The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently ruled that an Environmental Impact Statement is not required before construction can begin on a new sewer line along Lake Superior’s North Shore. A high percentage of failing septic systems has been causing water quality problems and a solution needed to be found. It’s unfortunate the only “alternative” that was really explored was a sewer line, with its incumbent “out of sight, out of mind” mentality of water usage.
In a narrow band of land, stretching approximately 10 miles up the Lake Superior shore, parts of three municipalities and two counties, including far outreaches of the City of Duluth, will be hooked up to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District. There is concern whether the District can actually handle the increased flow; it already experiences severe inflow and infiltration problems during significant rain events with sewage often spilling directly into Lake Superior and its tributaries.
Is addressing the septic problem with a sewer line a trade-off for future water quality problems associated with the excessive commercial and residential development potential along this section of relatively unscathed lake shore? Based on current zoning regulations, if the maximum build-out should occur, what is a quiet rural community filled with middle class homes and “mom and pop” commercial establishments would likely eventually turn into a suburban sprawl situation with upscale development.
A steering committee of environmental organizations, citizens, and government representatives have met over the last year to formulate a land use plan to address the myriad of potential development issues. Unfortunately, the plan, called The North Shore Land Use Plan, has no regulatory teeth —governmental units are not required to adopt it. The good news is that the involved city, township, and county governments have undertaken comprehensive planning processes that seemingly will incorporate the North Shore Land Use Plan into their individual land use plans. While change is definitely in the air, there is hope that the North Shore communities deciding tomorrow’s future land use trends will be responsible enough to be outstanding stewards of the resource that holds 10% of the world’s fresh surface water—Lake Superior.