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Lakewalk meeting may stir passions

While Duluth's Lakewalk might be a symbol of serenity, a public meeting scheduled Tuesday night to discuss extending it is likely to stir up another round of heated debate.

While Duluth's Lakewalk might be a symbol of serenity, a public meeting scheduled Tuesday night to discuss extending it is likely to stir up another round of heated debate.

Meeting organizers will review a recent study by engineering and architecture firm Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. outlining what it will cost to extend the Lakewalk along the shore of Lake Superior between 20th and 25th avenues east.

Building the 10-foot-wide path under the original plan -- on land the city acquired between new residential developments and the lake -- could cost Duluth $1.6 million to $2.1 million, the study says.

The least-expensive lakeshore option would involve building a wooden boardwalk atop steel pilings. The most expensive would involve building a cast-in-place concrete structure.

The report recommended the Lakewalk be built farther inland, using land the city owns along Water Street. That option would cost about $68,000, and could be supplemented with the construction of a narrower pedestrian footpath running along the lakeshore route for about $62,000 more.

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For less than the cost of a 10-foot-wide, five-block-long lakeshore path, SEH said, the Lakewalk could be extended to 60th Avenue East.

Plans call for the Lakewalk to run parallel to the North Shore Scenic Railroad as it heads east through Duluth.

Duluth Planning Department Director Bob Bruce plans to lay out the findings of the feasibility study Tuesday, and said he hopes to learn what the public prefers.

"The whole idea of the meeting is to just get people familiar with what the physical options are. I want to just keep this moving," Bruce said.

A dispute over a City Council resolution regarding access for the future Lakewalk also is likely to surface during the meeting.

Passions over the Lakewalk flared up at the April 9 City Council meeting over a resolution to reiterate that the public can walk along the shoreline from 23rd Avenue East to 25th Avenue East.

City Councilor Laurie Johnson offered the resolution after learning the city had signed a memo of understanding with Lakewalk Townhomes LLC agreeing not to light the path in that area and pledging "there will be no benches, picnic tables, stairs or other physical accommodations to encourage persons to pause or linger along this portion of the Lakewalk or on the beach below."

This agreement would apply to property the city paid $265,000 to acquire from Lakewalk Townhomes.

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The memorandum also said the public would be denied access to the corridor until the Lakewalk is complete.

"We want the public right to use that land while under construction," Alison Clarke, chairwoman of Duluth Neighborhood District 7, told the City Council April 9.

But Bill Burns, attorney for Lakewalk Townhomes, said he was shocked he had to defend his client, because Lakewalk Townhomes has always wanted to allow the Lakewalk to extend through the area, he said.

"I think it's an embarrassment that it was introduced," Burns said of the resolution during Monday's council meeting. "My clients intend to ... work with the city."

Bruce defended the city staff's efforts to obtain a corridor for the Lakewalk's extension, contending the city's staff worked to strike the best possible deal it could with private developers.

The councilors delayed doing anything with the resolution, instead choosing to wait until after Tuesday's meeting.

Bruce said he hopes to finalize plans and money for the project this year.

"I think there's a strong likelihood that we could start construction at this time in 2008," he said.

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