St. Louis River Estuary Threatened by Massive Development Proposal

St. Louis River Estuary Threatened by Massive Development Proposal

By Bob Cragin

The St. Louis River estuary, 20,000+ acres, is located at the western-most tip of the Great Lakes with the mouth of the estuary being surrounded by the metropolitan areas of Superior,Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. Clough Island, 370 acres of land and surrounding bays, is in the very heart of the estuary and had been in private ownership for over 100 years.

A Twin Cities-based development company has purchased Clough Island. The development company has a high intensity development concept for the Island with very questionable feasibility. The City of Superior administration has heavily promoted this development concept for which there has not been a detailed plan or a professional feasibility study to indicate that it would work.

The Friends of the Superior Municipal Forest-St. Louis/Pokegama Estuary is highly concerned about this high intensity development concept because of the potential for increased taxes for residents and destruction of Municipal Forest and estuary. The Friends are concerned that public lands will be lost to private interests, that there will be a precedent set for further road building and development in the Municipal Forest, that the community will see greater erosion and stormwater impacts, and that habitat will be destroyed for migrating birds and natural wildlife corridors.

The estuary’s natural resources are presently utilized by the public and promoted for hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, bird watching, skating and boating. The sport-angling fishery of the St. Louis River estuary draws several large tournaments and in 2003 provided 300,000 hours of angler pleasure.

As a result of the estuary being located at the western-most tip of Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, there is a unique funneling of an extraordinary number of migrating birds. The estuary is an international destination for birding enthusiasts. A total of 230 bird species have been documented in the estuary, 115 of which are known or are likely to breed there. Out of these, 21 species are included as part of the restoration or protection goals of five major national management plans. Of the breeding birds, 96% of the species are listed under the Migratory Bird Management Plan.

The strategic location of the St. Louis River estuary and Clough Island also results in high biological diversity. Clough Island is the largest ecologically significant island in the largest estuary of the largest Great Lake. There are 33 plant and animal species identified as federal or state endangered, threatened, and of special concern.

GLAHNF support came at a key time to assist the Friends of the Superior Municipal Forest-St. Louis/Pokegama Estuary with a communication strategy. The Friends have been able to organize around public information and education, potential for permanent protection of the municipal forest, economic analysis and acquisition, and the environmental permitting process. Many wonderful, talented people have come forth to produce newspaper ads, a Powerpoint presentation, participate in TV and Radio interviews, guide boat and hiking tours of the area and conduct speaking engagements. The Friends have been able to work on several issues related to Clough Island aimed at increasing the public awareness of this very large resource and to draw attention to the magnitude of the threat against it.

The strategy also helped members of the Friends frame many of their concerns for the City Council meetings and public hearings. Although the Friends voiced opposition, the Council granted “Conditional approval upon receipt of a Plan” to a request by the current owners for rezoning of the Island from Rural to a Planned Development District. This reinforces the need for the Friends to continue their grassroots efforts.

For more information:
Bob Cragin
The Friends of the Superior Municipal
Forest-St. Louis/Pokegama Estuary
4513 E. Larson Road, Superior, WI 54880
715-392-6988 •



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