Ralph Doty: Duluth's new official motto: NIMBY? Never

Thirty-four years ago, a multi-million dollar project being proposed for Duluth was in deep trouble. Six state legislators from Duluth authored a bill that, if passed, would bring millions of tourist dollars to this area during the dreary winter ...

Thirty-four years ago, a multi-million dollar project being proposed for Duluth was in deep trouble. Six state legislators from Duluth authored a bill that, if passed, would bring millions of tourist dollars to this area during the dreary winter months, create hundreds of jobs and enhance the city's treasury.

The Duluth lawmakers and Mayor Ben Boo -- he led local efforts to develop the project -- expected, and got, opposition from Minnesotans involved in the same line of business.

Their argument against the Duluth project? Government should not participate in any enterprise in which the private sector was already involved. (My, how things have changed. Today, for example, millions of taxpayers' dollars are being poured into private banks to keep them afloat).

The biggest surprise was stiff resistance from some local residents. A project that would give the city's economy a reprieve from the economic gloom of winter was being attacked by some of the very Duluthians who would eventually benefit from it.

The naysayers who often derail progress in this town were telling out-state legislators -- mostly Republicans who eventually voted against the project -- that the development would damage or destroy wildlife in the region (didn't happen), the area was sacred ground for American Indians (never proven) and the project wouldn't work (it did).


After what seemed like an eternity of lobbying by the six legislators and local residents, the bill giving the state's authorization for the project passed by narrow margins in the House and Senate.

The project that caused such fierce opposition by Duluthians? The Spirit Mountain Recreation Area. The local legislators who sponsored the legislation? Sens. Sam Solon and Ralph Doty, and Reps. Mike Jaros, Jack LaVoy, Jim Ulland and Willard Munger.

Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with residents raising reasonable questions and concerns about new projects and developments proposed for our city. But Duluth has a bad -- and deserved -- reputation as a city that doesn't like change. Period.

Many Minnesota business leaders say city residents prefer that Duluth return to the way things were (during the Stone Age).

Some folks have even suggested a new official city motto: "NIMBY." Not in my back yard.

The proposed motto came to mind several weeks ago when the Duluth News Tribune carried a story about some well-intentioned people who told the Duluth School Board, even at this late date, that they were opposed to changing Ordean Middle School to a senior high school. Many said they liked the idea of one city high school (see my column of June 3, 2007, regarding my support for a single facility).

On Jan. 14, an opponent to the Ordean site told the school board, "I know this has to be in someone's back yard." Then she urged the school board to find another site not near her home in the Ordean neighborhood.

Although it's not often given as the reason for opposing a project in Duluth, it doesn't take a genius to understand the real reason. It's NIMBY. Take, for example, the Ordean neighbor who said he opposed the new high school because it might threaten some bald eagles nesting in the area.


"If the school district proceeds with this site, they are pretty much turning their back on the national symbol of this country," he said. C'mon.

Although the stated reason of most neighbors for opposing a new Walgreens store on the corner of Arrowhead Road and Kenwood Avenue isn't NIMBY, let's be honest. Despite the fact the corner is zoned commercial, neighbors don't like the idea of a drug store near their homes. Presumably, they'd prefer something like a candle-making facility. It wouldn't generate as much traffic as a drug store.

The list of other NIMBY examples is long, but here are a few noteworthy items: Remember opposition to the site now housing Home Depot? Too much traffic, said neighbors. And then there's the Stoneridge Mall site that once housed an ugly cement plant on Miller Trunk Highway.

And on and on and on and on.

No wonder Duluth's population has sunk from 105,000 a few decades ago to an anemic 85,000.

If Duluth is to prosper, if its residents' salaries are to increase from its anemic mean of $10,000 less than in the Twin Cities and if the city of Duluth's desperate financial situation is ever to improve because of more property tax revenue, then people favoring reasonable new developments and projects must make themselves better heard.

Those who say no, no, no (including letters to the News Tribune from folks in Roseville and Pine City who seem to know what's good for our city) must be effectively countered by Duluthians who love this city and the surrounding area and want it to prosper.

We've not a minute to lose.


Contact Ralph Doty at .

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