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MN Department of Health puts Cloquet in an avoidable bind

As far as anyone can remember, no one ever developed a serious health problem as a direct result of swimming in the Pinehurst Park pond in its 27 years of existence.

As far as anyone can remember, no one ever developed a serious health problem as a direct result of swimming in the Pinehurst Park pond in its 27 years of existence.

And since it closed in 2005 due to needed repairs, the Minnesota Board of Health gave no indication that restoring the sand-bottom pond would concern them whatsoever.

Until last December.

As is standard practice, city officials sent several swim facility plans to the Department of Health last November. In the past, it was standard practice for the Department to approve any sand-bottom pond plans without a fuss.

This time, however, the Department informed city officials in a December letter that they have authority over swimming facilities with sand. Further, and unfortunately for Cloquet, they are trying to exercise that jurisdiction to stop the city from bringing back any swimming facility with sand.

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As city officials reeled and questioned the about-face, the Department of Health said they would be investigating all the sand pond facilities in the state in the near future.

One could say they dug their heels farther into the sand.

Whether the Minnesota Department of Health actually does have jurisdiction over sand-bottom ponds remains to be seen. What is clear is that the Board of Health only recently decided to pay attention.

Some 10 sand-bottom ponds exist in Minnesota and six have undergone major structural improvements in the past 11 years, according to Thomas Schaffer, CEO and founder of U.S.Aquatics. None ran into problems with the state as far as Schaffler is aware.

"In the past we heard that the state didn't want to know about [sand-bottom ponds]," Schaffer said in a city council meeting in December.

If it's true that the Department of Health does have authority and say-so about all public swimming facilities, including those with sand, then so be it.

But to suddenly claim it without acknowledging and planning for the problems it has and will continue to create, is as slippery as a concrete pool deck can be.

Lisa Baumann

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