The writing, as the saying goes, is on the wall — but not for long.
Red Wing’s Barn Bluff, a massive promontory rising 400 feet above the Mississippi River that has served as a kind of public bulletin board since the late 1950s, appears headed for a cleanup and a more dignified future.
The Red Wing City Council voted unanimously last week to conduct a public hearing sometime in September to announce revisions to the ordinance banning graffiti in the city and to consider other ways to honor public expression.
Brian Peterson, Red Wing’s special projects manager, told the council that the Heritage Preservation Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Advisory Planning Commission each voted unanimously in June against tolerating graffiti on the bluff, known as He Mni Can by the Dakota people.
The heritage commission said eliminating painting was more in keeping with its mission of preserving the National Register historic district, would show respect for the Prairie Island Indian communities that consider the bluff sacred and would honor a restriction on the 1911 deed that gave the land to the city to be used forever as a park but also stated that it’s not to be defaced.
The Human Rights Commission also cited the deed restriction and voiced support for creating an alternate location for public discourse. And the Advisory Planning Commission cited the guiding principles listed in the master plan for the area.
Council Member Dean Hove wondered if a single public meeting on the issue would be enough. He cited a survey showing that public opinion on the issue was split evenly when taking sampling error into account. “This is going to be a controversial issue,” Hove said. “It’s almost 50:50 of people wanting it and people who don’t want it.”
Council Member John Becker noted that the issue has been festering for years and urged his colleagues to schedule a single public meeting on the subject and move on. He said the town would soon bask in higher visibility with a new bridge crossing the Mississippi into town and a revitalized Main Street.
“I think we’ve got to get off the dime on this,” Becker said. “That’s why we were elected.”
Mayor Sean Dowse agreed.
“I would need powerful arguments to sway me against our commissions’ thoughtful process and their outcomes,” he said.