2016 brought high waters and detours to the St. Croix Valley. Polk County continued to struggle with methamphetamine use and related crimes — though it was burdened relatively little with heroin, an epidemic growing in Wisconsin and across the country. In happier news, two Osceola powerlifters earned national championship titles, and the Osceola Public Library joined the international cat video craze with its first Cat Video Festival. These and other top stories, in no particular order, below.
Detour puts Osceola on the map
Major road construction to the north brought increased traffic through Osceola last spring and summer as the Minnesota Department of Transportation completed roadwork from Taylors Falls to Franconia.
When motorists intending to cross the St. Croix via Highway 8 found themselves rerouted through Osceola, they were greeted with signs reading, “Welcome, detourists: Hate the detour, love Osceola,” and “Detours can lead to amazing places.”
A favorite of passersby read, “Detours suck but Osceola doesn’t,” according to Gwen Wright of The Looking Glass.
“The detour was fabulous for downtown,” said Wright. “People came who’d never been here and continued to come back.”
Led by the Osceola Area Chamber of Commerce, the Detourism Campaign was featured in a Kare 11 news spot by Osceola native turned newscaster Alicia Lewis. Downtown businesses such as The Looking Glass and Watershed Café reported boosts in sales — a silver lining to the weekend traffic jams.
Wright believes the detour benefitted downtown businesses into November, when Highway 8 officially opened to all traffic.
County struggles with meth use
Local filmmaker searches for resolution
Data from 2015 showed Polk County leading Wisconsin in methamphetamine cases submitted to the state crime laboratory, according to reports from the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Department of Criminal Investigation.
Polk County has been among the most active meth counties in Wisconsin for many years, but Douglas County often led the state. Reports of use in Douglas County dropped after 2012, but have been inclining in Polk County since 2009.
Sheriff Pete Johnson and Drug Investigator Anthony Grimm suggested that the county’s high reports of meth use were attributable, in part, to local law enforcement’s aggressive pursuit of the drug.
Local documentary filmmaker Jordan Mederich examined the problem of addiction in Polk County in a film released in 2016, “Church of Felons.” In it, four men reflect on the consequences of their drug and alcohol use.
Newman, Gildersleeve win at national powerlifting meet
Four Osceola powerlifters qualified for the national meet in Orlando, Fla. Two of them, Kaija Newman and Teddy Gildersleeve, returned as champions.
Gildersleeve, lifting in the 165-pound class, claimed the top spot with a 551-pound squat, 314-pound bench press and a 656-pound deadlift.
Newman, competing in the 182-pound class, lifted 419 pounds in the squat, bench pressed 215 pounds and deadlifted 386 pounds.
McKenzie Boerboom placed seventh at the meet and Tom Schell placed fourth.
Osceola man challenges
attempted murder charge
After a late-night brawl in February between two Osceola men left one in the hospital with rumors circulating of his death, the other, Paul Krueger, was charged with attempted homicide.
Krueger fought the charge, saying the evidence cited did not support it. Namely, a paper towel reportedly lodged in the victim’s airway was later revealed to have been taken from the “mouth/cheek” area.
A four-day jury trial scheduled for January was postponed until further notice after his attorney, Kate Murtaugh, withdrew as his counsel in late October, citing a breakdown in the attorney/client relationship.
Krueger, 35, and now living in Grantsburg, faces charges of aggravated battery, dealing marijuana and obstruction of an officer, stemming from the same incident. The charges could add up to nearly 50 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts.
Minnesota man vanishes
in powerful waters
A 10-13-inch rainfall that ranged from north of St. Cloud to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan July 11 and 12 resulted in widespread flooding on the Namekagon, Kettle and Snake rivers, tributaries of the St. Croix River.
By Sunday, July 17, the high water crests on the St. Croix had moved through Stillwater.
The National Park Service on July 13 closed all landings on the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers through the weekend.
The increased flow of the Kettle and Snake rivers in Minnesota and the Namekagon caused numerous high water marks and dangerously swift flows. In St. Croix Falls, the river rose from 3.9 feet to 22.7 feet. The record high water mark at St. Croix Falls is 25.9 feet.
A 26-year-old Chisago City man, Andrew Remley, fell into the river in Taylors Falls Friday, July 15, after slipping on a rock while trying to take a picture. The search for Remley was called off twice over the weekend due to unsafe conditions on the water. His body was recovered July 22.
Mailbox thief sentenced to five years
A string of reports of mailbox theft in the Osceola area reached some resolution in late January when a tip led police to a vehicle belonging to Marlaina Tibbetts, a 30-year-old mother from Dresser.
In the surveillance that followed, Tibbetts was observed discarding mail near a storage unit parking lot in Frederic. After recovering a bill from the scene, officers questioned to the addressee, who confirmed that the mail had been taken from his mailbox without permission.
