St. Louis County had 10 million reasons to celebrate this week with the Minnesota Legislature's passing of a $1.87 billion bonding bill.

"We are thrilled to say the least," said John Ongaro, intergovernmental relations director for St. Louis County, describing five county-backed projects receiving funding, including a new meat processing facility for the Northeast Regional Corrections Center in Saginaw.

Ongaro called its food processing center "the nucleus" of the facility's 2,600-acre farm. It processes vegetables and meats, mostly for use by the correctional center's inhabitants.

The meat processing center's Depression-era building will be replaced, and the new one could yield U.S. Department of Agriculture certification that would allow for commercial meat processing, Ongaro said.

Additional funding among $4.4 million total will go toward upgrades to carpentry and welding buildings shuttered for a decade on the NERCC campus.

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"The funding will bring the carpentry and welding buildings up to code, and they'll be able to start up that programming again," Ongaro said. "It's a trifecta for NERCC."

NERCC is a joint venture between five counties, but St. Louis County contributes 82% of its budget as its primary user.

The St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center, better known as the Duluth Depot, received $1.5 million out of $8 million requested by the county. Two phases of improvements, including to the roof and exterior of the building, will be funded. Life-cycle improvements, including sprinkler and elevator upgrades, will also be included.

One hoped-for phase of upgrades included new heating and air conditioning, but "will have to wait," Ongaro said.

The county also received $1.365 million for a planned St. Louis County Regional Behavioral Health Crisis facility. Ongaro said the facility will be used to help keep people in mental health crisis out of jail or emergency rooms.

Another $3 million was delivered for improvements to the Grassy Point Bridge, which carries three of the four major railroad providers for local access between Duluth and Superior.

Aging mechanics of the swing bridge force train traffic down to 5 mph over the bridge. Improvements will increase that to 30 mph, but first, Ongaro said, more funding will need to come from Wisconsin before the two states can pitch for federal matching aid.

A train operated by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific crosses the Grassy Point Bridge as it heads from Duluth to Superior in 2010. The proposed Northern Lights Express passenger rail service would use the bridge. (File / News Tribune)
A train operated by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific crosses the Grassy Point Bridge as it heads from Duluth to Superior in 2010. The proposed Northern Lights Express passenger rail service would use the bridge. (File / News Tribune)

The Grassy Point Bridge is also a key piece in the proposed $550 million Northern Lights Express passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities. The passenger train is proposed to swing through Superior and stop in Duluth after crossing Grassy Point.

"It's the first seed money to get the Grassy Point Bridge repaired," Ongaro said.

Finally, $950,000 was secured for the Voyageur ATV Trail and trail expansion between Cook and Ely.

Ongaro gave special thanks to state Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown. Following some research, he believes Murphy to be the first Northeastern Minnesota chair of the house bonding committee.

"It was a team effort, but the leader was Rep. Mary Murphy," Ongaro said. "She's proven to be a critical difference in making us do extra well."