Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seeking a rational security for your land and my land, but NOT “Homeland”

Dear True,

In recent days I perceive a confluence, or perhaps a critical mass, of disparate news from around the nation, all attesting to the idiocy and terror-mongering promulgated by the BushCo creation named (in doublespeak) the Dept. of Homeland Security. Remember George Orwell? (If not, maybe you ought to delve into history and read his classic novel 1984).

Yesterday I read that the intelligence community has concluded that the Iraq war has increased global terrorism. Well, duh, I knew that. When we destroy a nation and continue to slaughter its occupants without rebuilding its infrastructure, lots of people will get really, really mad. I would be. Most people realize that Bush has created a new breeding ground for a young generation of terrorists in war-torn Iraq.

More news feeds:

· The army has run out of money (not to mention soldiers) for the Iraq war. Anybody who seriously follows the news already knows that new army recruits include skinheads (but NOT gays!), illegal aliens, soldiers of fortune, ex-prisoners, the mentally ill, and vets who have already completed their service being forced to continue. Not to mention the outsourced CIA contractors in secret offshore detention “rendition” facilities, or the construction of permanent bases, or the buildup of other Homeland Security enclaves like the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, National Guard, etc. If you, my friends, haven’t read this news you had better dig deeper; it is out there. Living in a democracy means being informed, or else being manipulated.

· The cost of the Iraq war has bankrupted a generation not yet grown to adulthood with its trillions of dollars in debt. The stated costs don’t include everything—for example, future medical and death benefits for soldiers that don’t fall into this year’s budget, the millions paid to no-bid contractors for unknown services, the construction of a permanent Disney theme park for Americans in Iraq.

· The Coast Guard “safety zones”(?) on the Great Lakes, including outside the Grand Marais harbor...How can a zone where live bullets are fired be considered a safety zone? What am I missing here? And the absence of any concession, here or anywhere, to the environmental damage done by bullets, bombs, shrapnel, and implosion of infrastructures like roads, electricity, airports, and water supplies.

· A story about Smithfield and Kinston, the little North Carolina towns where residents collude with the CIA in providing airfields for the “extraordinary rendition” of secret prisoners quoted “Torture Taxi” author A.C. Thompson: “What you start to figure out by spending time in Smithfield is that a lot of people know about the company and have at least an inkling of what goes on at the airport. Most don’t want to talk about it and don’t take a critical view of it...The subject of whether or not torture was permitted by the Bible was discussed in church there—and many congregants believed it was.”

· Seattle Times guest columnist Floyd McKay describes the $2.5 billion defense contract RFP for electronic surveillance along the Canadian border (see prior post).

· An article in the Texas Observer (also posted) raises the specter of racism.... our new local border agents will be trained in this insane territory of soldiers bound for Iraq, and good-old-boy civilian vigilantes called “Minutemen.” Immigrant families say they are being subjected to racist persecution ... despite the fact that now American businesses are complaining that they can’t get workers to bring in the crops or do construction projects.

· Last but not least is the Pork building project offered to Grand Marais as a carrot, in exchange for 10 acres to Homeland Security with its noise, air and light pollution, as well as 50 new agents to fight terrorism where it doesn’t exist. Some Portage band members are fearful that they will be targeted and a few believe they are already being targeted in border crossings. Well, cowboy militia from the Texas border might not be the most welcoming agents to the sovereign nation of the Grand Portage Band. Federal dollars in the same amounts could bring sustainable development industries to Cedar Grove Park, with real local jobs and housing for local families.

What is rational here? Bringing development dollars to Grand Marais? Okay, but how much will actually be locally contracted? The Bush administration doesn’t have a real great record on this. Bringing in guards trained in the war zone at the Mexican border? Militarizing a small, peaceful community to meet a non-existent threat? I don’t see it.

Jane Marple

“It’s important, you know, that wickedness shouldn’t triumph.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lessons from the Texas border: What the war on terror has done to Texas


Dear Readers, I am posting this Internet feed from the Texas will be considered further in a guest commentary piece coming up. I am working on a more versatile format for True North, including links to stories like this one rather than copy-and-paste.... but for now, I just want to get all the information out to you all that seems to bear on our local issues.
Keep on bloggin', True

By Mary Jo McConahay, Texas Observer
Posted on September 25, 2006, Printed on September 26, 2006

Under the night sky an armored skybox lifts its sleek head from the sand and rises into the air on hydraulic legs, jerking into place like some monstrous desert insect. At the controls, a 21-year-old Texas National Guard soldier packing a 9 mm semiautomatic sidearm watches a gray-toned screen, where figures tracked by a night-vision camera appear from behind a mesquite bush, duck behind it again, then materialize once more, moving north toward the Rio Grande. The soldier, recently returned from Iraq near the Kuwait border, watches alone in the air-conditioned box. He's looking for illegal border-crossers, just as he searched out "the enemy" -- the object of military reconnaissance -- in the other desert. From this height, an irrigation canal winds slender and graceful as a rivulet below, under a half-moon that gives just enough light to confuse the naked eye about what it might be seeing in the distance. People? Animals? Iraq prepared him for this mission, the soldier says, with experience in "staying vigilant, alert."

Later, on the ground, the soldier's partner emerges from a white vehicle parked on the canal road, packing his own Beretta, wearing a couple of ropes of extra ammunition around his neck. Will he have to use the weapon? The soldier, dressed in camouflage, stands in the dark with a million stars behind him. "I doubt it, but if I have to, I'm prepared," he says.

Five years after the events of 9/11, this is what the war on terror looks like on the West Texas border. During a rare, prime-time television address to the nation in May, President Bush announced Operation Jump Start: the deployment of 6,000 Guard troops from San Diego to Brownsville, an increase in Border Patrol personnel from its current strength of 12,000 to 18,000, and "bringing the most advanced technology" to the border line, including the kind used in Afghanistan and Iraq: more infrared cameras, motion sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles. Because of rotations, the number of National Guard expected to serve on the border in the next two years will reach into the tens of thousands. Yet Bush insists, "The United States is not going to militarize the southern border."

But the terror war here is not just marked by the coming of soldiers. It's a campaign marked by elements of low-intensity conflict, or LIC. That is the same doctrine, codified during the Reagan administration, which shaped U.S. assistance to Central American countries in the 1980s. Areas were militarized to control local populations while insurgencies flared. There's no insurgency here, but there are drug runners and unlawful immigrants. LIC includes military deployment, such as that of the Guard, and paramilitary presence, like the Minutemen, but it's more. It's a doctrine that blurs the lines between civilian and military, and between local and federal authorities. It's a doctrine that calls for militarization in the name of national security, turns civilians into suspects, puts rights at risk, changes the air, uses fear as a tool of control.

In San Elizario, a town near the skybox, neighbors often come over to Ray Carrillo's on afternoons when they want to drink a beer and shoot the breeze, and lately to talk over the change in atmosphere, a feeling like the coming of war. They call Ray Camaron, either because he was red as a shrimp when he was born "or because I'm real short." It's not just the soldiers they talk about. Citizen militias like the Minutemen-a local one is called the Border Regulators-have appeared. And they talk about the sheriff. From January to June, the El Paso County Sheriff's Department jumped the firewall between local and federal authority, setting up Operation Linebacker blockades in colonias and towns like this one, asking even U.S. citizens who looked Mexican to present papers.

Late in 2005, Gov. Rick Perry initiated Operation Linebacker "to increase both public safety and national security," distributing $10 million to date to 16 border sheriffs' departments. Perry's Linebacker is a politically mindful, "get-tough" stand, taken while immigration is exploding as a national issue. It plays well to voters who can be convinced that we have "lost control" of the border. But the cost can be high. El Paso deputies detained 860 undocumented persons under Linebacker in the first half of 2006, many with deep roots in local communities, and turned them over to the Border Patrol. Rights monitors claim public safety is being undermined because residents have become more afraid to call law enforcement for any reason, out of concern they will be asked for documents. Arguably, the air of mistrust also crimps any search for bona fide terrorists, work that depends greatly on community policing and intelligence. Not every sheriff's office in the coalition uses Linebacker funds the way El Paso does. Local enforcement chooses how grants are spent. Yet Linebacker's motivator statewide is national security, central to its drawing power for funds, and it's the kind of sanction that gives a green light to local law enforcers to become de facto federal law enforcers.

One day Carrillo, a U.S. Navy veteran, stood in his welding yard, amid machinery and tankers under repair and barking dogs. He pulled out his cell phone and called the Spanish language TV station in El Paso as neighbors and his workmen were being picked off at the roadblocks. It was a cry for help, or at least for some attention from the wider world. "I've lived here 24 years, and there's been nothing like this before," says Carrillo, a 36-year-old father of two.

