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Stutter steps in pandemic marathon

 

January 21, 2022



Test your short-term memory with this last installment of the 2021 year in review, covering September through December. It includes the continuing waves of Covid-19 spread and some wins in the “back to normal” department, including the return of free holiday meals in Cloquet.

September

The Thomson Township board of supervisors’ approval on Sept. 2 of a snowmobile trail alongside township roads, to be built and maintained by the Wood City Riders Snowmobile Club, got some attention from residents who felt blindsided by the decision. It would lead to more meetings with residents about the trail and the club’s plans.

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Tom Skare, a longtime attorney in Cloquet, died Sept. 4. He was 69. Skare began practicing law in Cloquet and eventually became a partner at Newby, Lindgren & Skare before starting his own firm in 2004. He retired from practicing law in 2020.

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The Minnesota governor’s office announced Sept. 8 the appointment of Amy Lukasavitz as District Court Judge in Minnesota’s Sixth Judicial District. The Iron Range native replaced Judge Robert Macaulay, who retired in August after 26 years on the bench in Carlton County.

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On Sept. 13, the Carlton County board discussed the nearly $7 million available from the federal American Rescue Plan Act for coping with the effects of the pandemic for county residents and entities.

Economic development director Mary Finnegan said half of the money allotted to the county has already come in and the

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On Sept. 25, the West End Flourish ended the summer season with — a flourish — as Avenue C, Avenue B and Vine Street were closed from noon to 6 p.m. for a celebration of the West End and the arts. Vendors lined the streets, including food trucks, and activities abounded.

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Carlton developer Dave Chmielewski, 48, died from injuries sustained in a construction accident in Lindstrom on Sept. 28. He was standing near an excavation trench at an apartment

building construction site when the trench partially collapsed.

October

With schools a month into in-person learning, the state and region saw another spike in Covid-19 cases by early October, likely brought on by the Delta variant. The rise would ease some calls for ditching mask policies in some districts, but not all. While the Covid wave leveled out by the holiday season, another variant, Omicron, would emerge and create another spike in January of 2022.

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Enbridge announced in the first week of October that it completed its Line 3 crude oil pipeline replacement project across Minnesota. The 1,097-mile-long pipeline has a thicker-walled pipe and Enbridge said the “completion ensures a safe, reliable supply of North American

crude oil.” For more than a year, the line caused angst in the community and work was surrounded by protests.

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After months of visible renovations at a new location on Cloquet Avenue and Eighth Street, Pedro’s Grill and Cantina moved two blocks away in early October. The popular Mexican restaurant isn’t the first eatery in the building at 7 Eighth Street. It was most recently home to the NE BBQ bar and grill, which closed in October 2019. The building also has been more than one nightclub, but is probably best known as the former Eagles building. Parking on the one-way side street there caused some concern from neighbors and the police department put out a special call for drivers to obey the parking and driving rules there.

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In mid-October, for the second time in a month, people exploring the woods off Carlton County Road 4 between Interstate 35 and Hay Lake — along the border of Blackhoof and Twin Lakes townships — discovered hundreds of chickens roaming wild. A call to action on social media in both cases raised outrage and compassion as people adopted the lost birds. They came from Promised Land Farm, and Rob and Lori Gamble admitted they ran out of options when it came to their Rhode Island Reds that no longer produce enough eggs. There had been no usual buyers of “spent” hens and feed costs were rising. The couple were visited by the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office but no charges were filed. The county attorney’s office said it was satisfied that the chickens found new homes and the Gambles promised to use the social media connections the releases created to find homes for birds in the future.

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It was believed that mental health issues led to a man killing two people and then himself in Culver Township northwest of Cloquet on Oct. 6. Cody Pirila, 31, confessed to shooting Skylar Hunter, 31, and his father, Jamie Hunter, 51, in a call to a 911 dispatcher while he was being pursued by a state trooper. Pirila shot himself in his car after police forced a stop.

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The Cloquet Ford Chrysler Center was sold and became Wood City Motors over the summer. But complaints piled up about the former business there, delayed paperwork and payments among them, and it drew attention from police and at least one attorney by the fall. Wood City stressed that it had no relationship with the former owners.

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Carol Klitzke got to work in late October as the new director at the Carlton County Historical Society in Cloquet, which also opened to customers for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020.

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The Cloquet-based girls and boys soccer teams made runs into the state tournament, as did the Esko football team, which reached the semifinals and a close loss at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Cloquet girls soccer team finished in third place at the Bank as well. Cross country runners from across the county qualified for the state meet in Northfield. The meet included team competition for Esko and Cloquet on the boys side and Carlton/Wrenshall for the girls.

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Thousands of people converged on the streets of Carlton for the annual Halloween trick-or-treating event downtown.

November

Children ages 5-11 were lining up for Covid-19 vaccination shots in Carlton County. They were the latest group to be approved for vaccines that had been available since the beginning of the year.

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Plans for a return of Thanksgiving and Christmas community meals in Cloquet, both thanks to the Carlton County DAV Chapter, were a welcomed sign for those itching for a bit of relief from pandemic changes.

December

After placing Cloquet Area Fire District chief Matt Ashmore on paid administrative leave the month before, the CAFD board voted unanimously on Dec. 6 to close its investigation of Ashmore “without findings” and subsequently accepted his resignation, effective the same day. The board then approved a separation agreement. The chief had been on leave since Nov. 11, when the board also met in closed session to discuss allegations that Ashmore violated Covid protocols and “may have violated the organizational values of the district.”

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After successful Fourth of July and Labor Day parades, Cloquet offered its last march down Cloquet Avenue for the year as part of the Santa’s Home for the Holidays celebration, which had been canceled because of the pandemic the year before.

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Thomson Township residents rebelled after getting their preliminary property tax statements and finding that the taxes for the Cloquet Area Fire District were predicted to increase by more than 300 percent. At the heart of the issue was a “reallocation” of costs for ambulance and fire coverage, because fire district residents have long covered a portion of the costs of the ambulance-only residents covered by the district. A legislative change that removed a prior tax cap on ambulance members meant the district could rebalance the books. However, Esko residents and township supervisors threatened to start their own ambulance service, and told CAFD board members they should have started discussions with the township months before. In the end, CAFD officials listened and did a lot of budget work, keeping the tax levy and its split between fire and ambulance the same as 2021. CAFD board chair Linda Way vowed the district would do better next year at communicating with fire district and ambulance members, collecting data to make more-precise calculations of cost, keeping up with legislative changes and starting work on the 2023 budget and levy sooner. Still, board members said, the goal is to make the financing of the fire/rescue and ambulance districts fair to all.

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Rol Bromberg, the longtime athletics fixture at Cloquet High School, serving as the head coach for football and activities director, died on Dec. 22. The football field in Cloquet is named in his honor.

 
 

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