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Year In Review: Pandemic continued its impact in 2021

 

January 7, 2022



After a rough, Covid-19- pandemic-ridden 2020, the year 2021 was destined to be better, right? Well, the jury hasn’t reached a decision yet. There were highs and lows, as the pandemic continued to alter life as we knew it before 2020. There’s a vaccine, which has helped ease the naked fear of contracting the virus. There has been mostly in-person learning this school year and many of the events around schools are back to normal. Cities held modified annual celebrations. But Covid spikes continue, with infections breaking records even now, so 2022 could be another muddle of ups and downs as well.

The Pine Knot News had you covered in 2021. The following is the first of two parts compiling recaps of some of what made news in the last year. Look for the rest next week.

January

Lacey Mandoli and Zackary Morrison welcomed baby Kinzley Susan-Lynn Morrison into the world at 11:58 a.m. Friday, Jan. 1, making Kinzley the first baby born in 2021 at Cloquet’s Community Memorial Hospital and in Carlton County.

• • •

Law enforcement officials named the victim of last week’s shooting — Joseph James Peterson, age 16 — last week after charges of second-degree manslaughter were filed against Joseph James Fohrenkam, 18.

Fohrenkam had left the area with his mother, Littlefawn Fohrenkam, after the shooting.

The Fohrenkams were later located and arrested at an apartment complex on the White Earth Reservation in Mahnomen County. Fohrenkam pleaded guilty in November and prosecutors dropped a third-degree murder charge in exchange. He will be sentenced in February. His mother pleaded guilty; her sentence was stayed for three years of probation in October.

• • •

Cloquet’s newest city councilor, Elizabeth “Lyz” Jaakola, was sworn in in a most unusual format, with city administrator Tim Peterson asking councilors and anyone watching the virtual meeting “to imagine” a more conventional ceremony. In reality, Jaakola was not visible as she held her hand up and repeated the oath of office as “caller 02” on the GoToMeeting screen.

Jaakola garnered the most votes for the Ward 5 council seat in November’s election, beating fellow challenger Dennis Painter after incumbent Steve Langley didn’t run again.

Jaakola’s arrival brings the total number of women on the council to three out of six, with mayor Roger Maki as the seventh vote on the council. The Fond du Lac Band member is also the second Native American councilor, along with Sheila Lamb.

• • •

Expect to see children in a school near you very soon. School districts across Carlton County will have students back to in-person or hybrid learning as soon as next week, thanks to a change in state guidelines for Covid-19 precautions.

While the previous guidelines required districts to rely on county-level data on the level of virus transmission in their communities, the latest plan allows schools to bring students back as soon as Jan. 18.

• • •

Three Esko Girl Scouts are hoping to make the world a safer place for pedestrians, starting in their own backyard.

Annika Halvorson, Claire Fontaine and Carli Bloom, along with Troop 4079 leaders Sybil Halvorson and Joe Fontaine, reached out to the Thomson Township Board of Supervisors in a letter last week, asking for the board’s support to make two particular crosswalks safer. Esko and Thomson Township as a whole are active places, the scouts said, “with people of all ages out walking, running and riding bikes many months of the year, not to mention children that walk home from school.”

• • •

Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet is now the owner of a rapid-testing device which can produce Covid-19 results in approximately an hour.

Once a sample is gathered from a patient using a nasopharyngeal swab, the BioFire diagnostic tool identifies and replicates genetic material to produce a positive or negative Covid result. This instrument can also be used to test for 20 other respiratory diseases, including influenza and strep. The purchase of this equipment was made possible with funds from Carlton County.

• • •

Restaurant owners breathed a sigh of relief Jan. 11, when they were allowed to reopen to indoor dining for the first time since Nov. 20.

• • •

For at least the fifth time since the district was formed by legislative action in 2009, the fire district is making a request of the state legislature. This time it’s for a new building, as it has outgrown its current home.

• • •

A Barnum girls basketball coach is in the Carlton County jail, facing charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct after being arrested on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Andrew John Palmer, 33, of Moose Lake was charged with three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in Carlton County Sixth District Court. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail in December.

