Duluth council delays action on climbers' ice-farming plans at Quarry Park, citing neighbors' concerns

Residents of Duluth's Cody neighborhood worry that the proposed ice-making operations will worsen problems with low water pressure in the area.

Three Lincoln Park Middle School students ice climb at Quarry Park in January using ropes and equipment provided by UMD. (2020 File / News Tribune)

Ice climbers had hoped the Duluth City Council would sign off Monday night on plans that would allow them to tap into the city water system and begin producing additional ice at Quarry Park next winter. But at large Councilor Arik Forsman successfully moved to table a resolution in support of the project to allow more time for neighbors' concerns to be addressed.

Some residents of Duluth's Cody neighborhood have warned against further taxing a water system that already struggles to provide adequate pressure.

In a letter to councilors, Machelle Palmi, who has lived in the neighborhood for 26 years, wrote: "The water pressure is frequently low, sometimes ridiculously so. There is no consistent pattern of when it will be low, acceptable or good."

During a Thursday night council agenda session meeting, Eric Shaffer, Duluth's chief engineer of utilities, confirmed the issue but said: "I don't think there will be an effect on the neighbors. They live unfortunately in an area that's far enough up the hill that they all have very low water pressure in the range of 25 PSI (pounds per square inch)."

He explained that the Duluth Climbers' Coalition will need to draw on city water for only a brief while during off-peak nighttime hours. Because of admittedly low water-pressure levels, Shaffer said the group will need to build a pumping station on site to move the water to the top of the ascent, but he said it should not worsen the situation for neighbors.


Denette Lynch continued to voice concerns in a letter to the council, however, saying that even if the climbers limited their water use to between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. it would still inconvenience neighbors. "People use water in those times, too," she wrote, noting that people work different shifts, causing them to bathe or operate things such as dishwashers and laundry machines well after the sun goes down.

Lynch also questioned whether water pressure would be sufficient to provide proper fire safety to her neighborhood and suggested the city do something to remedy the underlying issue of inadequate water pressure in the area.

After consulting with city staff regarding concerns of further diminished water pressure, Forsman said, "I believe that we have fairly solid information that that's not going to be a problem in the neighborhood, but there are some folks that still need to circle back with."

Forsman said he and 5th District Councilor Janet Kennedy would feel more comfortable delaying action on the resolution until the council next meet in a couple of weeks.

Kennedy said that separate from the Quarry Park project, she wants to explore how to improve water pressure in that portion of the Cody neighborhood, especially as the city considers further future development in the area.

"I want this conversation to move forward in a way that neighbors are going to feel that their well-being is being taken into consideration," she said.

Under the terms of a pending agreement, the city of Duluth would agree to invest $18,000 in tourism taxes to cover the cost of a new water line at Quarry Park, but the Climbers' Coalition would be responsible for all other construction maintenance, operations and utility costs.

Forsman noted that the funding for the water line is included as part of the St. Louis Corridor Initiative, with designated sales tax dollars clearly earmarked specifically for recreational investments in western Duluth.


"I can sense the optimism and enthusiasm for investing in our western part of town, and I also know, especially in these budget times, it can seem odd that we have money for a water pipe for something like an ice-climbing hill in a quarry when we have water-pressure issues in the neighborhood directly next door. But those are two separate buckets of money. They're completely unrelated things," he said.

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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