Monthly Archives: December 2007

Dale Hulme: Closing Harrison Rink is a shameful injustice

By Dale Hulme, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder via the Twin Cities Daily Planet:

What’s the Park Board thinking when we already have too many idle youth?

The closing of Harrison Park Rink is a shameful injustice to North Minneapolis children, youth, and families and the agency which I represent. For 21 years we provided hockey and figure skating to residents of the Harrison neighborhood at an affordable price. In addition, we collected, sharpened and provided skates for recreational skating.

Read entire article here on the Daily Planet website.

Park Board rejects Crown Hydro power plant study

Downtown Journal

UPDATED December 26, 2007, 11:14am

BY MARY O’REGAN

On Dec. 19, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) voted not to proceed with plans to investigate the possibility of constructing Crown Hydro, a hydroelectric power plant designed to use energy from St. Anthony Falls.

The study would’ve involved putting together an Environmental Assessment Worksheet and Citizen Advisory Committee, hiring an outside consultant, and using roughly 500 hours of MPRB staff time over the next 18 months. The developers behind Crown Hydro were prepared to pay the $250,000 cost of the study.

The board’s Planning Committee approved the project at their Dec. 5 meeting, but after much discussion at the Dec. 19 full board meeting, the motion failed 5-4. Several commissioners mentioned a recent letter from former Vice President Walter Mondale, in which he asked them not to go forward with the study.

“I write today to urge that you, as a matter of public policy, conclude that the land you own in the most historically sacred area of our great City be off-limits to commercial development,” wrote Mondale. “It is this same force of water going over a natural 50 foot drop which is the reason Minneapolis is here today — it is the force which Park visitors come to see, and it is this force which the developer will materially impair.”

Commissioner Carol Kummer, whose district includes South Minneapolis, said that Mondale’s positition is NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) because he lives along the river.

“His view on this is less than neutral and open-minded,” she said. “I believe that we ought to at least give [Crown Hydro] a full and complete hearing.”

President Jon Olson, whose district includes North Minneapolis, agreed, comparing the situation to Senator Ted Kennedy’s opposition to the Cape Cod Wind Power turbine project, which would’ve been located near the Kennedy’s family estate.

Southwest Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom said that she wanted to pursue to the study so that board members could base their opinions on facts, not emotions.

The co-chairs of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter also recently wrote the board a letter against the project. They didn’t specify opposition to the actual power plant, but to the sale or lease of public parkland to developers.

South Minneapolis Commissioner Scott Vreeland, whose district includes St. Anthony Falls, told the Journal in August that building the power plant would greatly decrease the flow of water over the falls, despite Crown Hydro’s insistence that the plant would automatically shut off if water levels got too low. Vreeland is also worried about the effect that development could have on the archeological ruins in the area.

“This is a project driven by money,” said Northeast Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, adding that the only people he’s heard who are in favor of the idea are those who are financially invested. After the motion to conduct the study failed, Dziedzic made a motion to direct MPRB staff to stop expending any more effort in pursuit of the Crown Hydro project. It failed 5-4.

“We gave transparency a kicking,” said Kummer, disappointed that the study will not happen. She predicted that Crown Hydro will one day get built and people will look back on the current board and wonder what they were thinking.

If it were to be constructed, the power plant would be located 42-feet underground, with an intake structure similar to the existing design on the north side of the river just before the lock and dam. Once inside, the water would fall through a turbine, causing it to spin and send energy to a generator. After a few minutes, the water would be released back into the river through an outlet located just beyond the lock and dam.

The $1.2 million turbine has already been built. Crown Hydro developers have been trying to get the project underway for over a decade and would finance the plant with a $5.1 million grant from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund.

Robb Brown, a spokesman for Crown Hydro, declined comment on the Park Board’s decision. 

Commissioners Kummer and Olson Call Mondale NIMBY, Self-serving

Former Vice-president Walter Mondale wrote a letter in opposition to the proposed Crown Hydro project at St. Anthony Falls. Commissioner Carol Kummer, a project defender, dismissed Mondale as “a NIMBY” and “less than … open-minded.” Not to be outdone, Park Board President Jon Olson characterized Mondale’s opinion as “so self-serving it’s not even funny.”


Attached is a copy of Mondale’s letter. Watch the video and see if Kummer and Olson are any better than school yard kids hurling insults.

mondaleletter.pdf

Heads Up for the December 19, 2007, Park Board Meeting

Here are a couple of highlights:

4:00 P.M. STUDY SESSION. There will be a one hour presentation on fund raising initiatives.

5:00 P.M. REGULAR MEETING. Crown Hydro is back to the full Board again. Its supporters are attempting to keep it moving forward. At the December 5 meeting of the Planning Committee, Commissioners Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Tracy Nordstrom voted in support of a motion to authorize staff to negotiate a reimbursement agreement with Crown Hydro to finance all staff time and consultant services needed to move forward with this project. This would include reimbursement for all next steps including lease negotiations, an environmental assessment and citizen advisory process. Commissioners Walt Dziedzic and Annie Young voted against it.