"That's the Torres house, that's Martinez, that's Garcia-he's in the service-and that's Telles, the one they named the street over there for," says Carrillo on a ride through town. He waves at the driver of a passing truck. "And there goes my brother." This part of San Elizario began as a rough colonia, unimproved lots where families have seen water come to houses only in the last few years, although many, like Carrillo's mother, don't have gas yet, and sewage systems are still a dream. That means part of Camaron's business is modifying the trucks that go around cleaning septic tanks. He sweeps an arm to take in concrete brick houses rising among the nopales and pink tunas, and a developer's sign that announces: Coming Soon - Mission Style, 31 Lots. Progress in making colonias a decent place to live has come hard, but now people are scared. Households have always been a mix of citizens, legal residents, and undocumented relatives, but the war on terror is changing lives. Take a ride around other colonias east of El Paso -- Agua Dulce, Sparks, around Horizon and Montana Vista -- and you hear more. For weeks during the Linebacker stops, neighbors brought food and diapers to houses where fathers had been taken by authorities and mothers didn't dare go into the streets. Priests reported churches vacant. A clinic usually bursting with the uninsured stood empty of families, the sick unattended. Today those who are undocumented, and relatives, remain uneasy. Around San Elizario the occasional Lazy Boy or old sofa in a yard sits empty. "People used to walk around more, used to walk down along the edge of the cotton field over there along the river for exercise, late in the day," says mechanic Jessie Rubio, 46, a friend of Camaron's.

On a July morning, as Rubio spoke under a shade tree outside the family's trailer home, his 11-year-old son, Jose Luis, tinkered with a car engine, and a lone, white egret was the only other creature visible in the expanse between Rubio's yard and the line that marks the border. "What if a Minuteman mistakes me and shoots me?" he asks. Then there's the Guard. "They can make a mistake with somebody taking a stroll, because now there's too many guns and too many people. Somebody will say, 'I'm an American, you can't tell me what to do,' and there'll be trouble. Sometimes you get mad when you get asked so much for papers. You feel racism starting to climb. You can feel the tension." Being asked for papers to go to the store "felt like those countries you hear about where soldiers and police are taking over and can search you," says Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Chihuahua when he was six. He votes, and like other residents, is pleased when he reads the Border Patrol has busted drug runners. "They could hurt my son," he says. But Rubio feels less ownership of his neighborhood now, questions why it's feeling like a front line, and senses danger. "In a war situation you're looking at people and asking, 'Friend or foe?' Well, now you're getting people coming in from different parts, the Guard and Minutemen, and here we all look the same. In a war zone they don't know who is who."

Guard spokesmen reiterate that soldiers have authority only to call in the Border Patrol, not to arrest suspicious persons. Yet on the ground, fear of running into a soldier and being challenged is far greater than running into a Border Patrol agent. Partly this is because agents are familiar, but the soldiers are not. Partly it's because residents see soldiers at war on TV every day, pictured amid explosions and in combat, then, disconcertingly, see them behind their back yards. And partly fear rises because residents know soldiers who are trained for war, or recently returned from war, may have a mind-set that doesn't belong in the neighborhood. It's not an outlandish concern: Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson told The Washington Post in October 2005 that 12 percent of returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan seen at Veterans Administration facilities suffered from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. But Suzanne Dennis, an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm who returned six months ago from Baghdad deployment as a public affairs specialist with the Texas National Guard, dismissed anxiety about stressed-out soldiers on the line. "They just switch gears," Dennis says, from the battlefield to assisting the Border Patrol. "If you can't switch, you don't belong there."

Nevertheless, for those in houses near the line, living in the zone now brings a sensation of the ground shifting under their feet. For Ray Carrillo, it also comes with a hunch his role in life is changing, because what is experienced as repression demands a response. "It just clicked," says Carrillo about the moment when the Linebacker roadblocks were in full swing and the Guard was beginning to arrive. "It's illegal to ask somebody for papers without suspicion of a crime. It's not right for people to be afraid to come out of their houses." His wife wants to move a few miles east to Fabens, but now Carrillo is deciding to stick around, staying in touch with rights groups, monitoring, listening, "protecting my rights, my kids, my neighbors."

"I didn't just throw a rock and run," says Camaron about the roadblocks. "I stood my ground, in the light."

President Bush, the Border Patrol and the military declare the border is not militarized, but it is. Experts say it began years ago. In 1986, President Reagan issued a directive designating illegal drug traffic as a threat to U.S. "national security," which permitted the Department of Defense to enter a range of "anti-drug" activity, including on the border. Even before that, in 1981 Congress passed amendments that diluted the strength of the 100-year-old Posse Comitatus Act, which had strictly prohibited deputizing military to carry out domestic law enforcement. The Pentagon's Center for the Study of Low Intensity Conflict helped design the Border Patrol's "Strategic Plan: 1994 and Beyond," devoted almost entirely to immigration control.

The rhetoric of violence has taken over in a new way since September 11, 2001, replacing the language of immigration enforcement, border policy, or even drug interdiction with the language of fighting terrorism. When Gov. Perry's Border Security Plan announced support for Operation Linebacker, its overview began with these words: "Al-Qaeda leadership plans to use criminal alien smuggling organizations to bring terrorist operatives across the border into the U.S." Douglas T. Mosier, Border Patrol spokesman in El Paso, says, "Our primary objective now is preventing terrorists and instruments of terrorism from entering." Rick Glancey, spokesman for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, says its job is the "same as the Border Patrol, preventing terrorism."

"Every day you have drugs coming in duffel bags," says Glancey, who is also interim executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition and helped develop Linebacker. "Today narcotics, tomorrow weapons of mass destruction. Since September 11 we've seen the border is perfect for someone to take advantage of the United States. We will not let this happen on our watch, Mr. and Mrs. America, you can be sure of that."

In his downtown office, where a side table is spread with baseball hats from other lawmen's offices, Sheriff Leo Samaniego looks like a courtly grandfather, tall, 70-ish, smiling, at ease with his reputation as master of one of the best-regarded departments in the country. A civil-rights lawyer who has sparred with him legally says, "His roadblocks were a bad call, but this guy's a great sheriff." Samaniego is unrepentant about his "traffic stops" and insists they "will start again." He halted them only temporarily, he says, to "cool off" the rights groups and citizens like Camaron, who had begun receiving attention with their complaining. The fact is that 9/11 has "definitely" changed his job, the sheriff says, and there's no going back. "I'd rather be accused of overstepping my authority than sitting on my butt and doing nothing while we're in war," he says.

If the lines between local and federal authorities are blurring, so are lines between civilian and military operations. This landscape looks like Iraq. Units have arrived to assist the Border Patrol before going to the Middle East. "You can bet it can be beneficial to them," says Mosier. "They're getting used to a desert environment you can't get at a base in the East or the Midwest." Troops bring advanced military technology, different and better than what the Border Patrol has, and which only the military has the training to run. "Equipment such as that tried and tested in the Middle East can be beneficial in this kind of topography," Mosier says. "If that technology is applicable and feasible (there is) no reason to think it won't be considered for future use."

For Mosier, having soldiers on the border is not militarization, but "homeland security in support of a very real and vital mission." From the Border Patrol to the National Guard, the word is consistent: Soldiers in Operation Jump Start, President Bush's initiative, have no direct law enforcement duties. They are here to provide force protection, free up Border Patrol agents until more can be trained, bring technology, to be "more eyes and ears." But the reality is that soldiers are trained to kill and deal with an "enemy." Local residents understand this. When the nearby city of Sunland Park, New Mexico, received a request from the Border Patrol's El Paso sector to station National Guard soldiers on the city's hill of Cristo Rey, a pilgrimage site topped by a monumental white cross visible from Mexico and frequented mostly by faithful from Texas, residents rebelled. The City Council voted to deny the right-of-entry permit. "Militarily trained is not Border Patrol trained," says a 35-year-old El Paso native who picnics on the hill. "The Border Patrol doesn't walk up to you with a weapon pulled-people are afraid of others running around there with M-16s."

There is another reason more military personnel will be coming to El Paso: Fort Bliss is set to receive 20,000 new soldiers in the next five years (present number: 13,000). Spokesmen say the influx is not part of a strategy to strengthen military presence on the border, but due instead to re-stationing of units from overseas and from installations closed in the armed forces' Base Realignment and Closure process. Did the strategic border location of Fort Bliss affect the BRAC decision not to close it, when the process eliminated so many others? "Not to my knowledge," says Public Affairs Officer Jean Offut. Furthermore, the base "has nothing to do" with National Guard stationed in and around El Paso, or with their assignments.

