Isles restoration, diseased elm removal top Park Board list

Dutch elm disease is back on top of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's legislative priority list.

The Park Board approved its legislative agenda Jan. 19, and eight items received top priority, including Dutch elm disease.

The Park Board spent more than $5 million last year to remove more than 10,000 diseased trees - more than triple the level during most of the 1990s. A Park Board/city-appointed Tree Advisory Committee called the situation a crisis during a Jan. 4 presentation.

The Park Board would need a $2.6 million annual boost to remove all diseased trees within 20 days of identification, the target to reduce the disease's spread.

Finding any new money this legislative session will be a challenge, given the state's budget shortfall. Brian Rice, the Park Board's contract lobbyist, said he hoped to build coalitions with other communities and the forest services industry to pass a statewide aid package to address Dutch elm disease, oak wilt and other tree diseases.

Dutch elm hit Minneapolis and the state in the 1960s and peaked in 1977, when the city lost more than 31,000 trees. Kirk Pederson, who works with Rice on lobbying issues, said state aid for Dutch Elm disease reached approximately $30 million statewide in the late 1970s, but got phased out in the early 1980s.

The Park Board's top borrowing request is $3 million for Lake of the Isles restoration. It is less than the $5 million needed to finish the project. Rice said Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher (D-Minneapolis) is carrying the bill and chose the $3 million figure, which represents slightly more than the amount that likely would have passed in last year's stalled bonding bill.

The Park Board dropped its 2004 request to build a marina in front of its riverfront headquarters, W. 2117 River Rd. N.

Most of the Park Board's other priorities represent efforts to fend off further cuts, such as protecting local government aid (LGA).

Last session, the Legislature cut Minneapolis' LGA. That translated to a Park Board aid cut of nearly $4 million during the biennium, according to a Park Board summary.