REGIONAL ROUNDUP Wildlife refuge on top 10 endangered list

The Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, which begins in Wabasha and follows the river down into Illinois, was listed as one of the nation's top 10 more-endangered refuges today.

Defenders of Wildlife, a national environmental group, said the country's 540 refuges, ranging from one-quarter acre in the middle of Mille Lacs Lake to one with millions of acres in Alaska, suffer from underfunding and not enough Congressional support.

In a report released today, it says development, exploration for oil and gas, air and water toxins, farming, invasive species, and other threats are hurting those refuges.

The Upper Mississippi refuge was cited because of problems with mercury in fish, farm runoff, water pollution, habitat loss, invasive plants and the locks and dams system that runs through the middle of it.

However, the Corps of Engineers, which operates the lock-and-dam system, has a plan to not only stop the degradation of the Upper Miss but to improve it. The plan, which includes building longer locks further south, would cost more than $5 billion for habitat improvement alone.


The other nine refuges are the Arctic in Alaska, Cabeza in Arizona, Delta in Louisiana, Desert complex in Nevada, Don Edwards in California, Klamath Basin in Oregon and California, Lostwood in North Dakota, Lower Rio Grand in Texas, and Pocosin in North Carolina.

-- John Weiss

Theater will be lone arts-center tenant

LANESBORO -- The Commonweal Center for the Arts will be the new home for the Commonweal Theatre Co.

Hal Cropp, the theater's executive director, said last week that the Cornucopia Art Center has decided it doesn't want to join the theater in the arts center. They had planned a partnership.

The decision should help the theater because it means the center will be only for one use, Cropp said. The art center will continue to look for space that will better serve its needs, such as an art gallery, exhibition schedule and an artist-in-residence program.

Root River Valley Friends of the Arts will continue to be land owner and developer for the project, he said.

The theater, friends and Cornucopia said they still have the common goal of promoting appreciation for the arts in the region and will continue to collaborate on projects such as the community mural project and the Ibsen Festival.


-- John Weiss

Grants available

Up to $120,000 is available to Minnesota landowners for improving the environment.

The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance is accepting applications. Because of the limited amount of money, it expects much of the funding will be awarded around the end of November. The maximum grant is $9,999, and the group getting the money must match at least 25 percent of the total cost.

The priorities for this round of grants are to prevent pollution by changing the way products or services are designed, manufactured or delivered; to use nontoxic and environmentally friendly products; to reduce air toxins, ozone precursors and greenhouse gases; to improve integrated waste management; to develop and support economic and community models that use sustainable resources while protecting human and ecosystem health; to help Minnesotans think about sustainability in making decisions; and to make Minnesotans environmentally literate.

For more information on Time-Sensitive Grants and which member of the agency staff to talk to, go to

-- John Weiss

Impact of highway upgrade passes muster


PRESTON -- No significant environmental impact is expected from upgrading U.S. 52 between Fountain and Preston, the Federal Highway Administration has determined.

Because of the finding, the Minnesota Department of Transportation can continue buying land and designing the eight-mile reconstruction, the DOT has announced.

Copies of the administration's decision are available at the Preston and Fountain city halls, the Fillmore County offices in Preston, and Rochester Public Library.

The $12.1 million project, will make the highway more like an urban road in Preston, while the rural part will have fewer curves and more turn lanes. Work is scheduled to start in 2005.

-- John Weiss

Out and about

The Kasson Fire Department received a $95,000 Homeland Security Grant to pay for new firefighting gear, such as air packs; and Mantorville received $34,000 for similar equipment. In the past year, many local fire departments have received grants that will be used for similar purposes.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers has completed its plan to improve navigation and the ecosystem on the Upper Mississippi River between St. Paul and north of St. Louis.


The recommended plan calls for spending $5.3 billion for a long-term ecosystem restoration and $2.4 billion for long-term improvement of the system for moving barges up and down the river. The $2.4 billion would include several longer locks on locks and dams further down the river.

To see the report, go to

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tentatively has decided to reissue a permit for the Hayfield Wastewater Treatment Plant to continue operating. Those wanting to comment on the decision have until Oct. 28; people also can ask for a contested case hearing. A copy of the agency's report is available at the MPCA office at 18 Wood Lake Drive S.E., Rochester, MN 55904 or at the MPCA main office at 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul. Send comments to Melanie Miland at the Rochester office.

Regional Roundup appears Friday in the Post-Bulletin. If you have comments or news items, call John Weiss, regional reporter, 285-7749.

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