No matter what the reason for supersizing Fort Bliss, the effect is a sensation of further militarization of the community, says Timothy Dunn, a border scholar (The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border 1978-1992) and sociologist at Salisbury University in Maryland. "Also, that means there's a much bigger pool to draw upon for border duty by JTF North." Originally called JTF-6, in 1997 Marines in the anti-drug joint task force, supporting the Border Patrol, shot and killed an 18-year-old American named Esequiel Hernandez as he tended family goats in rural Redford, Texas. The Marines were never charged. JTF-6 morphed into JTF North, based at Fort Bliss, now charged with supporting law enforcers such as the Border Patrol with "interdiction of suspected transnational threats." That's fence and road building, but it's also training, and that's "not innocuous," says Dunn. "It's militaristic stuff including interrogation techniques, booby traps and weapons. A large part of low-intensity conflict doctrine always has been U.S. military units training local forces. What happens is that military thinking comes to have a role in civilian enforcement."

Nearly half the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States entered legally and overstayed visas. Most illegal drugs enter in otherwise legitimate cargo and traffic. Operations Jump Start and Linebacker don't affect them. Meanwhile, the poor of Mexico and Central America continue to regard work in the United States as a lifeline, even if they must come illegally to grab it. Absent coherent domestic and multilateral policy, the war on the border, like the war on terror, is endless, and increasingly dangerous. "It's like two tsunamis, one coming up from the south, and increased militarization coming from the north, set to clash at the border," says University of Texas at El Paso political scientist and border researcher Tony Payan. "There is a need for a way to accommodate the flow."

In a new study, The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security, Payan suggests that the "real failure" of 9/11 was the lack of intelligence coordination to detect and apprehend potential terrorists entering anywhere. Mexican border security became a special focus, with law enforcement redefined as a matter of national security. The focus carries hostility not only to crossers but those who live in the area, "an escalation that has not paid off" because workers and drugs are coming at the same rate as five years ago. What has changed toward undocumented workers since 9/11, as Payan puts it, is "the perception of intentionality," that "this is not someone coming to take a job, but someone who will harm America."

Under a midday sun, the skeleton of a big river crab lies intact on the flat, baked earth. Which of the twigs coming out of the ground are motion sensors? Which are bare plants? A green and white Border Patrol car appears out of nowhere. The agent asks a few questions and seems in no hurry to drive away. He's been on the job 16 years, he says. Sure, it's fine that the Guard are here, but he doesn't figure it will change his job much, endlessly patrolling this line. Has he ever been in danger? Well, the drug runners have taken to throwing big rocks at the patrol cars, which is dangerous if one hits while he's driving fast. Sometimes the rocks smash right through the windshield, which cuts off the chase because it's all you can do to keep the car from flipping. He wants to make sure I'm not confused, not thinking it's the migrants trying to sneak into the country who throw the stones. "It's the drug ones, you know, not the ones coming to work." Later, on another part of the line where bushes grow, where it's possible to climb down to the cool river, where a Mexican family on the other side has spread its cloth to eat lunch, another agent drives up, this one brusque. "Be careful around here, like if you go down to the river, because if we see you coming up, we don't know who you are," he says.

On another day, as light fades in the August sky, Texas National Guardsmen inside a windowless camera room are intent on a bank of full-light screens and pink-toned night vision screens, working joysticks to pan the views, watching "bodies," as they call them, figures on the Mexican side of the river. "I was doing basically the same thing in Iraq, entry points, vehicles, looking for suspicious activity," says a 33-year-old from El Paso back from Tikrit. "There they were penetrating the wall around our base. This is like they're penetrating our home. We don't want terrorists to come in." Another soldier watches for "massing," a gathering of several figures who might come across in a group and overwhelm a single agent. But El Paso has been flooded with rains, and the same river that was low just a few days before runs full and treacherous now. "You'd have to be crazy to try that river tonight," says a 20-year-old Specialist 4. "Or desperate."

Nevertheless, hours after sunset Senior Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Garcia is driving the levee roads, amid tumbleweeds that blow up in the dark, catching jackrabbits in the headlight beams, his radio crackling with traffic from soldiers in the camera room and agents on the borderline who are spotting the crazy, or desperate, crossers. Visual on six to eight subjects... Changing clothes... Bodies up on the levee now... Those bodies are running back now... Garcia throws the SUV into four-wheel drive, driving expertly, ready for sinkholes on flats near the marsh. Another radio voice. Five to six subjects. Goin' up. Running north from Duty exit. "Well, night is the busiest time," says Garcia, who joined the Border Patrol six years ago. Two spotters... Four guys crouching... Agents respond. Outside San Elizario, Garcia rolls to a stop. From the levee an agent in a patrol car is "cutting" north across the sand with his flashlight beam, looking for tracks. Dogs are barking; other agents search a yard with flashlights. Garcia peers into a ditch. For now, they get away. Watching these agents, it's clear that they are well trained, ready for anything. Some have specialized degrees, many served in the armed forces themselves. Deterrence through ubiquity and obvious surveillance is the policy, but if someone breaches the line, they know the pathways. It seems tonight that only the sheer number of those who try to cross the border illegally means some get through.

Garcia drives more miles along the borderline, until he pulls up alongside a white pickup. Inside, an agent is behind the wheel, watching a small, green screen divided into quadrants mounted on his dashboard. Standing high in the truck bed is a FLIR, or forward looking infrared camera, trained south. Only days before, a lone patroller nearby captured a group of 10 migrants, and two drug runners with 90 pounds of marijuana in duffels. Without the FLIR, says the agent at the dashboard screen, that lone patroller would have caught the escaping drug runners, but missed the drugs they jettisoned, which the FLIR's eye saw. Garcia is thoughtful. "Every day what we're doing out here is a war against terror-after 9/11 that became number one," he says. And "you can't say it's militarizing the border" to have the soldiers here. "You don't see military vehicles running up and down the line, and again, the Guard has no direct power to arrest." The desert is silent except for the cry of cicadas. The FLIR agent never takes his eyes off the screen, and suddenly he is sending a message. One spotter trying to get on the river... Should pop out any minute...

Mary Jo McConahay is an independent journalist and contributing editor for New America Media.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Lutsen downtown design planning begins October 2

Nancye Belding

True North correspondent

The long-awaited planning process to integrate Highway 61 and Gitchi Gami Trail planning into an overall downtown design concept that meets the needs of Lutsen residents will commence with a public meeting on Monday, October 2 at 7 p.m. in the Lutsen Evangelical Lutheran Church. The public is cordially invited to attend.

The design plan will be facilitated by the University of Minnesota Center for Changing Landscapes, an interdisciplinary team that looks at history, culture, ecology, watershed, and other preservation issues in addition to elements of landscaping and architecture. CCL has been working with Tofte on a similar downtown design, with similar attention paid to highway redevelopment, bike trails and many other trails intersecting the downtown area. CCL works up designs based on public input, gets feedback, makes new designs, and gets more feedback before signing off.

The $35,000 project is funded by a $5,000 donation from Lutsen township and a $30,000 grant from the Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Partnership Fund.

-This article reprinted courtesy of Cook County News Herald

YubaNet: EPA budget slashed for 2008


Bush Administration Plans Even Bigger EPA Cuts For ‘08
Author: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Published on Sep 13, 2006, 08:41

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing for a new even larger round of budget cuts for the 2008 Fiscal Year, according to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These new cuts are being readied even as Congress is still reviewing administration proposals to reduce EPA spending by a record $100 million in FY 2007.

The June 8, 2006 memo from the EPA Chief Financial Officer, Lyons Gray, to agency leadership, calls for pinpointing "larger savings" as part of a series of austerities spread over the next 5 years. Slated for presentation to the President's Office of Management & Budget on September 11, 2006, the agency's fiscal reduction package includes:

* Closure of Laboratories. The plan calls for closing 10% of EPA's network of laboratories and research centers in which much of the agency's basic and applied science concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health issues is conducted. By 2011, the laboratory network, comprised of approximately 2000 scientists, would shrink by 20%;
* Staff Buy-Outs. The plan gives EPA regions freer hands to carry out personnel reductions targeted at higher ranking ("GS 12 to GS 15") scientists, analysts and managers. These cuts would be in addition to anticipated attrition which should be substantial, with 35% of EPA staff becoming eligible to retire during the next three years; and
* Reduced State and Tribal Oversight. Additional savings would accrue from reducing the "regulatory burden" on, and reporting requirements for, state and tribal environmental agencies.

The memo calls identified reductions "disinvestments" and concedes that they will undoubtedly have "long-term consequences." Agency budget cuts now being debated in Congress for the fiscal year that begins this October 1 have raised concerns that EPA is already losing its ability to maintain coherent scientific, regulatory or enforcement programs.

"EPA planning is now driven entirely by external fiscal targets without regard to the effects upon public or environmental health," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The Bush administration seeks to ‘disinvest' in environmental science, pollution control and global sustainability."

