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DNR nixes Superior pier repairs for Great Lakes oil terminal

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has, at least for now, turned down a permit application to make repairs to a Superior harbor pier that is parts of plans for a possible oil terminal.

Superior-based Elkhorn Industries wants to rehabilitate the harborfront pier to make it ready for Calumet Specialty Products to build a tanker-loading facility to fill boats and barges with crude oil to be shipped across the Great Lakes to eastern oil refineries.

The oil would come into Superior from western states and Canada via pipeline. But the ships might be a low-cost option to keep it moving east because there is currently more pipeline capacity running into Superior from the west than out to the south and east.

So far Calumet says they have no firm plans to build the terminal and still haven't found a partner refinery to take the oil. But the company will continue to pursue customers, Kollin Schade, head of Calumet's Superior refinery operations, told the News Tribune today.

"This isn't our permit, and it doesn't deal with the terminal. It deals with the repairs to the dock," Schade noted.

Elkhorn has been moving ahead with planning pier repairs as Calumet continued negotiations with eastern refineries.

The DNR dismissed the application "without prejudice" meaning Elkhorn may re-apply for the permit under conditions set by the DNR. A Dec. 23 DNR letter says public comments played a role in its decision, noting the agency "will need significantly more information about the plans and activities proposed for the site."

The DNR also noted that Elkhorn Industries doesn't own the entire waterfront property necessary to complete the project and could not legally apply for work on the property it did not own.

Before the project can proceed, the DNR has ordered a comprehensive Environmental Assessment of the dock project, something several people asked for in a November public hearing at the Superior Public Library.

Schade said it's his understanding that Elkhorn will purse the changes the DNR has requested and resubmit the application.

Opponents of shipping western oil across the great lakes by tankers said the permit denial is at least a temporary victory, noting they had called for a review of the dock repairs.

"Area residents really care about Lake Superior and they want to make sure this unique resource is not threatened by costly and harmful spills of this dangerous type of crude oil," said Andrew Slade, Northeast Program Coordinator for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, in a statement. "This demonstrates how when citizens speak up on such important water issues, government agencies can actually respond."