A hole in the ice raises questions

City looking into water discharged from 1800 Lake on Calhoun luxury apartment building

A temporary pipe carries warm storm water away from the lagoon between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. Credit: Dylan Thomas

EAST ISLES — What’s the big deal about a hole in the ice?

A few splashing ducks didn’t seem to mind that a portion of the lagoon connecting Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun remained unfrozen as of late last week due to the relatively warm water pouring from a storm sewer outlet. But the Ward 10 City Council member took another view of the situation last week, calling it “frightening” and “a mess” during a Jan. 16 Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association meeting.

Meg Tuthill said much of the water is likely coming from beneath 1800 Lake on Calhoun, a nearby luxury apartment building, and suggested city staff asked too few questions before granting the owners a storm water connection permit. The city hired Barr Engineering to look into the matter, and a report from the local civil engineering firm is expected later this month.

Tests have not found contaminants in the water, but Tuthill said she was concerned about the impact of temperature pollution on the lake environment. She expressed nearly equal amounts of frustration with the property owners and city staff.

“I feel, personally, the city did not do their job, either,” she said.

The city granted a temporary dewatering permit in February 2011, while the building was under construction, according to Lisa Cerney of the Department of Public Works. Cerney, the director of surface waters and sewers, said that permit expired in May 2011, and the following month the city issued a storm water connection permit to discharge water through an 8-inch pipe into the storm sewer.

“I do know it appears there is water flowing into the storm drain and it may be coming from that condo at the corner of Lake and Knox,” Cerney said, adding that the Barr Engineering report was intended to clarify the source.

Lynne Wyffels of the Shelard Group, the management company for 1800 Lake on Calhoun, said the storm sewer connection was required to remove groundwater found during construction, a situation she said was “not anything unusual.” A large sump pump in the basement keeps the building’s two stories of underground parking dry.

Daniel Oberpriller, a member of the building’s ownership group, said city staff understood the issue during construction.

“Everybody knew about the groundwater the whole time,” Oberpriller said. “… In my view, I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong or anything that was unknown.”

Wyffels said the project’s architects from BKV Group recently met with inspectors at 1800 Lake on Calhoun and also provided them “all the engineering reports” from the project.

With the upcoming City of Lakes Loppet soon to bring cross-country ski races and other on-ice activities to the area, the city recently installed a temporary pipe to the lagoon’s storm water outlet. It snakes under Lake Street to Lake Calhoun, where water now pours into a hole in the ice near the lake’s north shore. The new storm water outlet is surrounded by fencing.

John Munger, executive director of the Loppet Foundation, said he first learned about a year ago that the lagoon wasn’t totally freezing. But that was during the warm winter of 2011–2012, when most Loppet events were restricted to Theodore Wirth Park.

“We were concerned about it last year, but ultimately we let the issue go because we moved back here to Wirth,” Munger explained.

Still, he said he shared Tuthill’s concern about temperature pollution, both for its potential environmental impact and the hazards thin ice poses to hikers, fishermen and cross-country skiers.

“I find it to be just a horrible thing that somebody would give them a permit to discharge that water in to the lake,” he said.

Cerney said city and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff were in discussions about the situation “as it relates to the safety of park users.”

The 1800 Lake on Calhoun building was a source of controversy in the neighborhood even before it was constructed. The CARAG, East Calhoun and East Isles neighborhoods all adopted official positions against the project based on its height, which, at 56 feet, exceeded the recommended 35-foot height limit identified for that location in the Uptown Small Area Plan.