Duluth Council Unanimously Supports State Surplus Money for 148th Fighter Wing in First In-Person Meeting in 2 Years

Monday night and going forward, meetings will be hybrid with the public able to view and give feedback through WebEx like before.

DULUTH, Minn.- After two years of virtual meetings Duluth’s City Council returned to City Hall in person, where they unanimously showed support for using extra state funds to maintain and upgrade the 148th Fighter Wing.

“I never anticipated it was going to be 2 years,” Council President Arik Forsman said.

“I remember we had our last meeting where COVID was just starting to become a thing we thought we’d be home for a month or two and now here we are,” he said, “but really excited to welcome the public back to city hall and you can just feel there’s a different energy at meetings like this when the people are in person.”

While the atmosphere at the meeting was definitely a change, the virtual component didn’t go away.

Monday night and going forward, meetings will be hybrid with the public able to view and give feedback through WebEx like before.

According to Forsman, it’s important access remains as easy as possible.

“It would be unfortunate to not learn any lessons from what we went through with COVID,” he said, “and when members of the public logged on they couldn’t always see how many people were in attendance but especially early on in the pandemic it was not atypical to see 80,90, 100 people tuning into our meetings which is not what we would see in person.”

It was also a big night for Councilor’s Azrin Awal, Mike Mayou, and Terese Tomanek.

This was their first time in the chambers as councilors because they were all elected at a point when meetings were held exclusively on WebEx.

Chamber of Commerce President Matt Baumgartner spoke on the resolution which will make it a legislative priority for Duluth to support spending $25 million of the state’s budget surplus on needed maintenance for the 148th Fighter Wing.

“Not only is there a large surplus at the state but in addition to that over the last couple of years we’ve seen just how necessary having an active and prepared National Guard base is,” he said, “from support during the COVID-19 pandemic, to providing community safety during peaceful protests and civil unrestand riots, to now deploying 300 service women and men to go abroad and handle undisclosed events right now.”

The proposal involves demolishing the aging hangars and replacing them with ones that can house different types of aircraft like F-35s as well as officially supporting airmen and women.

Baumgartner said with the $96 million the 148th contributes to Duluth’s economically annually, it made sense council unanimously approved that official support. “Feels really good and sends a unified voice and a unified message around this critical investment,” he said.

Council President Forsman said that $25 million in support for the 148th is making its way through the state legislature and by making it a legislative priority it’s very likely representatives from Duluth will make a case for it there to help get it across the finish line.

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