Proposed controversial dock rehabilitation project in Superior halted by WI DNR

By KBJR News 1

January 9, 2014 Updated Jan 9, 2014 at 11:35 PM CDT

Superior, WI (NNCNOW.com) - The proposed waterfront dock rehabilitation project at the Elkhorn Industries site in Superior has been denied a permit to move forward for the time being.

While Elkhorn Industries can reapply for a permit, the Wisconsin DNR is now requesting a comprehensive Environmental Assessment be completed on the entire dock project before moving forward—a first of its kind for any Superior waterfront dock project.

"The people of the Lake Superior Basin have had a small chance to have a say," said Andrew Slade, Northeast Program Coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership, "and if it goes through the environmental assessment process they'll have an even larger chance to have their say."

Slade credits a large part of the DNR's decision to a November public comment session in Superior.

About 50 Northlanders with strong concerns over the possibility that the Elkhorn site would be used for shipping crude oil across the Great Lakes demanded the DNR request an Environmental Assessment before allowing the project to take place.

"We want to find a way to make sure that Lake Superior's waters are protected," said Slade. "Hopefully the agencies will work with us to keep getting the word out."

But backers of the project, which includes Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen's office, call the move disappointing, and one that only hurts the region's economic potential, and investors.

"To do this to a local guy—to a local company—that has spent a ton of money on this project," said Superior Director of Ports & Planning Jason Serck, "and is looking to invest a lot more money into the Port of Superior, as well as the city of Superior... is really, really, disappointing."

As it stands in its current condition, Serck says the dock can't function, let alone be competitive on a world market. If fixed, Serck says shipping crude oil is only a small, and environmentally sound, option in a wide array of possibilities for the site.

"It is the most efficient way to move cargo," said Serck, "it's the greenest, it's the safest."

Serck says his new concern is that the DNR's decision will only prevent future dock rehabilitation projects from happening, and dissuade investors.

Environmentalists, however, are celebrating what they call a step in the right direction in preserving the life–sustaining recourse that is Lake Superior.

According to a representative of Jeff Foster, who owns the Elkhorn Industries site, this halt is only harming his client, who has invested time and money into the dock.

They plan to reapply for the permit immediately.

Billy Wagness