- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

FRASER, Colo. — There’s no doubt that it’s cold in this tiny mountain burg, where icicles hang from the bottom of every car and even the brightest winter sunshine can’t budge the growing snow piles.

But is Fraser really the Icebox of the Nation?

Not according to International Falls, Minn., whose town poobahs are locked in a cold war with their Fraser counterparts over which community deserves the coveted title.

“Both towns are taking it seriously,” said Jeff Durbin, Fraser city manager, on a recent sunny afternoon that saw the temperature climb to 21 degrees. “Being called the Icebox of the Nation is a badge of honor.”

It’s an honor that Fraser doesn’t deserve, said Rod Otterness, city administrator of International Falls, which is challenging what Minnesotans see as Fraser’s attempt to usurp the cherished nickname.

“We are the Icebox of the Nation,” Mr. Otterness said. “Fraser is the Icebox of Colorado.”

Indeed, International Falls was awarded the Icebox of the Nation trademark by the U.S. Patent Office in 1989. Earlier this month, however, the Fraser Town Council submitted an application requesting the trademark after discovering that International Falls had allowed it to expire.

That was an oversight, said International Falls City Attorney Joseph Boyle, explaining that there was some confusion because the Minnesota state patent is good for 10 years, while the federal trademark only lasts six years.

“Obviously, things can get screwed up, and we’ve apologized for that,” Mr. Otterness said. “From our perspective, however, it would have been nice if they had called us first.”

Fraser officials note that the trademark didn’t exactly lapse yesterday — it expired in 1996. When they realized International Falls hadn’t filed for a renewal, they assumed the town was no longer interested in retaining the nickname.

“They let it lapse, and it’s been sitting there for 11 years. It’s not like we swooped in and grabbed it,” Mr. Durbin said. “We asked people in the community about it, and they said, ‘Hey, let’s do this, because it’s just sitting there.’ So we filed the application.”

The International Falls City Council approved a resolution last week asking Fraser to withdraw its “pretended claim as ‘Icebox of the Nation.’”

While both towns are keeping their sense of humor, they’re also serious about keeping the title. International Falls, a town of 6,703 located on the U.S.-Canadian border, depends economically on its cold-weather testing labs for companies.

In Fraser, population 922, being recognized as the Icebox of the Nation is a source of civic pride.

“It says a lot about the history of the community — the independent spirit of the West, and the determination of the pioneers to settle here,” Mr. Durbin said.

The Fraser Town Council rejected the withdrawal request at its meeting last week. Officials in International Falls plan to file an objection, setting the stage for a repeat of the court battle waged by the communities in 1986.

Back then, the impasse ended when Fraser agreed to drop its claim. Town leaders signed an agreement releasing the title to International Falls in exchange for $2,000 in legal fees, said Mr. Boyle, who brokered the deal.

The towns can’t even agree on which community is colder. Fraser can boast fewer frost-free mornings “only 17 per year” and more of the nation’s lows

But International Falls can point to a 1988 study showing that it enjoys a lower daily average high 16.1 degrees, versus 31 degrees for Fraser — as well as a lower daily average temperature.

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