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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely seeks more state bonding to finish trailhead building

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/29/21

ELY – The multi-million- dollar trailhead project and west end development vision here was on display last week for the Minnesota State Senate Capital Investment Committee as they toured the …

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Ely seeks more state bonding to finish trailhead building

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ELY – The multi-million- dollar trailhead project and west end development vision here was on display last week for the Minnesota State Senate Capital Investment Committee as they toured the North County to get a first-hand account of critical infrastructure projects.
Following a tour of the Lake Vermilion Soudan Underground Mine State Park to listen to Department of Natural Resources funding requests, the senators and staff members, traveling in style in a chartered luxury touring bus, missed the street on the west end of Ely to drive up to the trail head facility. They likely missed the turn because nothing was there.
Instead of an eye-catching, architecturally modern welcome center to service three converging recreational trails on the edge of town, the visitors were greeted with metal folding chairs and a city of Ely dump truck displaying drawings and artist renderings in the middle of a vacant gravel parking lot.
“We really hoped you would be here today touring our brand-new facility,” said Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski.
The first phase of the ambitious development project received $1.5 million in state bonding last year. Street and site work, utilities and other infrastructure work was completed.
“We went out for bids (on the building) last spring, and as many of you know, construction costs went through the roof,” he said. The city is asking for another $1.5 million to construct the building.
According to Ely Mayor Roger Skraba, city officials hoped to use the initial bonding allocation to complete part of the building phase but are not allowed to do so under state rules.
“You can’t do the site work and then hope you get the money somewhere else for the rest,” he said.
So, the city continues their bonding money search amid uncertainty that the legislature will even pass a bonding bill next year. Ely is seeking upwards of $4 million to complete the west end development project. The other $2.5 million is needed for an additional phase that includes a stalled expansion of the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital and Pattison Street extension west of Central Avenue to make way for workforce housing, development of the former city garage area, and a new ambulance service facility.
“We are looking at rebidding the (trailhead building) project,” Langowski said. “Obviously, we can’t rebid it unless we know we have the funding in hand.”
Skraba added, “If you can’t give us the whole $4 million, we need the $1.5 (million).”
The trailhead facility will service the Mesabi Trail (for biking and hiking), Prospector Loop (for ATVs), and the Taconite Trail (for snowmobiles).
“All three trail systems would meet right here in one convenient location in close proximity to our business district,” Langowski said. He noted that the city of Ely recently legalized ATV operation on all city streets. “The whole community has embraced the trails. We want visitors to come to Ely.”
While the Senate Capital Investment Committee was in town, Ely officials took the opportunity to lobby for funding to complete the nearly $10 million wastewater treatment plant renovation project to meet newly-updated mercury standards.
Langowski said $7 million in MPCA grant funding coming to the city does not quite meet the price tag. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and St. Louis County Community Development Block Grant programs could be additional funding sources, he said, “and we are looking at federal sources too.”
Langowski added, “We have until March of 2023 to lower our mercury limit, and we need to do a pretty significant upgrade to our plant.”
The project is set to go to out for bids next week. “This is a priority project for our community. We have to meet that requirement,” he said.
While in Ely last Wednesday, the legislative visitors also toured the International Wolf Center to look at their asset preservation project, and Vermilion Community College to consider their classroom building, design and renovation project  

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