Forest Service expects to share decision about Lutsen Mountains expansion in early 2023
It will be 2023 before the public finds out what choice the U.S. Forest Service will make regarding a proposed expansion of Lutsen Mountains, a ski resort on Minnesota’s North Shore.
A decision on the request is expected by February of next year, Superior National Forest Supervisor Tom Hall told WTIP during an interview at the Tofte Ranger Station on Nov. 9.
“Roughly, the timeline is going to be February that the Federal Register notice will go out,” Hall said. “But we’re going to start in December and January working with the tribes and Lutsen Mountains so that they’re aware as we continue to move that forward. But the official objection period probably isn’t going to be until February, both for the work that it has to go through with EPA to get that published in the Federal Register, and then to allow for that 90-day comment period after that. We would expect the decision sometime in the spring, after that’s published in February.”
That decision, which will be based on an environmental impact statement (EIS), was widely expected in spring of this year. The timeline was pushed back primarily due to the abundance of public comments the Forest Service received about the project.
Lutsen Mountains is seeking a special use permit to “construct recreational ski trails and support infrastructure” on approximately 500 acres of federal land within the 1854 Ceded Territory on Superior National Forest. Forest Service officials have maintained that consultation and input from the Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Bois Forte Chippewa Bands remains paramount in terms of a decision regarding the proposed expansion. Tribal officials have spoken publicly and sent letters to local, state and federal officials expressing their concerns over the proposed expansion of the ski resort.
Tofte District Ranger Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak told WTIP in April the EIS review is taking longer than expected, or is typical, due to the volume of comments that came in about the proposed expansion. More than 600 comments in the form of handwritten letters or emails were submitted, including many substantive comments, according to the Tofte Ranger.
Jim Vick, operations and marketing director of Lutsen Mountains, told WTIP in late 2021 that ski hill officials started working on a development plan in 2014. The plan was presented to the U.S. Forest Service in 2017, which researched the proposal and initiated a scoping period, gathering public feedback on what should be considered before a special use permit would ever be granted. The Lutsen Mountains request and public comments were reviewed and compiled into the draft environmental impact statement (EIS), which was available for public comment until last December.
Hall took over as the supervisor of Superior National Forest in September. He replaced Connie Cummins, who retired in July. Hall told WTIP Nov. 9 that a decision regarding the proposed expansion of Lutsen Mountains has been a top priority from the time he arrived to northeastern Minnesota.
“We’ve been working in the time that I’ve been here as the Forest Supervisor, for me to understand both what the issues are how how I want to move forward on that. And at this point, we’ve started to finish the EIS, the final EIS, and draft a record of decision to put out for an objection period,” Hall said. “We’re shooting for the first part of this next year. And so starting all of that administrative paperwork to start moving forward. And we’ll start having conversations with the (Chippewa) bands and having conversations with Lutsen Mountains.”
Listen to the audio below to hear a conversation with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs speak with Hall and Tofte District Ranger Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak about the proposed expansion of Lutsen Mountains and other topics relevant to Superior National Forest.
Pictured in the photo above are Tom Hall and Tofte District Ranger Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak.