DULUTH — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz visited Duluth's seawall and waterfront Thursday morning, Oct. 14, the first stop in a statewide tour to discuss the importance of investing in local projects.
A 2020 bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature last October designated $13.5 million for seawall and surface improvements along the Duluth waterfront behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to Bayfront Festival Park. Walz said protecting the waterfront and port is part of a critical statewide effort to improve infrastructure.
“If the mayor of Duluth says this project’s a priority, it’s a priority for Minnesota,” Walz said. “The thought of not rebuilding this seawall for all of the things that it does, from recreational to port stability, to the economic impact that it has on the local businesses, is simply reckless not to do so.”
Walz is building his capital investment proposal for the 2022 legislative session, and said he plans to include more efforts for asset preservation, including road improvement, education and local projects like the waterfront preservation.
Emily Vikre, co-founder of Canal Park's Vikre Distillery, said damaging storms in recent years have badly damaged the business' building in three separate instances of flooding. She said as an entrepreneur, she sees opportunities in challenges like this situation.
“The lake and Duluth’s interface with Lake Superior is absolutely one of our greatest assets and we are completely committed and excited to be in Canal Park, but it is also a liability when have an infrastructure that isn’t set up to face the new normal of these bigger storms that we see,” Vikre said.
Dan Olson of the Laborers' International Union of North America and the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council said bonding bills not only bring critical jobs to trades workers, but also benefit the communities where the projects are located.
Minnesota Commissioner of Management and Budget Jim Schowalter said now is the time to invest in Minnesota because interest rates are historically low. He said it has been exciting to see the progress that's been made across the state and to find what new local projects can make an impact.
Walz said while he is doing what he can to invest in the port in Duluth, he calls on the federal government to make sure it is investing in other ports along the St. Lawrence Seaway to protect the shipping industry.
“Now is the time, coming out of the pandemic, to make sure that Minnesota is building back better,” Walz said.