Star Herald recaps top stories in Rock County during 2022
Rock County’s biggest news in 2022 generally follows the 2021 theme of progress and growth, with ribbon-cuttings and grand openings after last year’s big announcements and ground-breaking ceremonies.
A well-attended Luverne All-School Reunion and 150th anniversary in July highlighted recently completed construction at the school, but also celebrated many of the good things going for the community.
Many are among the highlights we review for the Star Herald’s 2022 year in review.
For example, a 2021 ground-breaking set the wheels in motion for the 2022 grand opening of PrairiE Loft I and II apartments.
In October residents began moving into the long-awaited $8 million project (on the former Sharkee’s and Mert’s Repair lots) named with a capital E for “environmental sustainability and smart building practices.”
The two buildings each have 27 one- and two-bedroom market-rate rental units on three floors with elevators and off-street parking.
The units have varying sizes and amenities with rents ranging from $900 to $1,450 per month.
By year’s end, the first 27 PrairiE Loft apartments were rented, and the second building was on its way to being filled, a testament to the need for housing in Luverne and Rock County.
Luverne child care center
As state and national child care shortages continue to stifle business growth, Luverne leaders are tackling the issue with a city-subsidized day care center.
The city paid $515,000 for the former Tri-State Insurance Building (recently Total Card Inc) on Roundwind Avenue to accommodate up to 186 children from infants through school ages.
The 1974 building (just north of the pool and fitness center) has 30,000 square feet on 4.7 acres of land, with adequate “green space” required by the state.
On Dec. 20, city officials learned they were approved for a $2.6 million state grant, a crucial funding piece for the $6.4 million project.
The city will own, maintain and insure the building, and a commercial or non-profit day care business will operate in it.
Child care and housing can’t come soon enough for a community that’s about to see 200 more jobs with business growth in the industrial park.
Lineage Logistics $50 million cold storage warehouse
In Luverne’s biggest development news of 2021, Lineage Logistics announced construction of a 235,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse on land near Premium Minnesota Pork.
The warehouse, with an estimated construction value of more than $50 million, went up this summer, its size looming at roughly the size of four football fields.
It is built to store food products requiring temperatures ranging from minus 20 to 45 degrees and will require up to 75 new “quality paying” jobs in the area when it's complete in the summer of 2023.
Premium Minnesota Pork builds smokehouse
Premium Minnesota Pork is building a $70 million processing facility that will add nearly 100 jobs in Luverne’s industrial park near its current pork processing facility along County Road 4 west of town.
The new facility, set for completion in 2023, marks a significant investment for the company that already spent $30 million in 2019 to expand the 78,000-square-foot building to 145,000 square feet.
Following a 10,000-square-foot, $7 million cooler addition, the once shuttered IBP property is now a 4,000-hog-per-day operation that employs more than 450 workers.
Luverne puts $14 million into wastewater improvements
PMP negotiated a wastewater treatment agreement with the city of Luverne to improve the city’s water treatment capacity, and 2022 saw the completion of that massive $14 million project.
The city, which was already planning to refurbish its 1950s equipment, negotiated with Premium Minnesota Pork to pay for nearly half, $6.7 million, of the improvements.
PMP is now guaranteed a 300,000-gallon-per-day treatment capacity, which accommodates higher production goals, and the city is well-situated for future industrial water treatment capacity.
Power plant upgrades
The city of Luverne in 2022 also completed an $11 million upgrade in the historic power plant on East Main Street at the Rock River.
The project, which includes two new 3,100 kW generators, will ensure Luverne’s backup generators keep the city’s lights on in the event of a power outage.
They will also provide increased backup power for Missouri River Energy Services, which contracts with Luverne for supplemental electricity.
In times of severe weather in other parts of the country served by MRES, Luverne can now fire up the new generators to meet additional need.
Walleye Wind Farm
In other local energy news, the 109-megawatt Walleye Wind Farm was completed in 2022 in western Rock County after two years planning and construction.
NextEra built 40 wind turbines on a 49-square-mile (31,000 acres) footprint, bringing more than 200 workers to Rock County communities and businesses.