The full Board will be voting on this motion. The meeting will be broadcast live on cable channel 14 beginning at 5:00 P.M.

Park Watch has been following the Crown Hydro project ever since it came forward to the previous Board which voted it down in 2004. Park Watch has had, and continues to have, serious concerns about the viability of a power plant on MPRB land, about the MPRB being in the utility business (see proposed lease terms), about the negative effect of the diversion of water from historic St. Anthony Falls, about the potential for yet another law suit (see proposed lease terms), and about a number of other issues.

This is a project that the Park Board should not be wasting any more Park Board resources on–and certainly not the projected 500 hours of staff time. It’s been studied ad nauseam. As Commissioner Dziedzic has aptly stated, “The risks outweigh the benefits.”

It’s time for the Park Board to make the decision to terminate any further consideration of this questionable project. It’s time to vote no.

MPRB Board Meeting

Details for
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting

Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Tom Nordyke, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and Jon Olson.

Rebroadcasts of current meetings can be seen on Channel 14 only on Thursday at 2 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. Rebroadcast of the previous meeting can be seen on Channel 14 on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 9 a.m.

Date: 1/23/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis

Park Board Agenda

MPRB Board Meeting

Details for
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Commissisoners Meeting

Commissioners Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine, Carol Kummer, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom, Tom Nordyke, Scott Vreeland, Annie Young and Jon Olson.

Rebroadcasts of current meetings can be seen on Channel 14 only on Thursday at 2 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. Rebroadcast of the previous meeting can be seen on Channel 14 on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 9 a.m.

Date: 01/09/2008
Time: 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Type: Regular
Location: MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address: 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis

Park Board Agenda

Southwest Journal Coverage of the 2008 Budget

Parks Notebook

BY MARY O’REGAN
Superintendent’s budget recommendations approved

From the December 17th issue of the Southwest Journal

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) Administration and Finance Committee has approved Superintendent Jon Gurban’s 2008 budget recommendations amid public outcry over increased fees and ice skating rink closures.

According to MPRB documents, the board is expected to take in $40.9 million in property taxes allocated by the city — a 4.4 percent increase over last year; $9.7 million in local government aid — 1.9 percent less than 2007; and $4.6 million in fees, fines and other revenues — 10.4 percent more than last year.

The overall budgetary increase adds up to 3.7 percent, which, according to MPRB officials, could be even less when factoring in higher health insurance costs.

From the General Fund, $40.6 million will cover MPRB wages and fringe costs and $14.6 million will go to operating costs.

To develop the budget, the Park Board took public input during the Comprehensive Plan review session and held interactive strategy meetings with commissioners to determine their priorities. The feedback resulted in 10 strategies, such as promoting corporate sponsorship, developing fees based on the ability to pay and producing events as a means to acquire maximum financial benefit.

The proposed fee increases took center stage during the committee’s Dec. 5 meeting. Representatives from organizations sponsoring events such as the Loring Park Pride Festival, AIDS Walk, March of Dimes Walk, Multiple Sclerosis Walk, and Walk for Animals expressed surprise and outrage that their park usage fees had gone up 50—400 percent. Many of the organizations had already set their 2008 budgets, and reallocating money back into permit fees would mean taking funds away from programs and services. The Pride Festival would receive the largest fee increase — from $10,487 to $58,000 for usage of Loring Park.

General Manager Don Sigglekow said that the Park Board has been undervaluing its parks’ revenue potentials, and cities like Chicago and New York charge much more for permits.

Instead of approving the new fees, the commissioners decided to direct staff to negotiate with nonprofit organizations that hold major annual events and figure out a long-term implementation plan for the fee increases.

Residents may also notice greater fees in everyday park activities. For example, sailboat buoy rentals will rise from $300 to $400; canoe rack rentals will jump from $100 to $150; and off-leash dog park permits will grow from $25 to $35.

Ice skating rink closures were another topic of contention during the meeting. The budget recommends closing rinks at Brackett, Waite, Shingle Creek, Harrison, Powderhorn and Loring parks due to high operating costs and low
attendance.

Commissioner-at-large Annie Young was upset that staff hadn’t decided to close one rink in each district and suggested that Southwest give up a rink.

“What’s going on between the rich and the poor?” she yelled. “Bob Fine [commissioner for much of Southwest], you start closing some of your damn rinks!”

General Manager Michael Schmidt said that staff didn’t use commissioner districts as a criterion for deciding which rinks would close.

Most of the resident feedback regarding rink closures focused on Powerhorn Park, which the MPRB reported has decreased attendance. The board decided to amend the budget to remove Powderhorn from the list of rinks to close and come up with an alternative for 2009.

Weather also plays a role in the Park Board’s ability to keep rinks open. According to MPRB officials, if a rink isn’t up and running due to weather by Jan. 7, it will remain closed for the whole season.

Many commissioners expressed sympathy toward residents who were upset over the tight budget. President Jon Olson, whose district includes North Minneapolis, said the board would have more money if it didn’t have to pay a Data Practices Officer to retrieve documents that members of the public have requested through the Data Privacy Act. He chalked up the need to “four or five individuals who have no lives” — likely referring to members of Park Watch, a MRPB watchdog group.

