Meeting Highlights 5/5

The May 5 Park Board meeting was mostly perfunctory, except for the open time public comments, and the discussion and public comments about the Crown Hydro project.

Here is the blow by blow of the Crown Hydro discussion:

At about 6:03pm, the last of the present public members who wanted to comment in the open period finished speaking. The Crown Hydro discussion was taken up.

President Jon Olson [sporting a smart new haircut with a spiked top — perfect for today’s weather] suggests that the board take comments tonight as well as at the next meeting (May 19) and then vote at the June 2 meeting, when he believes all commissioners will be present. Commissioner Marie Hauser is absent tonight.

Comm. Walt Dziedzic also wants to talk tonight and “next week” (actually two weeks) and vote when all 9 commissioners are present.

Olson decides to get the public hearing going, and begins calling those who signed up to speak.

[Following names are from what I heard, so I’m sure I once again butchered their names and for that I apologize. Many had prepared statements, and I would love to receive copies of those statements, if any would be willing to share them with me.]

1. Dick Gillespie of 600 2nd Street South, makes the point that the Xcel power plant across the river is running far below capacity precisely because water limitations that the Park Board has repeatedly called for. He points out it would be cheaper and easier to simply allow Xcel to increase their generation, and that doing so would eliminate the risks involved with constructing and operating the proposed new plant. Mr. Gillespie is OPPOSED to the project.

2. Ken Bradley of 222 East 3X Street, first mentions his past executive positions with the Sierra Club and the JustEnergy (formerly C.R.E.E.), but then says he is only speaking for himself. In a loud voice bordering on hysterics, he says he just doesn’t see what the issue is here. Coal is bad. Nuclear is bad. Manitoba Hydro, which has destroyed large areas of indigenous people’s land in Canada by building huge hydro dams, [and who sells much (most?) of their power to the USA, and most of that to Minnesota,] is also bad. But this project is good! It looks like all benefits and no risks to him. He seems to imply the problem is simply NIMBYism, but of course, it’s impossible to judge what a person really thinks or means. [On the scale of Bad to Good, I definitely agree with Ken that coal, nukes and large hydro dams are mostly on the Bad side. But given his approach to arguing for Crown Hydro and his apparent ignorance of the facts, I’m tempted to cancel my Sierra Club membership tomorrow.] Mr. Bradley is FOR the project.

3. Gary Smaby of the Washburn Lofts starts by giving his qualifications for being an expert on the financial aspects of this project. His credentials (venture capitalist, business instructor, etc.) are extensive and impressive. [A brief bio can be found here: Mr. Smaby makes a couple of points:
a. This project is not financially viable without a large infusion of Public Subsidy.
b. This project claims to generate enough power for 2,700 homes [I’ve seen a variety of figures as high as 3,000 homes, e.g. recent Skyway News article]. Mr. Smaby points out that this figure uses a per-home number widely discredited by energy experts.
c. Xcel Energy can produce the power much cheaper in their own existing hydro plant.
Mr. Smaby is OPPOSED to this project.

4. Michelle Swanson, of 414 Nicollet Mall, a representative of the Xcel Energy Renewable Energy Fund. She gives a long winded description of the fund, then says it is managed by a 5 person board. 2 members of the board are from Xcel, 1 is from the Prairie Island Indian community and 2 are from the “environmental community” — she quickly blurts out a couple of names, which I wish I had caught so I could research them, as she does not give any evidence these 2 people are really environmentalists you or I might support as such. She says Xcel is very in favor of this project, and implies the board thought it was great, but of course, does not tell us what the details of the vote (if any) on the project was. She also mentions that Crown Hydro has already spent over a million dollars of the $5.1 million the Xcel Energy Renewable Energy Fund awarded them in the 2001-2002 cycle. Why in the world would Xcel support this?

5. Ralph Swenson, former Park Board commissioner, who does not state his name or his address, gives a professional speech supporting the project. Audience members theorize he must be Crown Hydro’s paid lobbyist. Mr. Swenson says this is “a cheap project” and it is the “first hydro plant in the western hemisphere on this spot.” [$10 million is cheap? Compared to what? The latter remark about the western hemisphere vies with some of the non-sequitors for which Yogi Berra was famous.]

6. Alan Shelepsky, of 1st Street downtown for 20 years. Mr. Shelepsky gives a poetic and vivid description of why Minneapolis was built on the river and how we owe it all to the Falls of St. Anthony. His two minute history of the development of the city is interesting and informative. He pleads passionately and persuasively for the board to respect the river and the history in making their decision. It is unclear whether he is for, opposed, undecided or just not saying. Still, a great 3 minute speech.

7. Diane Fitzgerald, a downtown resident, is in favor of “taking responsibility for our energy needs” and is under the [mistaken] impression that this project will contribute in a cost-effective way to doing so. She is in FOR the project.

