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City, shop owner debate 'drifting' events

Cloquet's West End business district has been seeing larger weekend crowds, thanks to business owner Ryan Bridge, of Bridges Customs.

A growing crowd of car enthusiasts are making their way to the West End every other Friday to share their love of unique cars and enjoy the "drifting" display by Bridge's drifting team. In car culture, drifting is the practice of driving a car in a controlled skid, as if on ice. These drifting competitions have nothing to do with racing and a checkered flag. Instead, drivers are judged on their ability to control a vehicle in a skid, turning in loud, slow noisy circles on the pavement.

Therein lies the rub, as far as the city of Cloquet and its police department is concerned.

The drifting demonstrations are at the intersection of Vine Street and Avenue B, with no barriers in place to protect the crowd should something go wrong. The gatherings and the street closures have not been approved by the city, nor has the city been notified they were happening, except for noise complaints received during the last two events that drew a police response.

Bridge spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday's Cloquet City Council meeting, admitting that the streets "are a little messed up" because his team comes out and puts on a drifting show, leaving traces of their path laid out in hot rubber on the roadway.

"Yes, burning tires in the street is illegal, I get that," Bridge said. "But I organize it very well where people are out of the way to do this, because that's what brings everybody here."

Bridge said he'd like to work with the city to keep bringing people to Cloquet to enjoy time together, spend their money, and to give local kids something different, a healthier choice than drugs or alcohol. Cars gave him a path out of unwise choices when he was young, said Bridge, who specializes in auto fabrication and repair, turning cars and trucks into low riders, drift cars and more.

"I would like to ... figure out something where we can come together, where I could still do this in a peaceful manner that's safe, because there are other towns that do it," he added, citing Bemidji, Hugo and Ely as examples.

City administrator Tim Peterson told the council the city got calls about donuts and burnouts three weeks ago, and police cited some of the participants. They spoke with Bridge, he said, about the illegal demonstrations and other issues, like people with alcohol outside and a food truck.

"We laid out our needs and then another event occurred and we got additional complaints," Peterson said.

Peterson and police chief Derek Randall then visited with the Cloquet VFW, which is the primary user of the city parking lot between Vine Street and the VFW building and also the only bar within a block of the action. The VFW could sell alcohol outside but only within a barrier, and with policy in place to make sure no one under 21 was served. They also had a conversation about food trucks.

The sticking point is the drifting, Peterson said.

City attorney Bill Helwig sent a long explanation of the various ways drifting on city streets is illegal, with potential charges including driving recklessly, public nuisance or aiding and abetting either charge, along with criminal vehicular operation if a pedestrian were struck by a driver who lost control of their vehicle. The organizer could be charged with aiding and abetting criminal vehicular operation, Helwig advised.

Bridge assured the council that only he and his four team members - who are all qualified, experienced drifters - put on the show. They don't allow anyone who isn't qualified to participate, he said. Ward 3 councilor Iris Keller asked if there are better places to hold the event, mentioning the business park with its wide open fields and roadways.

Bridge said it doesn't have to happen in the West End; that's where it started because that's where his shop is, he said. The nearby city-owned parking lot on the north side of Avenue B might work, Bridge said after the meeting.

The drifting discussion was not an agenda item and there was no vote on the issue. Peterson and Bridge agreed that the next step was research on how other cities are holding similar events. Peterson also reminded Bridge that since nothing has been approved by the city, there should be no activity at the next gathering on July 28.

"We won't slide, but everybody's still coming," Bridge said.

In other matters Tuesday:

• Two other residents addressed the council Tuesday regarding complaints about a group home on Slate Street. They were happy to hear that the group home administrators plan to add additional onsite parking next to the current driveway within the next month or so, and are encouraging staff to park in the driveway rather than on the roadway, which had been causing issues with lines of sight for drivers.

• Councilors approved road closures for the Cloquet Labor Day parade. The celebration won't be using Veterans Park this year, but organizer Chad Tuura got permission to have food vendors in the city parking lot at Cloquet Avenue and 11th Street until

4 p.m. that day.

• The council approved an updated memorandum of understanding with the Fond du Lac Reservation for building inspection services.

• State Rep. Jeff Dotseth (R-Kettle River) solicited feedback and a local wishlist from the council and mayor Roger Maki on the recent and future legislative sessions. He said his priority in the next session is infrastructure.

• Parks Commission chair Sarah Buhs presented on 2023 activity, including snowstorm debris cleanup by volunteers, the renewal of the Braun Park contract with Cloquet Youth Baseball and Softball Association, the impact of Cloquet High School athletic facility upgrades on Hilltop Park this fall, and upcoming discussions of the five-year capital plan.

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