington Central Station. Three hotels, an office complex and large long-term parking lots are located nearby. The area is being redeveloped and Bloomington MN officials view the new station as a key component to the plans.
"It serves a section of the Airport South district that we hope will become part of a new residential neighborhood," said Larry Lee, director of community development for the city. "It's especially important for residents, but ... tourists and business people [also] have the option of getting around by LRT instead of riding in a car."

That vision of a community built around transit is already a reality at the Reflections condo development by Bloomington Central Station, Lee said. Many couples who bought homes there have gone from two cars to one and some are living with no car at all, he said.
The north end of the line was completed in November when a new station opened in Minneapolis at Target Field. That station also serves as a link for Hiawatha riders to the Northstar commuter rail line.

Speaking of the Northstar, Metro Transit has announced that 33,112 people rode the...

A New Era in the Twin Cities

After $317 million, political struggles, and a 13-year wait, the 40-mile North Star Commuter line embarked on its maiden voyage on Monday morning, November 16, 2009. And people were certainly checking it out. After the last train of its first operation day finished its run, Metro Transit reported that more than 2,400 paying customers rode Northstar trains. On a typical day, the line is projected to have 1,700 passengers each way.

Trains were on time -- the first one arrived three minutes early -- but the first day was not entirely free of glitches. At Target Field, the doors of the 7:10 a.m. train didn't open for a few minutes, so its more than 300 passengers were stuck inside. Once they made their way upstairs to the Hiawatha station, light rail wasn't there to greet them because of a mechanical problem. A replacement Hiawatha train left the station at 7:25.

During the afternoon rush, there were some frantic dashes for closing doors, some doorway stumbles and even a few people who missed trains and had to wait for the next one. Only one person missed the final train, arriving at Target Field two minutes late on a connecting light-rail transit train.
It is Minnesota's first long-distance commuter rail line. It currently has stops in Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids, Fridley, and Minneapolis. It is eventually expected to reach all the way out to St. Cloud.

You can read more first-hand experiences from the light rain in this Star Tribune article, Finally, All Aboard for Northstar. Yes, finally!