In his memo, Mr. Gray attempts to sugarcoat cuts by describing scaled-back operations as "centers of excellence."

"The Bush administration is trying to spin this lobotomy as a diet plan for a trimmer, shapelier EPA," Ruch added. "In fact, it is a plan to cut and run from historic standards of environmental protection under the guise of deficit management."

Read the CFO Memo

Look at multiple studies showing EPA's diminishing capacity

See the debilitating effects that current cuts are already having on EPA research capabilities.

View how corporate contributions are influencing cash-starved EPA scientific research.

Revisit ongoing closures of EPA technical libraries. and information infrastructure

© Copyright 2006

Lutsen protests feds’ decision on county lynx habitat

Nancye Belding

True North correspondent

At the regular Lutsen town meeting on September 19, County Commissioner Bruce Martinson warned supervisors of “dire effects in Cook County” if the proposed federal rule for critical Canada lynx habitat designation in Northeast Minnesota is approved on October 11, the closing date for comments. On September 11 the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, announced the final 30-day period before the rule is adopted. In Cook County, the designated area runs along the Lake Superior shore and includes mostly privately owned land for two to five miles inland as far as the Grand Portage reservation. From the reservation north and eastward it includes all lands up to the Canadian border.

Martinson explained that the problem is that development can be severely restricted in critical habitat areas, basically at the discretion of FWS. During the comment period, some townships wrote letters requesting exemption for privately owned land in Cook County, which is less than nine percent of total land area, due to the economic hardship resulting from restricted private development. The county had prepared a map identifying the privately owned land as well as state, forest, and tribal lands. “They didn’t even use the map we provided,” Martinson said. FWS refused the request for exemption of private land based on its own study which determined the economic impact would be zero.

The Lutsen supervisors voted in favor of a motion that: Lutsen township is in favor of exempting all private land, so that the lynx critical habitat designation would only apply to publicly owned land within Superior National Forest. Voting for the motion were Chair Brad Ludlow and Supervisor Marland Hansen. “There have always been lynx here,” Hansen said. Ludlow said, "We need to be stewards, but we could be looking at critical lynx habitat delineation studies down the road. Supervisor Diane Parker abstained, saying she did not know enough about the issue and its impact to vote.

More information on the proposed rule is available at the following website:

This article re-printed from the Cook County News Herald

Monday, September 25, 2006

IRS, religion and moral imperatives

A reader passed along a September 22 LA Times article entitled, "All Saints Episcopal Church Won't Comply With IRS Probe: Pasadena's All Saints Episcopal parish board challenges a request to turn over documents in a case over a 2004 antiwar sermon."
I imagine that for the reader, as for me, this raises lots of issues: Can the IRS (the state) interfere with a parish (the church)? If people of faith feel called upon to stand together against war, torture, racism, and similar depradations imposed by a political party or candidate, do they deserve to lose their tax-exempt status in the United States?
The law seems pretty clear: Churches can't endorse candidates or parties, nor can they oppose them. But, as All Saints Reverend Ed Bacon said, "The Episcopal faith calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism." Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah supported Bacon, saying, "There seems to be an assault upon the pulpit, and it seems to fit a pattern of focusing on those challenging our administration."
Not being religious myself, I feel free to speak out against intimidation, a tactic long practiced by the Bush administration to silence the public and strong-arm the (not so reluctant) press to print its lies as news. We must challenge every assumption about what gets printed and spoken by the administration for most of it is now proven to be untrue and the rest of it is debatable. In our little local skirmish over two new Homeland Security initiative--the vastly increased Border Patrol presence and Cost Guard gunfire exercises near the Grand Marais harbor--people of good will should keeping asking questions and demanding accurate answers.
Homeland Security has now taken over all 22 federal agencies concerned with defense. It's stated agenda is to fight terrorism. People, we need to ask, where are the terrorists? Not a solitary one has been founding lurking on or near American soil.

Fed judge restores "roadless" rule in national forests

San Francisco federal judge Elizabeth Laporte denied permission to the Bush administration to begin logging and road building in "roadless" national forests. Laporte cited the need to comply with rules set down by the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. About 44 million acres are affected in the lower 48 states, 62,000 acres of which are located in Minnesota.
According to a New York times editorial today, Laporte "largely reinstated the Clinton protections. Her most telling argument was that the Forest Service had flat-out failed to observe the regulatory protocols required of such a major rule change, sidestepped the detailed environmental analysis mandated by law and ignored the potential impacts of the new policy on endangered species."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oberstar: Coast Guard posts firing range maps on Internet

Coast Guard Posts Firing Range Maps on Internet
Thursday, September 21, 2006

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Coast Guard has published a web page regarding its proposed Great Lakes “safety zones” for live fire training exercises, Congressman Jim Oberstar reports.

The web posting contains maps and other information on the proposal, which would designate 34 permanent zones where live ammunition could be used during training exercises.

The web page can be found at

Earlier this week the Coast Guard announced that it will hold a series of five public meetings during the month of October to allow citizens to comment on the plan. The first of these meetings will be held in Duluth on October 16.

Last week the Commandant of the Coast Guard called off live-fire training exercises on the lakes and assured Oberstar that they would not resume until after the public meetings have been held.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Will Big Brother be watching you? or will it be Boeing?

Dear Readers,

The following story's implications are so urgent for all of us border folks to understand that I am re-printing it here, hoping that the author won't mind.
I think we TRULY must look beyond our little county: what we are experiencing is just another extension of stateside war games by BushKo and his no-bid cronies at United Homeland Contractors. No wonder the GSA is keeping mum about our little project.
From my perch here on the hill, I have worried most about the electronic surveillance factor in the new-and-improved fiber-optic, state of the art technology, Grand Marais Homeland Security facility (Yes, call a spade a spade, the Border Patrol is just one of Homeland's 22 sub-agencies now). Surveillance in all its ugly invasiveness is something that no one else has spoken against locally (so far). As for me, I don't want anybody reading my email, checking my bank account balance and activity, monitoring my phone calls or looking at my web searches. This is only the tip of the iceberg, friends. It is happening in ways we can't even yet imagine. I am not paranoid but I do surf the net for all the latest investigative reports from those whistle blowers and confidential sources that the BushKos want to put in jail.
Please, read this article, read everything you can find on the Internet about surveillance, and get serious, folks. It is for real, and unless somebody wakes up it is here to stay.

Floyd J. McKay
Seattle Times Guest Columnist
September 20, 2006

In these parts, cheek-by-jowl with the Canadian border, a few hardy survivalists dig in against an attack of black helicopters manned by foreigners working for the United Nations in cooperation with the sneaky Canadians.

Here in sophisticated Bellingham, we call them cranks.

But wait, they may be right after all, and they seem to have
encouragement from that most revered of institutions, the Department of Homeland Security, not to mention the White House.

I speak of the Secure Border Initiative Net (SBInet in gov-speak), which has our major defense contractors drooling at the easy money ahead. A contract for $2.5 billion will be awarded to one of the big defense consortiums later this month --- and that will lead to more, and more, and after a while it could turn into real money.

SBInet is a system of whiz-bang electronic surveillance all along the border, with thousands of sensors triggering remote-control cameras monitored by bored security personnel; unmanned aircraft and high-altitude balloons may figure into the picture.

Imagine the surprise of an ordinary Canadian black bear, peeing in the woods, as bears are wont to do, only to find she has triggered an alarm and is now on live television! Call in the choppers.

Electronic surveillance is not new to our borders --- forms of it have been used for years, with modest success at best. Smugglers have always found a way, and doubtless will with the SBInet as well. As long as there are addicts on both sides of our borders, drugs will continue to flow both north and south. Illegal immigrants as well.

We will spend billions more to gain a marginal advance in border protection.

If you wonder who benefits and who is really pushing this system, turn your Web browser to any financial publication or defense contractor. Homeland Security is the new gold standard in the field.

Since it was created from the merger of 22 agencies in 2003, DHS has nearly tripled its annual procurement spending, to $10 billion in 2005. A bipartisan congressional investigation called many of the contracts wasteful and mismanaged.

But the agency will continue to award big contracts, as Americans buy into any gimcrack that will make them feel safer. Democrats will be as wasteful as Republicans have been, because no one dares turn down any proposal related to security.

"U.S. border security looks like another rainmaker for the big defense contractor," says Barron's. "Many of the technologies that make you a successful aerospace contractor would also make you a successful homeland-security contractor," the aerospace industry's trade association told a McClatchy Newspapers reporter.

One of the "technologies" already at work is lobbying Congress a skill the defense industry has refined to an art. And, yes, Boeing is in the race, and Washington politicos may be expected to push for it to be selected.

