Wetlands in the City of Superior

Wetlands in the City of Superior

In the past several years, the city of Superior on the shore of Lake Superior has become a “hotbed” of controversial wetland fill projects. Last winter the city proposed—and was granted permission to fill—a 24-acre coastal wetland for construction of a new middle school. This was one of the largest single wetland fills permitted in the state in recent years, with the exception of fills for highway projects.

This spring, a permit application to fill approximately 2.5 acres of wetland for construction of a paved recreational trail through a swampy woodland in the Superior Municipal Forest became public. This municipal forest was described in a DNR publication on coastal wetlands of Lake Superior as containing “a wealth of natural features unusual in the context of an urban-industrial center,” and the wetlands are characterized by shrub and hardwood swamp, emergent marsh, and wet meadow. The report further indicates that “the stands within this site have at least regional conservation significance.” The DNR has not completed its review of the proposed trail, but has recently indicated that the plans have been considerably modified to avoid and minimize wetland impacts. Critical wetland areas, for example, will have a boardwalk instead of pavement.

During this summer, the City of Superior gave preliminary approval for an extensive housing development that would entail filling a very large tract of wetlands—approximately 100 acres. The project is still in its formative stage, and no permits have been applied for through the Army Corps of Engineers or the Department of Natural Resources. Environmental groups are concerned that this and other projects that would destroy extensive and vital coastal wetlands will continue to surface in the City.

Superior is both blessed and cursed with extensive wetlands within the city limits. For several years the City has been working under a “SAMP,” the Special Area Management Plan developed in 1995. This Plan identified wetland areas targeted for development that could fall under a general city-wide permit, thereby alleviating the need for special permitting in these areas. The SAMP has come under criticism from both conservationists and city officials, and is undergoing an extensive review and “facelift” over the next few years.

The SAMP will essentially be expanded into a comprehensive plan for the entire city of Superior, and all wetlands will be identified and mapped as part of this plan. A technical advisory committee has been established consisting of key agencies and city officials, and includes the DNR, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The public will be invited to provide input into the planning process once a procedure has been established by the advisory committee. It is hoped that a comprehensive plan will help alleviate the project-by-project review of wetland impacts in this coastal community.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.