Human service agencies that serve both people with disabilities and the elderly communities are experiencing alarming rates of staffing shortages, which directly impacts their quality of life ("Costly isolation," front page, Dec. 8). Of 178 human service organizations surveyed in Minnesota, 15% of direct-support positions were vacant, and the workforce has an annual turnover rate of 39%, according to a report by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Many people served by direct-support professionals need this service in order to complete daily tasks of living and to engage in their communities. Unfortunately, many individuals have limited opportunities to leave their home or day program simply because there are not enough people on staff. This is social injustice.

So why do we have such an extreme shortage? For starters, the median direct-support professional gets paid $12.04 per awake hour, according to that same report. A direct-support professional working full-time at this rate would make roughly $25,000 in a year, and this doesn't even account for the lack of paid time off or for poor benefits.

In order to combat this crisis, it is pertinent that we prioritize budget increases that impact people with disabilities and the elderly population. As a Minnesota resident working in Ramsey County, I am proud to say that the services we provide have come a long way, but this is no excuse to stop now. Change needs to be continual in human services because humans are not stagnant. Every human deserves the best that life has to offer them, and disability and aging should never get in the way of that.

Samantha Oren, Eagan

AFGHANISTAN PAPERS

This is a familiar story

Many years ago, someone stated that "the first casualty of war is truth." The Dec. 10 Star Tribune headline "U.S. lied about Afghan war, documents reveal" certainly brings this statement into focus. As a Vietnam combat veteran, I have experienced this firsthand, knowing that war, however well-intentioned, is an ugly beast that devours body and soul and, sadly, the truth.

Richard Timmerman, River Falls, Wis.

• • •

Some of the generals who were part of the campaign of lies used to support our futile, foolish war in Afghanistan were in command for years. If they represent the top tier of a military that we unquestioningly regard as honorable and brave, why did they keep their mouths shut for so long? Where was their commitment to their troops and to the truth, and where was their courage when proving that they truly had it would've mattered?

Steven Schild, Winona, Minn.

ST. PAUL TRAFFIC

Fix Ayd Mill Road, but not that way

The city of St. Paul has proposed to divide Ayd Mill Road's four lanes into two traffic lanes and two lanes for bicycle and pedestrian use. At first glance, that seems like a good way to cut the city's road maintenance bill and benefit area bicyclists.

But a closer look raises concerns. Emissions are expected to increase on Ayd Mill and on parallel local streets as traffic becomes slower, "calmer" and more congested. Moreover, the placement of the bike and walking trails over the easternmost lanes — those next to the railroad tracks — would impede trail performance and pose a safety risk for users forced to cross the car lanes to get back onto the city street and sidewalk grid. And, as always, there is no provision for the elusive north-end connection to Interstate 94, meaning the current traffic mess at Selby would intensify as the area itself becomes the economic growth magnet envisioned by planners and investors.

A greener and more efficient alternative exists by having the state, not the city, rebuild Ayd Mill Road as a two-lane, limited-access parkway fully connected to I-94 with no on/off access between Randolph and the interstate. The parallel bike and pedestrian trails would then move to the west side to be more easily and safely connected to the neighborhood grid and to trail-side development opportunities.

The parallel "trail parkway," with no street intersections or stop signs, would increase the reach of the bike network and facilitate a seamless connection with the Midtown Greenway when it is ultimately extended east into St. Paul.

So, let's move past the shortsighted, low-budget city proposal and go big with the parkway car, transit and trail connector, where virtually all users would move from end to end faster and more efficiently. If you agree, tell your elected representatives that there is a better, safer and greener way to repurpose Ayd Mill Road.

Jerome Johnson, St. Paul

WATER POLLUTION

Twin Metals puts lots of faith in our regulatory process. It shouldn't.

So the Minnesota regulatory process always protects us?

Two weeks ago, the CEO of Twin Metals Minnesota, a nonnative career mining executive, told us that the "state's rigorous environmental review and permitting process" will certainly ensure that their mine will not pollute the most pristine waters in the lower 48 states ("Let the mine permit process work," Opinion Exchange, Dec. 1). On Dec. 10, a nearby example of that Minnesota regulatory process was described in a court decision.

Thanks to the Star Tribune, we can look at these facts: Minntac's Mountain Iron mine waste was being dumped without required permits and polluting local waters since 1992 ("Taconite basin permit is rejected," Dec. 10). Sound good? Our Minnesota regulatory watchdog finally gave them a permit last year that required them to stop the excess pollution — in 10 more years! Sound rigorous? The Minntac owner did not like that permit, so it took the regulator to court, where some other parties pointed out (oops!) that the new permit had another flaw — it did not require an enforceable, easy-to-measure approach to ensure compliance. (Understand that these are permits to pollute — they specify how much pollution of what type can be discharged and can be written in ways that make them hard to enforce. Mines in Minnesota like this one are routinely allowed to operate outside their permits). The judge told the regulators to start over and do better.

To summarize: After 26 years of polluting northern Minnesota's natural waters outside their allowed limits, the mine was granted another 10 years to act by Minnesota regulators. The mine owner thought a suit was easier than compliance with reduced pollution, so a court had to step in to assure good regulation (we hope).

There is the current state of our rigorous regulatory process. And let's hear from Twin Metals one more time.

David J. Paulson, Minnetonka

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