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St. Louis County mulls community college scholarships

St. Louis County commissioners today will consider a resolution to spend $150,000 to create scholarships for area high school graduates to attend local two-year colleges.

The proposal, by Commissioner Tom Rukavina, would dedicate some of the money the county earns from mineral royalties paid by mining companies.

Rukavina first made the proposal last year but was told the county didn't have authority to offer the scholarships. So he persuaded state lawmakers to pass legislation that allows the county to give away the mining money.

The county earns mineral royalties when mining companies dig ore on county land. The county has earned between $900,000 and $1.4 million annually in recent years, although that could increase with current mine pit expansion plans.

That money has mostly gone into the general fund, although some has been dedicated to surveying land and paying for capital construction projects.

Rukavina said the county should mimic the state which aims much of its mineral royalties to K-12 funding and University of Minnesota scholarships.

"God only made this iron ore once and we should do something special with the money we make off it," Rukavina said. "I thought we could do something for our two-year institutions like the state has done with the University of Minnesota campuses since 1993."

Anyone who graduates from high school located within St. Louis County could be eligible. Details of the 30 $5,000 scholarships offered each year would be hammered-out by the presidents of the five Minnesota State colleges within the county — located in Duluth, Hibbing, Virginia, Eveleth and Ely.

The county board's Committee of the Whole will consider preliminary approval of the scholarship resolution today at the board's meeting in the Cherry Town Hall.

Sewer district for Sand Lake?

County commissioners will host what's expected to be a heated public hearing today before their regular board meeting in Cherry to take input on potential plans to create a sewer district for Sand Lake, located about 15 miles north of Virginia.

Supporters, including several year-round residents, say they want to start the process of creating the sewer district in what is an unorganized township to help protect water quality and combat excessive weed growth on the lake where residents now have individual septic systems.

Critics say there's no indication that Sand Lake water quality is declining and that the cooperative sewage system could be prohibitively expensive, especially for people with seasonal cabins. They say no effort has been made to trace the cause of the lake's explosive weed growth in recent years.

Opponents of the plan can call for a referendum, but only year-round residents, about 60 of the 160 landowners on the lake, can vote.

The county board, if it choses, can petition the state Office of Administrative Hearings for a state administrative law judge to weigh the merits of creating a cooperative sewer district where landowners would be taxed to pay for the new sewage system. An engineering report suggested piping Sand Lake sewage to Virginia's municipal system to be treated.