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Hearth and hive: Beekeeping comes to residential Prior Lake

Kelly Berthiaume’s garden has come leaps and bounds from where it was last year: Her apple trees bear fruit, her cherry bushes are lush and her blueberry bushes have produced so much Berthiaume and her husband have to collect their pickings with mixing bowls.

The source of the Berthiaume’s bounty: their bees.

“It’s pretty amazing, the difference,” Berthiaume said.

In February the City Council voted to allow residents in agricultural, rural and low-density areas to keep bees and chickens, with a few caveats and conditions.

The Berthiaumes had been considering beekeeping for a while and in April bought their first package of bees from a seller in Stillwater.

They have two hives, one in their backyard near Willows Park and another at a friend’s home on the east side of town. Out of the hundreds of bee species, the couple picked Saskataz bees — a hybrid created in Saskatchewan and favored for their pest resistance, honey production and ability to weather brutal winters.

Berthiaume said they’ve done a lot of learning since starting their hives, consulting friends who keep bees in Shakopee, watching videos online and attending the Scott County Bee Keepers group that meets once a month in Prior Lake City Hall. She said even with help, it’s been a little overwhelming.

“There’s been several times when we’ve been convinced they’ve all left us or we’re not doing things right.”

But she’s noticed her confidence growing.“I was really terrified about being stung,” Berthiaume said. “After the first couple checks, I realized that they really didn’t care about me being there, and I got a lot more confident and that worry kind of went away.”The city doesn’t have numbers on how many hives have popped up in city limits because no permit or registration is required, Community Development Director Casey McCabe said. He knew of only one ordinance violation prior to this year’s change.

David Blythe, a Shakopee resident with hives on the edge of Prior Lake, said beekeeping is a marriage of art and science. There’s the science of how bees work, communicate, and thrive, and there’s a certain level of finesse that comes with gently handling and nurturing a colony.

After four years, Blythe still considers himself a newer beekeeper, though he buzzes with knowledge on the different species of bees and their habits. Several years ago he started constructing his own hives and selling them around the area.

He estimates there are probably about 100 hives from his location on the southwest side of Cleary Lake. Blythe said with ordinance changes like Prior Lake’s, those numbers will only grow.

According to Blythe the areas around Prior Lake present a natural feast for bees. The lakes support a diversity of plant life, and there’s a good population of the bee-favorite linden trees.

Though to Blythe said to really give bees in the area a fighting chance, residents need to let their lawns and fields run a bit more wild.

“A lot of people want just a clean pristine yard; well, that’s a food desert to a bee. There’s no food there,” Blythe said. “Plant pollinator-friendly plants in your flower beds, and that will help in-town bees and out-of-town bees.”

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Prior Lake council fires Michael Plante after assault charges

The City Council on Monday fired City Manager Michael Plante following a special meeting about recent charges of domestic assault against him.

The Scott County Attorneys Office on Aug. 16 charged Plante, 36, with two misdemeanor counts of domestic assault and one felony county of domestic assault by strangulation.

A small crowd applauded following a unanimous vote by the council to fire Plante without severance or notice less than a year after he took the manager job. The decision came after a 30-minute closed session discussion.

The city’s labor and employment attorney, Jason Hungerford, said the nature of the charges against Plante gave the council grounds to fire him immediately.

Mayor Kirt Briggs said he looked to the community response and the International City/County Management Association’s code of ethics, which calls on city employees to “demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships.”

“This is something that we hold very near and dear,” Briggs said.

In a press release issued by the city following the meeting, Briggs wrote the termination was in the “best interest of our employees and our residents.”

“Our job is to promote public confidence in the integrity of the administration of city government,” Briggs wrote. “Charges of this nature impact that trust.”

Assistant City Manager Lori Olson will be interim city manager until the city can permanently fill the position.

Council members couldn’t say much about what information they’d received during the closed session, but Councilman Kevin Burkart told the small crowd of residents that his first question in the session was whether there was any doubt about the allegations.

“They said this was very black-and-white and not a he-said-she-said,” Burkart said, adding it was all he needed to hear.

Plante was released from the Scott County Jail on bail Aug. 16. The case was transferred to the Carver County Attorney’s Office on Friday to avoid any conflict of interest, the city announced in a news release. Plante’s first appearance in court is scheduled for Oct. 4.

The county’s charges were coupled with allegations by Plante’s wife and ex-wife of a history of abusive behavior, according to two temporary domestic abuse no-contact orders filed the day of his release. His ex-wife wrote in her filing that she “left the family home and initiated divorce proceedings due to increased violence in our home.”

Plante moved to the city in February to take on the city manager role after Frank Boyles retired. He was selected by DDA Human Resources, a consulting firmed hired by the city, as one of the top candidates for the position.

He studied law at Hamline University before becoming a county attorney for Hubbard and Wabasha counties and then county administrator at Wabasha County.