I attended the March 3 Park Board meeting and took copious notes. It was a fairly long and busy meeting with many items considered by the entire board and a variety of committees.
In fact, I arrived shortly after the publicly announced start time of 5:00pm only to be told by another member of the public that they had actually started at 4:00pm with a pair of committee meetings, the Superintendent Search Committee at 4:00pm and the Legal Review Committee at 4:45pm. Although there are now agenda documents on the MPRB web site for both of these committees, they were not there prior to the meetings.
I will attempt to summarize some of the more interesting items from the portion of the meeting I saw in this message.
All commissioners except Vivian Mason were present.
* 5pm — the Recreation Committee met, and briefly talked about youth sports, 2004 fees and a somewhat longer discussion about a Park Law Enforcement Association annual conference. There is apparently some cooperation going on with the Three Rivers Park district on this. Expected attendance at this conference is 300 to 500 individuals.
* 5:41pm — the Planning Committee was called to order.
First item of consideration was the public hearing for the Jackson Square Park site, tot lot and wading pool improvements. Jackson Square Park is at 23rd Ave and Jackson St NE, across from Edison High School. This project has a $450,000 budget, with $361,000 going to construction. Planned work to start in August. Comm. Dziedzic periphrased his way to asking that NRP contribute more money so that maybe Jackson Square could get a skate park. There were questions about ventilation in the plans to enclose the shelter by Comm. Berry Graves. Comm. Young asked about a symbolic character or icon for the park, as had been done at other parks. Comm. Dziedzic continued his circumlocution with some comments about a holding pond and the flood they once had at Edison H.S. Plan was approved.
Next item was the public hearing for the Currie Park site and tot lot improvements. Currie Park is at 1419 5th Street South, wedged between Cedar Square West, the railroad and future LRT line and the 35W. This area of Minneapolis probably has many children, yet has few yards in which they can play. This plan appears to call for a complete demolition and rebuilding. Neighborhood constituents had many concerns, including crime and gang activity at the park. A safety fence will be added and removal of a hill obscuring vision of part of the park from 15th Ave. are part of the plans. A large number of citizens turned out for this hearing and a number of them spoke. Concerns expressed included density of children and lack of places for outdoor recreation, volunteers are available to help defray costs (project is over budget by about $170,000), and need for on-going park maintenance (it has been let go to decay over the year). Comm. Dziedzic wants NRP to contribute so that they can “do the whole park”. Comm. Hauser moves approval despite lack of funds. Comm. Erwin asks about additional lighting and comments on the number of kids this park needs to serve. Comm. Berry Graves comments on the lack of space, but notes that there is no place to expand in this area. Plan was approved.
Next was the public hearing for the Brackett Park site and tot lot improvements. Brackett Park is at 2728 39th Ave S. Budget is $400,000. They want to spend another $80,000 from year 2006 budget to light ballfields. Construction to start in late August.
* 6:15pm — The Planning Committee recessed so that the regular meeting could start and allow the public to speak during the scheduled open time.
Citizen Steve Nelson asked the board about the conflicting reports the park board has given the press regarding the amount of money made or lost at the Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun concessions. One report claims they made money every year in a ten year period, and another says they lost a small fortune in 2001. [And SW Journal’s latest article says they also lost money in 1997. I guess the park board never states the same figure twice.]
At some point in here, Meg Fourney gets up and starts to talk about Tin Fish, but Comm. Fine quickly points out that this is not the point where those comments can be made.
The regular meeting was recessed and the Planning Commission resumed its public hearing for Brackett Park. A “Jeff Garretts” [sorry if I butchered the name — is approximately what I heard it sound like] talked about putting a skate park into Brackett Park. He had worked with other parents who had made a complete plan for a skate park with the help of an architect, but met with little to no encouragement from the Park Board during a period of time prior to the current Brackett Park improvement plan. At one point, this group requested a letter from the Park Board committing to using the particular piece of land in Brackett Park for a skate park. The group never got any reply of any kind from the Park Board. He believed the current plan was good, but was frustrated that the parcel for the skate park was moved [building the skate park is *not* in the current improvement plan — they’ve just marked a location for it], and he was feeling rather frustrated.
Hauser moved approval of the Brackett Park plan.
Comm. Young wondered about Mr. “Garretts” plan, was it included in the current planning, and if not, why not. Park board staff claims they picked up where the community left off, without providing any evidence that they did so. It appears they are quickly going into CYA mode at this point. Comm. Young tries to pursue this topic, but Comm. Fine abruptly cuts her off. Apparently “Garretts” did not attend the most recent community meetings.
Comm. Berry Graves is concerned about less than optimal communication and citizen consideration, and makes an apology to Mr. Garretts.
Despite the skate park not being funded, the City has given the Park Board $200,000 to put skate parks into several parks. They cost about $70,000 per installation.
A Park Board staff woman (with I believe an Irish accent, but whose name I did not catch) took on what I thought to be a very supercilious attitude with her remarks, saying “of course we will include citizens.” I was shocked at her disdain; it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything in the staff (outside of the superintendent and assistant superintendents) worthy of criticism.
