Lutsen Mountains pauses expansion plans to confer with tribes

Skiing in “glade” terrain at Lutsen Mountains. (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service/Lutsen Mountains)

The company that owns Lutsen Mountains on the North Shore of Lake Superior has asked the Superior National Forest to defer a decision on its request to expand the ski resort. The surprise move came just as the Forest Service was set to release a ruling on the request, after a lengthy and at times contentious environmental review.

Lutsen’s owners say they want to work with local Ojibwe tribes to ensure the project complies with their treaty rights. Tribes that are part of the 1854 Treaty Authorities oppose Lutsen’s plans because of impacts to cultural resources, including sugar maple stands and old-growth white cedars.

Charles Skinner, president and owner of the resort, and his daughter Charlotte Skinner, chief of staff for the company, pointed to a recent memorandum of understanding signed by the Forest Service and Ojibwe tribes to “ensure that Tribal input is meaningfully incorporated into Forest Service decision-making.”

“The Forest Service’s approach toward Tribal retained rights has changed significantly since we began our process,” said Charlotte Skinner. “We welcome the shift to honor Tribal rights in our region and believe it is long overdue.”

Map of proposed expansion. (Courtesy Lutsen Mountains and U.S. Forest Service)

Major expansion

Lutsen first proposed a major expansion in 2017. The plan would add nearly 500 acres of skiing terrain to the resort, all of it on Forest Service land. Serving the new ski runs would be new base areas at the foot of both mountains with services for skiers, a new chalet near the summit of Moose Mountain, seven new chairlifts and one surface lift, new roads to provide access, and snow-making equipment for all new acres. It would also have required a short reroute of the Superior Hiking Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail and a snowmobile trail spur.

The Forest Service held a public comment period for the proposal late last year. Due to intense public interest, the comment period was extended by 45 days, and the agency reported receiving more than 560 comments. While a decision was originally expected in February, but was pushed back to this summer in part because of so many significant comments.

Debated decision

With the announcement coming at the same time the Forest Service had said it would make its decision, some observers are wondering if the federal agency had notified Lutsen it would reject the application, leading the company to ask for a deferred decision instead.

WTIP from Grand Marais reported they asked both Lutsen and the Forest Service if that was the case, and were told by Lutsen it was not.

“To address your questions, the answer to both is no,” Charlotte Skinner told WTIP. “The (Forest Service) did not make a decision that we asked for them to hold/table, nor are we withdrawing our request. The Forest Service was planning to make a decision on this project this summer and we have asked them to delay that decision for the foreseeable future until we are able to make modifications that align with the [Memorandum of Understanding] that was signed in May.”

The company says it will essentially go back to the drawing board to consider other options that would align with the memorandum of understanding and tribes’ legal rights. In the statement, the leadership said they will seek a “modified proposal would include a clear net benefit for the retained rights of the Chippewa Tribes.” There is no timetable for a revised plan, and the company says it will be meeting with tribal representatives to develop such plans.

“The Forest Service is honoring this request and will hold off on moving forward with the analysis and decision until the proposal is modified or withdrawn by the applicant,” supervisor Hall said in a prepared statement.

More information:

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap