Year in Review - County experiences a year of extremes in 2012

The year 2012 was a time of extremes in Carlton County - extreme weather, extreme violence and extreme growth in certain areas of the economy. Overall, residents proved to be a resilient group, rallying around each other to combat the ravages of ...

The Northland was hit by a '500 year flood' in June that washed out bridges and roads, flooded farmers' fields, homes and even the Carlton County Fairgrounds. Doug Delaney/For the Pine Journal
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The year 2012 was a time of extremes in Carlton County - extreme weather, extreme violence and extreme growth in certain areas of the economy. Overall, residents proved to be a resilient group, rallying around each other to combat the ravages of the June flooding, raising support for the families and victims of crime and violence, and supporting the growth of its schools, businesses and industries.


+ The New Year got under way with the birth of Mason Randal Kiminski, son of Lora and Randal, as the first baby of 2012 born at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet. Mason was born at 4:47 p.m. Jan. 4.

+ Nearly 50 people packed the Cloquet City Council chambers for two different public hearings regarding operation of a bio-cremation unit within the city of Cloquet. Unlike traditional cremation by fire, bio-cremation disposes of a deceased person's body using water and an alkali solution of potassium hydroxide, a form of lye. The bone remains, or "ash," are returned to the family, and the sterile effluent goes into the sanitary sewer system along with water used to flush the bio-cremation unit. Bob and Karen Atkins of Atkins-Northland Funeral Home requested expansion of the funeral home's conditional use permit (CUP) to allow installation and operation of a high temperature/high pressure alkaline hydrolysis machine to do the bio-cremation, which they said offers a more "green" alternative to traditional cremation. In the end, despite a majority of audience members speaking in opposition to the procedure, members of the Planning Commission voted 4 to1 to recommend amending the Cloquet City Code to allow operation of a high temperature/high pressure alkaline hydrolysis machine.

Later in the month, however, the Cloquet City Council said a decisive "no" to allowing the bio-cremation process at local funeral homes, voting 6 to 1 to deny the two different resolutions concerning bio-cremation. Reasons cited by councilors for voting against the bio-cremation resolutions ranged from disputed scientific evidence regarding proper operational standards and the possibility that prions could be released into the sanitary sewer system (if inadequately treated) and from there into Lake Superior, as well as issues with the process being inconsistent with a residential neighborhood and the lack of strict regulatory standards in the state.


+ Cloquet ninth-grader Kody Denison made area-wide news after helping to perform CPR on his little sister after she suffered a febrile seizure brought on by high fever. Kody had just completed CPR training in his Cloquet High School health class at the end of October. He was later named one of the 2012 recipients of the American Red Cross Hero Awards for his efforts.


+ The State of Minnesota redistricting initiative made Carlton County part of a new legislative district, House District 11A. The move left the county with no incumbent, since the new district ends just a few miles north of where incumbent DFL Rep. Bill Hilty lives in Finlayson. The changes did not affect district DFL incumbent Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick, however, since his residence remained within the District 11A guidelines. The redrawn lines for legislative districts, required after every U.S. Census to keep the population of each district about the same, expanded some northern Minnesota districts and changed many others. Rep. Mary Murphy, the region's longest-serving legislator and the ranking DFLer on the House Redistricting Committee, also lost the last bits of Carlton County she had represented due to the redistricting.

+ The Northland's first real winter storm of the season arrived almost six hours later than expected, but once the storm arrived, it made up for lateness with wind gusts that measured as high as 65 mph near the harbor area in Duluth. National Weather Service spotters reported 7 ½ inches of snow in Cloquet, 9 inches in Saginaw, 8 inches in Duluth and Esko, 7.2 inches in Moose Lake and 10 inches in Pine City.


+ Sixth District Judge Robert Macaulay quadrupled the recommended jail time when he sentenced a Cloquet man who was caught peeping at his neighbor's juvenile daughter through a bedroom window. Richard Allen Paul, 57, of Cloquet pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Carlton County District Court for "interference with privacy." The charge - a felony because the person whose privacy was violated was a minor - accused Paul of intentionally intruding upon or interfering with the privacy of a member of a household. Paul was discovered outside his neighbor's home at 11:30 p.m. June 14, 2011, wearing a black ski mask, tan shirt and jeans peering into a bedroom window. Police later searched Paul's home and found night vision goggles, the ski mask, clothing and a loaded handgun, and Paul admitted to police he had a firearm on his hip at the time he was discovered outside his neighbor's home.

