Wither Vermilion

Lake Vermilion State Park mapA little more than 2 years ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced a plan to create a state park at Lake Vermilion, about 90 miles north of Duluth. By May 2008, the governor had secured $20 million from the Minnesota Legislature to pay for the park, all 3,000 acres and five miles of shoreline.

Except that price wasn’t good enough for U.S. Steel, the current owner of the land, and since then, Britt Robson reports for the Capitol Report, not much has been done.

Yet even now, the proposed state park has its die-hard supporters, and they remain convinced that the land sale can eventually be completed. They are heartened by the fact that, nearly six months after getting the bureaucratic green light to develop the site, U.S. Steel has not turned a shovel’s full of dirt to further the project.

“I drive by it at least 10 times a week, and I haven’t seen any improvements on the road going in, or any other activity,” reports Mike Forsman, one of the St. Louis County commissioners who voted for the development last spring. “My own suspicion is that the downturn in the economy has made it harder to buy and build housing up here. It certainly is not like it was three years ago. I imagine [U.S. Steel] will wait for the market to improve.”

It was poor market timing by U.S. Steel, but they have time on their side. Gov. Pawlenty will likely have other things on his hands this legislative session. The state’s revenues are running millions of dollars short and Pawlenty seems intent on running a practice presidential campaign.

In short, unless the market for high-value lakeshore developments makes a spectacular recovery in the near future or Pawlenty reopens negotiations, it will likely mean little closure to the state park question until after the next governor of Minnesota is seated in 2011.

Despite the political gamesmanship, or lack thereof, this never addresses the fundamental question: Do we need a new state park on Lake Vermilion?