MN DNR Tells City it has suspended work on the golf course
conversion. City must fix current violation (Mountain
Villas) first, and come back with a conversion request
supported by both the Council and the Administration!
(For an analysis of this development, go HERE)
Russ Stewart, Councilor Room 330 City Hall 411 West 1st
Street Duluth, MN 55802
Dear Councilor Stewart,
This is to inform you that the Department of Natural
Resources has suspended action on the request for an authorized
conversion of the lands associated with the Mountain Villas
and the proposed hotel and golf complex.
At the beginning of this process, I asked my staff to
pursue two goals:
1. Follow the law, rules and guidelines associated
with the Land and Water Conservation Fund Program (L&WCF)
2. Work, within the parameters of the L&WCF
program, to address the interests and needs of the City
of Duluth as expressed by its elected leaders and city
The project is obviously a very controversial one for
the city and it is no longer clear to the DNR what the
interests and needs of the city are. We have received
and observed conflicting messages from elected leaders
October 23, the City sent a letter to DNR formally requesting
conversion on behalf of the City and the Spirit Mountain
November 16, the City sent a follow-up letter at the
mandate of the City Council indicating that the request
was limited to the “city administration” and the Authority.
December 17, the City Council voted to reject a resolution
(01-0685R) authorizing the acquisition of the land…authorizing
the settlement of compliance issues with the Department
of Natural Resources.
December 19, the City Attorney’s office sent maps and
a request to respond to boundaries for the same replacement
December 24, the DNR requested clarification of this
issue from the city.
January 25, the Mayor sent a letter requesting that the
DNR continue to work with the city.
January 29, the DNR responded to the request.
January 30, Councilor Russell Stewart sent a letter stating
“…the city council rejected the proposed land swap in
no uncertain terms”…resolution 01-0685…”Thus the council
has considered the administration’s proposal and has clearly
stated that it does not favor this approach.”
A review of the video from the December 17th City council
meeting has revealed the degree of division concerning
the proposal among the city’s leaders. While the city
asserts that the Mayor, as authorized by the city charter,
has a right to pursue proposals, the DNR must assert its
right to require that such proposals have the demonstrated
support of the city’s elected leaders from both branches.
In situations like these, it is the DNR’s job to carefully
listen to a city’s request and then respond, within the
guidelines of the L&WCF. From the very beginning,
however, my staff stated that conversion is a complex
and time consumptive process. It is never a given that
the process will result in authorization from the DNR
or the National Park Service. But we indicated that if
your city wished to pursue it, we would carefully listen.
We have listened and what we have heard is mixed messages.
The City of Duluth has a current violation at the Spirit
Mountain Recreation Area, the Mountain Villas. The DNR
is willing to work with the city on this violation but,
at this point in time, not in context with the proposed
hotel and golf course.
Please understand that until Duluth City leaders find
a way to address the conflicting interests associated
with the current proposal that ties the Villas to the
proposed hotel and golf course, it is no longer appropriated
for the DNR to put staff time into this proposal. I am,
therefore, suspending further action on the request until
the City of Duluth makes it clear that there is an agreement
among city leadership that a conversion request for the
Spirit Mountain hotel and golf course development project
is the desire of both branches (Mayor and City Council).
Please contact Joe Kurcinka (651-296-4789) if you have
questions or comments concerning this notification.
Allen Garber, Commissioner Department of Natural Resources
c.c. Charles Andresen, Chair, Spirit Mountain Recreation
Rick Certano, Executive Director, Spirit Mountain Recreation
ANALYSIS: The DNR has quite correctly recognized that
the project must be supported by the entire city government
before a conversion request will be considered again.
The DNR should not be expected to spend staff time on
a "moving target."
The DNR also quite correctly state that the current illegal
use (the Mountain Villas) should not be tied to the golf
course/hotel conversion request -- they are separate matters.
Additionally, it is the correct call that an entity already
in violation of federal law should first be required to
correct that violation before they are granted the privilege
of further conversions.
Finally, Commissioner Garber was quite correct (and clear)
about the nature of conversions -- that they are not the
"slam dunk" the Administration wishes them to
be. The DNR isn’t obligated to help the city find a way
around the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s protection
clauses. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Those rules are
there to insure the public’s investment in public lands
remains intact and to keep cronyism from giving the public’s
land to special interests.
What does all this mean? It doesn't doom the golf course
project, but it does mean that the city must first replace
the land compromised by the illegality of the Mountain
Villas. This land can not be land the city already owns.
This will require time and money. Only after that can
the city then request a similar conversion for the hotel
complex (which is also illegal under the law). Once THAT
conversion request has been made, the DNR and NPS will
also have to review all pertinent environmental information,
a step during which we hope to prove that this project
will cause the environmental problems we have alleged
all along, and therefore should not be allowed. It is
inconceivable to us that the nation's premier conservation
law -- the LWCF -- could be used to cause irreversible