8. Brian Anderson, of 117 Portland, is a former board member of the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association. He is convinced that the development of the Stone Arch Bridge, and later the Mill Ruins Park and Museum contributed significantly to changing outsiders view of Minneapolis as being Murderapolis to being a place they want to visit and spend money. He acknowledges that resident opinion and well-being should take precedent over the opinion of visitors, but clearly this change is beneficial to the residents. Mr. Anderson is also the editor of the Minneapolis / St. Paul Magazine which did an extensive study on the 100 best things, places, people, etc. of the greater metro area. Six of the top eleven things were related to the Minneapolis park system and the St. Anthony Falls. It would be foolish to risk the Stone Arch Bridge and the Falls for so little return. Mr. Anderson is OPPOSED to this project.

9. Sheldon Strom/Strong(?), of Colfax Avenue South, and associated with the Center for Energy and Environment(?), says he has followed this project for about 10 years. He advocates taking no vote tonight, and believes the issues can be resolved with more time. He believes it is fairer to Crown Hydro that way. [Crown Hydro has been negotiating with, or snubbing, depending, the Park Board for more than 2 years now. Just how much time do they need?]

10. Dean Thorp, of Stillwater Road in the St. Croix River valley, has water front property there. Mr. Thorp was the author of a 1976 monograph on hydro policy. He wants the board to take the “wider view” and seems to imply that those opposed to this project are just the neighbors who are only thinking about their “backyards.” He says “parks and power are compatible.” He rambles about the smoke stack of the coal powered plant in Bayport near his home, as well as other changes in the St. Croix valley he doesn’t like but has to live with. He claims this is the largest renewable energy site in the state. He is FOR the project.

11. Steven Deruyter, of 600 South 2nd Street, points out that an environmental review is required by law, and such a thing costs money, and further lack thereof prevents the board from legally voting yes to accept a lease until it is done. He further points out that the land to be leased is not surplus park property, and again, law constrains the Park Board on what they can do with land which is not surplus. Mr. Deruyter also states that all of the valuable artifacts at this site are underground, precisely where Crown Hydro intends to put their power plant. The loss of those objects would be impossible to quantify but expensive. He also points out the expense of the court time and lawsuits to which the Park Board would be subjected if they vote yes. He is still OPPOSED to this project.

12. Steven Nelson, of 616 North 2nd Street, says he just found out about this [meeting] a few hours ago. [Yet here he is…] He claims to have followed the project for some time, and urges the board to [again] “take the wider view.” He is FOR the project. [Is “wider view” code for anti-NIMBY nowadays?]

13. Tyrone Bujold, of 117 Portland, calls upon the board to oppose the project, and to do so tonight. He again points out that Crown Hydro cannot legally operate in that location now. The Park Board must endorse the zoning change at the city. Ten years ago, Park Board policy was set to restrict usage of river water to provide 2,000 cubic feet per second over the falls. Why reduce that number now? Mr. Bujold is OPPOSED to this project.

14. Penny Winton, of 700 South 2nd, remarks that Crown Hydro has a beautiful presentation of their detailed plans, including the marketing pieces set up in the Park Board HQ hallway, but they have not persuaded her. Crown Hydro has had years to work on this project and to persuade people, but opponents such as herself have only weeks or months to prepare a defense. She is OPPOSED to the project.

15. Jeff H??nds, of 100 2nd St SE, is an advocate of hydro power. He remarks that Xcel has been turned down for being allowed to use more water in their existing hydro plant at the falls. He is opposed to taking more water away from the St. Anthony Falls, but if the board decides to do so, it should be given to Xcel. They can generate the power much more cheaply with that power. He was once a hydro power developer himself. Fifteen years ago he looked at this same location as a possibility, and decided not to pursue it because of the immense difficulty in meeting all the needs of the various stakeholders. He is OPPOSED to the project.

16. Pete Gelser, of 100 2nd St SE, says there are compelling arguments for hydro power, but in another location, not this one. The risks are too high, and too long (100 years), for the benefits involved. He is OPPOSED to the project.

17. Karen Rasmussen, of 600 South 2nd, states that this project provides no incremental renewable energy benefit, over other uses of the money and/or water. She reminds the board and the public that the Park Board as recently as August, 2003 was opposed to reducing the flow over the falls to below 2000 cubic feet per second. She asks the commissioners if they want their legacy to be the destruction of St. Anthony Falls. She is OPPOSED to the project.

18. Bridget Ryan, of 4105 17th Avenue South, says she is a recreational user of the river and the parks. She claims that using water power is part of the history and vibrancy of the city. She “threatens” the Greens in some vague fashion to support this project. She is FOR the project.

19. Josef ???, of 110 Bank Street, formerly of Coon Rapids(?), above the dam there. He is concerned the low water over the falls resulting from hydro power usage will result a strong foul odor coming off the water, as that is what happened above the dam during low water.

