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Lots of local news in first quarter ...

April 3, 2014 - Lee Smith
It was a busy first quarter in 2014 for local news. Among the top stories was the conviction of a former Blue Earth priest on charges of child molestation.

Leo Charles Koppala, a native of India, received a sentence of probation in Faribault County District Court in late March, with a three-year prison sentence hanging over him should he violate terms of probation. Following sentencing, federal authorities arrested Koppala on an immigration hold, meaning Koppala faces deportation back to his native land.

In other major news, the Fairmont theater re-opened, delighting local patrons and area visitors. The theater had been closed because of high costs to convert to digital technology, but a new proprietor based in Sioux Falls added the local theater to his stable, and movies began showing in Fairmont in late March.

Meanwhile, in January, Fairmont’s ethanol plant re-opened after a hiatus in production after new ownership took over. Green Plains Renewable Energy of Omaha, Neb., acquired the facility after BioFuel ran into financial difficulties.

Also in January:

— Elmore Academy, a school and treatment facility for at-risk teens, announced it would be closing its doors. The decision affected 40 employees and the town, where the academy was the major employer, as well as providing youth for service projects locally.

— Five Lakes Aviation, the company that formerly operated the Fairmont airport, filed suit against the city, alleging breach of contract. The city ended its affiliation with Five Lakes the previous fall, saying the company had failed to address a list of concerns offered by the city.

— Timothy Jude Brickner was sentenced to up to 20 years probation for setting fire to curtains at Lincoln School in Fairmont in April 2012.

— The city of Fairmont began weighing a rental ordinance, with work continuing as the quarter ended. The impetus for the new rules came from a grassroots group, Focus on Fairmont, which believes an ordinance will protect landlords and tenants, and improve the general appearance of local rental properties. Landlords immediately objected, saying the law would create unneeded red tape and hurt available housing.

— Mel Carlson, a longtime Truman car dealer, retired.

In February:

— It was announced that Highway 15 north of Fairmont would be undergoing major road work this summer.

— Former Sherburn area manufacturer Harold Schweiss died at the age of 71.

— A new energy station was dedicated in Fairmont. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency facility replaces Fairmont’s former steam-powered plant. The new plant represents a $30 million investment locally. The plant is utilizing clean-burning natural gas and is used as needed.

And, in March:

— El Agave restaurant in downtown Fairmont experienced a security breach, resulting in customers’ debit and credit card information being stolen and misused in other states. Banks responded by issuing new cards to customers, while El Agave worked to rebuild trust with the public. Police and the U.S. Secret Service investigated the matter.

— A 7-year-old boy was pulled from a septic tank in Blue Earth after falling in while playing with his cousin. The boy suffered only bruises after stepping on a septic tank lid and falling in. The tank had been drained the previous day, likely saving the boy’s life. Rescuers used a ladder to get the cold, wet child out of the hole.


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