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Hearing in Superior will focus on dock rebuilding

A Department of Natural Resources hearing today in Superior will focus on the impact of rehabbing a dock, but environmental groups say the risks of shipping tar sands oil ought to be discussed.

Elkhorn Industries is seeking a permit to rehab 700 feet of dock wall along the Superior harbor. Midwestern environmentalists, however, say the firm is also working on plans to use the stronger dock to load Great Lakes ships with tar sands oil being piped in from North Dakota or Canada.

Lyman Welch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes says it would be the first shipping of the heavy oil on the big lakes. He says history shows heavy oil and water don't mix. "As we've seen from the 2010 Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo river in Michigan, a spill of tar sands oil requires years of removal efforts even in shallow river water," Welch said. "A spill in the Great Lakes would be nearly impossible to remove."

Welch wants the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies to do a comprehensive analysis of the broader oil shipping issue when looking at the repair request for the dock wall in Superior.

DNR Northern Region Director John Gozdzialski says for now, the topic for his agency and the Army Corps of Engineers is just the dock wall permit and whether the construction would harm navigation, recreation, water quality or wildlife. "If in the future there was a development or proposal to develop that area of land, depending on what the proposal was, we at the Department of Natural Resources and other state, federal and local entities would then apply the necessary regulatory review."

Gozdzialski says a decision on the dock wall permit could come by the end of the year.