Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Lt. Governor hears local concerns


Lois E. Johnson

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith listens to Kettle River Fire Chief Dave Isaacson and Mayor Kyle Riel tell about the Kettle River Fire Department.

Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith stopped in Kettle River on Friday, May 13, on her way to the Governor's Fishing Opener in McGregor.

Smith listened to people from Kettle River, Moose Lake and Carlton County as they spoke about the needs of the area, and then toured the crowded fire hall.

The main topic of discussion was Highway 73 and the lack of shoulders, which creates a safety hazard for emergency personnel when responding to an accident along the route.

Highway 73 runs from Interstate 35 in Moose Lake through Kettle River and Cromwell and on up to the Iron Range.

Smith said she understood the importance of upgrading the highway.

"It's a state issue, not a partisan issue," she said. "You need a long-term, sustainable transportation route. If the money is not spent this year, it will cost more next year."

Dan Reed, a local activist, gave the history of the Highway 73 upgrade project that has been planned for many decades.

"When you go to Cromwell, you will see that the road has sagged," he said. "They keep shoving tar into those holes. They used to post load limits on the road; now they just patch it.

"In the 1920s and 1930s, they put corduroy under the road (a series of logs laid side by side across the width of the road). In the 1930s, they started working on sections of the road and got seven miles out of Kettle River. Then World War II started. They said they would come back and fix the road after the war.

"After the war, there was the great freeway bill. That took a lot of capital. And there were other roadblocks.

"They allocated money to fix eight miles of the road south of Cromwell in 2002. The property along the road was acquired for straightening the road but, all of a sudden, the state diverted the funds because the Piedmont project in Duluth went way over budget.

"They said they would build the eight miles south of Cromwell in two sections in 2006 and in 2008. We are still waiting."

Reed went on to tell of friends and acquaintances who have been killed in accidents on Highway 73 between Kettle River and Cromwell, and how the road is often submerged during high water.

"When we met with Duane Hill in Moose Lake we told him how important the road was to us," Reed added. "Money needed to be set aside to redo the road. It is so unfair. It stifles the economic growth of the area and it puts people in danger every day. It is a main avenue of transportation."

Other topics discussed with Smith were the need for broadband high-speed Internet accessibility in the area, the need for housing, the problem with opiates and lack of mental health treatment centers.

Moose Lake Community School Superintendent Robert Indihar said all students in the school have computers but many of them do not have Internet access at home. Many high school students now take college courses online.

He also spoke about a board member who lived in the country and had to pay exorbitant monthly Internet rates for his business.

Moose Lake Mayor Ted Shaw said housing was needed in the city for employees of the two state facilities, the hospital and the school.

"The problem with Moose Lake is that 75 percent of the property within the city limits is non-taxable, because of the two state institutions, the school and the churches. For a city, that really hurts.

"We have a population of 2,700 but 1,200 of those are incarcerated. They are part of our population but it becomes a funny formula for local government aid.

"Highway 73 is the main truck route to the Range. We did a traffic count, and there are 10,000 vehicles a day that go through the city. That's a huge portion for Moose Lake."

County Commissioner Gary Peterson pointed out that Smith once worked on the Alaska pipeline.

She said her family once lived in Alaska and she worked on the pipeline during her first summer after she graduated from high school and earned a large portion of her first year's college tuition.

Peterson told her the county board has approved the route for the Sandpiper pipeline through Carlton County. The route now avoids the organic farms and other areas of concern.

He spoke about the large problem with the use of opiates in the county and the lack of mental health facilities.

"The biggest mental health centers are the jails," said Smith. "The jails are packed. It is a crisis in Minnesota. The governor has been fighting tooth and nail to get funding for a mental health facility. If we don't get the money, we are looking at laying off hundreds of people. We won't be able to afford their salaries.

"Mental health not only affects the person, it affects the family. It is a toxic system. We de-institutionalized people 20 years ago but we never paid for anything to replace it. This is the result."

Smith toured the fire hall and listened as Kettle River Fire Chief Dave Isaacson and Kettle River Mayor Kyle Riel explained about the lack of space for expansion and the cost of replacing outdated trucks and equipment.

After the one-hour listening session, Smith and her entourage went on their way, driving on Highway 73 to Cromwell, where they took Highway 210 to McGregor.


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