The Morrison County Historical Society (MCHS) will get the funding it needs to move forward on a potential riverbank rehabilitation project near the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum.
After months of discussion, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously, Tuesday, to allocate $140,000 of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding toward the project. That donation, along with one of $70,000 from the city of Little Falls — which was approved, May 2 — will help MCHS pay for an engineering and architectural design of the riverbank. It will also provide matching dollars for grant applications to pay for the estimated $597,000 total cost of the project.
“I want to thank you,” said MCHS Interim Executive Director Camille Warzecha. “As you look through my timeline, you know I have tried a number of different areas for support with financials on this. Really, I started thinking about it last night, the help is right here at home. I want to thank you for being there for us, both the city and the county.”
The project is necessary because two major rain events — one in 2015 and another in 2020 — have caused severe erosion on the bank of the Mississippi River near the Weyerhaeuser Museum, which is owned by the MCHS. Currently, the museum is about 20 feet from the edge of a straight drop, and further erosion could cause the museum to fall into the river.
The ARPA funding which will help pay the county’s portion of the $210,000 total donation is part of a $6.5 million federal grant the county received in 2021.
“We’ve had umpteen hours of discussion on this topic,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Jelinski. “Quite honestly, in my bold opinion, [ARPA] funds perhaps couldn’t come at a more opportune time. This maybe would be a totally different discussion today, maybe, if this was a levy issue.”
Commissioner Mike LeMieur said he had been out to the site and agreed, the building is fairly close to the ledge. He added that the project was a good chance for the County Board to work with other groups.
“I’d just like to add, too, that the city of Little Falls is going to throw in $70,000 if we pass this today,” LeMieur said. “It’s a good collaboration effort between the Historical Society, the city of Little Falls and Morrison County to help protect the Morrison County museum.”
County Administrator Matt LeBlanc clarified that the funds will be dispersed to MCHS in two payments. The first, up to $57,000, will be for the engineering and architectural design phase. The remaining $83,000 will be used for potential matching funds on grant opportunities.
Prior to the vote, Board Chair Greg Blaine thanked Warzecha and her board for being available to commissioners as they’ve had questions throughout the process. Ultimately, he said it was a great representation of how the county wanted to use its ARPA funding, when conversations began in January.
“We talked about being able to utilize those resources to leverage larger resources to accomplish greater good in the county,” Blaine said. “This is one of those opportunities where this is working out that way. An influx of cash from us is allowing this party to access greater funds to accomplish something for the greater good of the county.”