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Great Lakes Article:

Money's there, but seller isn't for island preservation
By Steve Kuchera
Duluth News Tribune
Published October 30th, 2004


A million dollars in federal money are available to help purchase and preserve 350 acres of wetlands and uplands on Superior's Clough Island.

Problem is, there's not a willing seller.

"There are no active negotiations going on between the property owner and the department or, to my knowledge, any other organization," said Duane Lahti, Lake Superior basin water program supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the $1 million grant for the Clough Island Preservation and Restoration Project on Thursday. In all, the service announced more than $13 million in grants to protect and restore coastal wetlands in 10 states.

"That release gives one the impression that there is a project and we are actively purchasing property," Lahti said. "That is not the case. What it should have said is that the money is available if, in fact, a project comes into being or there is a willing seller."

A project manager with the island's owner, Progress Land Co., said he doesn't know if the Savage, Minn., company wants to sell any of its property to the DNR.

"This is all pretty new," said John Stainbrook. "I would like to get more information."

The 500-acre island -- sometimes referred to as Whiteside or Big Island -- is zoned suburban, which requires 5-acre lots for each housing unit. While Progress Land Co. hasn't applied for zoning changes and permits to develop the island, initial plans included a golf course, hotel, marina, dozens of estate homes, and hundreds of townhome and condominium units.

The federal grant requires the state and several partners to match the $1 million. If the preservation project doesn't advance, the state must return the grant money, USFWS spokeswoman Rachel Levin said.

"I have never heard of a situation where a grantee has turned money back to us because a project has not been completed," she said.

Still, the grant pleases those who hope to protect the island.

"We're hoping that this commitment of public conservation dollars may provide an avenue to work with the current land owners and see if a deal can be reached," said Daryl Peterson, field representative at the Northeastern Minnesota office of The Nature Conservancy.

Most of Clough Island was owned by the Whiteside family from 1904 until 2002. The Nature Conservancy had been in long-term negotiations to buy it from the Whiteside family trust. But developers offered $1.2 million compared with The Nature Conservancy's bid of about $500,000.

The Nature Conservancy wanted to restore the island's former farmland into wildlife habitat and protect shoreline wetlands.

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