Lake County past was my presentThe best thing about finding references in the Lake County News-Chronicle to my brief tenure as editor there a generation ago is that I’m not in the obituaries.
By: Robin Washington, Lake County News Chronicle
The best thing about finding references in the Lake County News-Chronicle to my brief tenure as editor there a generation ago is that I’m not in the obituaries.
But almost. My stories are in the “Lake County Past” column for 25 years ago.
“The Lake County Board agreed Thursday to hold a public informational meeting on the possibility of allowing a low level radioactive waste dump in the county,” reads the item for last week in 1986. “But Monday, board members rescinded the action after they realized the recommendation they had based their decision on concerned hazardous waste and not radioactive waste.”
I remember that. So does Ricky Clark, who was a member of the County Board then.
“We had a lot of difficult trouble to deal with at that time,” he said last week from his home five miles out of Two Harbors, recalling the months following the July 1986 closure of Reserve Mining.
“We had the highest unemployment rate in probably the whole nation, about 35 percent,” he said. “I think some people were interested in doing anything to try to bring jobs here.”
One of those ideas was a revival-style rally to lure a Twin Cities robotics firm to the area.
“800 Silver Bay area residents were presented with an option to invest in $250,000 worth of shares to get the company moved to this area,” a Lake County Past item from Nov. 11 reads. “When relocated, the company would hire 12-16 workers.”
I remember that, too — and an editorial in the paper titled “Arithmetic” that pointed out $250,000 divided by 16 equals $15,625 — or the salary for each job, meaning Silver Bay residents would be paying to employ themselves. Development officials accused us of mucking up the whole deal and the company never relocated — good thing, since it went out of business less than a year later.
I was wrong about another development idea, though — the “overall improvement along U.S. 61 between Two Harbors and Silver Bay … for two proposed tunnels to be constructed by 1989,” described in a Nov. 25 anniversary piece.
“Yeah, right,” I recall thinking as John Bray, who only this spring retired from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, unrolled maps on the desk of the tiny office I had converted out of a closet before leaving the job that January.
By the time I returned 17 years later from Boston — which spent that entire period not quite finishing the Big Dig — the tunnels were long done. Oops.
The nukes were a different matter.
“I don’t think Lake County should be in the business of storing nuclear waste,” Clark said then as the cash-strapped county weighed an enticement from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The other County Board members voted him down, citing a letter from then-St. Louis and Lake County Health Commissioner Dr. Harold Leppink that they said endorsed the idea.
“I said nothing about nuclear waste,” Leppink countered when I called him the next week, leading me to call the board for clarification, and the board chairman, Ralph Sandvik, to suddenly re-read Leppink’s letter and call a meeting by phone.
“I remember he called me and told me on the phone, ‘I’m going to change my mind on that,’” Clark said last week of Sandvik, who died in 1997.
Dick Sigel, then a county administrator, informed me of the revised vote with the plea, “Go easy on us, will you?” — and we did, praising Clark instead of blasting the rest of the board.
Proud of his son then and now is Willard Clark, a former Two Harbors city councilor and a county commissioner after Ricky left the board.
“He was a very, very good commissioner,” Willard Clark said last week of Ricky, who’s now 56.
Of himself, Willard said: “I’ll be 80 on the 30th of this month.”
I laughed, because I always thought of him as an old man — and I’ll be 55 on the 29th, which makes me exactly the age today that he was then.
“Really?” he said. “I didn’t realize you were that old.”
“Well, I wasn’t!”
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune and was editor and publisher of the Lake County News-Chronicle in the fall and winter of 1986-87. He may be reached at email@example.com