Two Harbors council to support plan for passenger rail lineTrains once rolled in and out of Two Harbors on a regular basis, carrying passengers to Duluth and points beyond. That might happen again.
By: Monica Isley, Lake County News Chronicle
Trains once rolled in and out of Two Harbors on a regular basis, carrying passengers to Duluth and points beyond. That might happen again.
Monday, the Two Harbors City Council was asked to support the plans for the Northern Lights Express, the high-speed train proposed to run between the Cities and Duluth, and to present an official resolution of that support at a public hearing April 29 in Duluth.
The hearing will actually provide information on a statewide freight and passenger rail plan put together by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a step required in order to obtain federal funds for the rail project.
The request for support was brought by Lake County commissioner Paul Bergman. He is a member of the Regional Rail Authority, appointed to the Rail Alliance, a subgroup of the NLE. That Rail Alliance is a joint powers group made up of counties through which the proposed rail line will run, and is the driving force behind the NLE.
Bergman said he is excited about the plan because a maintenance facility will be needed for the trains at this end of the line.
“I’m lobbying to have that facility here in Two Harbors, not only for the jobs, but because there’s talk about starting up passenger service between here and Duluth, and that might happen sooner rather than later if we have the facility here,” Bergman said.
He said the rail alliance would like the mayor and as many councilmen as possible to attend the hearing, 5-7 p.m., in the depot in Duluth, to formally present a copy of the resolution of support to MnDOT as well as the alliance.
Community members are encouraged to attend also.
“We’d like as many people as possible to be there,” Bergman said.
The council approved the resolution of support.
Utility rates were a topic of discussion at the meeting, especially in light of the huge bills most residents had to pay this past winter because of the unexpected rise in gas prices.
Mayor Randy Bolen said he heard of a system to help people pay their utilities that is being used in Hibbing, and asked that administrator Lee Klein check it out and bring it back to the council “so we can see if it’s applicable to Two Harbors.”
Meanwhile, councilman Steve Detlefsen said the city has locked in on 50 percent of the estimated amount of gas needed for next year, buying at the current lower prices.
“So we’ll be paying less next year than we were this year,” he said.
Swanson asked whether, with the relatively low prices of today, the city could hedge more of the volume needed. He was told that would be part of the discussion at a meeting that was to have occurred Tuesday with U.S. Energy, which advises the city about such issues.
At Detlefsen’s suggestion, the council voted to raise rates at the campground by $2 across the board which, they said, still kept the rates lower than those in Grand Marais. The issue came up after Detlefsen told the council that added expense was discovered for the campground expansion project, and that the budget would have to be amended upward by $23,000.
The problem arose when it was discovered that the sewer lines run through the middle of the area on the west side of 1st Street where additional sites will be added. MSE, the engineering firm handling the plans, suggested moving the sewer lines to 7th Avenue. This will allow the use of gravity, and the removal of the current lift station, Detlefsen said.
“The lines will be bigger to handle new traffic coming in from new places,” he said. “This has to be done before we can continue with the expansion.”
The council approved both the relocation and the amendment to the budget.
The council approved Bolen’s suggestion that before the front boards are removed from the bandshell for the new season, a mural be painted on them to spruce up the site when the bandshell is closed for next winter.
Councilman Mary Rosati said she would check with a local artist about doing the work, and that she had already contacted a high school student who has done murals elsewhere in town.
At a suggestion from Bolen the council approved spending up to $1,000 for a one- or two-day workshop to give themselves time to thrash out issues that are too lengthy to handle at Monday night council meetings.
Bolen, Jason Kuettel and Rosati were named to work out the details about date and place, and to line up a facilitator for the workshop.
A public hearing about a variance request from Roger Schemmer was postponed until May 11, since Schemmer could not be present to answer questions regarding the issue.
In a second hearing, the council approved a $150,000 business subsidy loan, which will be added to a loan of the same amount from the IRR, for Northshore Manufacturing. The money will be spent on infrastructure in a business expansion project that will also create new jobs.