Douglas County won't object to DNR ownership of unclaimed island

An unclaimed island off Munger Landing will be owned by the state of Wisconsin to facilitate cleanup in the St. Louis Bay.
Canoeists are silhouetted by the setting sun on the St. Louis River.
Jed Carlson / 2020 File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County officials won’t stand in the way of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources claiming ownership of an island in the St. Louis River.

The DNR plans to file an affidavit of ownership for the unclaimed crescent-shaped island off Munger Landing to facilitate cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins in the sediment of the St. Louis Bay.

Permits for the project require the riparian owner to sign off on the project the Wisconsin and Minnesota DNRs, Army Corps of Engineers and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are undertaking to address water quality and degradation of aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the St. Louis River.

Plans for the cleanup include depositing dredge spoils on the island.

The affidavit's filing and Douglas County’s support for it were delayed for a month after Jenny Van Sickle of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission called into question the potential for a federal interest in the island and a possible affidavit of ownership being submitted by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.


After additional research, officials determined there is no federal interest in the island, said Jim Lemke, real estate section chief for the DNR.

According to a memo submitted to the county by DNR staff attorney Michael Kowalkowski, a federal owner claim would only be valid if the island existed prior to Wisconsin statehood in 1848. No evidence was found in original surveys or the Island Inventory Report that affirms the island existed at the time of statehood, he wrote.

An $825,000 allocation for the County Highway W bridge mitigation project is included in the 2023 federal appropriations bill.

A land survey report from the U.S. Department of the Interior indicates the makeup of the island is possibly dredge material from the maintained channel with no rock present in the soil. The only evidence that the island existed with any certainty dates to 1915, according to the report.

“That cleared the pathway for the DNR to potentially claim, through their affidavit of ownership, title ownership of that island,” Lemke said.

Supervisor Keith Allen, chairman of the county's land and development committee, said he received a communication from Van Sickle that said the Band would allow the DNR to continue with its affidavit of ownership.

“There is no reason to believe that Douglas County is the owner,” said Carolyn Pierce, corporation counsel. She said it’s not in the county’s interest to own the island and recommended the committee consider a motion in which the county wouldn’t oppose the DNR’s claim.

Supervisor Alan Jaques made a motion Tuesday, April 26, stating the county wouldn’t object to the DNR’s affidavit of ownership to the island, which was second by Supervisor Charlie Glazman and approved by the committee.

No further county action is required to allow the DNR to proceed with its claim.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
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