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Council supports pond restoration, plans to seek legislative assistance

The majority of Cloquet City Council members voted to support restoring the sand-bottom swimming pond during the working session of their regular meeting Tuesday evening.

The majority of Cloquet City Council members voted to support restoring the sand-bottom swimming pond during the working session of their regular meeting Tuesday evening.

The vote was 5-2 with David Bjerkness, Erik Blesener, Herb Johnson, Neil Nemmers and Tom Proulx voting in favor and Deb Hill and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren voting against the move.

Bjerkness called for the vote saying it was impossible to move forward on the pool/pond issue until they decided whether they supported restoring the pond.

The Minnesota Department of Health, however, is against any sand-bottom swimming proposal in Cloquet and they are claiming jurisdiction over the project. Only a concrete pool option would be supported by the state.

The city's prior understanding was that the state did not have full jurisdiction over sand-bottom facilities, according to Brian Fritsinger, Cloquet city administrator.

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City council members, Fritsinger and Cloquet City Attorney Frank Yetka have been discussing their options ever since.

Fritsinger spoke with Minnesota State Representative Bill Hilty before the meeting Tuesday about adding language to an existing legislative bill that, if passed, would grant Cloquet the ability to restore the pond without the Minnesota Department of Health's approval.

"He is willing to put together language ... if this is an option the council is supportive of," Fritsinger said. "If we got it attached [to another health department bill] this year, we would know one way or another by May."

The bill attachment would only include the situation in Cloquet and not the nine other communities in Minnesota with sand-bottom swim facilities, according to Fritsinger.

"The other places don't want to be involved at this point," he said. "They want to sit back and observe what's happening. No action [by the state] has been taken with any of the other communities."

In the legislative language, Fritsinger speculated that Cloquet would use terms such as "grandfathered in" and would clarify the issue of adding any further amenities to the pond as it is restored.

Bjerkness said he thought this move would attract attention statewide.

Hill said she thought moving forward in support of the pond was a mistake.

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"We're trying to breathe life into a dead duck," she said.

Sand was included in two of the previously proposed pool/pond options earlier this year and the Cloquet Parks Commission recommended a hybrid option which included sand and concrete. The pond restoration plan, however, was the least expensive at roughly $1.1 million. Funding for any of the proposed plans has not yet been determined.

The 27-year-old Pinehurst Park swimming area has been closed since the end of summer 2005 due to substantial deterioration.

Pine Journal Editor Lisa Baumann can be contacted at: lbaumann@pinejournal.com .

Related Topics: CLOQUET
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