Parks update // No longer an incumbent, but a familiar face

No longer an incumbent, but a familiar face

Four years ago, John Erwin was an incumbent citywide commissioner to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board running what appeared to be a reelection campaign with momentum. Not long after announcing his bid, though, he changed his mind.

Citing family and professional reasons, Erwin dropped out of the race. He wanted to finish raising his two sons, he said, and focus on his research as an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota. He went global in the years after, working in South Africa, Tanzania and Argentina.

But now he’s back, hoping to regain a citywide seat on the Park Board in the Nov. 3 election. Three such positions are up for grabs.

“I think I was an effective commissioner,” Erwin said. “I’ve been encouraged by a lot of people to return.”

During his sole, 2001–2004 term, he often was seen as a middleman. The Park Board was more polarized in that time and struggled with infighting, both personal and philosophical. Erwin often was the swing vote.

Finding support across the board is something he stresses as one of his strong suits. He was quick to list off his growing number of endorsements, which already includes support from 11 City Council members, three Park Board members, two state legislators, a Hennepin County commissioner and Mayor R.T. Rybak. Even one of his opponents, Park Board President Tom Nordyke, is an open supporter.

Still, Erwin said he knows he doesn’t have an easy path ahead of him. After all, this time he’s no longer an incumbent — unlike all three of his opponents, 20-year board member Annie Young, Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson and Nordyke.

But he said he hopes his ideas will help get him support. He’s running with an emphasis on his grant-writing skills — he said he believes the Park Board could battle its financial struggles by hiring more grant writers — and expanding the parks’ options to seniors, increasing recreation centers’ community service offerings and planting more trees.

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Crown Hydro bounces back to Park Board

After what turned out to be a relatively brief trip to the Legislature that didn’t end in its favor, Crown Hydro is back before the Park Board.

The private company, which has been trying to build a hydropower plant on the Mississippi River for two decades, is scheduled for a presentation and study session at the April 15 meeting of the board’s Administration and Finance Committee. It’ll be the first time Crown Hydro has officially appeared before the Park Board since a plan to create a citizen advisory committee and perform an Environmental Assessment Worksheet was voted down 5–4 in December 2007.

Crown Hydro spokeswoman Nikki Carlson said the company will have experts speak on its behalf and provide responses to now-familiar concerns, such as whether the plant will create noise and whether it could have a negative impact on the flow of nearby St. Anthony Falls.

The relationship between the Park Board and Crown Hydro has been one of many ups and downs. While agreements between the groups date as far back as the 1990s, the board tabled a proposal in August 2007 after a lawyer who reviewed a Crown Hydro-submitted lease agreement called it “the most one-sided contract” he’d ever seen. Four months later came the 5–4 vote.

Today’s Park Board is no less divided. Some commissioners have said they believe the project is a smart one; others have a strongly negative view.

Crown Hydro “will come and present. There will be questions. But unless someone is dearly inspired, it’s not an action item at this point,” Park Board President Tom Nordyke said.

Carlson said Crown Hydro won’t push the Park Board to take any vote after its presentation, but an Environmental Assessment Worksheet is needed for the project to move ahead. And that ultimately would need Park Board approval. (Crown Hydro tried to go around that earlier this year with a Sen. Ken Kelash-sponsored Senate bill that would have bypassed the Park Board. Kelash pulled the bill after complaints piled up about it being an unfair power grab.)

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Price tag on shuttered bridge’s repair: $645,000

LYNNHURST — A report on the shuttered pedestrian bridge over Minnehaha Creek says it would cost $645,000 to make it viable for the next 75 years.

The bridge was closed last April after residents expressed concern over its stability. At the time, the city’s bridge department told the neighborhood that taking down the bridge would cost $20,000. But residents said they wanted to hang onto it.

A feasibility study ensued, and its results were released just earlier this year. According to the report, the anticipated cost of merely fixing up the bridge is $234,000. That would cover the installation of new gussets, bearing angles and more. But, the report continues, to keep the bridge viable for another 75 years, a second phase that includes timber deck replacement and a new paint job would have to be completed. That would cost an additional $411,000.

When the project would get under way is still to be determined.