Leaders lobby for state funds
by Tom Coombe
State lawmakers made a field trip of sorts, and Ely was one of their stops.
A giant bus carrying members of the House Capital Investment Committee pulled up to both Vermilion Community College and the International Wolf Center.
At both locations, members heard sales pitches from officials who are looking for their projects to be included in next year’s state bonding bill.
State Rep. Roger Skraba (R-Ely) welcomed the group to town.
Wednesday’s visit also included stops in Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Tower, Biwabik and Virginia and in that day alone legislators heard details about more than two dozen projects, all in the running for state money.
At Vermilion, Lake County officials and Ely trails leader Warren Johnson pitched a $2 million project calling for replacing a snowmobile and ATV bridge across the Kawishiwi River.
“It’s a very important link to the trail system,” said Johnson, vice-president of the Ely-Igloo Snowmobile Club.
Engineer Jason Chopp described the project in detail, and said the design came after consultation with the U.S. Forest Service.
One significant difference from the existing trail system and bridge is that the new bridge will include some scenic overlooks, and Chopp added that the bridge will be rated for 30,000 pounds and that “the larger road capacity will serve the Ely-Igloo Snowmobile Club for equipment and be able to accommodate construction equipment.
“It’s also an ATV trail in the summer and it’s frequented by hikers, fat tire bikes and other outdoor recreation,” said Chopp.
Lake County is acting as the fiscal agent for the project and is seeking $1 million in state bonding funds. The remainder of the project, Chopp said, will be funded by local sources including potential trail funds from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
Skraba noted the regional appeal of the project.
“Ely’s got 3,268 people and with the townships there are 5,000 or 6,000 people, but we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people visiting this area,” said Skraba.
Before the trails pitch, the legislators toured Vermilion with Mike Raich, president of Minnesota North College, as well as school officials including Chris Koivisto, Dave Marshall and Jeff Nelson.
The group later stopped at the International Wolf Center, which is seeking funds to renovate the 30-year-old facility.
State Rep. Fue Lee (D-Minneapolis) chairs the capital investment committee, and he led a delegation of more than a dozen legislators on the visit.
On Thursday, the group visited Hibbing and Grand Rapids before returning to St. Paul.