The highlight of the meeting was the vote on Crown Hydro. The motion to be voted on was, in a convoluted way, an approval of the controversial project. It authorized Park Board staff to proceed with an Environmental Assessment Review, a citizen advisory committee, lease negotiations, state finance commission review and state, federal and local approvals for the Crown Hydro power plant on park land in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. Crown Hydro would finance the 500 hours of staff time and all the required consultants’ expenses estimated to be $250,000.
Moments before the regular 5 P.M. meeting, an eloquent letter from former Vice President Walter Mondale was delivered to all of the commissioners. It was a zero hour surprise communication. In it, he urged the commissioners to resist “the urging of developers wanting to buy off such important Park lands as those in this historic district.” To view the letter, click on https://parkwatch.files.wordpress.com/mondaleletter.pdf
During the discussion prior to the vote, Commissioner Walt Dziedzic stated “This is a project that is driven by money” and commented that the 500 hours required by the project would drain the staff. Both he and Commissioner Annie Young referred to Mondale’s letter and Mondale’s position against the project.
Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom’s comments revealed that she was paralyzed by a surprising lack of understanding of the project and of the motion itself. She seemed not to understand that she was voting to authorize the staff to negotiate a lease.
Commissioner Carol Kummer, who has been the most vocal advocate for the project, had the audacity to attempt to discredit Mondale and impugn his motives by calling him a “nimby” because he lives near the river. Mondale co-authored the Scenic Rivers legislation; he’s no nimby. The old “not in my backyard” spin is so cliche, it’s without merit. It’s just a lazy, cheap shot.
Then, not to be outdone, Park Board President Jon Olson seized the moment to display an astonishing lack of political sophistication by calling Mondale “self-serving.” Both of these ignominious moments have been posted as video clips on YouTube; they are also available on Park Watch.
The vote was called for Agenda Item 4.5:
“THE BOARD DIRECT STAFF TO NEGOTIATE A REIMBURSEMENT AGREEMENT WITH CROWN HYDRO TO FINANCE THE STAFF TIME AND CONSULTANT SERVICES EXPENSES ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROJECT EAW, CITIZEN ADVISORY COMMITTEE PROCESS AND ASSOCIATED LEGAL COSTS FOR LEASE NEGOTIATIONS, STATE FINANCE COMMISSION REVIEW AND STATE, FEDERAL AND LOCAL APPROVALS.”
Approval for the Crown Hydro project failed on a 5 to 4 vote.
Voting against it were Commissioners Mary Merrill Anderson, Walt Dziedzic, Tom Nordyke, Scott Vreeland and Annie Young. Those supporting the lease/sale of park land to a private for-profit utility company on park land in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District were Commissioners Carol Kummer, Bob Fine, Tracy Nordstrom and Jon Olson.
For more information about Crown Hydro and the Park Board, check out previous posts on Park Watch.
After the Crown Hydro vote, President Jon Olson tried to withdraw previously approved bond funding for the East Phillips project and redirect it to parkway lighting instead. Commissioner Vreeland came to the defense of East Phillips and Olson’s efforts withered.