5:50 a.m. update: Air care dispatched to Forest Lake crash

It sounds like Air Car will be landing at Century Junior High in Forest Lake as rescue workers look to help a crash victim that went through the windshield. The exact location of the crash is a little fuzzy, but it's on Hwy. 97 west of Washington County Road 34.  It might have occurred around Everton Avenue.  So look for activity along Hwy. 97. Older Post Keeping tabs on Friday's morning commute Newer Post 6 a.m. update: Current travel times Continue Reading

7:40 a.m. update: Crash on Hwy. 169 in Bloomington, on Broadway in Forest Lake

Police and an ambulance are on the way to this collision on Broadway Avenue over I-35 in Forest Lake. The wreck is not affecting traffic on the freeway.   Southbound 35W and 35E are moving at a nice pace from the Forest Lake Split to downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul respectively. In Bloomington, northbound Hwy. 169 is plugging up from Canterbury Road up to 494. That's largely due to heavy traffic and a crash on the right shoulder at Anderson Lakes Pkwy. Police activity on the right shoulder of eastbound 94 at 394 has traffic crawling past the scene. Things remain tight through the Lowry Hill Tunnel. Older Post 7:30 a.m. update: Current drive times Newer Post 8 a.m. update: Current drive times Continue Reading

6:20 a.m. update: Crash on Hwy. 61 in Forest Lake

Police are on the way to a crash that just happened on southbound Hwy. 61 and Hwy. 97 in Forest Lake.  There is no immediate word on the impact it is having on traffic. Look for a mattress in the lanes of eastbound 494 near Maxwell Avenue in the South St. Paul/Newport area. Traffic as a whole is still moving well. But do look for a slight drop in speeds on southbound 35W near County Road 10, Eastbound Hwy. 10 in Elk River and on eastbound 94 through Maple Grove.  That's mostly due to increasing traffic volumes. Older Post 6 a.m. update: Current travel times Newer Post 6:30 a.m. update: Current drive times Continue Reading

6:50 a.m. update: Car fire extinguished in Forest Lake

The car fire on the right shoulder of southbound I-35 near the Forest Lake Split is out and the vehicle has been towed away.  All lanes are open again, and that's a good thing as the backup extends 3 miles to the north. Commuters will feel the effects at County Road 2. A new crash to look out for is on the overpass of 35th Street over I-35W in south Minneapolis.  It looks as if a car rear-ended a school bus. And adding a stall to the mix, look for a broken down vehicle on eastbound 94 in what's known as the Brooklyn Center curve. Older Post 6:30 a.m. update: Current drive times Newer Post 7 a.m. update: Current drive times Continue Reading

State Patrol looking for driver who dropped wooden crate on I-35 in Forest Lake

The Minnesota State Patrol has a message for all motorists: Secure your loads. The patrol also has a message for the driver who was hauling a wooden crate on I-35 last Saturday and didn't: Authorities are looking for you and are asking the public to help in the search. Christopher Pate, 27, of St. Paul, was driving north on I-35 near the Broadway exit in Forest Lake around 11:30 p.m. when he struck the crate at freeway speed. He was not hurt, but 20-year-old Allonte Combs, a friend riding in the car, was seriously injured when planks came crashing through the window. The roads are dangerous enough without having to dodge objects that fall off vehicles. Yet it happens thousands of times year with serious consequences, as this shows. It's so common that the Minnesota State Patrol along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation designated June 6 this year as Secure Your Load Day. Back in June, motorcyclist Brendan Jankowski, 20, was hurt when he collided with a rolled-up foam pad that flew off the back of a boat pulled by an SUV on I-94 in Woodbury.  Another motorist had her dashcam running when the incident happened and posted the video on YouTube. Read my colleague Hannah Covington's story here.  That driver came forward.  Jankowski suffered minor injuries The Government Accountability Office found that there are 51,000 incidents involving unsecured loads in the United States each year, killing 440 people and injuring 10,000. Through mid-June, the Minnesota, the State Patrol has been called 2,479 times to remove everything from ladders, mattresses and even full-sized plastic playhouses from roadways in the metro area. Statewide, the patrol has had more than 5,000 calls. In the past five years troopers have issued 1,673 unsecured load citations to passenger vehicle drivers and 9,331 warnings. Minnesota law says all loads must be secured so as not to shift, blow off or come loose, but it does not specify how a load has to be secured. Here is what Continue Reading

