July 9, 2008

Off-Leash Dog Trails Won’t Need Environmental Worksheet

By Will Ashenmacher, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.

Jul. 9--The Duluth Planning Commission voted Tuesday night not to require an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for three proposed off-leash dog trails, clearing the way for the City Council to take them up at its July 21 meeting.

While some commissioners appeared to wrestle with whether dogs should be allowed off-leash on any city trails, a presentation by City Councilor Jim Stauber and remarks by commission President Gilbert Harries reminded them only the EAW was under consideration.

Of the eleven commission members present for the vote Tuesday night, only Mindy Granley and Joan Barrett voted for requiring the EAW. The remaining nine agreed an EAW was too large and unwieldy a measure for what amounts to a rule change.

The request for the environmental assessment was initiated by a petition signed by 35 city residents. A representative from the group said Tuesday most of the signees were comfortable with the idea of off-leash dog trails, but were concerned they'd lead to erosion and dog feces polluting area streams.

In a report, city planner Lynne Ann Hollatz agreed there were some grounds for their concerns.

But Stauber, who wrote the proposal to create the off-leash trails, told commissioners Tuesday night that EAWs are required for projects such as petroleum refineries and hazardous waste transfer sites. Requiring one for adding the off-leash designation to existing trails "seems improper," he said. Furthermore, the designation wouldn't affect the number of dogs being walked in Duluth, he argued, nor would it alter the city's rule that dog owners must pick up after their pets.

Designating the trails -- near Amity Creek, Twin Ponds and Birchwood Park -- as places where dogs are allowed off-leash would "fix a longstanding problem with our parks and trails," Stauber said.

Granley, who said she likes to run on trails but is "terrified" of unleashed dogs, said allowing dogs off-leash at these sites would preclude people like her from enjoying them.

"I think it's designated as one use, in my mind," she said. "I'm not against having trails or parks for dogs, but it feels like there should be a little more planning before that happens."

But most other commissioners agreed that an EAW was an unnecessary step.

"Every Environmental Assessment Worksheet I've ever seen had to do with some construction or another," Harries said. "In my mind, if you're not changing anything physically, it doesn't meet the standard for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet."

Commission member John Vigen agreed, suggesting that mountain bike tires cause more erosion and damage than dogs.


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