So what's the public's view of the state's decision to allow Lutsen to drain the Poplar River?
First some background. Last spring Lutsen Mountain Resort went to the legislature to for special dispensation to draw as much water as it needs from the Poplar River, a protected trout stream, for snow making.For years, it had been taking more than its permit allowed, but DNR officials said they let it continue in the hopes that the resort would figure out how fund a system that drew water from Lake Superior just down the hill.
Instead, the legislature passed a bill granting Lutsen the right draw 150 million gallons a year -- except when the flow fell below 15 cubic feet per second.
Turns out, as one DNR official said recently, "nature is the ultimate boss." It's been so dry on the North Shore that the flow as dropped below that level from time to time. So Lutsen appealed to the DNR for special permission to use water even when the river was at low flow. At the same time it acknowledged that it needs to find another solution, and is working on a plan to share the costs of a new $3 million pumping system with local home owners and the golf course on the hill.
In the meantime, the DNR wants to give it a temporary permit for this season that would allow it use water even when the river flow drops to five cubic feet per second.
Now, last week the proposed permit was open for public comment. And boy, did it get some public comment -- 616, which is a lot for a temporary permit.
But folks on both sides of the issue were busy drumming up support. Lutsen sent out an email to its ski customers asking them to comment in favor. Some conservation groups did the same asking their supporters to comment against it.
In the end, the ayes had it: 396 were in favor, 212 against. Most thought that people -- and the north shore economy -- were more important than trout and conservation. Skiers and local business interests weighed in, arguing that the river would recover once -- and if -- Lutsen built its new system.
Those against thought Lutsen had already gotten more than its fair share of the stream, which they argued belongs to everyone. Said one: "If they put $3,000,000 into a water line ten years ago instead of a building with condos this would not even be an issue."