• • •

With assistance from several law enforcement agencies, Cloquet police department detectives seized 2.2 pounds of cocaine with a street value of nearly $30,000 last week. Misty Anne Baum, 40, of Duluth, was charged with first-degree possession of drugs and fifth-degree drug possession and introducing contraband into jail.

The Drug Enforcement Agency contacted Cloquet detectives on Jan. 12, after local agents located a package containing nearly 1 kilogram of cocaine addressed to a residence in Cloquet.

• • •

Lakeshore Tobacco Vapor was fined $200 and its retail tobacco license suspended for 10 days, after the local smoke shop sold a tobacco product to a minor — who had been engaged by police for its twice-a-year compliance checks — for the second time in two years.

• • •

As of Jan. 13, Carlton County had seen a cumulative total of 2,809 Covid-19 cases and 43 deaths, according to the most recent numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health. Also Wednesday, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reported a total of 195 positive tests so far — an increase of six since last week — with 92 of those on the reservation, also an increase of one.

January’s statewide data continues to show an encouraging path, with key metrics improving or at least holding relatively steady.

• • •

Earlier this month, a handful of residents spotted the large antlered animal not far from Armory Road in Cloquet and shared their stories on Facebook. On Friday, the moose posed for a few photos on a trail cam south of Pine Valley. The owner of the trail cam shared the photos — and at least one past moose story — with the Pine Knot News, but declined to be identified because she doesn’t want people to come looking for “Mister Moose.”

Cloquet Department of Natural Resources supervisor Chris Balzer is also encouraging people to avoid the moose, although they can certainly enjoy a lucky sighting.

• • •

It’s not quite business as usual at the Black Bear Casino Resort, but general manager Dan LaPrairie said staff are working hard to stay open and keep people healthy during the pandemic.

So far, so good, LaPrairie said.

“We are doing a balancing act here, compared to what we normally do,” LaPrairie told the Pine Knot News last week. “We normally have 2,000-seat concerts, and we do drawings and we try to fill this place with 6,000 people. So it’s been a balancing act with what we do as far as attracting a crowd, but also being able to do things safely.”

• • •

After winning 15 state awards after its first full year of operation, the Pine Knot News doubled its haul last week, collecting 33 awards from the Minnesota Newspaper Association through its annual contest judging newspapers for overall quality.

The unprecedented number of awards means the Pine Knot office now holds the Mills Trophy from MNA as the “Minnesota’s most outstanding weekly newspaper” for the next year, at least.

February

Local law enforcement and firefighters are keeping busy as protesters continue to disrupt and potentially delay construction of the Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline through the Fond du Lac reservation and Carlton County.

• • •

Thomson Township resident John Luomala was exceedingly happy to get his Covid-19 vaccination shot from Essentia Healthcare in Duluth last week.

From the first recorded call — when he waited 45 minutes, but just left the phone on speaker — to get an appointment to his arrival at the Essentia auditorium to check in, then getting his actual shot, Luomala said it was smooth sailing. According to data updated by the state on Wednesday, Feb. 3, a total of 4,747 people in Carlton County have received at least one vaccine dose — out of nearly 36,000 residents.

• • •

Barry and Vivian Bergquist sold the 73-year-old Bergquist Imports business in Cloquet to Scott Camps, who said he intends to continue with business as usual. Barry and Vivian intend to relax and travel more. They left for Florida the day after they signed over the business and returned to Cloquet in time for the lilac blooms.

• • •

Covid-19 forced Cloquet’s Billie Thompson into the Beargrease 40 race this year. The neurotrauma nurse had planned to return to racing the mid-distance Beargrease 120, but she got Covid in December and is still not fully recovered.

Thompson and her dogs completed the 40-mile race in 3 hours, 46 minutes and six seconds, good enough for third place in a field of 18 mushers.

The on-again, off-again talks between the Carlton and Wrenshall school districts regarding consolidation are officially off again. Superintendents and school board members agreed last week that it was time for a “pause.”

The pause marks an end to a flurry of consolidation maneuvers in the past two years that saw the school boards agreeing on a two-site plan that would utilize the South Terrace elementary school in Carlton for lower grades and the school in Wrenshall for a high school.

• • •

When Florian Chmielewski carries his accordion into the VFW in Cloquet, he can’t help but smile.

“I told someone that I have been doing that for 76 years, bringing my accordion into a place and setting the case down,” he said. “I have to do it. I am there to make people happy. I bring joy to their lives.”

