Councilors reject Spirit Mt.
Mayor is expected to veto decision
in effort to keep golf course project alive
Duluth city councilors have
tried, for the second time in less than a year, to kill
the proposed Spirit Mountain golf course and lodge.
Councilors voted 5-4 late
Monday night to reject a work permit for the project,
saying federal grant violations blocking the project must
be resolved before a work permit can be issued.
"It was pretty much what I
expected would happen," said Nancy Nelson, a longtime
golf course opponent. "They are saying 'no.' "
Mayor Gary Doty, a strong
backer of the project, is expected to veto the council's
decision, likely prompting a council effort to override
the mayor and reject the permit for good.
George Hovland and Kent Oliver
want to lease 272 acres of Spirit Mountain land for a
championship 18-hole golf course and lodge between Interstate
35 and the St. Louis River. They have spent six years
planning the project, which has survived steady debate
and a lawsuit filed by environmental groups opposed to
Supporters say the project
will boost the struggling Spirit Mountain Recreation Area
and improve Duluth's tourism industry.
Opponents say a golf course
will ruin Spirit Mountain's lush forest and Stewart Creek,
a local trout stream.
The vote came following an
afternoon rally outside City Hall in which nearly 100
golf course opponents urged councilors to reject the permit.
Sixty-five residents spoke on all sides of the issue at
City permit aside, the project
is stalled because it violates the federal Land and Water
Conservation grants used to create the Spirit Mountain
Recreation Area in the early 1970s. The grants require
the land be used for public recreation, and the proposed
hotel would be private. The privately owned Spirit Mountain
villas are already in violation.
Doty's administration is working
with the state Department of Natural Resources to craft
a solution to the LAWCON violations. Any solution would
likely require council approval.
If golf course opponents on
the council fail to get the needed six votes to override,
the permit is automatically granted Aug. 1 under state
The project is one of few
developments that won't need government subsidy, said
Dale Lewis, president of the Duluth Economic Development
Authority and former member of the board that governs
"Not only is it a project
not asking for a handout, it will pay cash for the use
of the Spirit Mountain land," she said.
This debate was familiar to
those steeped in the golf course issue.
Councilors rejected the permit
5-4 late last year for the same reasons, only to have
Doty veto the decision. Golf course opponents failed to
get six council votes needed to override the veto, putting
the permit in limbo ever since.
Members of the American Indian
community said Spirit Mountain is a place of prayer and
meditation and shouldn't be destroyed for a golf course.
"How much do you want to pave
over? How much do you want to pour into our lake?" David
Manuel asked at the meeting. "People are getting sick
of seeing these kinds of places being developed -- sacred
places. We've suffered too long at the hands of greed."
Jim Fetzer, a University of
Minnesota Duluth professor, said developers are wrongly
trying to profit off public land. "The project is corrupt
to its core and should be killed," he said.
Councilors Donny Ness, Greg
Gilbert, Russ Stover, Russ Stewart and Herb Bergson voted
to reject the permits. Councilors Ken Hogg, Neill Atkins,
Jim Stauber and Rob Stenberg wanted to approve the permits,
with a condition the LAWCON issues be resolved before