Comm. Dziedzic apparently enjoys adding salt to wounds, as he then added if you don’t “go to meetings, you lose.”
Comm. Fine then got into an argument with Mr. Garretts and sarcastically insulted Mr. Garretts, repeatedly telling Garretts he “was repeating” what he had said. Another fine example of Bob Fine’s civil, courteous public service.
Next came an action item to approve a grant agreement with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. Comm. Dziedzic argues the location of the bluff involved is not in the watershed. Comm. Fine tells him it is. Comm. Dziedzic votes Nay, but motion passes.
Next came an action item to approve an attached draft debt bond program and draft neighborhood parks debut bond five year capital improvements program to the City and CLIC. Hauser moved approval. Public was not made privy of the details of these drafts, so the arguments that broke out over some items therein were not easy to follow. Comm. Dziedzic wanted to amend the motion to add tennis court improvements for Prospect Park and to put that improvement first on the list [a list developed by staff based on which parks needed the work first based on condition and usage], ahead of other parks in more desperate need. Comm. Berry Graves comments that Dziedzic has a lot of nerve. Comm. Fine takes time to lecture her loudly on proper procedure. Staff says the list order was based on maintenance staff and that they plan to repair/improve the tennis courts in 2 parks per year. Comm. Dziedzic says nobody uses Riverside Park’s tennis courts and so he wants Prospect Park instead.
Comm. Hauser differs. She says residents say it [Riverside] is the worst [tennis court condition] and has the highest density of kids this side of Chicago. She says they should not be taking money away from the 3rd parks district.
Comm. Erwin says he plays tennis at Prospect Park, basically agreeing with the theory that tennis players play at the parks in better condition because the ones in need are not playable. He also comments that the commissioners did not have enough time to examine the CLIC budget (having just gotten it at this meeting, it seems) before having to vote on it.
Comm. Dziedzic pulls his amendment, and introduces a second one to pull $150,000 [from someplace — can’t read my own writing]. Motion fails.
Comm. Olson, who is not even on this committee(!), dissembled about Tier 1 (athletic field) versus Tier 2 (neighborhood parks), claiming that Tier 1 is a better investment because the park board has better control over who uses these facilities [wouldn’t want those darn taxpayers using their own parks now]. He uses as an example the money spent to build a soccer field at Pearl Park, claiming the field was ruined in one year by excessive users.
This item (4.6) passes on a vote of 3 to 2.
Next came a long-winded presentation and discussion of Crown Hydro’s proposed hydroelectric generating plant to be built at the head of the Mill Ruins Park tail race, removing the 37 car parking lot and extending the stone arch bridge over and enlarged basin to feed the generators.
Crown Hydro and staff propose a 50 year lease with renewable terms, $100,000 initial payment, $30,000 per year, and if over 20 megawatts of power are generated, sharing 20% (says staff, 15% says lawyer for Crown Hydro) of the revenue beyond that mark. If Crown Hydro ever wants to sell the plant, the Park Board gets first right of refusal to buy it (for millions of dollars, of course). There will be a full service agreement to include maintaining the tail race against erosion of the limestone walls. There will be an initial $100,000 maintenance escrow [how far does that go in paying for maintenance?] increasing to $250,000 once in operation. The proposal contains a $1 million construction security deposit, and an insurance program was “discussed” by staff and Crown Hydro, e.g. perhaps a $10 million catastrophic insurance policy. Pre-construction conditions include approval by Historic Preservation Committee (I think — they didn’t state this clearly), Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) (tail race contamination problem), and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) — though Crown Hydro’s repeated comments about procedure made it clear they were going to get the Park Board and others on board first before persuading SHPO, who is likely to be swayed by the local institutions.
Crown Hydro will be borrowing $1.1 million from the state’s renewable energy fund, all of which is funded by Xcel Energy as part of their agreement with the state to store additional spent nuclear fuel casks at Prairie Island. (If Crown Hydro gets this money, that means it doesn’t go to other renewable energy sources like wind, solar or biomass, right? A good question for the energy folks out there.)
In addition to the actual power plant construction, Crown Hydro proposes spending $750,000 to $1 million on extending the stone arch bridge, the plank road and additional lighting.
Comm. Hauser has concerns about higher wear on the tail race limestone walls from the more than doubled water volumes this project will create. Crown Hydro says they are responsible, and an engineer describes the shape of the tail race as minimizing the flow at the edges against the limestone.
Comm. Dziedzic asks the pregnant question: how much will this thing cost? Answer from Crown Hydro: $10 million.
Dziedzic: How much is subsidy?
Crown Hydro: $5.1 million [why this doesn’t agree with the $1.1 above, I don’t know] from the Xcel Energy fund.
Dziedzic: What are profit projects?
Crown Hydro: “Don’t know.” Followed by lots of dissembling about why he doesn’t know but who does know.
