DNR nixes pier repairs for Great Lakes oil terminal in Superior
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has, at least for now, turned down a permit application for repairs to a Superior harbor pier that's planned for a possible oil terminal.
Superior-based Elkhorn Industries wants to rehabilitate the harborfront pier to make it usable again for Great Lakes vessels, including a possible terminal for a new Calumet Oil facility to fill tankers and barges with crude oil for shipping to eastern oil refineries.
The oil would come into Superior from western states and Canada via pipeline. But the ships could be a low-cost option to keep it moving east because there is more pipeline capacity running into Superior from the west than out to the south and east.
Calumet officials say 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 or partners, Kollin Schade, head of Calumet's Superior refinery operations, said Thursday.
Elkhorn has been moving ahead planning pier repairs as Calumet continues negotiations with eastern refineries. But in a late December letter to Elkhorn, DNR officials said there were too many unanswered questions with the application, leading them to "dismiss the application" without prejudice, said Steven LaValley, water management specialist for the Wisconsin DNR.
LaValley said it's still not clear that Elkhorn actually owns all the riparian waterfront that would be included in the project. Moreover, Elkhorn wants to fill 15 acres of harbor, a move that would also require approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The DNR also told Elkhorn that an official environmental assessment is required before the project can be considered again.
"If they get some of the questions answered and come back this spring, as it looks like they're going to do, we could start the EA at that point," LaValley said.
He said the environmental assessment also may brush on the subject of the possible oil terminal but called that a secondary issue, noting the state agency has little purview over interstate commerce.
Still, opponents of shipping oil across the Great Lakes, especially heavy oil from northwestern Canada, claimed at least a partial victory Thursday. At a public hearing in November at the Superior Public Library, opponents had asked the DNR to conduct the environmental review before approving the pier repair permit.
"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," Andrew Slade of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said in a statement. "This demonstrates how when citizens speak up on such important water issues, government agencies can actually respond."