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REGIONAL BRIEFS: Zebra mussels found in Itasca County lakes

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North Dakota

Downtown Williston project approved

WILLISTON, N.D. -- City commissioners here voted 4-1 Thursday to sell a city parking lot to a Chicago developer who plans a $16 million retail, residential and office complex.

Supporters of the six-story Renaissance on Main project say the private investment will revitalize downtown Williston, while opponents say the loss of parking could hurt existing businesses.

The city will sell the lot to Nancy Kapp, president and CEO of The Renaissance Companies, for $300,000. The agreement prevents Kapp from flipping the property.

Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk opposed the contract. Commissioner Howard Klug said although he voted to support the contract, he previously voted no to selling the lot and maintains that a parking study should have been completed prior to the sale.

Mayor Ward Koeser said he worries that if city leaders wait, private investors may no longer be interested in preserving downtown.


Nokia lays off about 50 people at Fargo plant

FARGO -- About 50 of the 300 employees at the Nokia plant here will be laid off, a spokesman for the communications giant confirmed Thursday.

The plant is the base for the advanced production unit of Nokia's Location and Commerce Division, branded as "Here." The division creates maps and detailed three-dimensional renderings that are used by consumers online, on smartphones and in automobile navigation devices.

"This is a streamlining of our operations related to the specific site," said Nokia's senior communications manager, Oskar Södergren.

"The expertise and the skills that the team is providing is still a critical part of our map-building process," he said, but "current and future business needs" require that "we need to scale down."

Laid-off workers will get two months pay, though efforts will be made to place them in other jobs in Nokia, Södergren said. Nokia also put together a severance package including one week of pay for every six months worked, career counseling and a grant program for employees who want to start businesses, he said.

The Nokia plant in Fargo got its start as part of California-based Navteq, which opened an office here in the mid-1990s. Nokia, based in Finland, purchased Navteq for more than $8 billion in 2007.


Former educator pleads guilty to luring

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A former educator in Grand Forks and Edmore has entered a plea agreement for charges that he lured minors over the Internet.

Under the terms of the agreement, filed Wednesday in state District Court in Grand Forks, Jeremy Patrick Thompson, 28, is pleading guilty to five out of 11 charges of luring in 2012 and 2013.

The agreement recommends Thompson be sentenced to a total of 21 years in prison, with 10 years suspended and to be served on supervised probation, for luring minors by computer and contributing to the deprivation of a minor. He would also serve one year on unsupervised probation.

Sentencing is set for Sept. 4.

Thompson was charged in January with luring a 12-year-old girl from his former school with sexual photos and messages, some of which were first discovered by the mother on the girl's Facebook account.

He was later charged with five felonies and four misdemeanors for similar crimes involving eight other girls over a period of about a year. Thompson had allegedly created Facebook accounts using fake names and posed as middle and high school students, exchanging inappropriate photos and messages with the victims, ages 13 to 17, investigators said.

Thompson, a former para-educator and coach in the Grand Forks district, was fired in January after his arrest.


N.D. awarded for permanent economic development

DICKINSON, N.D. -- For the first time ever, North Dakota is being recognized by Area Development Magazine for its permanent economic growth.

North Dakota was one of 15 states honored this week with the Silver Shovel Award given by the site selection and facility planning quarterly. Four other states -- Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Kansas -- received Golden Shovel awards for being the top in their population category.

Each state had to pick 10 projects that represented permanent economic growth for the state, Editor Geraldine Gambale said from her Long Island, N.Y., office.

"We don't include retail, commercial or construction type jobs -- things of that nature that would be temporary," Gambale said. "It's based on high-valuated jobs."

The North Dakota Department of Commerce prepared the state's entry. Among the 10 projects the agency submitted are the ONEOK pipeline in McKenzie County, the Minn-Dak beet processing plant in Wahpeton and the Ultra Green Packaging factory in Devils Lake.


Counselor's error leads to ACT do-over

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The Langdon school district is paying for junior high school students to retake tests after their ACT scores were recently found to be invalid, according to school officials.

In a recent letter sent to parents, school counselor LeeAnn Knudson said she failed to notify ACT of a lunch break the day of testing, and that jeopardized the validity of the scores, which are used for college entrance and scholarship requirements.

Senior students were not affected by the decision because they follow a different testing date, said Principal Daryl Timian.

Students may be able to retake the test June 8, the next available testing date, and still be eligible for scholarships, he said.

