Star Tribune: Berm removal at Minneapolis park divisive

Chao Xiong, Star Tribune, October 19, 2004

Some say they soften noise, while others say they conceal crime. But however north Minneapolis residents feel about the berms enclosing Jordan Park, they’re coming down.

At the behest of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff members, crews this week began leveling a series of 4-foot hills or berms around Jordan Park, an area known for prostitution, drug dealing and gang activity.

The berms were installed in the mid-1980s as a sound barrier for the neighborhood. But some residents say they’re nothing but sight barriers to the sunken playground, creating a shield for criminal activities.

“Not too long ago we had an incident where we had this girl screaming and screaming about 11:30 at night, and I was scared to go down there,” said Kim Caroll, who lives across the street from the park. “I went out because she kept screaming and screaming, and I had the police on the phone. They said, ‘What’s going on?’ And I couldn’t see because of the berms.”

Caroll, who said she is one of the few residents with children who frequent the park, went out to the park that night and spooked a couple of boys who ran off. By the time police arrived, the girl had gone, too, Caroll said, adding that she never learned what happened.

Tom Specht also lives across from the park and is leading a fight to keep the berms.

“It’s going to be terribly noisy,” he said. “I cannot imagine what it’s going to be like with [the berms] gone.”

Judd Rietkerk, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent of planning, said the berms are being removed because they prevent park police from seeing into the park. …

“The berms have created an area where people can go where they’re kind of invisible,” said Minneapolis Park Police Sgt. Rick Doll. …

Earlier this year, a berm was removed at Currie Park for safety reasons, Rietkerk said, adding that park staff would consider doing the same for any park with similar concerns.

Seven residents who live across from Jordan Park, led by Specht, signed a petition against the removal. In addition to increased noise, Specht said, he is concerned that the Park Board did not hold public meetings about the berms.

“Everybody was deprived of the opportunity to add their input,” he said. …

The berm removal, which is costing a little over $40,000, does not meet the $100,000 threshold that requires a project be discussed in official public meetings, Rietkerk said.

Rietkerk and Jon Gurban, the interim parks superintendent, attended neighborhood meetings last spring and told residents that the berms would be removed.

For residents such as Caroll and Sue Wallin, who have lived across from the park for 26 years, safety overrides any auditory assaults that may come with berm removal.

“Daily there’s drug dealing going on in the park,” Wallin said. “Last week I had to call the police twice because of that. I would rather put up with a little noise than more drug dealing.”