Paul completed a residential addiction treatment program at Hazelden and underwent follow-up treatment, counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous. Paul, who was director of Behavior Services for Essentia Health in Duluth before he was arrested, made a statement apologizing to the family, his neighbors and the community.

Macaulay imposed a sentence of 120 days in jail, requiring him to serve the first 30 days in the Carlton County Law Enforcement Center starting immediately, with the understanding that additional 30-day increments could be stayed provided Paul followed his 21 probation conditions.


+ Mayor Bruce Ahlgren and Cloquet City Councilors unanimously approved the site plan for a proposed Walgreens store at the location of Southgate Bowl. The vote was bittersweet for Southgate owners Gerry and Rose Pollard, who said they will miss their regular bowlers tremendously, but acknowledged that the time was right after nearly 40 years in the bowling business. The bowling alley was demolished later in the year to make way for the new 14,500-square-foot Walgreens store, with approximately 70 parking stalls and a drive-up pharmacy. The change left Cloquet without a bowling alley.

+ Joshua David Martineau was sentenced in Carlton County Court for killing two people in Cromwell last year following impassioned statements by the victims' families and friends, saying how his actions changed their lives forever. With emotions running the gamut from anger to sadness, five people told the court how the murders of longtime couple Thomas Holm and Kim Schmitz, both 53, on Jan. 8, 2011, affected them and the larger community.

Martineau, 29, of Cloquet, testified on March 23, pleading guilty to two counts of intentional second-degree murder that he cold-bloodedly shot both Holm and Schmitz in the back of their heads in the couple's Cromwell home 14 months before because Holm refused to turn over money and marijuana to him and because Schmitz could identify him. Macaulay ordered Martineau to serve a 60-year prison sentence - 30 years for each murder to be served consecutively - with credit for 395 days served. He also will be required to pay for the funeral services. According to Minnesota law, if Martineau follows prison rules, he is eligible for release after spending 40 years behind bars.


+ Approximately 80 soldiers returned to the Cloquet area following their year-long deployment to the Middle East. The majority were from the Cloquet-based Crazy Troop. The bus carrying the troops had a police escort through town via Scanlon and Cloquet Avenue before turning on to Highway 33 and going on to the Armory for a brief welcome home ceremony and meal.


+ The eyes of the world were on Cloquet High School graduate Jessica Danielson as she appeared on ABC's nationally syndicated news program, "Nightline." At age 19, Danielson was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy - a condition where her heart wasn't pumping enough blood for her body - which eventually led to congestive heart failure. Danielson had been at Mayo Clinic for four months awaiting a heart/liver transplant. On the "Nightline" segment, host Bill Weir talked with her about what it's like to be on the waiting list for such a critical, life-saving operation. Later that spring, Danielson received a successful heart and liver transplant - almost six months to the day since she had first entered the hospital.

+ The small towns of Kerrick, Brookston and Wright heaved a collective sigh of relief - for the time being, at least - as the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced it had decided to save many of those post offices earlier slated for extinction as an urgent cost-saving measure, opting to cut back on hours of operation instead. The move came on the heels of extensive backlash from many small communities who found themselves at risk of losing their local post offices.


+ Early season flooding - a precursor of what was to come later - caused the water of the St. Louis River to rise to within 2½ feet from the deck of the River Inn in Scanlon, the highest level seen in the past two years. Some 5.5 inches of rainfall caused the flooding, with the river predicted to crest at 10.7 feet. In southern Carlton County, folks in Moose Lake were sandbagging over Memorial Day weekend as water levels in the city's Moosehead Lake got higher and higher before cresting Tuesday night. If the flooding wasn't enough, some places in Carlton County - including southwest Cloquet, Sawyer and west of Carlton - reported golf-ball-sized hail.


+ Incumbent Karen Diver defeated opponent and former Tribal Chair Pete Defoe in a close race to head the Reservation Business Committee. Following her re-election, Diver said she will continue to address the economic issues of the reservation.