Late in 2022, the turbines started spinning up to their 109 MW capacity, enough to power roughly 40,000 homes per year.
The Walleye Wind Farm will generate $400,000 to $600,000 in annual local tax revenues and feed electricity to the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency through a 30-year agreement.
Rock County was among the first in Minnesota to pass an ordinance for the sale of hemp-derived products since the state legalized the sale of THC (tetrahydrocannabinols) food and beverages on July 1.
When the state’s legislation failed to specify provisions for licensing, rules and sales of the THC products, counties imposed a moratorium through Dec. 1.
Rock County’s ordinance now stipulates license fees, identification parameters, enforcement and compliance checks similar to those in place for tobacco sales.
At the Commissioners' Dec. 13 meeting, THC permits were issued to Herb N' Legend and Rock River Apothecary, both in Luverne.
School board election draws 18 candidates
Local elections made headlines in 2022 with 18 candidates filing for five seats on the Luverne School Board.
Four were elected out of 15 candidates vying for the four-year terms on the board. They include Zach Nolz (1,173 votes, 11.27 percent), Randy Sasker (1,020 votes, 9.8 percent), Michael DeBates (913 votes, 8.77 percent) and Eric Hartman (902 votes, 8.67 percent).
Ryan DeBates was elected to fill the remaining two years of the seat vacated by Jeff Stratton who left the board to become the school resource officer. DeBates captured 1,288 votes (46.53 percent) in the three-way contest.
Pool and Fitness Center
The Luverne Area Aquatics and Fitness center reopened this spring after completing a $5 million remodel and expansion.
Improvements include an outdoor splash pad, new locker rooms, four family changing rooms, flat space rooms for group aerobic exercise, new office space and staff area, larger rooms for 24-hour weightlifting and aerobic exercise machines and a new mechanical and heat, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
Membership fees were increased slightly, but the city of Luverne subsidizes the facility’s operations as a “quality of life” amenity for residents.
Loop and Ashby Trail
Another public amenity completed this year was the Luverne Loop Trail, which connects to the Blue Mound Trail for 13 total miles of hard surface riding and walking between the city and the Blue Mounds State Park.
The final portion of the Loop follows the scenic Rock River south of the wastewater treatment plant to connect with the existing trail behind the Econo Lodge hotel on South Highway 75.
It intersects with the 1.95-mile Christopher Martin Ashby Trail, funded by Gene and Barb Ashby in memory of their late son.
National Guard Readiness Center
Another major development continuing in 2022 is the $17.5 million Minnesota National Guard Luverne Readiness Center on 15 acres west of Papik Motors along I-90.
The 47,902-square-foot facility includes assembly halls, work bays, storage areas, classrooms, a learning center and fitness center with locker rooms. It’s expected to open in 2023.
The project received more than $6.2 million in private funds from the K.A.H.R. Foundation of Luverne native Warren Herreid II and his wife, Jeanne Rivet.
Drought, wind, blizzards make news in 2022
On May 12, a billowing wall of dust and debris rose from a blackened western sky, and damaging winds wreaked havoc on the ground as it stretched for 500 miles from eastern Nebraska to northern Minnesota.
It barreled through Rock County around 5:15 at roughly 70 mph, downing trees, overturning vehicles and flattening buildings and scattering pieces of tin and shingles for miles across nearby tilled and planted fields.
And as quickly as it struck, it abruptly ended, with a smattering of much-needed rain and a temperature drop of more than 20 degrees.
Meteorologists say record heat (94 degrees in Sioux Falls) and humidity fueled the complex system that tore through five states.
Then on May 30, a series of tornado-like cells ripped through the county starting at 2:30 a.m. with another midday and a third later in the afternoon causing extensive property damage, including downed power lines and outages.
In their wake were reports of trees falling on houses and vehicles, downed powerlines and outages, and livestock buildings and machine shops either collapsed or missing rooftops.
The year continued with extreme heat in late June and drought conditions affecting local crop yields, and 2022 ended with a long blizzard week, closing roads and affecting holiday activities and family gatherings.
See the B Section for sports highlights in 2022, and see a related year-in-review story about local business highlights from 2022.