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Published February 03, 2009, 12:00 PM

REGIONAL ROUNDUP: Livestock numbers drop...Tax hike irks residents...Med school jobs joined...Mine tunnels threaten road...more

North Dakota has fewer cattle, sheep and goats than it did a year ago.

Livestock numbers drop: North Dakota has fewer cattle, sheep and goats than it did a year ago.

The Agriculture Department said there were 1.75 million cattle and calves in the state on Jan. 1, down 3 percent from the previous year. Cattle and calves nationally dropped by 2 percent.

North Dakota sheep and lambs were estimated at 88,000, down 5 percent, similar to the national drop.

The state’s goat inventory was 2,800 meat animals and 1,000 milk goats.

Tax hike irks residents: Some Bowman, N.D., residents are upset about a 40 percent increase in their property taxes.

City Commission President Lyn James and City Auditor Judy Pond said increased costs have led to the need for more money to run the southwestern North Dakota community of 1,600 people.

Resident Vivian Hernandez is one who isn’t happy with the increase. She said as a homeowner, she has to budget, too.

Med school jobs joined: The University of Minnesota is combining two top jobs into one, essentially cutting the Medical School dean from her post.

In a memo Thursday, university President Robert Bruininks said he was combining the jobs of senior vice president for health sciences and medical school dean into a single position. He said the move was made to streamline and cut costs.

Dean Deborah Powell’s duties will be turned over to Frank Cerra, current senior vice president for health sciences, on July 1. The search for a permanent replacement will start in 2010.

Spokesman Dan Wolter said “economic challenges” played a role in the decision. He said many large public universities have combined these leadership positions.

Powell was the first female dean of the medical school.

Mine tunnels threaten road: Minnesota transportation officials are concerned underground tunnels could undermine U.S. Highway 169 near Chisholm in the Iron Range.

Miners pursuing iron ore dug the tunnels decades ago.

A hole that opened in the highway’s median in 2007 drew attention to the problem. Now, a team from the Minnesota Department of Transportation is looking at what can be done to prevent a wholesale collapse.

Assistant district engineer Duane Hill said the team has gathered a lot of information and is working on a plan to mitigate the danger. They hope to have it ready this spring.

The team is most concerned about tunnels running beneath one 1-mile stretch of highway on the southern edge of Chisholm and another 1-mile section just west of town.

Iron nugget plant progress: Despite two cold and snowy Minnesota winters in a row, work on the $250 million Mesabi Nugget project near Hoyt Lakes remains on schedule.

So far this winter, crews have only lost about seven days of work — four of those coming in mid-January when temperatures dipped into the 30-to-40-below-zero range.

Construction workers from a half-dozen firms have been working 10- and 12-hour days and sometimes Saturdays to make sure everything is ready to roll by late summer, when officials hope to begin producing and shipping pig iron.

“By August we should be up and running and making nuggets,” said Steve Rutherford, operations manager.

Steel Dynamics Inc. of Indiana and Kobe Steel Ltd. broke ground in January 2007 on what they are calling the world’s first full-scale demonstration plant using a pioneering process developed by Kobe Steel.

Mesabi Nugget is expected to produce high volumes of 97 percent-pure iron nuggets through a process that is advertised as both environmentally friendly and energy-efficient, according to officials at SDI and Kobe.

City faces secession: A Maplewood, Minn., man said he’s fed up with his city and wants to create a new one.

Premiere Signs owner John Wykoff wants to break the southern corner of the St. Paul suburb off to create a new city called Innovation.

Wykoff said the 7-square-mile area includes technology company 3M and its $5 million in taxes.

He said he could run the new city with a quarter of the workers and contract police, fire and other emergency services. He said that would be a good deal considering property values have dropped and taxes have gone up in Maplewood.

But other residents laugh about the plan, and one said it’s “a bit crazy.”

Mayor Diana Longrie said she just wishes Wykoff would focus on bettering all of Maplewood.