Knudson made "an honest mistake" by providing the unscheduled lunch break but violated the strict guidelines ACT follows, he said.

Some of the 33 students affected by the testing error will take a different test in lieu of the ACT that qualifies them for some college-level classes. Knudson has also been working with ACT to allow students to retest in September or December.



Man accused of ramming vehicle faces 7 felony charges

VIRGINIA, Minn. -- A Virginia man who allegedly rammed a vehicle carrying a family with his Chevrolet Suburban was charged Thursday with seven felonies and one gross misdemeanor.

James Michael Richards, 30, was charged in State District Court in Virginia with four counts of assault in the second degree, two counts of terroristic threats and one count of criminal damage to property in the first degree -- all felonies -- and a gross misdemeanor count of driving while impaired in the third degree.

According to the criminal complaint, Jeff and Sheila Henry, with grandchildren in their vehicle, were driving Tuesday evening when a Suburban came up behind them and hit their vehicle twice. At an intersection, the Suburban pulled alongside and Richards got out, hitting the passenger side of the Henrys' vehicle and swearing, the complaint said.

When Richards drove off, Jeff Henry called 911 and Sheila Henry drove after him in an attempt to read his license plate, the complaint said. Richards is accused of later putting the Suburban in reverse and backing a half-block to ram the Henry vehicle. The Henrys followed Richard until he parked on the grass in front of a house, and then walked back to their vehicle to say he was going to go in the house to get a gun to shoot them, the complaint said.

Police arrested Richard in front of the home, and a breath test indicated a blood-alcohol content of 0.12. The threshold for drunken driving in Minnesota is 0.08.


National Guard technicians to take furloughs

DULUTH -- More than 1,100 Minnesota National Guard technicians will be furloughed this summer.

Technicians will be required to take one day off unpaid each week for 11 weeks, from July 15 through the end of September. For affected employees it amounts to a 20 percent pay cut during those 2½ months.

The furloughs are due to the Department of Defense-directed automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration. The National Guard began notifying the technicians of the furloughs this week.

Statewide, about 2,100 full-time military personnel support the activities of the Minnesota National Guard, and 1,118 are technicians subject to furlough.

"While the Minnesota National Guard is required by law to follow this Department of Defense furlough policy, it is important that the people of Minnesota know that our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen remain ready to respond in the event of a state or federal emergency," Lt. Col. Jon Lovald said in a statement.


Zebra mussels found in Itasca County lakes

DULUTH -- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Thursday confirmed that zebra mussels have been found in Sand Lake in Itasca County.

DNR aquatic invasive species experts confirmed the finding of a citizen who discovered adult zebra mussels attached to a dock removed from Sand Lake last fall and inspected this spring before it was put back in the lake.

The DNR then checked connected waters and found more zebra mussels in Little Sand Lake.

Sand Lake and Little Sand Lake, in northern Itasca County, are part of the Bowstring chain of lakes that eventually flow into the Bigfork River, which flows into the Rainy River and on into Lake of the Woods.

Additional searches of connected waters including Birds Eye, Portage and Rice lakes are underway to determine the scope of the infestation.

Because the Sand Lakes now have been designated as infested by the DNR, bait harvest and transport of water for any purpose is prohibited.

Anglers, boaters and other recreationists are reminded to remove all aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited invasive species, drain water from all water equipment including portable bait containers, and drain bilges and livewells by removing the drain plug before leaving the boat landing.


South Dakota

Rain brightens hay outlook

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Area producers expect to start cutting hay next week, and an expert says the first cutting could produce as much as all of last year's cuttings.

Recent rains have resulted in 17 percent of South Dakota emerging from drought conditions, according to a new U.S. Drought Monitor Map released Thursday. Jim Krantz, a cow/calf specialist with South Dakota State University Extension in Mitchell, said that's good news for the hay crop. He speculated the first cutting could surpass all the cuttings during last summer's drought.

"We're coming out of a grazing season a year ago that had pastures and hay land in dire straits," he said, "but now they're talking about cutting a hay crop next week already. That's going to be pretty good."

In 2011, South Dakota produced 8.625 million tons of hay, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In drought-stricken 2012, the state's production dropped to 4.09 million tons.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor Map, about 83 percent of the state is classified as abnormally dry, including 60 percent in moderate drought and 21 percent in severe drought. The worst areas are mostly west of the Missouri River and in a sliver along the southeast portion of the state.