Motorization bill up for review next week

Emily Dalnodar

Although a bill that would allow increased motorization in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is up for approval next week, a local attorney remains optimistic about the park’s future.
Rick Duncan, a Minneapolis resident and environmental attorney from Faegre and Benson, spoke to about 30 students and community members Tuesday about the park’s destined place in Minnesota’s future.
“I think eventually the Boundary Waters will be completely motor- free,” Duncan said. “There is an increased demand for wilderness recreation.”
Speaking to a crowded room at the St. Paul Student Center, Duncan outlined the controversial history of the Boundary Waters from the time the first settlers arrived to the present day.
Duncan said that in the early 1930s one of the park’s first controversies over logging and dams was put to an end by the Shipstead-Newton-Nolan Act, which prohibited alterating water levels and logging within the Boundary Waters.
But the debates didn’t stop there, Duncan said. Disputes over the area concerning whether to allow mining and motorized vehicles such as snowmobiles have also emerged over the years, he said.
Today, however, park area community members don’t have any real interest in the snowmobile debate, said Jeff Bloemker, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts who attended the meeting. Bloemker is from Ely, Minn., which borders the Boundary Waters, and has been involved with the issue for a long time. He has also served as an ad hoc member of the Ely City Council.
“(Hubert) Humphrey promised people of Ely back in 1964 that they’d always have Basswood Lake to use for motorboats,” Bloemker said. “They should allow motorboats on Basswood Lake,” he added.
Currently, only some parts of Basswood Lake allow motorboats. Duncan said there are many areas in the Boundary Waters that are not consistent in this way. He attributed the inconsistency to the way a bill was drafted in 1978 outlining these issues.
He said that because a bill needed to be passed to settle differing viewpoints, Chuck Dayton, an environmental attorney, and Ron Walls, an Ely city attorney, went into a room to come to a mutual solution. In 36 hours, they had carved up a map.
“And that’s why you have motors on parts of Basswood Lake and no motors on other parts,” Duncan said. “And that’s why you have phase-outs of motors on Seagull Lake and phase-outs on Brule Lake. It’s all because of the work that these guys did in 36 hours in 1978.”
Emily Irwin, state chairwoman on the Minnesota Public Research Group board of directors, said the group hopes voting on the current bill before Congress will result in the maintaining of the park’s status quo.
“Wilderness is important. If we don’t keep protecting it now, it’s all going to be gone,” Irwin said.