Hey Minnesota: Don’t let Lake Vermilion State Park opportunity slip away!

Doug Smith at the Star Tribune this Thursday morning reports
that a “dispute over land values”  is endangering plans for a new
state park along the southeast shore of Lake Vermilion. Hard to
believe in this economy that developing shoreline for lakehomes
remains significantly more profitable than selling property to the
state. But, sadly, pristine shoreline has become a rare commodity
in Minnesota (and all of America), so U.S. Steel Corp. occupies the
catbird’s seat in negotiating this deal.

I think most conservationists assumed we’d traversed the rough
water in this process a year ago when the Legislature authorized
the state to issue $20 million in bonds to buy the land. But, as
Smith reports today, the company has rejected the state’s most
recent offer (negotiations have been ongoing for two years) and now
U.S. Steel says it will begin developing the property. A good state
law prohibits private buyers from gouging taxpayers too much for
purchasing land, and – though the state hasn’t revealed its offer –
here’s betting U.S. Steel sure as hell wouldn’t lose money on the
latest offer.

For now, it appears negotiations are at a stalemate, and perhaps
the state should consider calling the company’s bluff. In a nation
where development projects are rotting away, best of luck to U.S.
Steel finding buyers. Then again, there’s this particularly cheery
quote in Smith’s story from DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, who’s
been a strong proponent of the project: “We may just hear the
bulldozers running.”

The DNR, governor’s office, and state citizens cannot give up on
this project. We’re talking about creating  not only recreational
“habitat” for future generations of Minnesotans, but also
protecting an important chunk of shoreline. I don’t know the
limnological particulars of Lake Vermilion, but I do know it’s an
excellent bass, muskie, and walleye lake. DNR Fisheries managers
will tell you that developed shorelines are one of the single
greatest impediments to maintaining healthy vegetation beds and
gamefish habitat.

Moreover, Minnesota doesn’t need more “residential” second homes
clogging up riparian areas and stretching the housing
infrastructure grid further into the woods. It needs places where
an increasingly frayed citizenry can find affordable access to the
incredible outdoors resources Minnesotans claim to hold so
dear.

What’s the gap between what U.S. Steel wants and the state’s
latest offer? We passed dedicated funding last fall, and we’ve
earmarked a sizable chunk for parks and trails. Using a chunk to
seal this deal strikes me as a very legitimate use of those
dedicated funds. U.S. Steel, which probably is eyeing that same pot
of money, should recognize that in this economy, land values
certainly aren’t increasing. Put greed aside, make a profit, and
let taxpayers protect what’s left of the state’s pristine
places.

When I’ve backpacked or hunted remote country in the Lower 48,
I’ve marveled at the foresight it took previous generations of
Americans to protect such remarkable lands. This is our time, our
opportunity, to show our grandchildren and their grandchildren that
despite trying economic times, we too were able to show that same
kind of foresight. If you agree, let your legislator know, soon.
You can contact him or her by visiting: www.leg.state.mn.us

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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