Orono council votes to keep current Big Island docks, move forward

By Adam Quandt
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A veteran hands a momento to city officials to remind them of the veterans. (Paige Kieffer/Sun Sailor)
A veteran hands a momento to city officials to remind them of the veterans. (Paige Kieffer/Sun Sailor)

After a 5-0 vote from the Orono City Council during its Feb. 13 meeting for the city to no longer provide dock access on Big Island, local veterans and other community members jumped in opposition.

Veterans and non-veterans alike packed into both the council chambers and the hallway outside of the chamber for the council’s Feb. 27 meeting to voice their displeasure with the council’s decision.

At the request of those in the audience, the agenda item that included the docks discussion was quickly moved to the top of the list, rather than its original location at the bottom.

Both veterans and non-veterans quickly lined up to voice their concern with the loss of the docks. Each speaker was followed with thunderous applause from the crowd.

Former Veterans Camp Board member Dean Ascheman took to the podium to walk the council and those in the audience through the history of veterans and the island.

“I was amazed at what happened in a meeting two weeks ago,” Ascheman said. “I couldn’t believe that a motion was made to remove the docks and sell them. It’s the wrong thing to do. It’s going backwards when it comes to accessibility.”

Ascheman then asked the council to rethink their action and to put things on a course to make things better for the veterans who use the park.

Community member Van Erickson came to the podium to share on behalf of his father-in-law, who was one of the original donors to supply funds to help Orono purchase Big Island.

Erickson addressed issues concerning Mayor Walsh saying that his father-in-law sued the city over things related to the purchase of the island, to which Erickson said was false. He said his father-in-law never sued the city.

After a variety of veterans from various communities and other community members took to the podium to speak the grievances with the council, the crowd began asking the council to make a motion to keep the docks.

“The action that was taken at the last city council meeting, I find kind of mind boggling,” Minnesota Veterans 4 Veterans Vice Chair Bill Cochrane said. “The council needs to restore the maintenance fees for the docks. It needs to stay a line item.”

“It’s about to discussing a possible alternative,” Councilmember Richard Crosby said following a heated exchange with a speaker. “If it doesn’t work, then we can discuss that too. We’re open to the discussion.”

After hearing more and more speakers, community members once again asked for a motion from the council to keep the docks.

“These people gave a commitment to this country and gave their word,” Jay Nygard said in regards to the veterans. “The City of Orono gave its word to these people…it’s time for our city to stand up to its word.”

“We’re not talking about not putting docks there,” Mayor Dennis Walsh said in response to a speaker. Despite a motion from Councilmember Aaron Printup which he stated “I would make a motion to no longer provide dock access to Big Island…” The motion passed with a 5-0 vote.

Mayor Walsh later said that the intent was to bring the general public together with the city to figure out how to best utilize the island.

“We maybe didn’t have the perfect communication from interpretation to intent,” Walsh said. “This was more of a communications or lost in translation issue.”

Later in the meeting, Councilmember Victoria Seals made a motion “to keep the current docks,” which was passed 5-0. Motions by Mayor Walsh to accept private donations to go towards the docks and island upkeep and to create a Big Island committee for future progress in bettering the island followed Seals’ motion.

“Things were remedied in the end and we will try to be more clear in the future,” Walsh said.