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Island plan contains mixed bag

After a $6.3 million federal clean-up, Hog Island remains an area of concern. The site is a crucial layover point for migratory birds and fish entering the bay from Lake Superior. Tons of petroleum-contaminated sediment is gone, but the question ...

After a $6.3 million federal clean-up, Hog Island remains an area of concern.

The site is a crucial layover point for migratory birds and fish entering the bay from Lake Superior. Tons of petroleum-contaminated sediment is gone, but the question of how to set the area back on track for ecological stability is unanswered.

A 125-page master plan drafted by Biohabitats Inc. to address restoring the island waters and Newton Creek, which runs into the inlet, was discussed Wednesday by the Hog Island Committee. Funded through the Environmental Protection Agency, the plan is intended as a guide for future restoration efforts.

The goals outlined could affect future sales of land in the watershed, offer a hiking trail to the island and impact the possible expansion of Murphy Oil, Inc. It was built with local input from public meetings. But many of the ideas clash with reality.

"This plan is totally incompatible with the existence of Murphy Oil," said Dan Brown of the Douglas County Fish and Game League.

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The first few goals seem targeted directly at the Murphy Oil USA Inc. refinery, which sits at the headwaters of Newton Creek. They include restoring ecological flows in Newton Creek that mimic a natural watershed, reducing stormwater runoff and reducing the threat of future industrial contamination.

"This (means) shut down Murphy Oil," Brown said.

Meanwhile, the refinery has been preparing for a possible expansion by purchasing land that affects the clean-up site. That is something the restoration plan doesn't even tackle, said Steve Rannenberg, Douglas County Zoning administrator.

But, he conceded, "you can't fix Hog Island without Newton Creek."

Jane Ahklam with Western Wisconsin Land Trust said the plan offered a "huge opportunity" to assist Murphy Oil with installing a state-of-the-art discharge system.

"We can work with Murphy to do a real good job handling that," she said.

Frustrations were aired.

"I don't see any of our input in this plan," Brown said. "I'm extremely disappointed."

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Nancy Larson, a committee advisor with UW-Extension, said some goals are in line with the community's vision for the site. They include removing or retrofitting culverts at road and sewer line crossings along Newton Creek and establishing footpaths and bird watching platforms on Ogdensburg Pier and Hog Island.

Other items were fairly inexpensive, such as planting wild rice in the inlet or using natural features such as logs and rocks to promote cover for fish and roosting spots for birds.

"Let's just deal with our reality and move on," Larson said.

Brown wasn't sure that is possible.

"They don't want development, housing ... this (means) resort back to unused, undeveloped land, take it off the tax roles," he said. "And if you don't do what the EPA says, they'll take the money away."

Christine Ostern of the Douglas County Land Conservation Department said that is not the case. The EPA purchased the plan, she said, but "the community can choose what they want to keep and what they don't want to keep."

"It doesn't mean the federal government has control," said Kay McKenzie, Douglas County supervisor.

It boils down to the public.

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"What does the community want?" McKenzie said. "What do the people want? Part of that is industry, too."

That is exactly what Biohabitats is seeking -- comment on the plan. A final public meeting will be held next month at the Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center, but comments can be taken sooner.

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail mlockwood@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5025.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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