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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Duluth mayor gets an earful from Ely officials

Posted 12/6/17

ELY – As Duluth Mayor Emily Larson completes her second year in office, she is traveling around the Iron Range to meet and greet various city leaders.

Larson visited Ely last Thursday with St. …

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Duluth mayor gets an earful from Ely officials


ELY – As Duluth Mayor Emily Larson completes her second year in office, she is traveling around the Iron Range to meet and greet various city leaders.

Larson visited Ely last Thursday with St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina as her chaperone and got an earful from elected officals.

“I believe a strong Duluth is a strong St. Louis County,” she told members of the Ely City Council. “We can be a good partner with the county in many ways. Commissioner (Rukavina) has been wonderful to work with. It is my goal to do my part for Duluth to have a better understanding of what is happening outside of us, and what we can do to be supportive, to learn more, and to help lift up the projects that you need.”

Larson admitted that the city of Duluth can “suck all the energy” out of what is happening in northern Minnesota.

With that said, Ely Mayor Chuck Novak began the listening session by saying, “There seems to be a lack of understanding on the Duluth City Council about the impact of the Duluth economy on the industries up here, especially when you look at the amount of taconite that is delivered to the port, the number of people who go to Duluth for health services, and the number of people who shop in Duluth.”

Novak then got to the point. “There are some people who are getting irritated with the resolutions against mining that come out of Duluth.”

He continued, “Then we hear that Duluth pulled out of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. The coalition is fighting very hard on the clean water initiative, which Duluth is part of the argument. So, we are a little perplexed. We shouldn’t get to the point where Duluth is an island onto itself.”

Novak defended the attitude of the Iron Range. “We’re a tough bunch up here, and we get a little attitudinal. If Duluth is not going to support our initiatives, and this is very simple with the mining and other things, if you go the opposite direction, us Finns and Bohunks take that very seriously. We should be working together on things.”

Rukavina stepped in to smooth the waters. “Mayor Larson has heard the message loud and clear. I never planned for this to be a bitch session. She heard it already this morning from Bill Erzar, and others at the Front Porch. The frustration is there, that’s all.”

Council member Al Forsman drew similarities between Ely and Duluth. “We are very dependent on the mining industries, but we are also very unique in our character and in our tourist attraction, probably more so than anywhere else in St. Louis County. I know that Ely, and I’m pretty confident that Duluth too, would not survive without the industries that we have. It’s great to embrace the tourism that we have. It is an important part of our economy, but not all.”

Council member Heidi Omerza parroted her frustration with Duluth exiting their CGMC membership. “We do a lot of lobbying for Local Government Aid and you are one of the biggest cities for LGA,” she said.

Omerza touted her leadership roles on the Ely Economic Development Authority and Incredible Ely. “We copy a lot of what Duluth does and we are a lot like you on a much smaller scale, and we are working on making Ely a much more vibrant community.”

She challenged Larson to get Duluth back into the CGMC. “You benefit no matter what, and you are one of the big dogs in the room, and people are watching you.”

Larson described the disconnection between her city and the CGMC – the annual fee for Duluth’s membership in the coalition is $88,000. “At a time when we are cutting money for police and fire and all sorts of things, that $88,000 is a fulltime lobbyist, and a whole bunch of things. I think their budget number is wrong. Conversely, to join the League of Minnesota Cities is $6,000.”

Council members Dan Forsman and Jerome Debeltz pointed out that mining throughout the Iron Range benefits Duluth in many ways. “I would like for us to be more on a level playing field rather than accepting handouts from you. All of us getting our fair share in St. Louis County is what I would like to see.”

Debeltz shared his frustration with witnessing a Duluth City Council member voice his opposition to copper nickel mining at a public hearing in Virginia. “Between May and September we have people in town, but after that the businesses close,” he said. “When a city councilor from Duluth says he is anti-mining, it doesn’t look very good. Maybe they should just keep quiet on who they are. We need more than tourism. We need jobs. We need support up here.”

Former Ely Council member Warren Nikkola referred to the tourism industry around Ely as being dominated by canoeists in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. “There are a finite number of permits available, and those aren’t even being used because kids don’t want to come up here and do that stuff anymore,” he said. “At the same time, the people who want to use it, can’t because of the day-use motor restrictions. This is something beyond our realm to cure, but support from you could help get the quota system changed. The whole thing up here is a disaster. The ones who supposedly love the Boundary Waters are the ones who are ruining it.”

Larson thanked the group for being honest with her. “I don’t take this as complaining. This is about building a relationship. I’m not here to campaign or run for something. I really am here because I do feel like we are in a family. We all have different relationships and different roles. I don’t feel that Duluth is a bigger sibling or is more important. Duluth has to get out of Duluth to see what’s going on,” she said.


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Still a group from Ely is negative to anything and everyone and it spreads to people who want to be a tourist. Some hesitant to come now. That is sad Ely got so many great people,but a few can't get along with anyone.

Friday, December 8, 2017
S. Skilman

"Tom Rukavina as her chaperone," misogyny shame on you: TimberJay. Does John Fedo ever need a chaperone when he comes to Ely?

Sunday, December 17, 2017