Minnesota veterans groups, disability advocates and concerned citizens announced Feb. 21 they will attend the Orono City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27. Their planned attendance is to express their displeasure with a recent decision by the City Council to terminate access for veterans to Big Island on Lake Minnetonka.
At their Feb. 13 meeting, the Orono City Council voted to remove the docks that provide access to boats that bring veterans, many handicapped, from across the area to enjoy the natural tranquility of Big Island and visit the old Veterans Camp grounds. The decision, according to the council, was made to eliminate approx. $8,000 from the city budget for annual upkeep of the handicap accessible docks.
“This decision was done without due diligence and is a complete slap in the face to our state’s veteran community,” said Dean Ascheman, Chairman, MN Veterans 4 Veterans Trust Fund. “Big Island has been a refuge for our veterans for nearly a century. This decision was made for political reasons, pure and simple.”
The relationship between Minnesota’s veterans and Big Island dates back more than 90 years when the island was home to The Big Island Veterans Camp. The camp closed in 2003 and proceeds from the 2006 sale to the City of Orono are used to fund veterans programs. Allegedly a condition of the sale was that veteran’s would have access to the island in perpetuity.
“The council can’t legally remove the docks. By doing so they are in breach of the commitment made by the city at the time of the sale,” said Ascheman. “It is so disheartening that the very same men and women who fought for our freedoms are the ones who end up being pawns in a game of politics.”
Many veterans are expected to appear before the City Council asking them to rescind their vote and allow more time for public comment on the matter.
“The hope is we can get enough of the council to understand they weren’t within their legal rights to remove the docks,” said Ascheman. “To hide behind a budget decision as a way to keep veterans off the island is pure cowardice. We intend to fight this until those docks are put back allowing safe access to our veterans and those with disabilities.”