A memorable St. Louis County Board meeting in Duluth on Tuesday found Commissioner Frank Jewell supportive of funding for a veterans project, but holding his nose at the way the process unfolded.
The board unanimously approved $100,000 for Veterans On The Lake Resort outside Ely on Fall Lake. The resort has been around for decades and two of its board members testified to the deteriorating pavement which is impacting access by people using wheelchairs and other adaptive devices.
Jewell enthusiastically supported the mission of the resort, but not the way the request had been tacked seemingly overnight onto another already-recommended funding request — $150,000 to help produce a media guide for the Catalyst Content Festival in October in Duluth.
“I am very supportive of the veterans and getting their work done,” Jewell said. “I will say it’s a process that they shouldn’t be linked together. There’s nothing remotely similar to the veterans and this other thing. They should have come to us separately.”
Commissioners Paul McDonald and Keith Nelson directed the amending effort, both having visited and become familiar with the facility and its mission.
“I’ve been out there many times,” McDonald said. “It is a great service — a hidden gem, in my opinion, for veterans.”
County commissioners received their first detailed information about the project in an email Monday night from county administration. County administration was still asking the resort about the proposed work late last week. "Why is it necessary?" said a county email Friday to the resort, which provided a lengthy response, but no official project bid since fundraising remains ongoing.
“I do believe things need to be noted to the public on our agenda as an item we are going to consider — that’s particularly true when we spend the money,” Jewell said. “The last thing we want to do is end up in a position where we get slapped for not telling the public when we intend to spend money.”
Neil Olson, chairman of the board for Veterans On The Lake, said the resort receives roughly 1,200 guests annually — between 80-85 percent are veterans and other people with disabilities. The resort regularly receives U.S. national teams and other large groups of veterans.
Olson shared the story of a junior sled hockey player tipping over in a pothole.
“Our pavement has been deteriorating for many years — that’s what brought it to light,” he said.
Fellow Veterans On The Lake board member Michael Pope called the funding approval, “Christmas in June.”
Former St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman is also a member of the Veterans On The Lake board. He was not in attendance Tuesday at board chambers in the St. Louis County Courthouse.
The resort is fundraising for the rest of the estimated $138,000 total cost to resurface the multi-use trails between its cabins, the main resort and the lake. Work on the project is hoped to begin later this year.
Jewell was particularly reproachful about the notion of tacking an additional project onto one which had come up through proper channels.
“We could really do this all the time,” Jewell said, “and it doesn’t look good.”
County goes in with television festival
Calling it “out of the box,” Board Chair Patrick Boyle said the $150,000 funding approval to help produce a media guide for the upcoming Catalyst Content Festival was a risk worth taking.
“If we get one project here, it pays for itself,” Boyle said, before predicting the Iron Range would receive the first television project to spiral out of the upcoming October independent television festival.
Attorney Jeff Anderson of Duluth, representing Catalyst at the meeting, encapsulated the appeal the media guide would attempt to portray.
“The beautiful thing about St. Louis County and Northeastern Minnesota is that we have a lake that looks like an ocean,” he said. “We have forests, we have trails, we have a mine pit that can look like the surface of the planet Mars. These are all incredible features that we want to make sure we feature in this guide. Again, the people who are going to be in Northeastern Minnesota in October are representatives from Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Disney — all of the major players who do these types of productions, and so this guide is a marketing tool to be able to say we’re open for business and we’re ready to accommodate.”
Anderson further argued that jobs are at stake. People in construction trades, the Teamsters, hotel and catering industries and more will benefit from television production in the Northland, he said.
“We can go down the list (of beneficiaries),” Anderson said.
So far Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation has also been financially supportive of the media guide, Anderson said.