+ Sappi Fine Paper officially broke ground on a $170 million conversion project that will transform the existing kraft pulp mill to production of chemical cellulose, a purer form of cellulose which can be made into a fabric for clothing, wet wipes and other consumer products. The Cloquet project is the largest investment Sappi has made in North America in some time, and the largest investment at the mill itself since the $500 million former Potlatch mill expansion here in the 1990s. Project Director Mike Schultz said the construction effort is estimated at 300,000 man hours with a peak force of 400 workers. The new cellulose production is set to start in May 2013.

+ The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office arrested Joseph John Couture of Cloquet in the Sept. 3, 2000, stabbing death of Trina Langenbrunner. The case was considered one of the most high-profile cold cases in the county. Couture, 41, is a level three sex offender and is being held in St. Louis County Jail on charges of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Couture was arrested in 1993 on felony burglary charges and faced various misdemeanor charges before a conviction for second-degree sexual conduct in 2006. He had been charged with 11 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with a person under age 13 before pleading to the final charge. Langenbrunner's stabbed body was discovered off a rural road in southern St. Louis County. The 33-year-old was the mother of three. There was a $100,000 reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Langenbrunner's killer.

+ The town of Thomson was evacuated, along with campers in Jay Cooke State Park and homes on the east side of the city of Carlton as a "500-year flood" struck the Northland. Other significant areas affected in Carlton County include Thomson Township (Esko area), many roads west of the city of Cloquet on the Fond du Lac Reservation, the city of Barnum, the Mahtowa area, and the city of Moose Lake area. The Sheriff's Office advised no travel on roads in the area due to many road closures or high water levels over roadways. The Red Cross opened a shelter site at Carlton High School, which was eventually moved to the Scanlon Community Center for any Carlton County residents seeking shelter that had been evacuated from their homes.

Blacktop was washing away in spots all over Carlton County: County Road 4 west of Highway 61 in Mahtowa, next to the Highway 210 bridge near the Thomson dam, University Road on the Fond du Lac Reservation and more. Among the most emotional losses: the historic "swinging bridge" in Jay Cooke State Park.

All over Carlton County there was damage from the high waters. Downtown Barnum flooded; the city park and county fairgrounds were submerged with the high waters. Campgrounds at Jay Cooke, Cloquet's Spafford Park and Moose Lake had to be evacuated. In Moose Lake, those who were present moved their campers and motor homes to higher ground, but any who weren't there to move their campsites found them submerged in the waters of the Moosehead Lake.

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, the National Weather Service in Duluth put the 24-hour rainfall totals at 7.7 inches in the Scanlon/Cloquet area, 6.1 inches in Wright, 7.8 inches in Wrenshall and 8.3 inches in Proctor.

Law enforcement officials and firefighters were out in force all day Wednesday, and played a starring role in the evacuations and an even more challenging scenario, keeping people from making unwise choices in their rush to assess the damage.

Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren declared a local emergency. The declaration was the first step in working with federal or state officials on any financial assistance that may be available to the region. Relief efforts continued across Carlton County to assist the more than 750 Carlton County households affected by flooding. A call center, donation and flood assistance center opened at the Cloquet National Guard Armory Sunday morning to act as a clearinghouse for all kinds of volunteers and donations.

The Sappi mill in Cloquet suffered significant flood damage and was forced to send most employees home while efforts to combat the flood waters were under way. Thanks to the efforts of staff and crews, most of the mill's operations were up and running by the following Tuesday night.

USG's Cloquet plant made a near-miraculous turnaround after the St. Louis River flood waters were virtually churning at its doorstep. The mill was closed down and staff members were told to go home as the flood waters began rising outside the plant. Production was up and running again by midday or early evening the following Wednesday, with shipping and loading already under way on Monday. General Manager Bill Schmitt said it was the mill's new flood gates that saved them.

Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman reported preliminary estimate of public infrastructure damages was just a little over $30 million, including public infrastructure for county, townships, school districts, cities, non-profit agencies and certain districts like fire and hospital that were government affiliated.


+ The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced the flood-ravaged Jay Cooke State Park would remain closed indefinitely, and all camping and lodging reservations would be canceled through the end of October.

+ Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler was arrested and held overnight in the St. Louis County Jail on charges of refusing to submit to a chemical test of his blood, breath or urine, which is a gross misdemeanor, and fourth-degree driving while impaired, a misdemeanor. According to the office of Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson, Pertler was released by Judge Heather Sweetland at 1:14 p.m. the following afternoon. Pertler was pulled over as he entered Duluth on state Highway 61 after authorities received reports of a possible drunken driver, according to state and county law enforcement officials. Pertler later pleaded guilty to third-degree driving while impaired - which was a refusal to submit to a chemical test - the most serious of seven crimes he was charged with in the incident. He was sentenced to one year in the St. Louis County Jail, which was stayed for two years of supervised probation. He was fined $2,095, but $1,000 of the fine will be stayed if he follows the conditions of his probation.

The six misdemeanor crimes charged against him - fourth-degree driving while impaired, speeding, driving over the center line, failure to signal, open bottle and no proof of insurance - were dismissed.


+ Voters in the 2012 primary election chose Mike Sundin - who was already the DFL-endorsed candidate - over Bruce Ahlgren for the right to represent the DFL party in the race for the newly created Minnesota House of Representatives District 11A in the November general election. Sundin went on to face Republican candidate Jim Putnam and Independence Party candidate Cory Pylkka in November for the newly formed Minnesota House seat. Both Putnam and Pylkka were unopposed in the primary.

+ The chairwoman of the Moose Lake School Board faced drunken driving charges for the third time in six years and the fourth since 1992. Kristine Marie Lyons, 59, was arrested Aug. 15 and charged with two counts of gross misdemeanor second-degree driving while impaired. Lyons was taken to the Carlton County Jail, where a blood test put her blood-alcohol content at .18, the complaint said. She was charged with second-degree driving while impaired.

+ The Minnesota Legislature overwhelmingly approved spending $180 million so flood-stricken communities could pick up the pace of recovery and make repairs they would not be able to accomplish on their own. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill shortly after the House passed the bill 125-3 and Senate 60-7 in a special legislative session lasting less than two hours, making it one of the shortest sessions in memory.

+ Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College celebrated 25 years of providing college education with the opening of fall semester and held an open house to recognize the milestone.


+ Rachel Defoe, accused of aiding and abetting the murder of a Cromwell couple in 2011, testified in Carlton County Court that she didn't know anyone was going to be hurt, she didn't hear the gunshots and her boyfriend didn't immediately tell her that he cold-bloodedly shot the Cromwell couple to death, but she admitted she was involved. The 26-year-old Cloquet woman and boyfriend Joshua Martineau went into hiding for nearly two months after the Jan. 9, 2011, slayings of Thomas Holm and his girlfriend, Kim Schmitz, before she and Martineau were arrested in Hennepin County. Defoe had been set to go to trial Oct. 1 for aiding and abetting first-degree murder but made the trial unnecessary by accepting responsibility for being involved in the crimes and pleading guilty to a lesser charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Under terms of a plea agreement worked out between Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler and defense attorney Joanna Wiegert, Defoe will serve a prison sentence of between 21 and 23 years. She will be released after serving two-thirds of that time if she follows prison rules.


+ Vanessa Rae Brigan was charged in Carlton County Court with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide when two Carlton County Highway Department workers died in a traffic accident near Wright after being forced by her vehicle into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Brigan and a passenger were on their way back from a regular visit to a methadone clinic in Brainerd, Minn., at the time. Law enforcement officers investigating the scene found a syringe, a used needle with a small amount of liquid - believed to be methadone - in Brigan's car and found a bottle of methadone prescribed to Brigan that day and another syringe in a ditch about 10 feet from Brigan's car, the complaint said. The items were taken as evidence and sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis.

The two county workers killed were Zachary M. Gamache, 25, of Esko and Mitchell D. Lingren, 29, of Duluth. According to Wayne Olson, director of the Carlton County Transportation Department, they were on their way to Wright to lay out the directional lines for a scheduled culvert replacement there.

+ The body of a missing Floodwood woman was discovered at a residence on Cloquet's Reservation Road. Cristyna Watson, 25, was last seen at her home in Floodwood Sept. 8, and the last time a family member spoke to Watson was Sept. 12. The cause of death, according to Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande, was "homicidal violence." Michael William Siewert, 22, of Duluth was arrested and later charged with intentional second-degree murder in the case. Joseph Allen Yellow Jr., 17, of Duluth was also charged, but those charges were later dropped for lack of evidence. Alyssa Rae Peterson, 24, and Clifford James Thompson, 56, both of Cloquet, were charged with aiding an offender-accomplice after the fact.

