Fire in Riviana dryer unit

September 28, 2022 (Clearbrook)


By Darin Steindl


On Tuesday, September 27 around 1:30 pm a fire started in one of the three dryer units at the Riviana rice plant in Clearbrook.


All employees were evacuated from the nearby area as a precaution. No injuries were reported. The Clearbrook Fire Department responded to the fire and asked for the support of the Bemidji Fire Department ladder truck in case it was needed. An ambulance and Clearwater County Sheriff Deputy were also on site.


Julie Wraa, General Manager, explained that fire was contained to the dryer unit and damage was limited to that structure only. There was no other damage to buildings nearby. Wraa stated that the two other dryers are in still operating.


The cause of the fire is still unknown.


43rd Annual Paul Bunyan Stampede

September 26, 2022 (Bemidji)


By Dennis Peterson


The racing season came to an official end at Bemidji Speedway last weekend with the 43rd running of the Paul Bunyan Stampede.  Weather played a major factor in the festivities cancelling the planned Cornhole tournament on Friday and with a steady rain starting an hour before the green flag was to drop on Saturday the first day of racing was also washed out.  The 130+ drivers and crews held on for what was hoped to be a much brighter day on Sunday.   The sun shone bright and the track was prepped and ready for the single day of racing.


The races on Sunday started with a prayer and the national anthem.   Drivers, crews, and fans were excited to finally see some racing and with 19 heat races and 8 features there was plenty of racing to fill everyone’s wishes.   Joining the stampede were the Bemidji Mini Stocks, Wissota Hornets, Wissota Pure Stocks, Wissota Mod Fours, Wissota Midwest Modifieds, Wissota Super Stocks, Wissota Modifieds and the Northern Renegade Wingless Sprints.  And there was plenty of action with several rollovers in the sprints and hornet classes.  All drivers were unhurt.


Longtime announcer Mark Ricci announced the first class on track with flagman Tim Jackson flagging the Northern Renegade Sprints on track to start the first feature of the day.


Northern Renegade Sprint Feature: Zach Olson and Brian Trembath led the sprints to the green flag with Olson taking the early lead over Jesse Grife and Allen Stettner of Hastings, Mn.   It wasn’t long and veteran driver Ken Hron was moving up into the action powering into second as Stettner moved up to take the lead from Olson.  The red flag stopped the race when the sprints of Grife and Chad Wulff of Bemidji were sent high in the air landing on their tops in turn 3-4.   Both drivers were ok but out of the race.  The restart went to Stettner with Chris Lewis and Hron close behind in wild action.   Another caution on the back straight created one last caution and restart and Stettner and Lewis battled for the lead side by side before Lewis secured the lead and took the checkered flag.  Stettner, Adam Sobolik, Hron and Jeremy Lizakowski made up the top five.


 Wissota Pure Stock Feature: The Wissota Pure stocks drove down the front straight led by pole sitter Michael Roth and Nate Zanter.  The start of the race was marred by a multicar crash on the front straight taking out several cars before the race made it to the first turn.  Once the race went green it was Roth out front with Jake Smith, Josh Berg, Austin Carlson, and Deryk Weleski in the top five.  Several more spins, crashes and delays slowed the racing for the pure feature but once the racing resumed it was Josh Berg racing up and passing Carlson for second and then raced up to challenge the leader.  The last few laps were thrilling as Berg raced side by side with Roth, and Carlson was right there with them looking for an opportunity. The last lap was Berg and Roth fighting to the finish line with Roth winning by a nose it a great finish.  Carlson was third with Billy Binkley and Weleski in the top five.


 Bemidji Mini Stocks Feature: Brandon Hunter and Conrad Schwinn led the Bemidji Mini Stocks to the green flag for the Mini stock feature with 15 mini stocks making the feature.   After two failed attempts at a start, it was Schwinn gaining the lead over Hunter with Cory Nelson third.  Nelson quickly raced inside to take second with Ashton Schwinn moving up into third before another caution slowed the race once again.   The caution moved Nelson into the lead with Schwinn moved back two positions.   The race resumed with Nelson out front, Conrad Schwinn in second with Shannon George charging up through traffic into third and Kalin Honer fourth.   The final lap belonged to Nelson as he took the checkered flag for his first ever win.  Schwinn, George, Honer and Hayden Engen made up the top five.


 Wissota Midwest Modified Feature: 20 Midwest Modifieds roared on track next led by Eric Anderson and multi time winner of the stampede Aaron Blacklance on the front row.  The battle for the lead on lap one was three wide with Blacklance, Anderson and Joey LaValley.  Blacklance secured the front of the pack before the first of several cautions slowed the race for a restart sending LaValley to the rear of the field.  When racing resumed it was Blacklance out front trailed by Anderson, Skyler Smith, Travis Underdahl of St. Joseph, Mn. and Brennan Schmidt in the top five.  Schmidt slipped up high and dropped back in the pack as Smith powered by Anderson for second.  More cautions slowed the race with Underdahl sent to the rear of the field and creating a single file restart.   Drewry raced inside to take third but Alan Olafson raced up and took the spot before another caution slowed the race once again.   Blacklance led the entire race and drove his #5 B Mod into Victory Lane for the third time in his career.   Smith, Olafson, Drewry, and Jeff Reed made up the top five.


