DNR grants staffer pulled from controversial project

Field Editor

Duluth, Minn. The DNR local grants administrator working with
the city of Duluth on a controversial proposed golf course and
convention center has been replaced on the project. Joe Kurcinka,
assistant administrator for the DNR Office of Management and Budget
in St. Paul will replace Wayne Sames as the DNR lead person.

“This is not a reflection on Wayne’s work,” says DNR
communications chief Dennis Stauffer. “The project got bumped up a
level administratively.”

The city wants to work with a private developer to build a golf
course and hotel on public land adjacent to the city’s Spirit
Mountain Ski Area. Opponents say the project will eliminate an
old-growth hardwood forest, possibly destroy a trout stream flowing
across the property, and trigger further development.

Although the city and developer performed environmental reviews,
it was determined that the city could not develop the land because
it was initially acquired with Land and Water Conservation Act
(LAWCON) funding. Federal law prevents development of land
purchased with LAWCON funds. Sames is the DNR’s expert on LAWCON
funding.

Because the funding program is overseen by the National Park
Service, Duluth arranged a recent meeting with Washington
officials, who advised the city to work with state grants
administrator Sames. According to one news report, city officials
had complained about Sames to DNR leaders. Opponents say he was
fair and forthright.

“It’s unfortunate that Sames got caught in the middle of this,”
says Mike Furtman of the Duluth Chapter of the Izaak Walton
League.

“As far as we can tell, he didn’t do anything inappropriate.”
Furtman says the DNR has maintained its position that the city must
comply with LAWCON rules.

“The DNR has to respect LAWCON, but is willing to work with the
city,” says Stauffer. “And the National Park Service has the last
word.”

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