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Despite state's action, Duluth city administration doesn't plan to lift emergency declaration

As the emergency passes, it will open the door for a return to in-person public meetings and for a local fee on plastic bags to go into effect.

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Jake Meyer, of Duluth, loads a cart with plastic bags for a customer March 18, 2020, at Kenwood Plaza Super One in Duluth. A new fee on plastic bags had been placed on hold during the pandemic, but it will go into effect 90 days after the lifting of emergency declarations by both the state and city. (Clint Austin / File / News Tribune)
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While the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz have agreed to end his emergency COVID-19 powers , effective July 1, the city of Duluth's emergency declaration appears likely to remain in place, at least for now.

The city's emergency declaration is set to expire July 16, and Noah Schuchman, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said he's not planning to follow the state's lead.

"My guess is we will just let it run its course and run out. There's a clear kind of runway for that. We have not had any extensive conversations otherwise. It just seems like the cleanest and easiest way to do it," he said.

Meanwhile, Walz said he agreed to let go of his emergency powers after working with federal officials to ensure enhanced food assistance would not be disrupted by a lifting of the declaration. The continued emergency powers also had become a point of contention that threatened to delay an end-of-session budget deal, potentially resulting in a government shutdown.

When Duluth follows suit, the clock will start ticking toward the implementation of a local fee on plastic bags. The Duluth City Council approved the nickel-per-bag fee more than a year ago, but it had been placed on hold during the pandemic. It will now go into effect 90 days after the state and local emergency declarations have been lifted.

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The official passing of the emergency also likely will mean an ensuing return to in-person public meetings of the City Council, as well as other municipal boards and commissions. Those bodies have been meeting virtually during the pandemic.

Schuchman remains in no rush to resume in-person meetings.

"We're not able to, in a way that is thoughtful, kind of flip the switch," he said. "So, the way I understand it, we have some latitude beyond the governor's order, and we are being careful to make sure we do the right thing for the safety of the public and for staff and for councilors and for board and commission members."

Schuchman said he expects City Council leadership will make an announcement soon about the likely timing of a return to in-person meetings.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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