Defense contractors need wars or rumors of wars to deliver dividends to investors and keep executives in high clover, and, with the Iraq war perhaps the last "shock and awe" for a while at least, it is the rumors of war (i.e., terrorism and its prospect) that will drive the industry. As Republicans ramp up the fear of terror and hapless
Democrats strive to prove they can be as tough, there is no end in sight.

A motley band of al-Qaida and wannabes is doing to the United States what the Reagan administration did to the Soviet Union, goading us into pouring more and more money into arms and armies, which in the case of the Soviet Union resulted in its bankruptcy and dissolution.

That won't happen here, of course; we are too rich and too united a nation.

But we pour billions into war and rumors of war at significant cost to other massive needs, ranging from education to health care to infrastructure.

Set aside such "liberal feel-good" ideas as day care for working mothers and health clinics for poor people and just look at "bricks and mortar," always a favorite of conservatives. America needs $1.6 trillion just to fix failing bridges, tunnels, dams and water systems, the American Society of Civil Engineers warns. We fall
behind daily, as we ramp up the fancy cameras along the Canadian border.

Infrastructure projects are more job-intensive than defense, and the jobs are in every small town and region, unlike concentrated defense jobs. Bricks and mortar, not guns; we already have more arms than the rest of the world combined. Can't we be governed by common sense, not fear?

Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western
Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial

Borderline insanity?

Concerned Citizens for Cook County recommends this link to a LA Times commentary by Patt Morrison. Food for thought in all of the "border" issues, both north and south. Do good fences make good neighbors? -True


Lynx critical habitat comment period reopens, analysis available


I just got this post about the lynx critical habitat study. Please check it out. At the last Lutsen town meeting, County Commissioner Bruce Martinson showed maps of the critical habitat territory which includes virtually all county land, both public and private. He told residents that the report concludes there would be zero economic impact to the county by restricting future development in these areas.
The comment period closes again on October 11, 2006. In the previous comment period, some townships wrote stating that due to the small (less than nine percent) amount of private land in the county, restricting private development would be a great economic hardship. These comments were ignored, in a similar manner to the comments by most county communities that allowing limited commercial trout fishing in Lake Superior would be beneficial to our economy and would honor our history.
Please take the time to check out this website, read the report and look at the maps:

Sincerely, True

From: []
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 4:57 PM
Subject: lynx economic analysis coming soon

The draft economic analysis and NEPA document for the lynx critical habitat
will be available for public comment starting Sept. 11, 2006. On Sept 11 a notice of the availability of these documents will be published in the Federal Register and we will make the documents available on our website

The comment period will be open for 30 days (by my count it will close October 11, 2006). We are working under a court-ordered deadline to have a final critical habitat designation by Nov 1, 2006.

Lori Nordstrom

Lori H. Nordstrom
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
585 Shepard Way
Helena, MT 59601
phone: 406/449-5225 ext. 208
fax: 406/449-5339

EDA Matt thanks citizens

____Greeting form the EDA
I would like to thank the folks that attended last nights meeting. Your comments were heart felt and were presented in a professional manner. As I promised last night, I will make every effort to inform the public of any Homeland Security issues as they arise.
Thank You,

Matt Geretschlaeger
Cook County/Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority
15 North Broadway Avenue
P.O. Box 597
Grand Marais, Minnesota 55604-0597

Telephone: (218) 387-3067
Fax: (218) 387-3018


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oberstar: public hearings set for live gunfire on lakes

For Immediate Release
Monday, September 19, 2006
Contact: Jim Berard, 202-225-6260

WASHINGTON-The U.S. Coast Guard has scheduled a series of four public hearings on its plan to conduct live fire exercises on the Great Lakes, Congressman Jim Oberstar announced today.

The Coast Guard will hold the following public meetings:

• Oct. 16 at the Duluth Convention Center, 350 Harbor Drive, Duluth, Minn.; (218) 722-5573. Open house from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• Oct. 18 at the Holiday Inn, 940 West Savidge, Spring Lake, Mich.; (616) 846-1000. Open house from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• Oct. 19 at the Crystal Gardens, 1200 Gratiot Boulevard, Marysville, Mich.; (810) 364-6650. Open house from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• Oct. 23 at the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building, 31st floor auditorium, 1240 E 9th Street, Cleveland (photo identification required for entrance); (216) 902-6020. Open house from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Earlier this year, the Coast Guard announced plans to establish a number of permanent safety zones in the Great Lakes for gunnery training using live ammunition. It also began live-fire training in several temporary exercise zones on the lakes.

Following a meeting with Oberstar last week, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, announced that the live-fire exercises would be suspended until public meetings can be held and public comment gathered on the training zone plan.

Bill Richard
AA, Congressman Oberstar
2365 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
202.226.1420 Direct
202.225.0699 Fax
202.225.0899 Cell

Monday, September 18, 2006

Concerned citizens announce issues for EDA tomorrow

Dear friends,
This post just came in from the Concerned Citizens for Cook County. Yours, True

It is anticipated that the GSA's site selections will be announced tomorrow at the regular EDA meeting. Based on information collected thus far, the EDA is the only public office that admits to having any information on the proposed Homeland Security Building. The EDA also shares one city and county official, so the meeting tomorrow is the next opportunity for concerned citizens to be heard on this
issue. Because the EDA has allowed a minimal amount of time for comments and discussion, it was agreed that concerned citizens planning to speak at the meeting should focus on one of several important topics in relation to the Homeland Security proposal. The idea is to succinctly make our points and concerns known and cover as much ground as we can. Each person will be limited to 5 minutes, with a maximum of ten minutes spent on each subject. Some important topics identified by concerned citizens are:
-Open Meeting policy and possible violation/s of policy with regard to City, County and State officials as well as lack of public notice on the subject prior to EDA's regular meeting August 8th. Also in question is the use of a "continuation" over two days rather than terming the meeting the next day as a "special meeting" which would
have required public notice.
-To what extent was independent action taken by the EDA Director exclusive of the EDA Board, prior to announcement of the Homeland Security proposal during his Director's Report at the August 8th Regular EDA meeting? The August 8th meeting minutes reflect an urgency from the Director, who requested that his board react "immediately" to the proposal even though they had no prior discussion or background on the issue.
-Request that the board investigate a possible conflict of interest with regard to City Councilor Tim Kennedy's representation of one of the potential project developers.
-Discuss the need for open communication between residents and officials as the public learns more about the proposal.
-To what extent will the public have input on the specifications of the building, lighting, size and other aspects of the building if they choose the Business Park? How specifically will this change if the GSA chooses another location in the county?
-Will there be an economic impact statement about the project that includes both city and county scenarios as well as the possible impact to Gunflint Trail area and resorts?
-Will there be a new environmental impact study done specifically for a building and grounds of this this scale regardless of location?
-How comfortable are the EDA Board members with the scale of the project? Do they also support the building regardless of public opinion?
If you would like to speak about one of these topics tomorrow, or have another topic you would like to address, please email the moderator, who will confirm topics with speakers individually. And even if you choose not to speak, please come try to come if you can.
Wear your Rational Security shirts and hats! Meeting begins at 4pm at City Hall Chambers.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Tofte and Schroeder address water quality issues

Tofte and Schroeder look at wastewater treatment
Nancye Belding
True North correspondent

Do you think wastewater treatment is boring? The two dozen or so people who attended the August 28th open house offered by the board of the Tofte Schroeder Sanitary Sewer District might beg to disagree. Apparently fascinated, they listened for two hours while three knowledgeable speakers disclosed findings of the recent assessment of wells and treatment systems in the district, showed GIS/GPS maps linked to these findings, and gave tips on maintenance of your septic system investment.
Inspector Jeff Crosby told the good and not-so-good news discovered during his assessment of the 40 businesses and resorts, 110 year round homes and 132 cabins and seasonal homes. The good news is that the district compares favorably with others on the North Shore, where the combination of minimal soil and fractured bedrock makes many a system nonconforming. Crosby attributes this to the fact that much development in the district is of a relatively recent date.
Not-so-good is the finding that among both businesses and residences the noncompliant or “definitional failure” rate is about 40 percent. For residences, this number includes six percent with surface sewage, defined as “Imminent Public Health Threat.” Crosby said the IPHT includes about 20 seasonal or year round homes.
The definitional failures, he said, may not pass the Minnesota standard that requires three feet of well-drained soil separating the mound or drainfield from the bedrock layer. Other causes of noncompliance can be leaking tanks, especially metal ones, drywells and ponded systems.
Clinton Little, consultant from the Lake Superior Coastal Program, assisted Crosby by setting up a data base of all the information obtained from the assessment, and then using GIS/GPS technology to map that information. With the click of a mouse, Little was able to pull up all the information on any property, including location of wells and driveways. This was not actually done to protect citizen privacy, but with a few more clicks Little showed the relative locations of wells, driveways and septic systems for the whole district with interesting graphics.
Rick Anderson, board chair for the district, asked for input as to how the nonconforming systems and IPHT systems should be dealt with.
Two themes emerged from the discussion: First, IPHT’s need to be addressed as soon as possible and loan or grant funds provided when needed. Second, most people favor adopting a “Point of Sale” ordinance. This was rejected at the county level, but the sewer district has the authority to do so on its own. The ordinance would provide that any time a property is sold, the seller would have to have a compliance inspection and the funds to pay for repair or replacement would come out of the sale proceeds. It is, Crosby noted, a very fair way to bring older systems into compliance.
The third presenter was Laurie Brown, from the University of Minnesota Community Education Extension in Cloquet. Her slideshow, called “Buried Treasure in Your Back Yard,” emphasized the critical importance of protecting and regularly maintaining home septic systems, normally an investment of $10,000 to $20,000.
Brown had many excellent suggestions, such as: Don't put chemicals or medicines or Pine Sol down your sinks or toilets. Use little bleach and only mild liquid detergents. Stagger water use and conserve water. Clean your effluent filter (newer systems have these) twice a year. Pump out your tank at least every three years. Aerobic bacteria in your drain field or mound help to keep it clean and harsh chemicals reduce or destroy their effectiveness. If there is a back-up, call for help immediately or your system could break down.

