The Minnesota Court of Appeals, on July 21, 2014, issued an unpublished opinion affirming Itasca County’s issuance of a negative declaration on the need for an environmental-impact statement (EIS) for the Living Word Bible Camp’s (LWBC) controversial proposal to build a bible camp and retreat on the eastern shore of Deer Lake in Itasca County. In Re Declaring a Negative Need for an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Living Word Bible Camp Project, Nos. A13-1154, 1157, 2014 WL 3557954 (Minn. Ct. App. 2014).

The bible camp proposal has been controversial, as this January 19 cartoon from the Grand Rapids Herald Review makes clear, with opponents claiming it will cause significant environmental harm. (Source: www.deerlakeassociation.org)

The bible camp proposal has been controversial, as this January 19 cartoon from the Grand Rapids Herald Review makes clear, with opponents claiming it will cause significant environmental harm. (Source: http://www.deerlakeassociation.org)

The court’s opinion—the latest of numerous court of appeals opinions regarding the project dating back to 2006—rejected claims of neighboring landowners that the county had committed legal errors in the conduct of its environmental review. For example, the landowners criticized the county’s adoption of an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) prepared by a consultant hired by LWBC; but the court found this acceptable under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and the rules and guidance of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB).  The landowners argued that the county, in making its final decision, should not have considered a DNR letter submitted after the public comment period; but the court found no such limitation in the law and stated that this is “precisely the type of information gathering that MEPA is intended to promote.” The court also rejected the landowners’ charge that the county’s negative declaration was not supported by substantial evidence. The court found that the county had properly considered the four factors for determining whether a project has the “potential for significant environmental effects,” Minn. R. 4410.1700, subp. 7; had relied on specific, reasonable mitigation measures in determining the project did not have the potential for such effects; and had reasonably concluded that the environmental effects of the proposed project would be subject to mitigation by ongoing public authority, including the project’s conditional use permit.

Advertisements