 Wissota Hornet Feature: 23 Wissota Hornets drove on track next with Payton Edelman and Chad Reller leading the pack.   Reller raced to the lead with Ryder Gangl, Justin Barsness and Brant Gruba trailing.   Barsness drove low on the track passing Gangl for second before a caution slowed the race for a restart.  The restart had Reller out front followed by Barsness, Alex Aderman, Ellen Lange, Gangl and Travis Olafson in a tight bunch fighting for positions.  The red flag was waved when the #45 hornet of Keegan Kough was sent flying in the air upside down on the front straight.  Kough was ok but pushed to the pits.  The race was given a green, white checkered finish with Barsness charging up to challenge Reller for the win with Barsness diving inside in turn four and beating Reller to the finish line by a nose.   Aderman, Gangl and Olafson made up the top five.


 Wissota Mod Four Feature: A small but determined field of Wissota Mod Fours were next with Conrad Schwinn on the pole and Dean Shaver to the right.   Schwinn powered to the lead with Skyler Smith, Blake Erickson, Shaver and Don Teske trailing.  Smith raced inside and into the lead.   Smith never let up and took the feature win trailed by Erickson, Schwinn, Shaver and Teske.


 Wissota Super Stock Feature: The Wissota Super Stocks were next on track with Karter Reents of Glenwood, Mn. on the pole and Dalton Carlson to his right.  The first lap was a door-to-door battle between Reents and Carlson with neither giving an inch to the other.   Carlson eventually moved to the front but a early caution for a spin sent him to the pits for a tire change and he returned tailback for the restart moving Reents into the lead followed by Fritz Myers, Garrett Masurka, Doug VanMill and Jeffrey Frey.   On the restart it was Myers and Masurka splitting on either side of the leader Reents with Masurka taking the lead.   Carlson made a quick comeback from the tailback position to regain fourth on the track.  Masurka picked up the win, his first of the year, with Myers, Reents, Carlson and Frey in the top five.


 Wissota Modified Feature: After a long day of racing the final race of the night was the Wissota Modifieds.  They were led by Johnny Broking and John Farrington in row one.   Farrington on the outside powered to the lead with Broking, Keith Koski, Nic Jacobson and Lance Schilling trailing in superfast action on the black track.   Schilling had mechanical issues and slowed on the back straight bringing out the first caution.   When racing resumed it was Farrington, Broking, Koski, Jacobson and Brock Gronwold battling for position.  Gronwold powered up into third as Bob Broking and Koski raced side by side for second.  The crowd was on the edge of their seats as Farrington and Broking put on a show for the lead racing side by side in an epic dual.  The younger Broking raced inside and took the lead in turn one.   At this point a caution slowed the race and everyone sat back in their seats for the next restart.   With flagman Tim Jackson waving the green flag Gronwold caught and passed Farrington with an inside move.  Another caution was created when several spins occurred in turn three.  The restart had Broking in the lead with Gronwold, Farrington, Koski and Jacobson still in the top five.  Side by side action again was the attention getter with Jacobson and Doyle Erickson in a dual with Jeff Reed right on their tails in a tremendous race.  Johnny Broking held and built his lead to a five-car length advantage and claimed the feature win to end the 43rd Paul Bunyan Stampede.    Farrington regained the second spot with Gronwold third and Koski fourth.  Jacobson finished fifth.


The wait was worth it and everyone went home excited by the possibilities of the 2023 racing season when Bemidji Speedway hosts the Memorial Weekend Chicken Shack Nationals.

October events at Lake Bemidji State Park announced


September 26, 2022 – The schedule of events for the month of October at Lake Bemidji State Park are available for download below.

Inspection report released for Clearwater County Jail

September 19, 2022

By Darin Steindl


The Minnesota Department of Corrections recently released a report about the Clearwater County Jail. The report wasn’t sent out as a press release, so I don’t know when it was released. How it came to my attention were stories from other area media organizations with headlines of “List of issues revealed in inspection report for Clearwater County Jail” and “Department of Corrections finds problems at Clearwater County, MN Jail”, which to me, sounded alarming.


So, I went to the Dept. of Corrections website thinking “this must be big news”. I wanted to see the report. After searching for quite a while, I finally found the report buried within the site.


Before I go any further, there is some personal background information about me for readers to understand. For the past 30+ years, I have worked with the operation of summer camp programs. Each year, we had a set of standards (National Camp Accreditation Program) which we were required to follow to operate a camp. There were close to 300 different items, some more important than others. If we missed too many standards in a particular area, we had to shut down that portion of the camp until corrective action was taken (thankfully, we never had that happen). I don’t think we ever achieved 100% compliance, because we weren’t perfect. There were always some minor items that we needed to fix, but we always attained a level that allowed us to be “accredited” and run a good camp.


