The saga of Spirit Mountain continues. In the latest developments, the City of Duluth administration seems intent on moving forward with seeing that work permits are granted for a project.
Issues surrounding the golf course development mainly rest on the provisions of federal grants using Land Water and Conservation Funds (LAWCON) to purchase the city-owned property in the 1970s. The developer is proposing a golf course using a combination of city and private property—it is the city land and the environmental impacts of the entire 18-hole course that are embroiled in controversy.
On a mid-December evening the Duluth City Council Chambers were packed to the brim with concerned citizens opposing the development. Councilors were going to vote on the approval of work permits. Also on the table was a resolution that would not approve a proposed land swap that is part of the mix.
After four hours of testimony, the City Council voted to deny the work permits and to not approve the land swap. Project opponents were temporarily ecstatic and Lake Superior may have been too—as the gavel came down on the work permits, a ship arriving in port blew its whistle as it passed under the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Mayor Doty could not veto the land swap resolution, but he could veto the work permit denial. Despite advice from the Minnesota DNR Commissioner to hold off on city action regarding work permits until LAWCON issues are resolved, and rather than follow the City Charter, Doty used a little known state law to veto the work permit denial. The council needed a 6-3 vote to override the veto, which they couldn’t muster. This means that work permits will be automatically approved, unless the City Council votes again to deny them before June.
In the meantime the City has been told that a more extensive federal environmental assessment of the golf course’s natural resources, environmental impact, and viable alternatives will be completed. It will include a far more complete and accurate environmental assessment than that provided in the developer’s Environmental Assessment Worksheet.
Because of the breathing room provided by the unresolved LAWCON issues, golf course opponents are taking time to develop their own alternatives for the site. As Mike Furtman from the Duluth Chapter of Izaak Walton League states, “[W]e have a lot of creative people in this city who—freed up from fighting with each other—might just figure out a way to meet everyone’s interests. Not only would this be good for Spirit Mountain’s natural assets, it would still create jobs and development. It would also be good for Duluth by fostering cooperation.” Stay tuned.