As state shutdown continues, more people, companies feel the painCarlton County hasn’t been spared either state shutdown effects. Both public and private organizations and citizens seeing the ripple effect of the shutdown, most results of laid-off state employees who normally oversee permits or licensing issued by the state.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
On Tuesday afternoon, the parking lot at Jay Cooke State Park was eerily empty. While the St. Louis River continued its noisy race to Lake Superior, no guests made their tentative way over the swinging bridge and no campers clambered over the rocks below.
Heather Lundberg and Ryan Lisson had hoped to spend this Saturday at the state park. About a year ago, the Cloquet couple decided they would like to be married at Jay Cooke, the same place Lisson’s parents were married 27 years ago. As of Tuesday afternoon, the two still weren’t 100 percent certain where they would exchange their wedding vows because of the state shutdown.
“I just wish [the legislature and the governor] knew how many lives are affected by this,” said Sharon Lisson, Ryan’s mother. “If they could talk to individual people, they would see the heartaches some are going through.”
Tuesday was Day 12 of the state government shutdown, triggered after the governor and state legislature leaders failed to agree on a two-year budget for Minnesota. Rest areas are closed to motorists and truckers, all state parks are closed, and state construction projects are on hold. The shutdown forced 22,000 state employees out of work on July 1, two-thirds of the Dayton administration’s workers. Other executive branch offices remain open, as do the courts and Legislature.
As of Tuesday evening, Dayton and legislative leaders had met for less than two hours since the shutdown began; no meetings were held Tuesday and none were scheduled Wednesday, when the Pine Journal went to press. Both sides say they are waiting on the other to make the next move to solve the budget impasse that caused the shutdown.
Even with some of state government operating, it is the biggest and longest Minnesota government shutdown and the longest in at least two decades anywhere in the country.
The longer it goes on, the greater the effects across the state.
Carlton County hasn’t been spared either. Both public and private organizations and citizens seeing the ripple effect of the shutdown, most results of laid-off state employees who normally oversee permits or licensing issued by the state.
+ Ron Hanson, executive vice president of The Boldt Company’s Minnesota operations, said the shutdown is affecting the construction company “to varying degrees.”
“All projects really have some crossover to the state,” Hanson said.
He noted that the Carlton County Community Services building in Cloquet is already being delayed because neither the state elevator inspector nor the state fire marshal is available. Although the building is supposed to open soon, the next stage of work on the elevator won’t happen without state inspections.
Boldt is also working with Ray Riihiluoma Inc. on the $27.5 million expansion at Community Memorial Hospital, a project that broke ground in late May. Because that project is still in the early stages, the companies have been able to shift the focus from work that requires state permitting – such as pouring reinforced concrete and relocating underground utilities for the new hospital wing – to other parts of the project.
For now, Hanson said, contractors are working on the new east parking lot.
“If this continues another two weeks or so, it will be a problem,” Hanson said. “We will probably run out of work we can do [without state inspections] in another two or three weeks.”
+ It would take three or four weeks for DemCon Companies – which is installing a new industrial landfill in the Antus Addition in Cloquet – to be affected by the shutdown, according to Vice President Bill Keegan, who noted that the construction drawings for the project will have to be approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency once they’re complete.
Like Boldt, DemCon planned to complete a critical portion of construction while the weather is still warm.
+ The Sappi Cloquet Mill – like Georgia-Pacific hardboard plant in Duluth – got a letter from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last week stating that surface water-use permits had been suspended because of the shutdown for all uses except power production and domestic water supply. No DNR waiver was available, because there was no one at the state agency to respond to the request.
Duluth area state Representative Kerry Gauthier told the Duluth News Tribune that he was advised Georgia-Pacific would have to turn to Kathleen Blatz, the retired chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court who was appointed “special master” to oversee court-ordered spending during the shutdown, which began July 1. If Blatz deems the plant’s use of surface water to be an “essential service,” it could resume its normal procedures.
According to Sappi Fine Paper North America spokesperson Amy Olson, Sappi has submitted a letter to the Minnesota DNR and the State Attorney General’s Office “regarding the status of the Cloquet mill’s water appropriation permit in light of the recent state shutdown, and has no further comment at this time.”
+ Community Memorial Hospital CEO Rick Breuer isn’t so hesitant to comment on the shutdown.
“It’s just a shame,” Breuer said. “I want this thing done.”
Not only is the hospital’s long-awaited Phase II expansion project being delayed, the shutdown is also affecting operations inside the medical facility. In this case the problem has to do with licensing, rather than permits.
The CEO explained that medical staff – including doctors, nurses and technicians – can’t renew any licenses while the shutdown continues. Practitioners with expired licenses can’t then provide direct care.
“We’re OK now, but the longer the shutdown goes on, the more it will affect us and our employees, and every other facility in the state,” Breuer said. “Think about it, an average of 1/12th of the people with annual licenses will expire each month.”
Breuer said he was pleased to learn that background checks for new healthcare employees and others will resume, after the judge deciding what parts of state government can run during the shutdown ruled July 7 that staff who work in the Department of Human Services licensing division should be called back to work.
On the subject of the holdups to construction at the hospital, Breuer said CMH actually offered to pay private inspectors that the state regularly contracts with, as well as the laid-off state inspectors themselves. The state said “no” to both proposals.
“For a while you can manage, move stuff around and do what you can do,” Breuer said. “But we wanted to get all the work done during the good season for construction, and move inside during the winter months.
“I’m hopeful they’re hearing enough complaints from across the state so they [the governor and legislative leaders] will be highly motivated to get this done.”
Fortunately for Minnesotans, a number of state services were deemed “essential” by the courts and are still up and running. Prisoners and sex offenders are contained, most healthcare services and payments continue. People can get motor vehicle licenses – although no DNR licenses for boats or ATVs or other recreational vehicles – and law enforcement continues as usual. Payments to cities and schools are also continuing during the shutdown, although teachers who need to renew licenses won’t be able to.
Carlton County Chief Deputy Brian Belich said nothing has changed on the law enforcement or public safety end of things.
“Our day-to-day business hasn’t really been affected,” Belich said. “The state-run courts are up and running, as usual.”
Belich said he’s heard the most complaints from people whose camping plans were affected when the state parks shut down.
Or people who planned their wedding at a state park, like the previously mentioned Lisson and Lundberg, who now think they will hold their wedding ceremony at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College amphitheater.
“We plan on many phone calls between now and Friday,” said mom Sharon Lisson. “I think they invited about 150 people.”
She is, like many others affected by the shutdown, feeling frustrated.
“It’s like my husband said, they’re just not doing their job,” Sharon said. “If we didn’t do our jobs, we’d all be fired.”
In the meantime, commissioners on the Carlton County Board aren’t content to sit and wait. They unanimously passed a resolution this week to send a letter to the state requesting the governor and legislators make “a real urgent effort to get out of this situation.”
“It’s time they start working for the people and not for their political parties,” stated Commissioner Ted Pihlman. “It’s time the little people start talking loud and clear.”
John Myers and Don Davis of Forum Communications Company contributed to this story. The Pine Journal is owned by Forum Communications.