Lutsen Resort issued cease and desist order following unauthorized work on the Poplar River
Joe Friedrichs
Outdoor News

Lutsen Resort issued cease and desist order following unauthorized work on the Poplar River

Lutsen Resort was issued a cease and desist order by a state agency after the North Shore resort attempted to repair a set of red covered bridges that were damaged by flooding in the Poplar River this spring.

According to a statement sent to WTIP Sept. 26 from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Lutsen Resort has not applied for a public waters work permit from the DNR. (The resort) did initiate unpermitted work in the Poplar River to repair damage to two bridges and the riverbank from this spring’s flooding that was observed by a DNR conservation officer.”

Local Conservation Officer Kylan Hill visited Lutsen Resort earlier this month and observed that officials from the 137-year-old resort and subcontractors hired by the resort “had completed placement of rock along the riverbank for erosion protection and was addressing the bridge damage. One bridge had been removed from the river and the other was being repaired. Officer Hill issued a cease and desist order on Sept. 7, to halt the unpermitted work,” the DNR said in the statement.

Lutsen Resort then requested permission to operate machinery in the river to access one of the bridge decks to address safety issues, the DNR said. To address the “immediate public safety issue,” the DNR provided a limited-term emergency authorization for the sole purpose of operating equipment necessary to reach the damaged, unsafe bridge. This authorization expired on Sept. 15 in order to protect important fall fish spawning from continued work in the riverbed beyond that date.

Officer Hill returned to the Poplar River location Sept. 15 and observed work that was beyond the scope of what was allowed under the emergency authorization. Officer Hill ordered all work stopped at that time, the DNR said.

Both of Lutsen Resort’s historic covered bridges sustained damage in May during flooding and high-water conditions in the Poplar River. On May 13, heavy rain and melting snowpack made the Poplar River a swollen life force that surged toward Lake Superior. In a 24-hour span, the powerful force of the river also destroyed three bridges at Lutsen Mountains ski resort.

Full-size old-growth pine and spruce were swept down the river and smashed into the covered bridges, according to a public memo shared in May by Lutsen Resort President Bryce Campbell.

In a statement sent to WTIP Sept. 22, Campbell said: “Lutsen Resort has engaged with third party contractors and sub-contractors to repair extensive storm damage. There are a lot of pieces to navigate with different regulatory agencies and what had started as hopeful simple clean up and repair became more involved and our contractors are working with governing agencies accordingly.”

However, the DNR told WTIP Sept. 26 that Lutsen Resort does not have a public waters work permit from the state agency for work in the Poplar River.

“Until we receive a permit application, we are unable to review the project and determine what activities might be permitted,” the DNR said.

WTIP also spoke with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to verify if Lutsen Resort obtained any permits from the federal agency regarding extensive work done in the Lake Superior tributary.

In an email sent Sept. 22 from Andrew Chambers, the regulatory project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers Duluth office, he said, “We were made aware of the work in the Poplar River this week and are coordinating with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to gather information related to the work that has occurred and what the current site conditions are. We have no record of a Department of Army permit issued for this work in the Poplar River. According to the DNR, work in the river has stopped due to DNR work deadlines within public waters. (The Army Corps) is gathering additional information about the work and the site that will allow us to determine the most appropriate path forward.”

To perform any additional work, Lutsen Resort must obtain a DNR permit to “retroactively authorize the completed work to the extent that work is permittable” and to “authorize work yet to be done.” The resort must also obtain a permit to “restore any areas adversely impacted” by unpermitted work.

As of Sept. 24, the tattered remains of the iconic red covered bridges sat in a corner of the main parking area at Lutsen Resort, not far from the shores of Lake Superior. Significant amounts of rock were moved during the recent work in the Poplar River, and tread tracks from heavy machinery lined the banks of the waterway, not far from its mouth where it drops into Lake Superior.

Meanwhile, the DNR’s investigation is ongoing regarding Lutsen Resort and unauthorized work they did on the Poplar River, the agency said Sept. 26.

Further information on the violations will be available once the investigation is complete, the DNR said.