News of the murder and other gang-related crimes sparked a grassroots "Take Back Our Rez" and "Take Back Our Community" campaign on Facebook, which so far has resulted in two different marches - one down Big Lake Road on the Fond du Lac Reservation and the other on Cloquet Avenue in downtown Cloquet - as well as a community meeting at the Tribal Center. For a time, area law enforcement agencies also increased patrols.

+ Cody Logan Fohrenkam, 20, of Cloquet was charged with first-degree arson, third-degree criminal damage to property and obstructing the legal process in relation to a house fire he allegedly set in Cloquet while the occupants were at home. When police arrived, the residents told officers that two individuals had been at the home and started the fire on the back porch area before running away on foot through a neighboring yard. Reports state that one of the occupants of the home was asked if she knew the two who committed the crime, and she said she did not know them but speculated it could have been a gang-related incident.


+ Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake announced it had been selected to receive $38 million in loans from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development for a major building and renovation project that will create a 116,400-square-foot facility. Mercy's Board of Directors voted to accept the loan and proceed with the project, and it will now move into the final design phase, with construction expected to start in May or June 2013.

+ In the 2012 General Election, Esko voters said yes to two different school district questions, approving both a $2.7 million athletic field referendum and a $341,000 operating referendum to help cover the basic, day-to-day operating expenses of the Esko School District. In Barnum voters approved a $1 per pupil referendum for the next five years, and in Wrenshall voters said "yes" to renewing a five-year operating referendum in the amount of $629 per pupil, but a second levy question asking local voters to approve an additional $100 per student failed by 61 votes. Voters in Cloquet and Moose Lake passed half-cent local option sales tax referendums.

In local races, DFL candidate Mike Sundin won the newly formed State Representative District 11A seat handily over Republican Jim Putnam and the Independence Party's Cory Pylkka. In Cloquet, Lara Wilkinson became the new at-large councilor, while Steve Langley won in Ward 5. Cloquet voters returned the three incumbent school board members on the ballot. In a surprise upset, longtime Carlton County Commissioner Ted Pihlman was unseated in District 5 by challenger Gary Peterson.

+ After some 400 community members toured the newly renovated Community Memorial Hospital in a public open house, patients and staff moved into the new wing at CMH. The $27.5 million Phase 2 project added 80,000 square feet to the hospital, increasing the previous campus size of 151,000 square feet by more than 50 percent.

+ June's flooding in Carlton County elicited a hefty price tag. In a report to the Carlton County Board, Zoning and Environmental Services Director Heather Cunningham told commissioners the cost of the flood debris removal reached a total of $540,196.15. Approximately 12,500 cubic yards of demolition and solid waste were removed and disposed of (not including appliances, electronics or household hazardous waste). Cunningham said the county received the first payment of $526,691.25 in reimbursement from the state and federal governments and she expects that the remaining portion will also be reimbursed.


+ A group of friends and coworkers of Cloquet native Mitchell Lingren and Esko resident Zachary Gamache, who died after the county vehicle they were driving on the way to a job site was struck by a vehicle driven by a young woman returning from a methadone clinic in Brainerd, Minn., announced they were spearheading a fund-raising effort on behalf of the men's families. Among other things, the group is organizing a fundraiser benefit set for Jan. 11 at Clyde Ironworks Restaurant, 2920 W. Michigan St., Duluth, with doors opening at 3 p.m. There will be a silent auction, raffle drawings, snacks, a cash bar, and a DJ. There will also be live entertainment by "Virgil Caine," "Don't Panic," "Ruff Rider," "Rockabilly Review" and more, beginning at 5 p.m. Limited dinner options are also available.

+ Firefighters from seven area departments battled a Christmas Eve blaze in subzero temperatures that caused extensive damages to the Royal Pines Motel just east of Black Bear Casino Resort on Highway 210. The eight people who were either living or staying at the Royal Pines were relocated to the Golden Gate Motel. The following night, a home in Brevator Township was also damaged by fire. No one was injured in either of the incidents, and the cause of both remained under investigation.

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