At the Cloquet City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 16, the Economic Development Authority (EDA) deemed internet access and coverage for the Cloquet area a top priority in 2021.

EDA member Dave Manderfeld shared that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, community members and city officials have noticed a significant lack of broadband coverage.

“Many of the region and residents … have very poor service or no service at all,” he said.

Manderfeld does not anticipate the need for high-speed internet to slow down anytime soon, he said.

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Chris Swanson, Ward 3 councilor, teaches at Cloquet High School, and said he many of his students struggled to complete work during the pandemic because of internet issues.

“Increasing our capacity is going to be evermore important,” he said.

The 2021 work plan brought forward by the EDA includes a possible 18-month broadband feasibility study to identify solutions and improvements to the coverage problem. Officials would apply for a regional foundation grant to help cover costs for the study.

Broadband coverage was just one of seven goals presented at the meeting. Improved housing and child care were set as the EDA’s second and third goals, with goals four and five focusing heavily on the Cloquet business park and downtown area. Goals six and seven seek to offer business and redevelopment support.

The EDA work plan presentation given by Manderfeld was the first of several conversations the council hopes to have with different city departments in the upcoming months.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the council also approved the one-year probationary appointment of Ross Biebl to the position of assistant public works director. Biebl will take over for Tim Johnson, who is retiring on March 12.

Biebl currently serves as the utilities department supervisor. He was selected from a pool of three qualified applicants, said Caleb Peterson, public works director.

“I am 100% in support of this,” Peterson said.

Biebl is set to take over the position March 15.