Ecklund meets with Lake County officials
After a couple months in office, Rep. Rob Ecklund was in Lake County to meet with Lake County Commissioner Rich Sve as well as county administrator Matthew Huddleston, land commissioner Nate Eide and officials from Silver Creek Township. Ecklund said he spoke with the officials about his work so far in the Minnesota House of Representatives and his priorities for the next session that begins Tuesday.
Ecklund said the main thing he had hoped to accomplish during the previous session was an extension of unemployment benefits for miners and those affected by the U.S. steel crisis but it didn't get done. He said he was disappointed by the lack of action on the item and he and fellow northern Minnesota Reps. Tom Anzelc, Carly Melin and Jason Metsa sent out a press release expressing their displeasure with the session.
"We put the press release out at 11 o'clock and at 4 o'clock we were in the Speaker's office talking about it and Rep. Melin called me and told me 'you stepped in right away didn't you,'" Ecklund said. "But we've got to support our workers, that's number one."
Ecklund did however say the extension remains a priority and he hoped to get action on it in the first week of the next session. While those affected by the Northshore Mining shutdown in Silver Bay have not yet run out of benefits, workers at the Keetac Mine in Keewatin have already run out.
"We need to get that settled, because ultimately, like all of northern Minnesota, we've got to work to keep our families in the community," Ecklund said. "If they don't have income coming in, they're going to have to start looking elsewhere."
Ecklund also spoke with Lake County officials regarding the expansion of Lake County's broadband project, dubbed Lake Connections. "Border to border" broadband access in Minnesota was a priority for Ecklund and Lake Connections is hoping to secure more funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Services to expand access to the Cloquet River valley, Babbit, Embarrass and other parts of northern St. Louis County. RUS has more funding available for broadband construction, but current regulations are preventing Lake Connections from accessing the funding. Ecklund wants to speak with U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan about putting some pressure on RUS to ease the restrictions and allow the broadband project to expand.
"Rick is a champion for bringing money home and I think if I talk to them about that, he can put the pressure on," Ecklund said.
He also spoke with officials about a number of bonding projects he will sponsor in the next session including an extension of a Gitchee Gummee Bike Trail and wastewater treatment in Silver Creek Township. In addition, he discussed the new mountain bike trail plan near Beaver Bay. The county is not seeking bonding for the plan, but will seek Legacy Grant funding to pay for the trail. Ecklund said he was impressed with the plan and thought in a future session, he might secure bonding for a campsite or trailhead to make the trail more attractive to visitors.
"I like the way that it's tied into Split Rock and Superior Hiking Trail and it looks like a tremendous multiple use option that people will have," he said. "The more people we can bring to the shore for tourism, the better off we'll be."
In an odd bit of timing, Ecklund is also starting to ramp up for his reelection bid. Ecklund was elected to the legislature in a special election in December following the death of Rep. David Dill. He likes campaigning and getting to know the residents of his district, but currently he is focused on the next session and will begin his campaign in earnest once the next session is done.
"The big thing I am focusing on is bringing things back to the county through our bonding projects because that will put people to work and it will ultimately make District 3A a better place to live," he said.