The board began their discussion.

Commissioner Young passed out copies of a September Skyway News article with lots of graphics to help with understanding, and compliment Scott Russell for a job well done.

Comm. Erwin talks about the historical usage of water power at this location and how the city and neighborhood has changed. He remarks that few people probably would accept going back to other historical uses of the river, such as driving lumber down the river. He believe the board should focus on developing the lower falls, for which there is another project to build hydro power.

Comm. Erwin MOVES that the board TERMINATE agreement/negotiation on a lease with Crown Hydro.

Comm. Mason seconds, and is in agreement with Erwin.

Comm. Young gives a rather brilliant statement, which draws a spontaneous round of applause. It included the following: She mentions how Congressman Sabo was able to help the Park Board obtain large amounts of federal dollars to develop the Mill Ruins Park, and how Rice, Kroening and Sarna did likewise for riverfront development from the state. She mentions the March, 2003 Park Board staff Motion to Intervene with FERC which opposed the project in strong words. Young says the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) is 10 to 13 years old, and was written when the Crown Hydro project was planning on locating in the Crown Roller Mill, not in the Mill Ruins Park. She questions if the $5.1 million is the best use of those funds for renewable energy. She remarks that if Crown Hydro is not producing power by January, 2005 they stand to lose significant money, and even if the Park Board voted yes to approve the lease tonight, there is no way they could jump through the remaining governmental hurdles, and build the facility and get it working in time to meet that deadline. Young states this spot is no longer the ideal spot for this project, and that the lower falls are a better location for a hydro power project. She points out that the risk of failure for so little money is for so many years and SEVEN generations. [emphasis added] A new neighborhood has developed in this area. It sounds like Young is opposed to this project to many ears, but she does not come right out and say where she stands.

Comm. Berry Graves has many concerns about this project, as well. She is worried about the 50+50 lease, which leaves us with no out if things change, and also refers to the new neighborhood which has been created along the river front in this area. She says there are too many variables and too many unknowns for the board to move ahead. Crown Hydro has had more than 10 years on this project, the Board still cannot get accurate information on the project. She still wants to know what the real motivation is behind it. She says it does not pass the smell test. There’s too much unknown to vote yes at this time. Berry Graves also sounds like she is opposed to this project, but does not come right out and say so.

Comm. Fine says he is against the motion [Erwin’s motion to terminate lease negotiations], and claims he changed his position in the last six months. Now he is for the project. He says [in his lecturing, peremptory manner] that lots of provisions in the lease provide for historic protection, zoning protection, etc. If something bad happens, the board can terminate the lease. He says the EAW could be put into the lease. He says that “we are really making a statement about renewable energy,” not protecting the river, park, bridge and neighborhood. Fine attempts to reframe the whole debate as being either “for renewable energy” or “an evil-polluter against renewable energy.” [I wonder if Fine gave a flying fig about renewable energy prior to this project? I doubt it.]

Comm. Kummer, easily the biggest booster of this project on the board, says [and I quote]: “A dam did break, and a flood of misinformation” was let loose. She threatens a backlash if this project is not given the green light. She claims it is “clean, safe, right.”

Comm. Dziedzic says that Rice says that a 50+50 lease is same as a sale. There are 9 members. He learned to add long ago. It looks like there are 4 against, and so the project is “dead in the water.”

Comm. Dziedzic makes a SUBSTITUTE MOTION to move the vote to May 12 — is informed by Olson there is no meeting on the 12 but the next meeting is on the 19 — to move the vote to May 19, take more testimony and then vote.

Comm. Fine quickly seconds the motion.

Discussion of substitute motion:

Comm. Young says if we are going to delay, why not delay until June 2. There is a quick discussion outside the typical meeting order at this point, but the upshot is that it seems 2 commissioners will be absent at the June 2 meeting.

Comm. Erwin asks who will be present at May 19. Answer is all 9.

Comm. Mason says she sees no reason to delay. Votes have been taken in the past with commissioners absent [yes, many of them in Mason’s absence for example]. She says that absent Comm. Hauser has already stated publicly that she is opposed. [That seems unlikely to me.]

Comm. Olson remarks that “I’m criticized for speaking for others.”

[Correction sent by another member of the public who was at the meeting:] “It was during the discussion of the substitute motion that the evening’s boorish behavior award
was won by Park Board President Jon Olson. WHILE Comm. Mason had the floor and was still speaking, Comm. Olson rudely cut her off mid-sentence, preventing her from completing her statement.”

The vote is called by Pres. Olson.

Mason votes No.
Young Abstains.
Fine, Olson, Kummer, Dziedzic vote Yes to postpone.
I’m not sure how Erwin or Berry Graves voted, but the decision is postponed until May 19. Be there.

The meeting was adjourned at about 7:20pm.