Lake Superior’s North Shore, running from Duluth up to the Canadian border, is famous for its rugged beauty. It has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and is a destination for thousands of tourists every year. But, the thriving tourism industry has introduced immense development pressures. These pressures threaten the very image of pristine natural beauty that draws people to the area and that residents enjoy.
A group of concerned citizens and environmental groups have formed a “watchdog” coalition, the North Shore Watershed Watch, in order to help shape the changes affecting the North Shore. David Syring, northeastern organizer for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and one of GLAHNF’s Advisory Panel members, facilitates the coalition. Several environmental organizations in northeastern Minnesota are involved in the effort, along with residents along the North Shore who are concerned about the health hazards, use of natural resources, and damage to the fragile Lake Superior ecosystem that commercial development often brings with it. This region-wide group has formed to move beyond the typically polarized discussions about development to work with local officials and regulatory agencies. The group acknowledges that development will continue to change the North Shore. ButWatershed Watchers also know that there are ways to develop the North Shore to benefit local communities while having less environmental impact than developments that are put into place without informed citizen input.
The desired outcomes of the coalition include increased citizen effectiveness, a result of outreach and education on issues affecting these people’s lives and communities.The hope is that if citizens have a better understanding of zoning processes and land use planning in their area they will be able to participate in planning decisions that affect their local communities and environments. The coalition hopes to become a “one-stop place” for information on how citizens can help assure that development is done in environmentally sound ways, as well as in ways that benefit the economies of local communities.
The coalition is also striving for on-the-ground changes or protections for areas along the North Shore. These may include better monitoring of water quality, no decreases of lot sizes along the shore, increasing “green” or low-impact industry and business, no net loss of wetlands in the watershed, a decrease in industrial pollution, no light or noise pollution, protecting the scenic viewshed, wiser development practices, and habitat protection. All of these things are vitally important to maintaining the character of the North Shore and its fragile ecosystems.
The development of a coherent, comprehensive approach to zoning and development decisions with a regional focus that results in controlled, sane growth is an important goal of the group. Issues such as transportation, the building of private docks and dredging along the shore, and better control of marinas need to be addressed. The group plans to work with community leaders to help educate each other on development-related issues and to best represent the will of constituents in development planning. The coalition hopes to encourage local governments to provide better and earlier information on development proposals, as well as improving requirements for public input on all projects.
The coalition has begun by pinpointing some specific problems and developments that are already in progress, including a series of developments on the Two Harbors waterfront and continued developments in the Poplar River watershed that have raised the likelihood the Poplar will be listed as an “impaired water” under state guidelines. The group hopes that a regionwide approach, bringing each community together to shape the North Shore’s future, will result from their work. Working on a region-wide scale should bring attention to the cumulative impacts of developments, with better decision-making and citizen effectiveness in enforcement as the result.
All of these issues are interconnected. With citizens who are educated about the planning processes in their communities and who care about protecting the North Shore come the physical changes and protections. As educated citizens become involved with their community’s planning methods and learn of proposed developments, communities will have to provide better zoning and planning processes, at the demand of their constituents.
More than 30 people have participated in forming the North Shore Watershed Watch, with plans in process to expand the group’s base in the next year. The coalition represents a broad array of interests, experience, and abilities that will hopefully become a powerful tool for protecting the North Shore and empowering the people who live there to shape its future.