Negotiations for Lake Vermilion state park at ‘impasse’

St. Paul – Two years ago, everything seemed in line for the
shores of Lake Vermilion to be the home of Minnesota’s newest state
park.

Legislative approval in 2008 of $20 million in bonding money to
buy the land for the park seemed to eliminate a major hurdle.

Since then, however, there’s been little in the way of progress
toward resolving negotiations between the state and U.S. Steel, the
company that owns the land.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an early champion of the park, says talks
between the state and U.S. Steel are at an impasse. During his
weekly radio show last Friday, Pawlenty conceded hopes for the park
are fading.

The governor said he’s restricted by state law, which limits the
amount above an appraised value that the state can offer. Pawlenty
wouldn’t disclose how much the company is asking, but acknowledged
it’s “dramatically higher” than his administration is authorized to
pay.

The 2,500 acres of land that would make up the new park is on
the east side of Lake Vermilion, adjacent to the existing Soudan
Underground Mine State Park. It would be the first state park in
Minnesota in 30 years.

U.S. Steel officials have said the company would subdivide the
land for a housing development if an agreement with the state can’t
be reached.

DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said he’s trying to keep lines of
communication open with the company, but that no additional
discussions currently are scheduled.

“We are at an impasse and we haven’t found a way to get around
that impasse,” he said. “They are asking more than we can legally
spend.”

Judy Erickson, government relations director for the Parks and
Trails Council of Minnesota, said her organization remains hopeful
the deal will come together.

“There’s still a slim opportunity and we would love to see it
happen,” she said. “Until they issue a statement that it’s over,
it’s not over.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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