Carlton County breaks ground on justice center project

The groundbreaking was held immediately before a meeting in which commissioners discussed a lease agreement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Carlton County groundbreaking
Carlton County Commissioners, staff and guests participate in the justice center's groundbreaking event, Monday, Aug. 22. From left to right, Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown; Commissioner Dick Brenner; Sixth District Judge Michael Cuzzo; Commissioner Marv Bodie; Commissioner Gary Peterson; Commissioner Tom Proulx; Commissioner Mark Thell; and Jail Administrator Paul Coughlin.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CARLTON — Carlton County commissioners laughed and joked as they used golden shovels to break ground for the county's new justice center Monday, Aug. 22.

Commissioner Marv Bodie said the moment had been a long time coming, and is backed up by a lot of work and planning.

"We've studied and studied and we have done the best we can to to give people the best project we possibly could for the money," he said.

Board Chair Gary Peterson said he is excited to get the project started before he used his ceremonial shovel.

"We are grateful to get this project on the road," he said.


The project, which had been in the planning stages since 2020, has now formally begun construction.

Commissioners approved the construction costs of the project last month at $65.8 million. It is estimated there will be close to $9 million in soft costs for outfitting the building.

The estimated completion date for the justice center is set for August 2024.

Lease agreement

The groundbreaking was held immediately before a meeting in which commissioners discussed a lease agreement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The agreement is over roughly 18 acres of county land being eyed for an electrical substation, according to Bill Helwig, an attorney who argued in favor of the substation for the Band.

According to Helwig, the land is located northeast of the county's justice center project and south of state Highway 210.

Helwig said the Band has some brownouts in the southeast region of the reservation, including Black Bear Casino, and the substation could help prevent them.

"Minnesota Power says it will be a number of years before they can upgrade lines to bring more stable power to that corner of the reservation," he said.


According to Helwig, the lease has been in development since 2020, but the county and Band have run into some stumbling blocks.

County Attorney Lauri Ketola said there are three hangups in the lease, which is why she thought it would be best to bring it to the board.

The first is the term of the lease, which the Band needs to be over 99 years in order to get grant funding for the project. The current negotiation sits at a 50-year lease with a county option to renew.

The second is a remediation or removal of the infrastructure on the piece of land at the end of the lease.

The final hangup is that the Band wants the land to be placed into a trust.

After discussions were made with the board, Helwig said the first two issues are what are really nonstarters for the Band.

Board members discussed possible issues and while no decision was made, they brought up the idea of trading land with the Band to allow for them to own the land for the substation.

Peterson said everything was still on the table and encouraged both sides to explore every option.


The second public hearing on the topic is scheduled for March 9, and is being held after residents provided comments and concerns during the first hearing on Jan. 26.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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As reported by Carlton County District Court.
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