Coast Guard Assures Oberstar That Live Fire Exercises Have Been Suspended

Thursday, September 14, 2006

WASHINGTON--As a result of a meeting late this afternoon between Congressman James L. Oberstar and Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, live firing by the Coast Guard on Lake Superior will be suspended during the current public outreach period. The outreach period will include public hearings or town hall meetings throughout the Great Lakes region, including in Duluth.

"The Admiral heard my comments at this morning’s Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing, and he told me that the Coast Guard should have handled the situation differently. He expressed to me that the public had not been properly notified and the mission was not made clear to area residents," said Oberstar. "The Coast Guard’s priority is to protect public safety; therefore they have committed to provide public notice before any future live firing exercises, so that boaters will know to avoid the area."

At this morning’s hearing, Oberstar questioned a Coast Guard witness regarding the Coast Guard’s inconsistent actions of asking for public comment while they continued to conduct their live fire exercises. As a result of today’s meeting, Admiral Allen assured Oberstar that the Duluth-area media will be notified prior to the resumption of live fire exercises.

"I also suggested to Admiral Allen that the Coast Guard should request that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Research Lab in Duluth evaluate the effect of lead bullets on sediments and water quality in Lake Superior in the firing zone," concluded Oberstar. "I feel confidant that this is a satisfactory resolution of the matter."

News release courtesy of Oberstar's office

Thursday, September 14, 2006

All we are saying is give peace a chance

Dear True,
I was very interested to read the latest post from my valued friend, John Haluska, about the Homeland Security project. I am happy that we can talk in civilized fashion about difficult issues in our little town.
I agree with many of John’s views: that the federal government has (under the present regime) the power to impose its will despite local protests, that the cost of the project is inappropriate to the scope of work, that conflicts of interest need to be examined, and even that there may be some economic benefits to Grand Marais. I agree that Border Patrol has a legitimate purpose. I absolutely agree that Matt Geretschlaeger has acted with utmost fairness and integrity. And IF I were to grant the basic premise that the 10-acre, 34,000 square foot facility complete with holding cells and a helicopter pad and a chain link fence is simply an office building, well, I would have to concede that my “military outpost” premise is misguided.
But I am feeling as though John’s objections to my disclosure of deep mistrust of government hint faintly at the Rove-Rumsfeld argument that all criticism aids terrorists. I am trying to say that the Homeland project is overkill, that building walls and fences and listening outposts only generates more ill-will and insecurity, and that this little intrusion of 50 “highest quality” border cops does not bode well for amicable relationships with our Canadian neighbors, not to mention our BWCAW campers.
There are similar excursions into militaristic exercises going on all over the country, the worst probably being Divine Strake, but the live gunfire on Lake Superior is also adding to the climate of fear that the Bush administration fosters in support of its endless and limitless war on the Evildoers.
In short, my letter was about the effect that fear-mongering has in the lives of peaceable people. As dear John Lennon said, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”
Nancye Belding

Office building, not a military outpost, reader says


With the highest regard for those who view the proposed Homeland Security building as an outpost of militarism, I offer that it is hardly that. It is, in fact, mainly an office building to house the U S Border Patrol in this sector of their assigned area. I think that to present it as a military outpost is not the best way to have a forthright debate on it.

I stand by my earlier assertion that it can honestly be argued against on the basis of it being a poor investment. All that money for maybe 24 apprehensions per year max?

The other issue remains the conflicts of interest that seem to loom every where in any important matter that comes before our local leaders.

Border security is a legitimate activity of government and it should be properly housed.

John Haluska
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Militarization for what noble cause?

Dear True,
I attended the town forum on Homeland Security, the discussion at Grand Marais City Council, and I have read all of the letters and articles and posts from Concerned Citizens for Cook County. This has been a great discussion in a great community and I find some small point, at least, to agree with in every point of view.
But nearly everyone has said that if the feds want a new military outpost here they will get it, meaning we can only make the best of it. I don’t agree.
This Homeland project is totally about the militarization of our peaceful village and the beautiful North Shore, as is the dangerous, polluting and scary live gunfire practice already going on in the lake. The people of the United States have been deceived by the government and their media puppets into believing that militarization is necessary for our security and will make us safe. Not so. “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.”
I read today of the plight of Gaza refugees, living in fear and chaos and economic disaster after their country was destroyed by Israel. A father sleeps on a 20 square yard patch of garden to protect it from roving gangs. United Nations grants for school supplies are being spent on desperately needed food.
But what brought me to tears was the news that fishermen must use hand-thrown nets on the beach because the Israeli Navy patrols the sea, preventing them from catching more than a few sardines. Here, in another fishing village on another great body of water on the other side of the world, it feels like we are trying to pretend we are living in a war zone, and for what? What noble cause? (as Cindy Sheehan keeps asking George Bush, without an answer).
Maybe I can’t stop these crazies but I can at least speak out loudly against them, echoing the calls for peace coming increasingly from around the globe. I have been on a partial fast to support Cindy and her peace campers, reminding myself in a small way, by going hungry until evening every day, of the enormous death, destruction, grief and suffering caused by the militarization of the country in which I live, but where I no longer belong.
Nancye Belding

Live gunfire comment period: who to contact

Here's who to call and fax about live-fire exercises on Lake
Superior. Demand a focus on RATIONAL SECURITY!

Norm Coleman
D.C. 800-642-6041
MN 651-645-0323 (John Halvorson, Aide)

Mark Dayton
D.C. 888-224-9043
MN 218-865-4480

Jim Oberstar
D.C. 202-225-6211
MN 218-727-7474

Coast Guard
fax 202-493-2251

This post received from Concerned Citizens for Cook County.

City council candidates Larsen, Lenz, Costello praised

Dear True,

The upcoming election in Grand Marais is an opportunity to elect folks who can bring the community together. Evelyn Larsen, Bill Lenz, and Kay Costello are excellent people who are interested in protecting the heritage of Grand Marais, protecting the harbor, and preserving the city’s unique character.

All sides of the political spectrum, from conservative to progressive are uniting behind them to restore integrity and openness to city government. The climate of cronyism and favoritism that characterize city management and the present mayor, Mark Sandbo, and Council Member Bob Spry, need to be brought to a halt. The free rush to gentrification needs to stop. We need open and honest government in Grand Marais. We don’t need conflicts of interest rearing themselves at every turn and we don’t need the attempted intimidation of citizens who hold views opposite of those who are in office.

I urge everyone to come together to elect Larsen, Lenz and Costello. This will level the playing field and then we can continue to work together for a better Grand Marais respectful of each other and of its unique heritage and place on our North Shore.

John Haluska

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Public comment period announced for EDA

Regarding the EDA meeting September 19th at 4 pm:
The public is invited to speak at this time. [Matt Geretschlaeger clarified that this will be shortly after the call to order, so be there at 4.] The public comment
period is limited to one half-hour. No person may speak more then five (5)minutes, or more than once. Each subject will have a limit of ten (10)minutes. EDA members may ask questions of the speaker. With the agreement of the EDA, such matters taken up during the comment period may be scheduled on the current agenda or a future agenda.

Before speaking state your name and address, speak for yourself, not others, and refrain from personal attacks.

Reader likes Cedar Grove for Homeland Security

Dear True,

Last weeks Town Hall forum on the proposed new facility for the U. S. Border Patrol should have left little doubt in anyone’s mind that, even though The RFP isn’t in, so we don’t have all the information yet, this project looks to be good for Grand Marais and should be built in the Cedar Grove Business Park.

