Parks update

Crown Hydro pushing harder for St. Anthony Falls turbine

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioners were greeted at their meeting April 6 meeting with another offer from Crown Hydro to develop a hydroelectric facility on park land next to St. Anthony Falls.

The offer was not the first from Crown Hydro, but it was substantially less than its previous offer in 2007 — an offer the Park Board voted against pursuing back then.

But Crown Hydro may have some added bargaining power this time around. State Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee) and 25 other state representatives from both parties have signed on to a bill that would cut state aid to the Park Board unless the Park Board grants Crown Hydro the necessary permits and authorization to build the facility.

The company’s attorney, Tim Keane, said he has also been working with the governor’s office while the bill was being drafted. Gov. Mark Dayton’s office did not return a phone message.

The Park Board collected $8 million in local government aid in 2010.

Many Park Board commissioners are vehemently opposed to the 3.2 megawatt facility, saying it will reduce Upper St. Anthony Falls — a central piece of Minneapolis heritage and tourist attraction — down to a trickle. They also raised questions about the company’s background.

“Make no mistake Minnesota and Minneapolis, this project has a huge impact on the river,” said Commissioner Anita Tabb, whose Fourth District includes St. Anthony Falls.

But Commissioner Jon Olson (District 2 in North Minneapolis) voiced his continued support of the project. He made an unsuccessful motion to direct the Park Board to negotiate a contract with Crown Hydro.

Olson said that since the last Crown Hydro proposal, BP oil has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and nuclear waste has leaked in Japan.

“This is clean energy, it’s a good project and it’s environmentally friendly,” he said.

Crown Hydro obtained a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license in 1999 to build the facility. It does not expire until 2049.

Keane said Park Board land and an engineering permit is all that stands in the way of constructing the underground facility on the west bank of the river.

The FERC license would allow Crown Hydro to, at times, draw enough water to dry up the falls. It allows the facility to dry up the falls at night and during the winter months in order to keep the turbines turning. It could also allow the facility to divert some water in July and August even if the falls are dry.

FERC, however, said in the 1999 license that the facility would only “ result in a small adverse effect on the aesthetic value of St. Anthony Falls.”

Keane said the facility would divert less than 1 percent of the water that flows over the falls.

Keane said Crown Hydro owner Bill Hawks is in discussions with several investors for the project, but he did not name those investors. Park Board commissioners said they want to know who they are before any decisions are made.

Crown Hydro’s latest offer is $500,000 and a minimum annual royalty of $50,000. In 2007 Crown Royal offered $1 million and $75,000 annually for rent.

Keane said current estimates peg the cost of constructing the facility at $5 to $6 million. He said construction would take six to eight months.

The offer gives the Park Board the first right of refusal to buy the facility once it is constructed.

The offer was referred to the Park Board’s planning committee for further review with the intent for it to come back to the full Park Board.

Crown Hydro attempted to introduce similar bill to sidestep the Park Board in 2009, but it got nowhere in the DFL-controlled Legislature. Of the current bill’s 26 authors, five are DFLers and none of the authors represent Minneapolis.

The bill was scheduled for an April 13 hearing in the house Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. This issue of the Southwest Journal went to press before that meeting.

As of April 12, no companion bill had been introduced in the Minnesota Senate.

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]

Parks update

Dog Park site selection remains contentious

A group of stakeholders began meeting in March in an effort to find the best site for a dog park in Southwest.

Their first two meetings revealed a divided group. Many of them want to throw out some or all of the three sites that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board gave them to choose from.

The Citizens Advisory Committee of about 20 members spent much of the first two meetings debating processes, such as how to vote on matters, who should be on the committee and whether or not to trust the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to give the group accurate information.

Park Board President John Erwin said his goal is still the same as when he voted to form the advisory committee: To have a dog park in the Park Board’s Sixth District this summer.  

But that may be difficult, because many members of the committee have made it clear they want at least two of the sites eliminated from consideration. The third remaining site would require the Park Board to tear up a parking lot in order to build the off-leash dog area.

The advisory committee is scheduled to continue meetings until at least May 16, after which they could give the Park Board a recommendation on a site.

The first two sites — both at Lyndale Park on the Northeast side of Lake Harriet — are near the Roberts Bird Sanctuary and local Audubon groups say the presence of dogs will scare off migrating birds. One of those two sites is directly in between the Peace Garden and a trial garden, and park users say barking canines will disrupt an area that people go to for its peace and tranquility.

The third site is a few blocks north, at Lyndale Farmstead Park, in what is now a parking lot for a Park Board operation center. It’s behind a concrete wall and would wrap around a small pond (the Park Board has increased the size of the site from a half acre to 2 acres).

Committee member Jonathan Lee tried to remove all three sites from consideration, but the committee narrowly voted against eliminating any of the sites on a 10–9 vote.

Lee, who over the last several months fought unsuccessfully for a dog park at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, said the Park Board did not provide sufficient sites, and that the group should widen its search to the entire Sixth District, which stretches west of I-35W and south of Lake Street.

Many at the meeting agreed some or all of the sites were bad choices, though others argued that each one deserved to be discussed before being eliminated.

“The Park Board has done us a disservice by limiting us to three sites,” said member Matt Perry, who suggested that the Park Board provide more options.

The first meeting, on March 21, drew a crowd of about 75, most of which opposed two or three of the sites. The second meeting attracted about 25 people.  

However, a few attendees at both meetings have expressed support of a dog park in at least one of the areas. Others said they wish the Park Board would consider a site closer to 35W so it could serve neighborhoods east of the freeway.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 11. The meeting place has not been finalized. Visit minneapolisparks.org closer to April 11.

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Bryant Bridge commemoration scheduled

Three years after it was closed due to deterioration, the 81-year-old Bryant Avenue Pedestrian Bridge will get a grand opening of sorts on April 16.

The bridge, which spans 230-feet across the Minnehaha Creek and its trails, was closed in 2008 because of deteriorating concrete footings and rusty trusses. The bridge re-opened this winter thanks to the help of a $382,000 federal stimulus grant and $141,000 from the Park Board’s Capital Improvement Program.

Park Board, neighborhood, city and state officials will be on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that begins at noon.

For more information, call 230-6400 or visit minneapolisparks.org.

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]