School board aims shovels at pristine green field
destruction of green space once elicited angry cries in Duluth, but a new plan
that will uproot a square mile of undisturbed land is barely raising eyebrows.
The parcel is hidden in a far corner of West End, where residents lack the
political clout and financial resources to fight the massive development.
project, known as Wheeler North, would position a middle school just above the
DM&IR corridor on a green field that runs from Chestnut
to Wellington Streets. Just a few blocks uphill from the A& Dubbs drive-in
restaurant lies a pristine site where backhoes soon could rip up wild strawberry
fields and former pastures that helped feed generations of Germans, Poles and
Italians who settled the neighborhood a hundred years ago.
of those families Ė such as the Stammens, Gimples, Scheers and Stockmans Ė
are long gone. The neighborhood and its old houses have largely morphed into
transient housing for low-income renters whoíve managed to escape the Central
Hillside. These arenít monied socialites who can afford to sue the Duluth
School District every time an eagle craps on their porch.
dubious tale generated headlines when the School Board proposed to stuff East
High onto the Ordean site. Unhappy neighbors managed to pull an eagleís nest
out of their pocket with hopes of milking the rare bird.
who reside near Wheeler North, however, havenít been nearly as clever. So far,
raping the western hillside has generated neither discussion nor lawsuits.
Beyond the crumbling pavement on Chestnut Street, where the school district
hopes to demolish several homes to accommodate a newly paved entrance road, the
ambitious West End school plan is nearly a secret.
lack of news coverage is troubling but not unexpected. Few local reporters
reside east of Lake Avenue, so theyíre seldom familiar with western
neighborhoods or their problems. Many are simply incapable of preparing a story
thatís not spoon fed at a news conference or public meeting.
sure, the lack of media scrutiny is helping to squelch discussion about
alternative school sites, such as the existing Central High or Lincoln
properties . Assisted by this knowledge vacuum, the School Board can spew
nonsense about the high cost of rebuilding Central without anyone questioning
the high cost of extending utilities and building roads into the Wheeler North
site, where the dominant geological feature is solid rock.
wild raspberries, strawberries and lichen-covered boulders is merely one concern
about the Wheeler North site. It doesnít take a passel of clever attorneys to
uproot others. Simple observation from hillside outcroppings provide a quick
DM&IR rail corridor, where taconite-filled trains speed from Iron Range
mines to the Ore Docks, is located between the proposed school and Wheeler
Field. Thereís only one way to quickly walk from the proposed school site to
the athletic complex and West Duluth residential area: Dart across a dozen
railroad tracks like an overcharged bunny.
thatís not the only safety issue. The other is air pollution.
years ago, nearby residents pulled clean linens off their clothes line each time
a steam locomotive flew down the tracks, spewing coal soot in every direction.
Those days are long gone, but airborne dust particles continue to be a concern,
and prevailing winds blow toward the school site.
numerous occasions, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has fined DM&IR
for dust emissions created when taconite pellets are moved and stockpiled.
Although most of the emissions occur near the Ore Docks, a quick walk along the
rail corridor unveils a virtual treasure trove of pellets that have dropped from
speeding rail cars. In addition to fueling local slingshots, the pellets create
dust as they bounce along the tracks.
who reside in the neighborhood also are familiar with blue clouds that billow
from brake pads as locomotive engineers slow their trains during the quick
descent between Proctor and the working waterfront. The smell of hot brakes,
which is evident for blocks, and particulates from the brake pads will heighten
the sickly ambiance at the Wheeler North outdoor athletic field, recess field
and hiking trail.
can this be?
of Schools Keith Dixon has suggested the Red Plan arose from discussions held at
numerous public meetings. Citizens who participated in those sessions, however,
say they were poorly attended, often by fewer than two dozen people, and
certainly didnít generate a community-wide consensus. In any event, itís
hard to imagine that a local participant suggested bulldozing an undisturbed
green field instead of reusing convenient sites that already are equipped with
water, sewer and power lines.
Dixon and his heavy-handed minions are hell-bent on initiating every aspect of
the plan before the fall school board elections, when voters will tell board
members what they really think. By then, however, it will be too late for to
halt the expensive madness; the environmental damage will be irreversible.
Ron Brochu refuses to lighten up and hopes more Duluthians will do the same. He
archives his writings at www.ronbrochublog.com.