I Claim This Land In The Name Of… Duluth

December 2, 2014 at 9:18 am 1 comment

by Jason Bradley

90 by 20

Duluth at Canal Park

No, not “Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut” (the French explorer), but “The City Of”. Let me back up a bit. I first was introduced to the concept of “annexation” while studying a comprehensive plan for the city of Hutchinson, MN. In it, were tight restrictions on what kind of businesses or developments were allowed to be located in neighboring townships, and the “right” of the City to annex those townships if they grew too large for Hutchinson’s liking.

Let’s forget for a moment that as citizens of this great country we have the right to associate with anyone we so choose. In other words, if a group of people want to get together outside of a city’s limits and form their own government (under Minnesota’s township laws), they have the right to do that, and many people have, often to escape punitive regulations or taxes from a larger city. This goes to the heart of property rights. If I choose to invest my money into a property in a location I like, with a level of regulation and taxation I can deal with, then for another City to swoop in and attach that township to itself goes against the very principles of free association and property ownership.

Now, I know this area very well. I grew up here, and spent much of my youth driving and biking in some of the townships that surround Duluth. You, basically, have four cities: Duluth (being the largest), Proctor, Hermantown, and Cloquet (a little further south). (I am purposely leaving Superior out, as it is in Wisconsin, and I don’t foresee Duluth reaching beyond state boundaries.) These cities are surrounded by a number of townships and unincorporated villages. This loose association has been kept, to try and keep taxes low and regulations non-invasive. The problem comes in when these larger cities want to annex (or basically expand their borders to include all or part of a township) them to add to their tax rolls and LGA. These cities often keep larger businesses from locating themselves just out of the City limits for more favorable conditions.

Over the last couple of years, Duluth decided to pick a fight with neighboring Rice Lake Township. (Rice Lake Township is northwest of Duluth.) It voted at a City Council meeting in 2013 to annex 240 acres (almost half) of land from the township. Rice Lake, however was having none of that. They have fought tooth and nail to keep Duluth out. Duluth backed off last December, and Rice Lake is looking to shed their township status for that of a city. A judge is now hearing their case.

In 2012, Proctor (my alma mater) decided that it was going to annex Midway Township, because the city was in some dire straits and needed the growth (go Rails!). Needless to say, Midway didn’t take to kindly to the hostile takeover (the third attempt since 1991), and went running to Duluth to consider annexation to keep Proctor at bay. Let me get this straight. You didn’t like what the Gauls were doing, so you ran to the Romans? You see, there aren’t a lot of good choices to some of these townships when a City comes knocking. They can let it happen (much to the chagrin of the residents), court another City and cross their fingers, or incorporate and take on all sorts of financial risk that comes with incorporating as a city. Since Duluth took over the strip of land along I-35 as you come into Duluth, they have reaped the benefits of the commercial expansion of that area.

According to MN Statute, annexation can occur 3 ways: 1) ordinance 2) order of the Municipal Board 3) orderly annexation.  They go on to say “Under Minnesota Statute 414.033, cities may annex land simply by passing an ordinance declaring that specific parcels of land are now part of the city, so long as certain conditions are met. The ordinance process may be initiated either by the city or by petition of property owners. This is the most common form of annexation. In fiscal year 1994, 220 annexations by ordinance occurred involving more than 7,500 acres. A city may annex land by ordinance if it has given 30 days notice of a public hearing on the annexation to all towns and all landowners within and contiguous to the area to be annexed and any of (a certain set of) conditions are met.” Again, the City has unlimited time to get all of their ducks in a row, discuss the terms, and come to agreement among themselves. The public gets 30 days notice to organize. Anyone else see a problem here?

What will the future hold for these townships in the Duluth area? Duluth is surrounded by these townships. Do Thompson, Lakewood, Duluth Township, Gnesen, Normanna, Canosia, Fredenberg, Solway, and the other townships need to worry that Duluth is coming for their land? If the Municipal Board doesn’t allow Rice Lake to incorporate will Duluth come lay siege again? You see, none of these townships can trust their giant of a neighbor. Mayor Don Ness has a “90 by 20” initiative, where he wants the city to grow to 90,000 people by 2020. The problem is this: Duluth has been shedding both jobs and population for decades due to an agenda that has been hostile to industry, and pro tourism (aka: minimum wage) jobs. The population signs read 89,000+ when I graduated from high school. I know, because I saw them every time I came down the hill from Proctor. Today, they read 86,128. IN 1930, Duluth had over 103,000 residents. Do you see a trend?

Clyde Iron left. U.S. Steel left. Diamond Tool left. To their credit, they snagged the Airbus maintenance facility… and then again after it had been closed for three years, but the scales tip heavily toward the industrial exodus of the late twentieth century. While a city (especially a city with Duluth’s unique charm) should have these tourism-based jobs, you also need to have good paying jobs that keep people from moving away. Annexing the local townships is no way to get your population to 90,000. That does nothing to change the economic fortunes of your city. Yet, Duluth keeps voting for the same people that are facilitating this downward trend and willing to violate the rights of assembly and property enjoyed by their neighbors in the townships (whether MN statutes excuse it or not).

I love Duluth/Proctor/Hermantown. I have so many good memories of my youth. It pains me to see what they have done to that city. Duluthians, I know you can do better. It’s time to find some City Council folks with a different agenda so you get a different result.


Jason Bradley is an entrepreneur in the music industry (Jason Bradley Live and Paper Lanterns Intl) and owns a consulting/advocacy/education firm that specializes in non-partisan politics (Community Solutions MN). Jason Bradley helps others to reach their goals in music and reduce the size and influence of government.

Connect with Jason on Google+

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. wants2know  |  December 2, 2014 at 11:23 am

    If you like your locally controlled government you will have to fight to keep it.


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