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REGIONAL BRIEFS: New bridge project on schedule

From the Forum News Service


New bridge project on schedule

HASTINGS, Minn. -- Just two months from now, one lane of traffic in each direction will be running on the new U.S. Highway 61 bridge over the Mississippi River in Hastings.

Steve Kordosky, the project manager from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said this week that the bridge is right on schedule.

He expects the shift to occur in late May or right around the first of June.

Once traffic is routed onto the new bridge, work will begin immediately to demolish and remove the portion of the current bridge that is in downtown Hastings. That piece needs to be removed so that crews can finish the final two lanes of the new bridge.

Demolition of that piece of the current bridge is expected to last about a week. Work would then begin to finish the new bridge.

All four lanes of the new bridge, two in each direction, would open to traffic on or before Dec. 13. The contractor has a financial incentive to finish up to 30 days prior to that deadline.

Kordosky expects to see evening and weekend work on the bridge this summer.

"It will require long hours and weekend shifts this summer," he said. "They have a lot of work to do to get that ... approach done."


Fire chief's house catches fire

GLYNDON, Minn. -- When someone's house catches on fire, it's important to get the fire chief on the phone right away. It's especially important when the house happens to be owned by the fire chief.

That's what happened to Glyndon Fire Chief Bob Cuchna, who was at work at the Fargo fire department about 9:30 a.m. Thursday when he heard about the fire at his house in rural Clay County. Cuchna is both a captain for the full-time Fargo Fire Department and chief of Glyndon's volunteer unit.

The fire was reported by Cuchna's wife. Cuchna said the cause of the fire appeared to be the water heater, which one of his children reported having stopped working while taking a shower. He said the electrical breaker was discovered to have been off, and it appeared that there might have been a short in the electrical circuit.

Cuchna said the damage would have been far greater had it not been for the smoke alarms installed in the basement and throughout the home.

"They're your first line of defense, and even then it (a fire) moves fast through your home," he said.

The house will be uninhabitable for some time.


Agency says less oil spilled in derailment

PARKERS PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota officials have reduced their estimate of how much Canadian crude oil spilled Wednesday when a train derailed in Otter Tail County, Minn. And the track was cleaned off, fixed and back in use by about noon Thursday.

The latest estimate from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is that less than 15,000 gallons spilled. On Wednesday, the agency estimated 20,000 gallons to 30,000 gallons. There was no environmental damage, MPCA and Canadian Pacific Railway officials said, largely because the ground was frozen, helping to keep the oil from getting into groundwater or surface water.

CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said 14 cars derailed just before 7 a.m. Wednesday from a southbound train of 94 cars and two engines. It happened at a rural crossing near Parkers Prairie, about 40 miles south of Detroit Lakes.

Only about 1,000 gallons had been recovered from the frozen ground by midday Thursday, with the rest congealing into a tar-like consistency, MPCA officials said.

Greenberg said he didn't know how fast the train was moving or what caused the derailment.


North Dakota

Student who falsely reported rape gets time served

FARGO -- A student at North Dakota State University who arranged for a man to pretend to rape and kidnap her to satisfy her "rape fantasy" -- then told police she was actually sexually assaulted -- pleaded guilty Thursday to filing a false police report.

Mary Kate Gullickson, 20, pleaded guilty in her first appearance in Cass County District Court since being arrested by campus police Tuesday.

Prosecutors asked for Gullickson to be sentenced to time served for the Class A misdemeanor, with a year of supervised probation, during which she was set to receive a psychiatric evaluation and to follow through with the treatment recommended for her.

Judge Douglas Herman approved the recommendation. She will also have to pay restitution, covering the cost of investigating the bogus rape claim.

The junior majoring in psychology reported to police that she had been abducted by a man in a ski mask from a campus parking lot Sunday night, then raped elsewhere and taken back to the parking lot. Those claims closely matched a Craigslist ad posted by a person investigators determined was Gullickson.


Report calls North Dakota the freest state

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- New Hampshire's motto may be "Live free or die," but North Dakota is better at letting people follow the first part of the credo, a new study claims.

According to a report issued each year by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., North Dakota is the freest of the 50 states, based on dozens of variables of personal, economic and regulatory factors.

"North Dakota, according to the freedom index, is the freest state in the United States," according to the state's summary in the report. "It scores exceptionally well on regulatory and fiscal policy. Moreover, North Dakota scores slightly above average on personal freedom."

The state also ranked as the most improved on the index.

South Dakota was right behind its neighbor with a second-place rank, also showing strength in economic freedom.

Minnesota came closer to the unfree end of the spectrum at 34th place among the states. The report put its regulatory variables in the middle of the states, praised its court system but gave poor marks to its health and labor market freedoms.

Despite putting North Dakota first, the report recommended the state shrink its size of government, cut spending on parks and recreation, and end licensing requirements for massage therapists, makeup artists and bill collectors to broaden freedoms.


South Dakota

Attempt to disown marijuana fails to move high court

ALEXANDRIA, S.D. -- An Alexandria man who claimed the marijuana growing in his yard was "nothing more than a patch of weeds and grasses" has lost an appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Kenneth Hauge, 61, appealed to the Supreme Court after a jury convicted him last May of possession of 1 to 10 pounds of marijuana.

The charge stems from an incident in June 2011, when Hanson County Sheriff Randy Bartlett -- acting on a tip from a Drug Enforcement Administration agent -- found marijuana plants growing in a flower bed in the yard of Hauge's home, the Supreme Court's decision says.

Hauge's explanation of how the marijuana came to be in his yard changed several times during the investigation, according to the decision.

Hauge eventually gave the officers permission to search the area and remove the marijuana plants, the decision says. Bartlett testified that more than 200 plants were pulled before they "quit counting."

Once convicted of the charge, Hauge was sentenced to 10 years in prison with six years suspended. A habitual offender charge was dropped.

The Supreme Court rejected Hauge's arguments and affirmed his conviction.