Matt Geretschlaeger and most of the EDA board have dealt with this issue in an extremely professional and forthright manner. In no way was there any attempt by Matt, intentional or otherwise, to deceive, mislead, or misconstrue any of the facts. Those who feel that this was improperly dealt with by Mr. Geretschlaeger, in any way what-so-ever, are simply wrong, and owe him an apology. We know what he knows.

Please, consider that this building is going to be built in Cook County no matter what.

The U. S. Border Patrol is an important and valued part of our government. If we didn’t have it, we’d have to come up with it right now.

The best place in Cook County for this building is the Cedar Grove Business Park. It is designed to handle such a facility in terms of the buildings size, function, and essential features and communications requirements. Locating it there will minimize environmental impact in terms of road construction, vehicular travel, other infrastructure demands, and sprawl, to name just a few.

It will be in the best location to benefit, through direct and indirect employment and the purchase of support services, the city of Grand Marais.

Because it is privately owned and leased, it will benefit our property tax base.

It will help balance the local economy both in terms of seasonal activity and in terms of employment sectors. No one has yet put forward any argument as to why up to 50, full time, full benefit, higher level jobs are bad for Grand Marais or for the county.

Locating this facility in the business park, due to the controls and restrictions built into the EDA policies and agreements, gives the community the more leverage in affecting the outcome than we would have were it to be built elsewhere in the county.

Granted, there are questions regarding conflicts of interest involving EDA board member and City Council member Tim Kennedy and Mayor Mark Sandbo, who now reportedly works for Mr. Kennedy’s real estate firm. These need further explanation. It is incumbent on the EDA and the city attorney to look into this issue thoroughly. This would be in the best interest of the community and the individuals involved. I ask that both investigate this matter so it can either be laid to rest or properly dealt with.

It is troubling that also no sound economic argument has been presented in support of building this facility. The U. S. Border Patrol representatives said they average one to two detentions per month in this sector with no indication that any are slipping through due to a lack of manpower or coverage. 50 agents + 34,000 square feet = dollars per year in the millions = 24 apprehensions a year? That is hardly cost effective, but then very little in government is – it isn’t meant to be.

This is good for the local economy, but bad for the federal taxpayer. It is, however, typical federal government spending.

The argument that it takes up spaces in the business park that could otherwise serve private sector business, does not fly. That same space could have been taken by a business that would simply use it to park vehicles and employ very few people and those at low wages. None of the speculative alternative businesses would be likely to have as much positive impact as this one facility.

We do need to see an RFP, but when you weigh the pluses and the minuses we have so far, whether you are progressive or conservative, an environmentalist or a motor head, a peace worker or a war monger, a Bush lover, or, like me, a Bush basher, this facility should be welcome in Grand Marais and the entire community should work hard to see that it is built here and built in the most logical place we have for it, Cedar Grove Business Park. We should not waste the community’s energy arguing about it and Matt Geretschlaeger should be congratulated by all sides of the political spectrum for the fine job he has done on this project in the face of very difficult circumstances.

John Haluska

Duluth News Tribune: Coast Guard fires machine guns on Lake Superior

This post just received from Concerned Citizens for Cook County:

If you haven't already done so, please email or write the Coast Guard
regarding the militarization of the Great Lakes and the Canadian

Coast Guard fires machine guns on Lake Superior:
Crews on two U.S. Coast Guard vessels fired machine guns Tuesday on Lake Superior off Two Harbors as part of live-fire training exercises that some people mistakenly believed were on hold.
The full article will be available on the Web for a limited time:
(c) 2006 Duluth News Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

I strongly recommend that you read the full article and email it to your friends! True

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Border patrol seizes senior meds

Dear True,

Have you been wondering what those 50 Border Patrol guards will be doing besides driving and snowmobiling along the Canadian border while searching for fearsome, lurking terrorists?
And besides tuning in on your cars via Global Positioning Systems installed by automakers, or monitoring your BlackBerry and cell phones via satellite and land-based listening posts (read: new high-tech station in Grand Marais)?
Well, perhaps you haven't been wondering about that last one, since few people realize it is going on. I recommend "Hidden Depths to US Monitoring" in yesterday's Los Angeles Times for the hottest poop scoop.
Here's another little item in the job description of our 50 highest quality additions to the Grand Marais community:
they are now seizing Granny's meds which she has been illegally getting from Canada. Shame on her. (Reference: "Where's My Medication? Crackdown on Rx drugs from Canada frustrates U.S. consumers, AARP Bulletin, September 2006)

Jane Marple
"All I shall need for a rainy day is my umbrella."

Cascade grass roots take up watershed issues

Dear True friends,

Here is a new grass roots association of neighbors concerned with watershed issues around the Cascade River.
If you live anywhere nearby perhaps you will want to join up.

Cathi Williams wrote:
From: "Cathi Williams"
Subject: Cascade River Association website
Date: Sun, 10 Sep 2006 16:52:42 -0500

Dear Neighbors,

For those of you who are interested in finding out more about the Cascade River Association, please check out our new website at

There you will also find a membership application that you can copy and paste into an email and send to or print it and mail it to:
Cascade River Association, C/O Box 937, Grand Marais, MN 55604

A huge thanks to Kevin Woodward, board member and Cascade River property owner for creating the website!

David & Cathi Williams
Original owners & Operators of Bear Track Outfitting Co., Est. in l972

Monday, September 11, 2006

Grand Marais elections: new candidates Larsen and Lenz

Dear readers,

Today Evelyn Larsen filed to run for mayor of Grand Marais against incumbent Mark Sandbo, and Bill Lenz filed to run for councilor against incumbent Bob Spry.

We'll be bringing you as much info as we can gather about the candidates and their positions, so please check in often.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Action alert from Concerned Citizens for Cook County

CC/GM EDA Director Matt Geretschlaeger is scheduled to discuss the proposed Homeland Security Building with Jeff Corey, Director of the Northern Communities Land Trust, by phone Friday morning. Email Jeff with your concerns right away! So far he has only heard from one concerned citizen--let him know how many people are concerned about this proposal! Send to:

Six degrees of separation

Dear True,

For those of you unfamiliar with Six Degrees of Separation, the theory runs that we are all connected to everyone else on the planet by six degrees of separation, i.e. I know a woman who knows a man who knows another man who knows a woman who knows a man who knows a woman who knows me.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than the Grand Marais City Council.

Mark Sandbo, Mayor of Grand Marais, was the manager of the former East Bay Hotel. One fine day, Mr. Sandbo, in his leadership capacity as Mayor, along with the City Council of Grand Marais, illegally changed the city zoning regulations, specifically the change of the definition of hotel. What made this act illegal was the omission of a public hearing on the subject, an omission which was claimed later to be an "oversight." The Grand Marais City Council knew from long standing that a public hearing was mandatory. While all of this was going on, the East Bay Hotel was engaged in a purchase offer from a Twin Cities development group called The Gunflint Gals that intended to condo-ize the hotel under the extremely wobbly mandate that the condos be used solely as vacation rentals with an owner occupation limit of 30 days. Mr. Sandbo, against the advice of the City Attorney who cited a clear conflict of interest, championed this zoning change and voted for it. The matter is now apparently under investigation by the Minnesota State Auditor.

This zoning change paved the way for another Minnesota developer to construct the Cobblestone Condominiums on prime harbor property owned in part by Mr. Barney Peet, who reportedly owns the Shoreline, Best Western, and Spruce Glen Motels in Grand Marais. Mr. Peet's Shoreline Hotel property is managed by Richard Franta. While a manager for Mr. Peet, Mr. Franta sat on the Planning and Zoning Commission at the time the Cobblestone Condos were proposed, and there is no indication that he recused himself from the vote on this project.

Mr. Peet allegedly sold his share of the harbor land for an apparent equity position in the condo development, and his organization reportedly has an agreement to manage Cobblestone's rentals, leases, or sales. Mr. Sandbo, no longer employed by East Bay Hotel because of its fortuitous sale to East Bay Condominiums, promptly moved on to work for Mr. Peet. Both Mr. Sandbo and Mr. Franta reportedly continue to serve in management positions for Mr. Peet and allegedly are directly active in managing the Cobblestone Cove property.

Mayor Sandbo just got his real estate license to enable him to sell and lease condos, as well as other properties. Usually when you sell something as a real estate agent, you're paid a commission. Mr. Sanbo's license is held under a real estate broker. That broker is Gunflint Realty. Another Gunflint Realty agent and part owner is Tim Kennedy, a downtown property owner, who sits on the Grand Marais City Council, the EDA Board, and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Right now, Mr. Kennedy has a developer client who is looking for land for the new Homeland Security Building. The EDA is trying to interest Homeland Security in the small business park it is developing. Mr. Kennedy's client may or may not be interested in the EDA park, but either way, if the developer gets the job, Mr. Kennedy and Gunflint Realty will most certainly get a commission. In addition, Mr. Kennedy allegedly knew of, yet did not divulge, the Homeland Security building project long before Matt Geretschlager of the EDA office did and, if you believe the Mayor, long before the Mayor or the rest of the City Council knew. (I do think that most of the Council, like Kay Costello and possibly Ed Bolstad, were kept in the dark.) Apparently, the City Attorney, Don Davison, fit the pieces together after a lengthy Internet search.

