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North Dakota

Defense pay cuts could affect 2,000-plus in N.D., Minn.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A proposed furlough of Defense Department employees could mean a 20 percent cut in pay for thousands of employees of Grand Forks Air Force Base and the North Dakota and Minnesota National Guards.

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The cuts would fall on roughly 300 civilian employees at the base, a base spokesman said Wednesday.

In the North Dakota Guard, 680 full-time employees paid by the federal government would be affected; in the Minnesota Guard, it's 1,169 employees, according to representatives for the Guards.

Officials from Minot Air Force Base did not immediately respond to an inquiry Wednesday.

As part of the mandatory federal budget cuts known as the sequester, the Defense Department proposes to put civilian employees on a one-day-a-week unpaid furlough, cutting out two days from each pay period, starting April 21 through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

"We're like a lot of others, we're waiting for guidance from the Department of Defense," said Capt. Dan Murphy, spokesman for the North Dakota Guard. "The decision to furlough employees has not been made yet."

(GFH)

Crystal Sugar contests worker benefits ruling

FARGO -- Attorneys for American Crystal Sugar Co. are asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling granting locked-out workers unemployment benefits.

A petition for rehearing was filed with the Supreme Court this week by an American Crystal attorney.

Union workers for the Moorhead, Minn.-based sugar processor have been out of work since being locked out Aug. 1, 2011, over a contract dispute.

Job Service North Dakota, which manages the unemployment program, had ruled that a state law barring collection of benefits in cases of work stoppages applied to lockouts. The Feb. 26 ruling by the Supreme Court overruled that interpretation and could bring up to $4 million in back benefits to union workers for Crystal Sugar.

Fargo attorney Dan Phillips, who represented the locked-out workers, said petitions to ask the court to change its mind and rehear the case are unusual.

"I'd expect a quick decision from the Supreme Court," Phillips said.

Meanwhile, state senators on Wednesday added a provision to a Job Service bill that would change state law to explicitly deny unemployment to workers out of a job due to a lockout.

The bill would not affect benefits for the Crystal workers, but would affect future cases.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.

(FF)

Northrop Grumman commits to drone tech park

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Northrop Grumman has committed to being the anchor tenant of a proposed unmanned aircraft systems technology park at Grand Forks Air Force Base, according to Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

They said Wednesday that the defense contractor, which makes the Global Hawk drones stationed at the base, has pledged to work with local and regional leaders seeking to lease unused base land.

An anchor tenant is needed for the lease agreement.

Hoeven said he expects a lease with the Air Force to be signed this year and construction to begin in spring 2014.

Northrop Grumman now employs about 40 in Grand Forks.

The area Base Realignment Impact Committee, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, the UND Aerospace Foundation and the Northland Aerospace Foundation in Thief River Falls, Minn., are the parties working on the lease agreement with the Air Force.

Local and state leaders are also pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to make North Dakota one of six national test sites for integrating drones with manned aircraft in the national airspace.

(GFH)

Minnesota

Missing woman located in Oklahoma

HASTINGS, Minn. -- A Hastings woman missing since mid-December was located safe and sound in Oklahoma on Saturday.

Nikole Sherry, 24, was found by officers in Marlow, Okla.

Sherry had gone missing after leaving Regions Hospital in St. Paul on Dec. 18, 2012. She had snuck out of the facility against doctor's wishes and had vanished.

Between then and now, Sherry had apparently been "traveling" and "drifting," Hastings Chief of Police Paul Schnell said.

"She told officers she just needed a break," he said.

When officers in Oklahoma made contact with Sherry and put her into the computer system there, she popped up as a missing person.

Sherry had been in Oklahoma for about a month, staying with a man who said he didn't know she was a missing person.

Arrangements are being made by family members for her to be brought back to Minnesota.

(HSG)

Poll shows copper mining support slipping

DULUTH -- Opponents of copper mining in Minnesota might be winning over more state residents, according to a new poll that shows more people oppose the new kind of mining here than support it.

The poll, paid for by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and released Wednesday, found that 48 percent of state residents polled opposed copper mining while 39 percent favored the projects.

It's the first time in five years the poll has been taken that more people opposed than supported copper mining. The coalition of 75 environmental groups conducts the survey annually to gauge public opinion on several key conservation issues.

The results show support for mining slipping from a high of 66 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2010, 52 percent in 2012 and 39 percent this year.

Statewide, opposition increased from 19 percent in 2009 to 48 percent this year.

The telephone poll was conducted Jan. 6-8 by the team of California-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates along with Alexandria, Va.-based Public Opinion Strategies. Of those people polled, 251 respondents answered the mining question. The margin of sampling error is 6.2 percent.

(DNT)

Event to mark Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

MAHNOMEN, Minn. -- An event here will mark National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day next week.

The third annual Celebration of Life: National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Event -- Mahnomen will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Shooting Star Casino & Event Center, 777 South Casino Road.

A dinner and presentation on "Women, HIV and STIs" will be available. The event is sponsored by White Earth Tribal Health. Registration is required by calling Kim Turner with tribal health education at (218) 983-3286.

The goal of National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is to raise awareness about the impact that HIV/AIDS has on American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, and to honor those who are infected or affected or who have died due to the disease, according to a Minnesota Department of Health news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Indian communities have the fourth-highest rate of new HIV infections in the U.S. The Minnesota Department of Health says 221 cases of HIV infection have been reported among Indians in Minnesota since the beginning of the epidemic and 96 of them have died. As of 2011, there were 121 Indians living with HIV in Minnesota.

(BP)

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