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St. Louis County: 'We forge ahead' -- With resilience, perseverance, repairs we greet 2018

In the midst of this holiday season, I am reminded of what drew me to Northeastern Minnesota and what keeps me here. It has always been the beauty of the landscape and the resilience, creativity, strength, and self-reliance of the people.

Frank JewellYears ago when I worked in senior adult services for the county, I provided assistance to elderly women and men who lived in Saginaw, Floodwood, Meadowlands, and Cedar Valley, many in little wood-sided houses well off the main roads, many without cars. When I showed up, there was almost always a cup of coffee ready. They almost never complained. They loved their homes and wanted to stay in them as long as possible. All they needed was a little help: a ride to the grocery store or a doctors appointment or help with snowplowing in winter. Many still heated with wood, and I would see a wheelbarrow parked near the back door on the path between the woodshed and the kitchen. Their self-reliance was remarkable.

As a county commissioner, I have watched our staff reach out to families in need, kids who need an extra helping hand and people struggling with addiction. Earlier this year I attended one of the drug-court graduations and watched as men and women — helped along by a caring community of professionals, friends and family — stepped out on their own to lives of sobriety and reconnection to community. In one case, a mom reconnected with her children and got a job, housing, and then a better job and better housing: things only possible with the help she got in drug court.

On Oct. 26, a storm blew up over Lake Superior. Huge waves damaged infrastructure and natural areas along the shore. Brighton Beach, the Lakewalk, and the beach on Park Point suffered serious damage. The waves also pushed up beach rock and filled a number of box culverts along Old Highway 61, a county highway. In the cold and wet over the next few days, and out of most people's sight, our south bridge crew began the work of cleaning out the culverts. Other members of our engineering staff, using cell phones and new technology, identified and designed solutions to the damage. With extra time and energy, the road was protected, and as the spring thaw comes the culverts will hold.

This is what sets St. Louis County and the region apart. People persevere. They work hard. They often reach out a helping hand.

Building off these values and assets, we at the county confront the issues we see in our communities — whether it is the opioid crisis, lack of affordable housing, or keeping our roads in excellent shape — and we support our communities as great places to live, work, start a business, and raise a family. We do this by ensuring that our departments, whether Public Works or Public Health and Human Services, provide the very best services possible.

Beyond this we need to be innovative in our efforts to support growth in businesses large and small and to ensure we are growing a workforce that can fill jobs in the mines, aerospace, health care, skilled trades, education, and human services. As one way to do this, the County Board is putting aside $150,000 next year from mineral revenues to support scholarships at our local, two-year colleges. These scholarships will be for St. Louis County residents, allowing them to get the good-paying jobs that we have such need for.

As we move into next year, we begin two major construction projects in Virginia and Cook. We expect to resurface and preserve 149 miles of roads and reconstruct and rehabilitate 11 bridges. We are requesting bonding for critical updates to the historic Depot Heritage and Arts Center. We are continuing our efforts to clean up blighted properties. And we are investing in permanent supportive housing and an expansion of outreach with youth by starting a new 4-H afterschool program in Duluth and by increasing the reach of Youth in Action.

While the leaders in the federal and state government may provide us with challenges, our history and the example of those men and women I served long ago suggest we know how to move forward and make our area and neighborhoods the very best places to live.

We hope you have had a wonderful holiday season and wish you a happy, productive and peaceful new year.

Frank Jewell represents District 1 in central Duluth on the St. Louis County Board. He served as board chairman this year. He wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.