The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners expressed its “alarm and concern” regarding the state’s recent purchase of a commercial facility in St. Paul for the storage of deceased COVID-19 patients.
“On behalf of the Ramsey County Board, we are writing to express our alarm and concern regarding your decision to purchase the former Bix site for use as a morgue during the COVID-19 emergency. We fear that this location will only exacerbate the challenges facing the surrounding community, which is already one of the poorest, most vulnerable, and most disinvested in Minnesota,” the board said in a letter sent last week to Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly.
The former Bix Produce facility was purchased by the state on May 19 for a total of $6.9 million, but so far it has gone unused, The Minnesota Sun reported. The intent of the purchase is to accommodate a surge in demand for the “temporary storage of human remains.”
According to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, the area surrounding the facility is home to “some of the lowest per-capita incomes anywhere in Minnesota.”
“Many of these residents hold beliefs that make proximity to a morgue especially problematic. Residents have reached out to express fear of religious pollution from dead bodies, the presence of ghosts or evil spirits, and many other substantive concerns,” said the letter.
The board warned Kelly that converting the facility into a morgue could have “severe implications for the commercial viability of this site and of broader redevelopment in the area.”
“The Bix building is mere steps away from the former Kmart site, which is one of the largest single-site redevelopment opportunities in the City of Saint Paul. Several other nearby parcels are also ripe for redevelopment, including numerous large parcels along Jackson St. and L’Orient St. It is no overstatement to say that this decision could adversely impact these redevelopment efforts and could even create a permanently blighted building on the Bix site, which would further drag down the fortunes of the surrounding community,” the board wrote.
The commissioners have additional concerns about the morgue diminishing the use of the Gateway State Trail, which is one of the most-used trails in the state and adjacent to the Bix facility.
“We see potentially serious safety concerns arising from the heavy truck traffic envisioned, and also a potentially depressive effect on use of the trail caused by the taboo of dead bodies. Many of us worked hard to win funding for the DNR to rehabilitate the Gateway State Trail in this area, and it is dismaying to see that significant state investment potentially overwhelmed by the effects of this decision,” the letter continued.
The commissioners urged state leaders not to repeat a “pattern of making decisions that hurt our indigenous communities and people of color.”
As of Thursday, Minnesota had 1,249 COVID-19 deaths, 994 of which occurred in long-term care facilities.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Ramsey County Board of Commissioners” by Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.