Controversial Forest Lake council member resigns; he was accused of not living in the city

Forest Lake City Council Member Michael Freer has resigned his post, months after being accused of not living in the city. Freer called Forest Lake City Hall on Wednesday morning and announced that he would be resigning as of noon, Interim City Administrator Dan Undem said. “He said he needed better work-life balance,” Undem said. Freer is the chief human resources officer for St. Cloud State University. Freer has been on the Forest Lake council since 2010 and is deputy mayor. His term runs through the end of the year. The council meets on Monday night and will accept Freer’s resignation, declare the seat vacant and discuss the process of appointing someone to fill the remainder of Freer’s term, Undem said. Residents said Freer moved to Maple Grove last summer after accepting a job with St. Cloud State. The university paid a Roseville moving company more than $10,000 in moving expenses for Freer in June. A council vote that would have removed him from office failed 2-2 in October. Freer’s attorney said at the time that he was seeking housing in Forest Lake.Freer told the Pioneer Press in November that: “Everybody has a right to live anywhere in the world they want.” He declined to comment on his resignation when reached by phone on Wednesday night. Freer was one of three council members who voted in May to disband the city’s police department and contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for police services. The controversial vote came after months of protests from the city’s residents; a large walkout by students at Forest Lake Area High School and other schools made national news. a three-year contract between the city and the department. Continue Reading

In Forest Lake, another setback for mental health treatment center

The Forest Lake City Council didn’t kill a proposal to build a children’s mental health treatment center in the community. But officials also failed to move it forward Monday, an outcome that brazenly disrespects constituents and threatens to send the project elsewhere. The council chamber was jammed during Monday’s meeting with neighbors, local educators, local mental health care advocates and the property’s current owner. Support was loud and clear. The proposed treatment center would maintain the property’s rural character and farm buildings. Neighbors made it clear that they prefer this over the lights and traffic of a retail development — something Mayor Ben Winnick has said he wants. Others lauded the project’s 150 jobs or spoke about the need for metro-area mental health care. The resounding support allowed the project’s proponents to get their hopes up that despite the shabby treatment they received at a prior council meeting — when Winnick stated he was opposed to the project before developers even had a chance to present it. But Winnick’s rude, repeated attempts to cut off residents on Monday unfortunately signaled the brick wall that three of the council’s five members would put up. When it came time to make a decision, it was as if Winnick, Mike Freer and Ed Eigner hadn’t heard a word. They hid behind the same weak excuses used at the Feb. 12 meeting to waylay the project. Among them: the project didn’t fit the city’s comprehensive plan for the future. They questioned how the zoning amendment would affect other similarly zoned parcels. And they thought that the project hadn’t gotten enough publicity in the area and that a public hearing was needed. Forest Lake citizens, your community deserves better than this. The mayor and his cronies had time since Feb. 12 to get their zoning questions answered but failed to ask, and then blamed city staff for their own laziness. Continue Reading

Proposed children’s mental health facility in Forest Lake draws support at hearing