Comm. Dziedzic wonders if the profits are too “skinny” to make this thing go.
Dziedzic: Are the 37 parking places going to be removed?
Staff/Crown Hydro: No. Can’t / won’t.
Dziedzic: How much revenue do we get from parking?
Staff: Wild Ass Guess: $5,000 (a year?)
Comm. Kummer (who is not on this committee) says this is a great win-win deal for everybody, says she remembers reading newspaper articles in 1989 (no typo) about it. [Anybody out there remember reading anything that far back about it? I sure don’t.]
Comm. Young is of course in general in favor of any renewable energy source but has some questions: Shutdown? No problem they say, will do it for maintenance, etc. intentionally. Drought? Auto-shutdown. Black out? Can city/county get power directly? No, it’s all pre-sold to Xcel. Hennepin County is reviewing some legislation in this area, however.
Comm. Fine asks what happens when excavation finds something historic. Crown Hydro says they are working on a plan to be first approved by Park Board and then by SHPO to handle this situation.
There was also quite a lot of talk about how much water would go over St. Anthony Falls, how much water volume is actually in the river, how much Crown Hydro needs or will use, and how much Xcel, with their hydro plant on the other side of the river, gets first before Crown Hydro gets their share. Most concern was for the attractiveness and appearance of the falls. But in reality, 8 months out of the year, not much water goes over the falls.
Comm. Young asks what direction the staff is asking for from the commissioners. There is some vague discussion and “hand waving.”
Planning Committee adjourns at 7:30pm.
Comm. Olson restarts regular meeting and gives Joan Berthiaume of the Minneapolis Parks Legacy Society 3 minutes to update the commissioners on the Wirth-While Weekend celebrating the installation and unveiling of statues of Theodore Wirth with children to be placed in Wirth Park. The Park Board is one of many co-sponsors of this event.
There is a motion to approve the agenda.
7:37pm — Olson recesses the regular meeting with instructions to the committee chairs to keep their meeting on schedule (Comm. Fine’s Planning Committee was supposed to be done by 7:00pm.)
7:37pm — Comm. Hauser calls Finance Committee meeting to order.
Comm. Young moves 7.1, 7.2, 7.4 and 7.5. Comm. Dziedzic asks about 7.2. Comm. Hauser says the $137,000 is for shirts and ball caps which will go to kids (gold shirts?). Comm. Dziedzic asks where money is going. Comm. Fine says Park Board buys shirts/caps and then resells them to the kids, but nobody knows for sure just how it works. Comm. Young tries but fails to pull 7.2, and it passes in original form.
Comm. Kummer moves 7.7, authorizing preparation to broadcast meetings on cable TV for no more than $61,717. Comm. Young amends to $70,000. Comm. Kummer accepts amendment as friendly. Comm. Olson wants to buy second-hand paint (to paint behind commissioners to look good on camera) and not spend $70,000. Dziedzic wants to follow the strict rules (3 minutes / 1 minute) when on TV. Comm. Kummer says the rules are being addressed.
Comm. Hauser is concerned about taking $70,000 out of the internal service fund budget for TV broadcast. Motion passes.
Item 7.8 which actually amends the 2004 expenditure appropriation for the above item is adjusted to $70,000 but try to spend less, passes.
Rest of agenda passes and Finance Committee adjourns at 7:53pm.
7:53pm — Comm. Olson rejoins the regular meeting. Amended agenda is approved. August 20, 2003 Minutes are approved [only 7 months later]. Comm. Young received many e-mails on the DQ issue, states the Park Board has a contract with an individual [well, if an individual and a corporation are the same thing]. Comm. Olson complains about “slander” about conflict of interest. Comm. Young defends Olson. Comm. Fine states he got some heat at Tuesday night caucus he was leading [elected official leading a caucus — is that how it is supposed to work?] about DQ and is happy that Comm. Young is on top of it. Comm. Dziedzic talks about his participation on a youth coordinating committee board, and meeting with the mayor and says that “gangs are out of control”, and that the Park Board needs to do something. Comm. Dziedzic then continues with remarks about the Mississippi Watershed land money [yes, that sounds out of left field to me, too], land near the Neiman Sports complex [a black hole for cash located at Ft. Snelling], and suggested creating some programs to help bring gang problem under control. Comm. Dziedzic says city police can’t do it alone, etc. All agencies have to get together to solve the problem.
Interim superintendent Jon Gurban then gave the officers report and announced a personnel change: assistant superintendent Norman Merrifield will be leaving to go head city of El Paso park system. Gurban reads a statement thanking him. Other commissioners take this opportunity to heap praise, thanks and good-lucks on the departing.
Rest of agenda and items pass mostly uneventfully, except for a bit of interesting background on Tin Fish’s plans for the Calhoun concession stand next year (2005). There’s a bit of discussion about changing the 7.8 consent item to allow Tin Fish to get in early and just manage this year, and there’s some confusion about whether this item was already amended earlier this evening, finally resolved to yes, and motion passes.
8:25pm meeting adjourns.