Minnesota Court of Appeals Upholds County’s Denial of EAW Petition for Minnesota Church Camp
Posted on May 11, 2015
On February 17, 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners’ determination not to prepare an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) in connection with an amended conditional use permit authorizing a new church camp on Arrowhead Lake. Whitefish Area Property Owners Association v. Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners and Minnesota-Iowa Baptist Conference, No. A14-0407 (Minn. Ct. App., Feb. 17, 2015).
The proposed camp would be built on property adjacent to the Conference’s existing 70-year-old church camp on Big Trout Lake. It would hold up to 200 campers and 60 staff, with attendant parking and storage facilities, as well as amenities such as a mini-golf course, target range, and a waterpark.
The Property Owners Association petitioned the County for an EAW, arguing that there “may be potential for significant environmental effects” associated with the camp. Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, subd. 2a(c), Minn. R. 4410.1100, subp. 6. The potential environmental effects cited in the petition included increased stormwater runoff, wastewater, traffic, and noise, as well as the conversion of forest land and night-time light pollution. The Association also claimed the project exceeded certain thresholds for a mandatory EAW under Minn. R. 4410.4300.
The court was not convinced. It agreed with the County that neither of the mandatory EAW categories cited by relators—clearcutting of 80 or more acres of shoreland forest or “permanently” converting 80 or more acres forest or naturally vegetated land—were applicable. In addition, although the relators’ petition identified environmental concerns associated with the camp, the court held that they failed to present evidence of the potential for significant environmental effects, particularly in light of the camp’s design and ongoing regulatory authority over aspects of the camp (e.g., a required stormwater pollution prevention plan) that would minimize environmental effects. The court also found no evidence to support the relators’ final claim—that a county staff member’s position on the board of the organization proposing the church camp improperly influenced the County’s decision—particularly since the staff member in question had recused himself from the EAW process according to County policies.