In real estate there is the concept of "dual agency" wherein the real estate agent can represent both the buyer and the seller if each understands that is what the agent is doing and if both give written consent. Mr. Kennedy would have to prove he has the written consent for his dual agency with the EDA and his developer. To date he has not done so, therefore he represents the buyer and is in a clear conflict of interest with his position on the EDA Board.

To recap: Mayor Mark Sandbo and Councilman Tim Kennedy are both real estate agents in the same company, Gunflint Realty, of which Mr. Kennedy is part owner, and they are both in positions to manipulate the development of Grand Marais and to profit by their insider knowledge. One real estate company in Grand Marais has two Realtors voting on the City Council.

A decade ago there was a movement afoot to sell the Recreational Park (which brings in a sizable income to the City of Grand Marais) so it could be turned into a massive vacation resort in this prime location on the entire west side of the harbor. This did not go through because certain enlightened citizens managed to have the area protected by a conservation easement in partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust. This area is a mecca for all who enjoy and use the harbor as well as a sanctuary for the 19 species of shorebirds that use the harbor. Now the Mayor and some of the Council are striving diligently to build a huge marina in front of the same proposed development area. Mayor Sandbo has been heard to refer to the mega-marina as "my marina." I believe the exact quote was "I'm going to get my marina."

One tactic that might be employed to build the big marina would be to persuade the DNR to break the conservation easement which presently protects the recreation park from development. Neither the Mayor or the DNR have disavowed the use of this tactic. This could once again mean that the entire harbor area would be subject to condo development.

We now have two Realtors on the City Council who seem to have a history of using their position to serve their interests and those of their employers and/or clients over and above the interests of the city itself and the people who elected them. While most of the Realtors in Grand Marais are, no doubt, scrupulously honest, one has to question the motivations of those serving either on the City Council, the Planning and Zoning Commission, or the EDA who have so far shown a cavalier attitude to their positions of public trust.

And you, dear voters, are you starting to connect the dots?

Eyes Wide Open

Reporter’s notebook: Homeland Security issues aired on WTIP forum

Wednesday evening about 100 citizens attended a forum sponsored (and broadcast) by WTIP radio addressing questions about the proposed Homeland Security facility to a panel of speakers. The questions were audience-generated, but selected by WTIP, and the answers were not subject to debate.
The panel consisted of Glen Schroeder, head of the Grand Forks Border Patrol station which includes Minnesota under its umbrella; Grand Marais mayor Mark Sandbo, clerk Mike Roth, and councilor Tim Kennedy; EDA board members Bruce Martinson (representing Cook County), Tim Kennedy (representing Grand Marais); and EDA director Matt Geretschlaeger.
Schroeder led off with a fact-filled slide show about the role of Border Patrol in working with other agencies involved with Homeland Security. The closest interaction is with the Coast Guard. They also work with FEMA in emergencies, and sometimes the Secret Service. Their mandate is counter-terrorism: “to prevent entry of terrorists and terrorist weapons.” “We are the beat cops on the border,” Schroeder said.
The new facility is to replace the present BP building in Grand Marais, with an eye to bringing the current number of patrol agents from seven to 50 by 2009. It will be “unobtrusive.” The site will house 50 patrol officers and perhaps two or three support personnel in its 34,000 square foot: four holding cells of 300 square feet each, 7,000 square feet of office space, 5,000 for storage, 12,000 for “support,” 7,500 for inside parking, and 800 for “processing equipment.” The guidelines come from government regulations and the facility will hopefully last up to 30 years. The helicopter pad will be about 300 square feet, and the remainder of the site will contain parking for 55, a 100 foot buffer zone and an eight foot chain link fence. Occupancy will likely be complete by the end of 2008.
Schroeder said that the biggest helicopter would be a Black Hawk, and most would be smaller and quieter. Ninety-five percent of air traffic would come and go from the existing airport. He believes this increase is necessary although he said at present only one or two people per month are detained at the Pigeon River border. None have been terrorists. “The northern border is about coverage,” he said, because there are 2,000 miles of land and water where terrorists might enter illegally.
Schroeder confirmed that government officials from GSA and Homeland Security are looking at seven possible sites, including the one in Cedar Grove Business Park. Within two weeks, five of the sites should be eliminated; then Trammel Crowe, GSA contractor, will choose one of the remaining two. Some of the site owners are private individuals who, he said, are entitled to privacy at this stage. “We don’t want to have, and we won’t have problems,” he said. Low intensity lighting can be used.
The advantages to the community will be the addition of 50 families, their vehicles buying gas and being repaired, their children attending schools, their (presumably) wives grocery shopping. There is also a possibility that local contractors could sub-contract for some of the construction work. “It’s an economic boon,” he said. “These are the highest quality people.”
The agents will spend at least three years training at the Mexican border, learning Spanish, before being posted here. “It’s a matter of opinion where to put security,” Schroeder said. “If a terrorist should come, we can’t afford to miss even one hour, one day of being off guard.” Although up until now, terrorists have come with passports and visas, Schroeder believes a significant threat will be posed at the northern border as legal entry becomes more difficult. Asked if he would meet with residents for discussion again, he said, “Yes, when the site is selected and we have architects’ drawings. We are a good neighbor and I would be delighted to meet with the community again.”
Geretschlaeger said there will be advantages if the Cedar Grove site is selected and he has not had any complaints from the other businesses that have already reserved lots. The building will have to meet restrictive covenants, as well as Grand Marais city ordinances.
A public hearing process will be required by the EDA.
Sandbo, Kennedy and Roth said they support the facility in Grand Marais, whatever public opinion might be. They said the developer-owner of the site will have to pay taxes. Kennedy feels there is no conflict of interest in his representing a potential developer while supporting the overall EDA plan, because he did not vote when his client asked for a go-ahead to purchase three lots. Martinson said he is inclined to support the project but added that if the chosen site is in Grand Marais the county will have no involvement. All agreed to attend a future public comment meeting.

Nancye Belding
True North correspondent

Homeland Hall watch points

Hopefully most of you attended or tuned into the WTIP sponsored
Homeland Security Forum last night. Some significant notes
and "watch" points are:

-Purposeful focus on expansion of Border Patrol, rather than
Homeland Security facility.
-Stated mission is to "Prevent the entry of terrorists and terrorist
weapons into the U.S."
-Bush Administration' s "Secure Border Initiative" to be implemented
within 3-4 years in the Grand Marais area.
-Facility not directly related to Coast Guard live-fire exersizes, though Glen Schroeder from U.S.B.P. said they deal with the Coast Guard on "a daily basis".
-New York facility example shown during Powerpoint demonstration was
identified as 25,000 sq. feet, which is 10,000 sq. feet smaller than
the building proposed for Grand Marais.
-Commissioner Bruce Martinson stated that he first heard about this
issue on August 8th, 2006.
-Mayor Mark Sando stated that he was not aware of any other sites
being considered.
-Councilor Tim Kennedy stated that there were "a number of sites"
being considered.
-EDA's Matt Geretschlager clarified that there are seven local sites
being considered including a site near the airport.
-Border Patrol's Glen Schroeder commented that a site that offers fiber-optics and city amenities is "much more convenient and much cheaper" than a site that does not have these built in.
-Location closer to the border is not practical due to the agency's need for "quick access" and response time.
-Helipad estimated to be 150 sq. feet with traffic most likely from Black Hawk style helicopters.
-GSA Contractor Trammel Crowe will choose a local site within two weeks.
-Lots sold within the Business Park require a public hearing.
-There are "1 to 2" detentions per month at the Pigeon River
crossing, mostly for lack of proper identification or foreign-national status.
-Enforcement area includes border lakes and lands within and outside
of the BWCAW.
-Possibly "two or three" support positions will be filled by local
employees. Benefit to area cited as "secondary" benefits such as increased local shopping and vehicle maintenance.
-Mayor Sando stated that he "is for the building" regardless of public opinion.
-Mayor Sandbo felt that the proposed EDA site is "out of the way" and inobtrusive with tree cover.
-Border Patrol is "not looking at numbers" but "looking at coverage".
-Proposed building set for full occupancy by end of 2008.
-Additional 43 agents also set to be in place by 2008.

Stay tuned for additional information and the time and place of the
next CCFCC meeting! SLD