Following opposition from veterans to its decision to remove docks from a popular Lake Minnetonka island, the Orono City Council on Monday approved keeping the docks and funding their upkeep through private donations instead of public money.
The two docks will remain at Big Island this spring, Mayor Dennis Walsh said Monday, while the city forms a committee to reassess what to do with them and get public input.
“This is not a money issue — this is a philosophic issue of what I believe the city of Orono should be involved with spending money on,” Walsh said. “It’s really a public island, not an Orono island.”
Veterans were still upset Monday, saying that the private partnership is a short-term fix. The island is home to a former veterans park, and the docks help veterans with disabilities reach it.
“I really think there needs to be a longer-term commitment,” said Dean Ascheman, a Vietnam War veteran who is disabled and who leads a group that plans trips to the island.
The City Council unanimously voted Feb. 13 to “no longer provide dock access to Big Island” and start the process to see if the city could sell the docks. The park is regional, council members said, but the city isn’t a regional park operator.
Walsh said Monday the city always intended to launch the private partnership. The city will continue to own the two 80-foot docks that were installed in 2008, he said, but the docks’ upkeep will be funded by private donations.
Walsh said the city has received pledges from residents, businesses and other groups for $8,000 to support the annual cost of removing and installing the docks each season.
The mayor said the city could sell one or both docks and replace them with a different kind of dock, among other options. But it will be up to the committee to determine the next steps.
“It’s a great island, and we’re going to make it greater,” Walsh added.
Big Island has about 275 acres of woods and wetlands and was home to a short-lived amusement park before becoming a veterans campground in the 1920s.
In 2006, Orono bought the property for $5.7 million to turn a 56-acre site into a public park. The Minnesota Veterans 4 Veterans Trust Fund was founded to oversee money received through the sale of the camp. Interest from the fund supports grants for veterans projects statewide.
Ascheman chairs the trust fund and said that the group organizes three to four annual trips to the island with veterans, many of whom are disabled or from the World War II era. These veterans rely on the handicapped-accessible docks.
Bill Cochrane, another board member, said he worries about the long-term fate of the docks.
“If it’s a line item, it just happens; [otherwise] it will be at risk to their ability to raise funds every year,” he said. “What it says to veterans, and especially disabled veterans, is just a slap in the face.”