Tibbetts admitted to authorities that she had taken mail from that area and dumped it in the Milltown area. She explained that she hoped to find loose cash because she and her family were struggling financially.
Tibbetts was linked to a number of other thefts and eventually taken into custody in an effort to stop the crime spree.
After spending six months at the Polk County Jail and at one time facing more than 100 years in prison, in late November Tibbetts was sentenced to five years, followed by three years of extended supervision. During her extended supervision, Tibbetts must participate in an addiction treatment program, take regular drug screens and refrain from committing any further crimes.
Osceola library joins
cat video craze
In July, Osceola joined a growing list of cities to host an Internet Cat Video Festival. The trend began at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center in 2012 and went international before arriving in Osceola.
Kelly McBride, director of the Osceola Public Library, folded the event into the library’s summer film series.
“We already have a great venue with Movies Under the Stars,” said McBride. “The whole internet cat video thing is popular right now … and we were looking for something fun to mix up Movies Under the Stars this year, something quirky.”
She contacted the Walker, which culls its selection of cat videos from thousands, about hosting a screening. Because the arts institution charges a $500 licensing fee to use their reel, McBride partnered with the Arnell Memorial Humane Society to host the event.
“A lot of times the (Cat Video Festival) works with a shelter, humane society or vets to raise awareness,” McBride said.
Osceola company pleads guilty to manipulation of test data
A settlement was reached in the case of Osceola-based NeuroScience, Inc. and Pharmasan Labs, along with the businesses’ 75-year-old founder, Gottfried Kellermann.
The settlement stemmed from allegations by the U.S. Attorney’s office that Kellermann and his companies violated laboratory testing requirements and manipulated test data.
The agreement came less than a year after the companies reached a separate civil settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office regarding Medicare billing fraud.
The businesses of Pharmasan and NeuroScience operate under two different names and serve two different functions, but work together in their day-to-day operation. Both companies have been based out of the same rural Osceola location since 2002, employing approximately 150 people.
“This has been a long saga which we are glad to put behind us and move forward,” said Gottfried Kellermann in a statement to the press. “NeuroScience and Pharmasan Labs have worked hard since this matter surfaced to implement procedures to ensure we are in regulatory compliance.”
The validity of the group’s practices came under scrutiny in 2013, when the U.S. Attorney’s office alleged that the companies obstructed governmental oversight when they created an unapproved and unvalidated ‘normal’ range for their tests, and also failed to disclose that fact to Health Department inspectors.
The company said there was no allegation of any patient or provider complaints, and no finding or admission that any patient was adversely impacted.
Enough is enough
Residents of Dresser and Osceola Township continued to report odors coming from F&A Dairy’s waste treatment ponds, and grew more vocal about the need to put a stop to the stench.
“Families cannot enjoy picnics outdoors,” Linc Duncanson, Dresser, told the board in March. “Children cannot go outside to play. Local diners and tourists have complained of the smell while eating. Churchgoers are offended as they worship on Sundays.”
The stench has damaged the reputation of the community, he continued, and diminished the value of homes and businesses. Citing Dresser’s Public Nuisance ordinance, which includes noxious odors, Duncanson asked why the board had not taken action to solve the problem and who authorized several more weeks of violation while the company tried new repairs.
Dan Burch, a member of the Town of Osceola’s board, reported additional complaints in March.
In August, Dresser residents Brian and Katie Raddatz begged for action, saying the stench kept returning.
“[A]t what point will someone take a stand against them?” They wrote in an email to government representatives and local press. “Why won’t the DNR do anything about this? They regulate it, our Village and the Town of Osceola, tell us it’s not their problem and won’t do anything. Our representatives won’t do anything either. Something needs to be done, our quality of life is being greatly hampered.
“It just finally quit stinking from the last break down a couple weeks ago [after putting up with the stench for 3-4 weeks].
“I beg someone to do something.”
In early December, a petition began circulating via a new Facebook group, the Citizens’ Coalition for Dresser’s Quality of Life.
However, biological oxygen demand (BOD) levels have fallen since F&A made changes to its system late last winter. According to data submitted to the DNR, the business has been under its BOD limit since mid March.
Polk elects new DA, county clerk and register of deeds
Polk County residents elected a new district attorney, Jeff Kemp, who defeated incumbent Dan Steffen 13,410 to 8,748.
Steffen did, however, win the race in his hometown, the Village of Osceola.
Voters also elected a new county clerk and register of deeds after Carole Wondra and Laurie Anderson announced their plans to retire after 2016.
In the race to replace Clerk Wondra, Sharon Jorgenson defeated Mary Jo Hacker 13,287 to 8,713. Running unopposed, Sally Spanel received 18,089 votes to replace Anderson as register of deeds. Polk County Treasurer Amanda Nissen, running unopposed, received 18,396 votes.