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Great Lakes Article:

Spirit Mountain veto fails

Duluth News Tribune


The city of Duluth has made its decision on a Spirit Mountain golf course. Well, kind of.

City councilors failed late Monday night to override Mayor Gary Doty's veto of their July 8 vote to deny work permits for the proposed 272-acre development between Interstate 35 and the St. Louis River.

Monday's five votes against granting the permits followed the pattern of the council's project-defeating decision two weeks ago, but fell one vote shy of the necessary six votes the council would need to override Doty's July 17 veto.

The 5-3 vote was not taken until after 11 p.m. -- after the council suspended rules and allowed the public to speak. All but one of the 26 citizens who spoke voiced displeasure with the golf course proposal.

The decision, or indecision in this case, means that developers George Hovlund III and Kent Oliver will be granted a city work permit for the project on Aug. 1, barring any lawsuits.

Under state law, if the council doesn't reject the work permit within 120 days, it is automatically granted.

Late last year, councilors failed in a similar attempt to override Doty's veto after they denied the permit.

"I'm not going to change the rules just because some people oppose the project," Doty said Monday.

On Monday, Hovlund said he had followed all the requirements. "Now we're just waiting," he said.

Project opponents met last Friday in a conference call to determine what steps they would take if the council failed to override the veto.

In 2000, members of Duluth chapter of the Izaak Walton League, the Gitche Gumee chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Nancy Nelson and Terry Brown, co-founders of the West Skyline Preservation and Planning Alliance, filed a lawsuit that eventually failed to block the golf course development.

Members of that coalition said Monday that another lawsuit was probably not in the works.

"We still believe the golf course will not pass environmental review," said Mike Furtman, a spokesman for the Duluth chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

The plan to build a championship 18-hole golf course and lodge violates conditions set when federal Land and Water Conservation grants were used to create the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area in the early 1970s.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service must sign off before Hovlund and Oliver's development can move forward.

"We are concerned that the DNR may take this vote as the City Council saying, 'We can't agree, we give up,' " said Sharon Stevens, an executive board member of Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club.

In February, state DNR Commissioner Allen Garber told city leaders in a letter that he wasn't sure what they really wanted and said he wouldn't devote staff time to the issue.

Councilor Russ Stewart, who voted to override Doty's veto, said the five councilors who oppose the project may craft individual letters to the DNR.

"They need some kind of signal," he said.

Councilor Ken Hogg -- thought by some to be a possible swing vote -- joined Councilors Jim Stauber and Rob Stenberg in upholding Doty's veto. Councilors Stewart, Herb Bergson, Greg Gilbert, Donny Ness and Russell Stover voted for an override of the veto. Councilor Neill Atkins did not attend the meeting.

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