In a sign of mounting frustration with Minnesota’s mental health care system, more than 100 people packed a Forest Lake City Council hearing Monday night to support a controversial psychiatric residential treatment center for children and adolescents. “We desperately need mental health facilities in this state and around the region,” said Marisa Gotsch, whose adult brother never received adequate treatment as a child for his mental illness and is now committed to a state mental hospital. Despite the show of support, the proposal faces an uphill battle. Council member Mara Bain cited concerns that young patients would be housed near a residential neighborhood, two schools and a YMCA. “People want to know ... will [the patients] be able to walk around the community? If they are a threat to themselves or others, what does that mean? ” she asked in an interview. At the hearing, however, she was vocal in her support for the project. Gotsch joined parents, teachers, mental health counselors and others who support the 60-bed facility that would treat children, ages 7 to 17, with severe mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and neurological disabilities such as autism. While the $20 million project known as Cambia Hills faces major hurdles, the hearing underscored the challenges that families across the state are facing in dealing with a chronic shortage of treatment options for the estimated 109,000 Minnesota children with serious mental illnesses. Psychiatrists say such children are waiting up to three months for placement in psychiatric facilities. The waits are so long they are often caught cycling through hospital emergency rooms or going out of state for treatment. Jennifer Curtis, who lives in Forest Lake, sobbed as she described her difficulty in accessing mental health treatment for her 14-year-old daughter. She said her daughter had attempted suicide several times and made 10 trips to the emergency room over six months in Continue Reading

After emotional hearing, Forest Lake seeks further study of proposed juvenile psychiatric facility

Residents and mental health advocates packed Forest Lake City Hall on Monday night to share stories of dealing with mental illness and express support for a proposed new $18 million psychiatric residential treatment facility in the city. One of the speakers during the 2.5-hour public hearing was resident Marisa Gotsch, who told the council how a residential facility could have helped her younger brother who suffered from serious mental health issues. “We desperately need facilities like this in the state,” she said. “Do not be fearful of what you do not know and do not understand.” Jennifer Curtis tearfully talked about her daughter, Taylor, now 17, who had a breakdown two years ago and started cutting herself. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Curtis said. “I had to physically hold her down when she was trying to kill herself, and she was begging me to let her die. She was sent to St. Cloud Children’s Home because there were no beds in the Cities. She ran away twice because she couldn’t stand being that far away from home.” In the end, the Forest Lake City Council did not vote to approve a zoning text amendment that would have allowed Cambia Hills, a division of the Hills Youth and Family Services in Duluth, to build a 60-bed facility on the site of Shadow Creek Stables that would serve children ages 6 to 17 who suffer from mood disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. (The location is not currently zoned to allow residential facilities serving more than 10 people.) Instead, the council voted 4-1 to direct city staff to further study the impact of a zoning-code text amendment and send it back to the city’s planning commission for review. Staff also was directed to look at the possibility of creating an overlay zoning district for the area. “I have more questions than answers,” said council member Ed Eigner. Continue Reading

Psychiatric residential treatment facility proposed for Forest Lake

A Duluth, Minn.-based nonprofit organization wants to purchase Shadow Creek Stables in Forest Lake and build an $18 million psychiatric residential treatment facility that would include equine therapy and animal husbandry. Cambia Hills, a division of the Hills Youth and Family Services, is proposing a 60-bed facility that would serve children ages 6 to 17 who suffer from mood disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The facility would also cater to children who have neurological damage, such as fetal-alcohol syndrome; children on the autism spectrum; and children who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. The average length of treatment is expected to be nine months to a year. “By the time a family finds it way to our door, they have tried everything else,” said Jeff Bradt, president and the CEO of the Hills. “There is a huge need for this kind of service. This level of care has not been available in the state before.” ZONING ROADBLOCK TO PLANS The area is not zoned to allow residential facilities serving more than 10 people; Kraus-Anderson Co., the construction company contracted to build the facility, has filed for a zoning-code text amendment. A public hearing on the issue will be 7 p.m. Monday at Forest Lake City Hall. Mayor Ben Winnick said he thinks the 38-acre site at the northeast corner of U.S. 61 and 202nd Street North is better suited for commercial or retail development. Forest Lake planners are in the process of writing the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan, he said, and plans call for the area around and including Shadow Creek Stables at 6150 202nd St. N. to be zoned commercial/retail. Winnick said there are other sites in the city and in the region that might make more sense. “To put this facility at the edge of town, with no medical (care) close by, no other possible necessary services close by, to me, it just doesn’t seem like it’s the best location,” he said. STATE Continue Reading