I finally found the 2022 report for the Clearwater County Jail on the Dept. of Corrections website. The report starts with a summary page. Under “Terms of Operation” the report states “approval from 9/1/2022 to 8/31/23. The section titled “Approved Capacity Details” lists the jail as a secure, coed facility with an approved capacity of 38, operating at 85% capacity with an operational capacity of 32.30. In the “Rule Compliance Summary”, there are 119 applicable mandatory requirements and 93 essential requirements. Of the 119 mandatory requirements, the Clearwater County Jail had 94 in compliance and 17 in non-compliance (8 with concerns). Of the 93 essential requirements, 65 were in compliance and 20 in non-compliance (8 with concerns).


I reached out to Commissioner Mark Titera and Sheriff Darin Halverson to set up interviews to get their take on the report. Both replied that they would be interested in talking with me.


I spoke with Commissioner Titera by phone. He explained that the commissioners were aware of the items listed in the report, because the Sheriff had already come to the county board earlier in the year with plans to make repairs in the jail including remodeling the kitchen. Titera also stated that the inspector was new and may have been a little overzealous in finding deficiencies.


After our phone conversation, I went back to Dept. of Corrections website to look at other reports completed by this new inspector, compared with other inspectors’ reports. On average, the reports from the new inspector did indeed show more requirements in non-compliance than other inspector’s reports. In reports for other counties, the inspector that conducted the Clearwater County inspection had also done inspections for Lake of the Woods County (8 mandatory requirements had concerns, the same as Clearwater County), Marshall County (6), Becker County (5), Wadena County (5), Roseau County (5). Otter Tail county was the only one with zero, as reported by the same inspector.


When I talked with Sheriff Darin Halverson, he explained that in addition to the Dept. of Corrections, the Health Dept. and Fire Marshall also conduct inspections on a regular basis. He was aware that there were some issues with written policies, but he explained that the issues were caused by changes made to state laws since the last inspection. He went on to explain that the policies were already in the process of being updated and transferred to a new computer system – Lexipol – before the inspection was conducted. He expected that process to be completed within the next few weeks.


Regarding staffing shortages included in the report, he has kept the commissioners informed about the issue and has been advertising to fill the positions. Sometimes, due to staffing, they have had to transport inmates to Pennington County for housing. Halverson also explained that many of the items sited in the report, such as plumbing issues are being addressed. With COVID restrictions, plumbers were not able to do repairs on faucets with built up calcium causing water flow fluctuations. The leaking dish washer is actually a leased machine, and the company they lease it from has been determining how best to fix the issue.


When the Sheriff gave me a tour of the jail, I saw the tile floor that had been mentioned in the report. No, it wasn’t shiny like a new floor. It looked like it was 20 years old. From what was written in the report, I was expecting cracked tile with pieces missing and tile worn down by 24/7 traffic. It was in better shape than the floor tiles we have at the Farmers Independent. Sheriff Halverson explained that in the plans he has shared with the county board, they are looking at covering the existing tile with a polyurethane finish.


I saw the exam table which in the report “had visible mold and mildew” on the surface. Sheriff Halverson explained that they don’t use the table, because if a medical issue arises, inmates are transported to the hospital for treatment. The plan is to move the table into storage in the basement to free up some space.


After the tour, I asked the Sheriff about the last inspection that was done in 2020. He stated that it wasn’t as negative as the latest report. The Health Dept. and Fire Marshall reports hadn’t found any major non-compliance issues. I asked if there was a process to request another inspection with a different inspector. He explained that there was, but he didn’t think it would be necessary since the current report gives them until January 2023 to fix most items (3 have deadlines of Sept. 27, 2022).


After our conversation, Sheriff Halverson sent me a copy of the 2020 report, which showed 116 of 119 mandatory items in compliance with 3 items with concerns. Both the 2022 and 2020 reports are available to view on the Farmers Independent website on the “news” page.


I feel that it is important to get both sides of the story. Being new to the newspaper and “media” business, I now have the chance to bring attention to instances of misleading headlines and “sensational journalism”. It is my opinion that the other news organizations made the headlines sound much more dire than the actual circumstances warrant.

Heifer killed and butchered on field


September 8, 2022 (Clearwater County) – On September 6, 2022, the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office was notified by a farmer that had a yearling heifer killed and butchered in his pasture near 290th Street off of County Road 7. It appeared that someone had shot the heifer and then proceeded to skin and butcher the animal.


The Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office wants the public to be aware of this incident and report any suspicious activity you may see. If you have any information about this incident, you are encouraged to call the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office at (218) 694-6226.

Important Back to School Information from Bagley Public Schools

August 12, 2022 – Click on the link below to download the “Back to School” brochure.

Primary Election Results

August 10, 2022 – Click on the link below to download the election results affecting Clearwater County. For all election results in Minnesota visit the Secretary of State website.

Clearbrook-Gonvick Schools ISD #2311

The school board recently released the 2022-2023 school calendar. Click on the image of the calendar for a larger view.

Bagley Public Schools ISD #162

During the July 18 School Board meeting, a revision to the school calendar was approved. Click on the image of the calendar for a larger view.

Breaking news in Clearwater County

Unlike the big cities, life is quiet in Clearwater County, and we like it that way!

Every now and then, something newsworthy does happen and we will post it here.