Rukavina is right on bridge issue, St. Louis County creating a nightmare

Tom Rukavina was never the tallest legislator and he might be the shortest county commissioner in Minnesota but he’s always stood up for what is right. This time Tommy knows St. Louis County is in the wrong and he’s tried his best to fix it.
We were the first to announce the county will close Highway 21 from July 5 to October 10 to install a new bridge. A 10 mile detour will be in place during that 14 week time period. The impact is tremendous.
Rukavina has done his homework. The daily impact includes 50 people in Babbitt going to Ely for employment (many of them work at the hospital or clinic), 65 workers going from Ely to Babbitt to work at Northshore Mining plus over 40 children during the school year.
There is also the impact to the businesses in both communities. Highway 21 is a financial lifeline for stores and restaurants. Adding a 10 mile reroute for over three months will in effect sever the lifeline and cause harm during what is usually the busiest season of the year.
The DNR has also stuck its nose into the situation by not allowing work to be done in the spring because of concerns of fish in the stream being impacted. This is crazy. Tommy suggested proceeding against the DNR’s wishes and let the fish fall where they may.
Rukavina also pointed out that the county failed miserably of informing people of this project. There was no communication with the affected communities, nor with emergency responders, school districts or city councils. That alone is reason enough to put the brakes on an upcoming disaster.
Response times for emergency responders should be a prime condition when looking at long-term highway closures. And we haven’t mentioned the reroute which contains two 90 degree corners along with uneven road surfaces and poor sight lines.
These facts and others were presented by Rukavina at Tuesday’s county board meeting. He proposed delaying the project for a year and revamping the contract to get the detour time reduced. There was a cost but the county has spent much more than that for similar issues.
Only four commissioners were at Tuesday’s meeting, Pete Stauber of Hermantown, Patrick Boyle of Duluth, Keith Nelson of Virginia and Rukavina. Absent were Steve Raukar, Chris Dahlberg and Frank Jewell.
The smallest commissioner made the tallest of arguments but his pleas for help fell on deaf ears. A motion to delay the project for a year failed 3-1.
Our county board failed its citizens, businesses, emergency responders and school districts. We’re more than disappointed, we’re ashamed of the board’s action. This project should be put on hold until a better solution can be found.
There are times when the right thing needs to be done. This is one of them.