Chmielewski celebrated his 94th birthday Feb. 10 by playing at the VFW’s senior dance. He’ll celebrate his 95th next month.

• • •

Martha Westlund, age 105, was 3 years old when the last pandemic hit the world. But she doesn’t remember much about the 1918 influenza pandemic, because no one got sick on their isolated farm in the Twig area.

She is very much aware of Covid-19, however, and was thrilled to get her first vaccination at Community Memorial Hospital Feb. 4. Westlund died, of natural causes, on March 6.

• • •

A former Carlton teacher and girls basketball coach was sentenced Friday to 33 months in Minnesota state prison for criminal sexual conduct charges stemming from a sexual relationship with a student athlete nearly 20 years ago. Robert Kent Pioro, 62, pleaded guilty and was sentenced for four counts of felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct for engaging in sexual penetration with a person who was 16 years old when he was in a position of authority over the victim. Judge Robert Macaulay sentenced Pioro to 33 months incarceration with the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

• • •

As the vaccination process for Covid-19 ramps up in Minnesota, getting a vaccine has almost become a sport for some — as they bounce between various drugstore chain websites, local health care clinics and hospitals and a state waiting list that closes and opens as supplies ebb and flow. If you’re registered on three different lists and end up getting vaccinated earlier somewhere else, that’s OK, says Community Memorial Hospital CEO Rick Breuer. Just make sure you share that information with CMH staff when they call.

Carlton County residents are doing pretty well with vaccinations compared to other counties in the region, according to Dave Lee, the county’s public health and human services director. Last week Lee said 16 percent of the Carlton County population is now covered with the first shot.

• • •

A total of 40 residences near Ditchbank Road were evacuated Friday because of fears that one or more explosive devices had been placed in the Line 3 pipeline currently under construction in Carlton County. Carlton County sheriff Kelly Lake said a couple different “electronic type” devices in the pipe were beeping, 30 to 40 feet from the open end.

• • •

Across the county, all public elementary schools are back to full in-person learning for anyone who wants it. The situation at secondary grade levels is not as universal, but most are either in hybrid or full in-person learning.

• • •

The Carlton school board this month voted to accept another one-year contract for superintendent John Engstrom. The contract for a salary of $108,784 runs from July 1 to the end of June 2022. Engstrom is currently on a one-year contract agreed to last year after Gwen Carman resigned to take a superintendent job in southern Minnesota.

• • •

Cloquet police officers were called to a Cloquet apartment complex early Feb. 19 and ended up disarming a man who appeared to be under the influence of drugs and told police he had fired his handgun nine times.

• • •

The former Avenue C restaurant space in West End Cloquet could soon be home to a tobacco and vape store, albeit not a new business. Rather, Lakeshore Tobacco Vapor owner Aysar Sadi said he needs to move his store from its current location at 902 Cloquet Avenue to the large First National Bank building at 207 Avenue C because his current landlord is selling and gave him notice to move by the end of April.

March

By the narrowest of margins — one point exactly — the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys ski team is headed to the state meet next week, after taking second place in the Section 7 ski meet March 3.

• • •

The state will hit its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of Minnesotans age 65 and older weeks ahead of schedule, and is rolling out Covid-19 vaccines to a wider array of people.

Gov. Tim Walz announced the expanded guidelines in a statement March 9, hours after health officials posted data indicating that 66 percent of older Minnesotans had already been vaccinated, and the 70-percent benchmark was near.

• • •

Cloquet High School students will return to full in-person learning effective March 16. That is happening despite the objections of the teachers union, which requested the district delay the return until April 6, the start of the fourth quarter, to more safely address the risks of Covid-19.

• • •

As local rivalries go, perhaps none is bigger than the Carlton vs. Wrenshall boys basketball game featuring the traveling trophy known as the Brown Jug. This year’s version of the game was held March 5, in Carlton with the host Bulldogs claiming bragging rights this season by taking a 63-45 win over the Wrens.

