MN Design Team’s visit to Ely: Big picture ideas but some missing

The visit of the Minnesota Design Team generated a good amount of interest in the community. Congratulations to those who put the event together. And while the ideas that came out of this charrette may be a bit pie in the sky, there were clearly some things missing.
At first glance it may very well be that those who participated throughout the two-day event were more of a non-motorized, anti-mining crowd. If that’s the case, then the recommendations should stand.
But we’ve heard there were a number of people who felt the process and outcome did not reflect the input provided.
The Design Team took input through several different channels, including presentations by community members Friday morning, lunch sessions that afternoon and community input that evening.
There were numerous ideas that did not make the final cut. Perhaps the Design Team members didn’t understand them or maybe they disagreed with them. But if trails were an issue and non-motorized was the only type that made the cut, something was definitely missing.
If the idea was to help the community’s economic situation, then ignoring the proposed ATV trail that will connect Ely, Babbitt, Tower and Embarrass along with two state parks was a mistake. If you want people who spend money to come to Ely, ATV and snowmobiles are dollar for mile your best bet.
Also missing at Saturday’s presentation was the support for copper-nickel mining. This was disconcerting as well.
At Friday night’s event at Amici’s participants were asked to vote for what they’d like to see in a dot-mocracy. Five dots were given to each person to place next to ideas as they saw fit.
But when the dots were counted, something changed.
St. Louis County Commissioner and lifelong Ely resident Mike Forsman said he was stunned when he saw the top answer to the question, What is the next step the community can take to build and sustain positive momentum?
“On the wall dedicated to question five, absolutely, clearly, the most support was for copper nickel mining. The greatest amount of dots and I believe there were more than 20, close to 30 were on that one. There was absolutely no question the most dots were for mining and I was one of the last people to leave. There were five of us clearly watching that wall that wanted to see support for copper nickel mining,” said Forsman.
Yet when the dots were counted, support for copper-nickel mining finished tied for second with 19. The top answer with 24 dots according to the Design Team was, “Increase the City limits to include more people that consider Ely their home.”
So when the presentation on the results was made Saturday night at VCC, mining was nowhere to be found. Was there a fear that a controversial issue would denigrate the process?
“Also nothing mentioned at Saturday’s program, besides mining, were anything about motorized recreation, both snowmobiling and ATVs and nothing about hunting,” said Forsman.
The Design Team recommendations included a huge suspension bridge over Miners Lake and a slew of new signs for somebody to make and install. Missing was motorized recreation and mining.
Too often charrettes like this create excitement followed by plans and ideas that gather dust on a shelf. That’s frustrating for everyone who attended and participated.
But to censor the results to fit a certain set of beliefs will not help either.