July 20, 2017


Customs and Border Protection want free rent for Crane Lake; say they aren't leaving


The Crane Lake U.S. Customs building, owned by Darrell and Carole Scott, is a busy place. It is also very important to the economy of Crane Lake, a picturesque township located at the end of the road on the Canada/United States border. The building, which the Scotts built in 2007 under specifications from the Customs and Border Protection to replace a much smaller one, is one of the busiest places in Crane Lake. According to Darrell Scott, it is the busiest such entry point in the United States.
The Border Crossing and Customs Building and its future were the reason that the regular meeting of the Crane Lake Township board of supervisors last Tuesday was held before a packed house of over 40 residents and concerned people. Present at the meeting were three representatives from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They were Jason Schmelz, Area Port Director, who did most of the talking for the group; Marty Eide, Chief, from International Falls; and Anthony Jackson, Port Director from International Falls. Also present were Minnesota Rep. Rob Ecklund, St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina, and Gary Cerkvenik, a lobbyist who has been vital for Crane Lake in its growth.
According to Jason Schmelz, the Crane Lake entry handles 700 aircraft coming into the U.S., 2,300 boats and 120 snowmobiles. The building, which the Scotts built according to Customs specification, in 2007 cost around $500,000 to build. According to Darrell Scott, the rent for the lease which expires on Dec. 31 of this year was $144,000 a year. The Scotts handle all security, including putting in a state-of-the-art security system; they pay all utilities, real estate taxes, plow the road, do all maintenance, provide dock space for incoming airplanes and boats, help handle airplanes and boats, provide a cleaning service, and they provide a jail.
Darrell Scott was then surprised when he was approached in February and told he had two weeks to agree to a new lease for zero dollars. A law that according to Schmelz has been on the books for years was the answer to a question from Commissioner Rukavina. This Customs operation has been present in Crane Lake since 1953. The Scotts built the new building in 2007 according to specs requested by the Border Protection, and signed a 10-year lease. A new lease would have been due next year. Darrell Scott noted that the cost of lease improvements would have been taken care of in the present lease, so it would be different. He added he was quite surprised when given the ultimatum to lease the building for no money. Schmelz said they could use mobile stations such as a kiosk where those entering would use a computer app. This is being tried in the panhandle in Minnesota in August, but it is not known how they would work. Dock space, security, etc. would still be needed. Schmelz reiterated many times that they aren't leaving Crane Lake, but their only alternative if the Scotts wish to be paid rent for the building that cost them around a half million, would be using mobile kiosks that had computers and needed apps. This technology is new, won't be tested until August and won't have dock space, etc.
Butch Eggen asked the Customs people, "Why the change? This office has been leased since 1957. What triggered this?" Schmelz answered that they wanted to be "fiscally sound." He spoke of Landing Rights Airports that are supposed to be free space and mentioned International Falls and Ely, but he wasn't sure if they were rent free. He spoke of the 417 airports that Customs uses and 293 of the airports should be free space, but he didn't know if they were.
Rob Scott spoke of private and public airports and noted that public airports could get government money while private ones couldn't get the tax money. Schmelz noted they could charge a fee to charter flights coming in.
Schmelz reiterated they didn't plan to leave Crane Lake. Cerkvenik asked if they had given the Scotts adequate notice and Schmelz replied, "Ten months." He did admit there had been minimal communications.
Darrell Scott told Schmelz, "If you told us you could pull the plug, do you think we would have built it?"
Schmelz said they had no option at this time and "haven't looked."
Butch Eggen told Schmelz, "Other government agencies use this. Have they been notified on this? This is our livelihood. We're concerned about this."
It was pointed out that the Crane Lake Customs and seaplane entry was the safest around and pilots who used it agreed. The Border Security/Customs people were told that this action could destroy the seaplane business.
Those present were told they should contact their people in Congress on this.
Rukavina spoke up saying, "It's not fair what's going on here." He added that it was hard to give the space for free.
Crane Lake Township Board Chair Jim Janssen closed the discussion by saying they didn't want to lose the presence of this border entry point.
The three representatives from customs didn't seem to know what was going on. This meeting will very likely bring members of the Minnesota delegation to Congress down on the Customs and Border Protection. In the meantime, these Congress members should expect a lot of letters.
Apparently, if they can't get free rent, the Customs and Border Protection people are relying on a computerized mobile unit and they don't know if it will work since it hasn't been tested. The Scotts are looking for help to keep the entry point open, but they aren't going to lose their business by giving out free rent.

Nashwauk Federal and North Star announce possible merger

In order to continue to remain competitive and offer as many products and services as possible, two Northland credit unions are planning to merge operations. Nashwauk Federal Credit Union with $5 million in assets is seeking member approval to merge with $37 million asset North Star Credit Union. Nashwauk Federal Manager Cindy Stevens stated, "We want to be a business that says yes. Yes to our members and yes to our community. Right now, we are limited in what we can answer yes to. By merging, our members will have access to all of the products and services offered by North Star."
The financial services industry is very competitive, and for decades credit unions have been joining together in order to keep up with industry regulations, technology, and costs. In 2016, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) approved 200 mergers. The merger between Nashwauk Federal and North Star has been approved by state and federal regulators as well as both credit union board of directors. The final step in the process is for the members of Nashwauk Federal to vote to approve merging their credit union into North Star.
North Star Credit Union's main office is located in Cook. If approved, Nashwauk Federal will become the Nashwauk Branch of North Star. The combined organization will have total assets of $42 million. In comparison, the average size of a credit union today is $250 million. NCUA defines small credit unions as under $100 million. By combining assets and working together, the management of both credit unions believe they will have a stronger company better able to withstand the competition in the industry and to be able to offer more products and services faster than they could alone. North Star Credit Union CEO Rich Crettol stated, "A stronger company is in the best interests of all of our members. We are excited for the opportunity to offer the members of Nashwauk Federal and the surrounding area all of our products and services as well as our educational and community involvement."
In a letter to their membership, Nashwauk Federal Credit Union board of directors stated, "North Star Credit Union was chosen because they are a locally run, small credit union with a similar culture as ours. They care about their members and their community and are dedicated to helping us do the same."
The effective date of the merger is set for Oct. 1, 2017. At that point, all members of Nashwauk Federal would become members of North Star, and all employees will become employees of North Star. The vision of North Star Credit Union is "Helping to build thriving communities across northern Minnesota." According to Crettol, "We are committed to the communities we serve. For example, we utilized local contractors, labor, and materials to expand our facilities in Cook twice, once in 2011 and again in 2015. We have also added 14 new jobs to the Cook community in the past 10 years."
Management of both credit unions are committed to increasing product and service offerings at the Nashwauk branch, are committed to investing in the community, and encourage Nashwauk Federal members to vote yes.

Spencer Viita holds off the Zikas to win Holm/Francis Tourney

The venerable Holm/Francis Golf Tourney, which has been going on forever, was held last weekend at the Vermilion Fairways Golf Course with 56 golfers vying for the title. A newcomer, Spencer Viita, emerged the winner with a 37 on Sunday in the championship round. He beat out former champs Tony and Joe Zika by four strokes. He also shot a 78 on Sunday.
Apparently, Spencer was probably the only golfer who walked the course instead of riding in a cart.
The weekend was bright and sunny, contrasted by the rain that happened most of the previous week.
Congratulations to Spencer. There are some good, young golfers coming up.


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