• • •

The Pine Knot had a special issue commemorating the one-year anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Coverage started on these pages on March 13, 2020, with a story about a new term, “social distancing,” and how it was being employed locally and worldwide to stem the spread of a deadly virus, now known as Covid-19. For more than 50 issues, we’ve brought readers the latest in what is certainly a historic chapter in our lives. We doubt anyone is saying the past year just flew by. It was a slog, and continues to be, albeit with hope on the horizon with dropping cases and more vaccinations.

• • •

The Cloquet City Council closed its meeting Tuesday to discuss legal strategies for pending litigation, shortly after amending the city’s project labor agreement, which is targeted by the civil lawsuit. Although no legal documents were shared through the city, the Pine Knot News was able to find the lawsuit by searching federal court records.

The city’s project labor agreement, or PLA — adopted in May 2017 by then-mayor Dave Hallback and the city council — is the issue, along with other PLAs in Duluth and Two Harbors and the Western Lake Superior Sanitary Sewer District. The legal battle continues, after councilors reached a stalemate on any significant changes to the current PLA.

• • •

Political flags flying in Scanlon underneath an American flag have caused a lot of consternation in the community. At the corner of 22nd Street and Doddridge Avenue, which runs along the border between Scanlon and Cloquet, is a tall flagpole next to a home. It has three flags. At top is the American flag, second is a “Trump 2024” flag stating “F*ck your feelings,” and third is a flag that says “F*ck Biden.” The person who had recently purchased the home has since moved, ostensibly taking the flags with him.

• • •

The Minnesota Control Agency says contamination from PFAS — so-called “forever chemicals” — has been detected in groundwater at nearly 60 closed landfills, at amounts higher than the state’s acceptable levels for safe drinking water.

Fifteen of the closed, mostly unlined landfills have PFAS contamination at least 10 times higher than the state’s health-based advisory values. One — Gofer Landfill near Fairmont in Martin County — is more than 1,300 times higher.

Carlton County’s former landfill near the current transfer station south of Minnesota Highway 210 is among the leaking facilities.

April

Vaccinations went into high gear in Carlton County this week thanks to a joint vaccination clinic held by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Carlton County on Thursday, April 1.

Fond du Lac made 500 doses available for wider community use at the event, which was staffed by both health departments. The vaccinations were available to residents ages 18 and older.

• • •

In late February, Taysha Martineau walked out of the protest camp she built in a small patch of woods near her home on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation and knelt in the middle of the road. Elders from her community surrounded her, scolding, telling her to leave.

“Go,” they shouted. “We want you out of here. Don’t do this to us.” For several weeks, Martineau had been welcoming activists to the plot of land she had dubbed Camp Miigizi — which means “eagle” in the Ojibwe language — to take part in the years-long fight against the Line 3 oil pipeline, a 380-mile replacement project that Enbridge Energy began building across northern Minnesota in December.

• • •

Carlton County seniors are winning the war on Covid, one shot at a time.

As of April 6, 94 percent of Carlton County residents 65 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Among all residents over the age of 16 — who are all now eligible to be vaccinated — 56 percent have received at least one dose.

• • •

Midway through the first half of their state quarterfinal game April 6, the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels trailed by four points. That changed as Minneapolis North went on an offensive run that gave the Polars an 11-point halftime lead and eventually a 71-40 victory in the Class AA game in Osseo.

• • •

The Wrenshall school board approved a major administrative shift for the district April 14 in a special meeting. The move was precipitated by superintendent Kim Belcastro’s request to reduce her duties by nearly half, primarily giving up dual work as the school principal.

The board approved moving Belcastro to a 0.6 superintendent position and hiring a full-time principal. It will eliminate a dean position.

• • •

Despite cold (for April) temperatures and a layer of snow that covered the ground, close to 50 people turned out April 22 for an Earth Day cleanup organized by the Boldt Company, along with the city of Cloquet.

• • •

In its final meeting of April, Carlton County coordinator Dennis Genereau requested permission from the county board to study the costs, strengths and possibilities of a new jail complex being built next to the county transportation building in Twin Lakes Township. With electricity and sewer already available at the site, the new Twin Lakes waterline from Carlton will soon make the last necessary service — adequate water in terms of both quality and quantity — a reality, he said. The city of Carlton annexed the area off Minnesota Highway 210 and County Road 61 later in the year as the site choice became official.

See how the rest of the year went in next week’s issue of the Pine Knot News.

 
 

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