Board passes communication plan with the city

At the Dec. 5 meeting, the Park Board adopted a resolution listing steps the city and its independent boards can take to improve their relationships. Under the resolution, the groups would formalize their information-sharing process by exchanging briefings about major initiatives twice a year; forming a nonvoting Coordinating Committee composed of two members from each independent board, the mayor, City Council president, and chair of the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee to meet twice a year; hold regular social gatherings among the elected officials; instruct their respective employees to work together on overlapping projects; and coordinate their work at the state Legislature.

President Jon Olson was skeptical about how much the resolution would improve the Park Board’s relationship with the city.

“I haven’t found a lot of openness with the city and the mayor on trying to solve problems,” he said. “I really don’t know how this is going to make anything better.”

Commissioner Young countered that the Park Board should at least make an effort to work with the city, comparing their situation to finding peace in the Middle East.

Contact Mary O’Regan at moregan@mnpubs.com or 436-5088.

MPRB Annual Board Meeeting

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s (MPRB) 2008 annual meeting and election of officers will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, in the board room at MPRB headquarters, 2117 West River Road, Minneapolis. The regular January meetings will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, and 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the administrative offices.

Agendas and information related to Park Board business are typically posted at http://www.minneapolisparks.org two business days prior to each meeting.

All Board Meetings are broadcast live from 5-9 p.m. on Channels 14 and 79 on the Minneapolis Comcast cable network. Meetings are rebroadcast Sundays at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 9 p.m., Thursdays at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Sundays at noon. Webcasts for the recent two months are available for viewing at http://www.minneapolisparks.org.

Crown Hydro Update

Crown Hydro, the risky and controversial project that would put the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board into the utility business, is slated to be back on the Park Board agenda at the December 19 meeting.

BACKGROUND

Investor Bill Hawks, through his company Crown Hydro, is again proposing to build a power plant on Minneapolis parkland.  This project would divert water from the historic St. Anthony Falls, altering the aesthetics of the Falls.  The Falls are the centerpiece of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District and a major tourist attraction.

When this project came before the previous Park Board in 2004, it was killed.  But through some questionable procedural tactics at the November 7 and December 5, 2007,  meetings, supporters of Crown Hydro have slipped it into play again.  At the November 7 meeting when Crown Hydro was allowed to make its presentation, opponents of Crown Hydro were not allowed to speak.

During 2006, Crown Hydro spent $80,000 on lobbying costs to promote this project.  Park Board Commissioners who are advocates of this project are Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Board President Jon Olson.

THE INCENTIVES

Because the Crown Hydro power plant would be providing renewable energy, Crown Hydro investors will receive a lucrative subsidy of $5,100,000.

WHO WILL PAY?

All of us Minnesota X-cel energy users, who are already contributing to this subsidy every month when we pay our X-cel utility bills.  Look on your bill for “Resource Adjustment.”

ENVIRONMENTALIST OR OPPORTUNIST?

So what is the motivating factor here?  Is it a commitment to alternative energy and environmental stewardship?  And is this commitment supported by a congruent lifestyle?  In other words, is the man behind Crown Hydro walking the talk — or just talking the talk?

Here are some thought provoking facts:

The Lake Minnetonka estate owned by Bill Hawks encompasses three parcels of land and is valued at approximately $8,345,000.  Located at 3465 County Road 44 in Minnetrista, it is called the Hawks’ Nest Addition; annual taxes on the property are approximately $85,000.  Square footage of the main house is 12,317 square feet.  Aerial views show a massive multi-storied faux castle-like structure.  It does not appear to be the residence of someone who has concerns about his own carbon footprint.

Aerial photo of Hawk's castle

This estate was in the news last year when Bill Hawks and his wife hosted a fund raiser for Michele Bachmann with featured guest Vice-President Dick Cheney.

THE QUESTION

Will our Park Board move forward on leasing our parkland to a profit-making business so that it can be used for a questionable, non-park related purpose that could possibly damage or destroy our historic St. Anthony Falls?  There are no guarantees for a project like this.

On Wednesday we should know.  The meeting will be broadcast live on cable channel 14 beginning at 5 p.m.

hawkhome.jpg
hawkthumb.jpg

Star Tribune: Minneapolis Park Board votes to increase fees, close 5 skating rinks

Reporter Steve Brandt writes, in a Dec. 13 article on the Star Tribune website, in part:

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board agreed Wednesday to increase fees and cut some services…

The Park Board will charge higher fees for picnic shelter rental,
outdoor weddings and off-leash dog park permits. Mountain bikers who
formerly rode trails at Wirth Park for free will pay a $25 annual fee
unless an alternative is negotiated.

Plans also call for increasing permit fees for groups using city
parks — including nonprofits that put on the AIDS Walk and Gay Pride
— developing a new concert series or golf championship, temporarily
discontinuing the mounted horse patrol and expanding mobile concessions
and beginning online merchandise sales.

See entire article at the Star Tribune website.