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Councilors' View: River access proposal well-vetted, would benefit all Duluthians

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From left: Jay Fosle, Noah Hobbs and Em Westerlund2 / 2

The Lower Spirit Mountain River Access proposal went through a thorough vetting process. And while it was brought before the Parks Commission on Feb. 14 and was met with a split vote of 6-4 against recommending the project to the City Council, it is worth noting that the parks commissioner who lives in the project's district voted to support it.

You may be reading this and wondering what the proposal even is. The Lower Spirit Mountain River Access project proposes the construction of two launch areas for kayaks or canoes, one in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The launches would be connected to the Western Waterfront Trail and would include a port-a-potty and a changing area for families with young children. The project also would restore 32 acres of riverfront property that currently is infested with invasive plants, including buckthorn.

Here is a history of the plan. In 2015, the City Council approved it unanimously with other St. Louis River Corridor projects. Then, the Lower Spirit Mountain River Access proposal was much larger and a far more intense development. In 2016, the Planning Commission and the City Council approved a Riverside Small Area Plan. This small area plan identified improvements listed now in a proposed Lower Spirit Mountain Riverfront Park, which is part of the access proposal. In 2017, the Parks Commission and City Council approved a National Water Trail Mini-Master Plan, which called for development of new canoe or kayak access to the lower Spirit Mountain site within one to two years. In 2017, a still-ongoing Western Waterfront Trail planning process engaged public opinion about improvements to this site.

Through this process and through public feedback, park planners worked diligently to minimize the human footprint (two acres of the 32 acres) of the site while providing universal design access to Duluthians of all physical capabilities.

Also as a result of the public process have been multiple revisions of the Lower Spirit Mountain River Access, shrinking its impact on the site and minimizing its footprint while still providing access to the St. Louis River and Western Waterfront Trail.

On top of the public process, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has no concerns with the project, as it poses no ill effects to the environment.

As the councilors who reside in the district of this project and the parks committee chairperson, we support this project. There has been a good and thorough public process. We believe this proposal adds many benefits to our community.

Tallus Island has a calming effect on the river, making this site uniquely well-suited for beginners in canoeing and kayaking and for those with varying degrees of physical capabilities.

The project also would create another access point to the St. Louis River. More access to the river has been identified in various comprehensive and small-area plans as a top desire for the development of the St. Louis River Corridor. We support the plan as it is, and we believe it will be a benefit to all Duluthians.

Jay Fosle represents District 5 in western Duluth, Em Westerlund represents District 3 in central Duluth, and Noah Hobbs is an At Large member of the Duluth City Council.

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