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Cook County Supports Chain of Lakes Appeal, January 27th, 2005

County Supports Saganaga / Seagull Chain of Lakes Appeal 

By Rhonda Silence 

U.S. District Court Judge Jack Tunheim recently ruled in favor of environmental groups on permit levels for motorboats on lakes connected by water at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The decision, if implemented, would drastically reduce the number of permits available on Ely's Moose Lake and South Farm Lake chains and Grand Marais' Seagull and Saganaga Lake chains. Citing the impact on businesses and property owners, on Tuesday, January 25, 2005, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution supporting an appeal of the judge's ruling. The ruling, unless overturned by an appeal will mean the permit levels will drop from nearly 6,900 permits available each year to 2,376. The county board only briefly discussed the resolution, which was similar to one passed in 2000. The 2000 motion was passed following another judge's ruling in 1999 deciding that lakes connected by water passage should not be considered one continuous lake. The judge also ruled that property owners (and their guests) on those lakes who had been considered exempt from permits on those lakes for 20 years were no longer exempt. Those property owners now had to compete for permits in a system that had not originally included them. The Forest Service then recalculated the number of permits to take into account all of use from 1976 to 1978 on the Chain of Lakes. After determining the estimated use, the Forest Service announced that it would increase the number of permits available in the lake chain areas to levels that would have been allowed if those property owners had been included in the studies done for the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act. In response, seven environmental groups filed suit, arguing that the Forest Service did not have the right to make that adjustment. Plaintiffs included the Friends of the Boundary Waters, the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Superior Wilderness Action Network, American Lands Alliance, Minnesota Canoe Association, American Canoe Association, and Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation. Conservationists with Common Sense joined with the Forest Service in the 2000 legal battle, and like the Cook County Commissioners, is waiting to hear if the Forest Service will appeal the latest decision. Instead of just waiting however, the commissioners passed a resolution stating "the Cook County Board of Commissioners support an appeal of the recent ruling restricting the authorization of 'day use motor permits' on the BWCAW Chain of Lakes including a request for a stay or injunction to this ruling, so that the 'day use motor permits' on the BWCAW Chain of Lakes shall actually represent the use for the period of 1976-1978 as contemplated for the BWCA Act of 1978." The resolution was introduced by Commissioner Jim Johnson and seconded by Commissioner Bob Fenwick. It carried unanimously.

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