Park Board rejects Crown Hydro power plant study

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) voted not to proceed with plans to investigate the possibility of constructing Crown Hydro, a hydroelectric power plant designed to use energy from St. Anthony Falls at the board’s meeting on Wednesday.

The study would’ve involved putting together an Environmental Assessment Worksheet and a Citizen Advisory Committee, hiring an outside consultant, and using roughly 500 hours of MPRB staff time over the next 18 months. The developers behind Crown Hydro were prepared to pay the $250,000 cost of the study.

The board’s Planning Committee approved the project at their Dec. 5 meeting, but after much discussion at the Dec. 19 full board meeting, the motion failed 5-4. Several commissioners mentioned a recent letter from former Vice President Walter Mondale, in which he asked them not to go forward with the study.

“I write today to urge that you, as a matter of public policy, conclude that the land you own in the most historically sacred area of our great City be off-limits to commercial development,” wrote Mondale. “It is this same force of water going over a natural 50 foot drop which is the reason Minneapolis is here today — it is the force which Park visitors come to see, and it is this force which the developer will materially impair.”

Commissioner Carol Kummer, whose district includes South Minneapolis, said that Mondale has resorted to NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) because he lives along the river.

“His view on this is less than neutral and open-minded,” she said. “I believe that we ought to at least give [Crown Hydro] a full and complete hearing.”

President Jon Olson, whose district includes North Minneapolis, agreed, comparing the situation to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s opposition to the Cape Cod Wind Power turbine project, which would’ve been located near the Kennedy’s family estate.

Southwest Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom said that she wanted to pursue to the study so that board members could base their opinions on facts, not emotions.

The co-chairs of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter also recently wrote the board a letter against the project. They didn’t specify opposition to the actual power plant, but to the sale or lease of public parkland to developers.

Commissioner-at-large Annie Young and Northeast Commissioner Walt Dziedzic expressed the strongest opposition to the study.

“This is a project driven by money,” said Dziedzic, adding that the only people he’s heard who are in favor of the idea are those who are financially invested. After the motion to conduct the study failed, Dziedzic made a motion to direct MPRB staff to stop expending any more effort in pursuit of the Crown Hydro project. It failed 5-4.

“We gave transparency a kicking,” said Kummer, who is disappointed that the study will not happen. She predicted that Crown Hydro will one day get built and people will look back on the current board and wonder what they were thinking.