Monthly Archives: May 2008

Selling Mississippi River bluff parkland tempts local towns big and small

As originally printed in the Minnesota Monitor Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 6:50:00 AM

by: Chris Steller

As state funding to local government shrinks, raising cash by selling off Mississipi River bluff parkland for development has proved tempting for both the metro’s biggest city and one of its smallest urban entities.

Despite sizable resident opposition, the city council in Lilliputian Lilydale, Minn. (pop. 736) voted last week to allow single-family residential development on its last vestige of undeveloped bluff, a 0.85-acre parcel donated for parkland more than 30 years ago. Lilydale’s intention: to erase debt of $230,000 built up during the city’s recent reign as Minnesota’s highest per capita user of tax increment financing.

Legislation that might have preserved the park by providing state aid to the tax base-impaired city fell short at the Capitol this week, as did a similar sales tax proposal last session. If expected sign-offs from the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are forthcoming, Lilydale could find out just how bad the market is for new construction of what would only be Lilydale’s sixth single-family house. (Almost everyone there lives in apartments or condos.)

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, another parcel of river bluff parkland remains in limbo between past industrial use and neighborhood residents’ visions of a planned public green space. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has moved to sell the land twice this decade; Rosemary Knutson, a local leader in the campaign to build a new Bluff Street Park in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, fears that a housing market rebound could negate recent assurances that no sale is imminent. The fact that the Bluff Street Park site now serves as the Flatiron Corporation’s I-35W bridge-building headquarters further clouds the picture. Knutson said the site won’t benefit from the landscape improvements planned around the new bridge, so the park’s immediate future depends on the condition in which Flatiron leaves the land when the company leaves town.

Both parcels — and, in fact, the entire city of Lilydale — lie within a zone of the metro Mississippi River that a state law called the Critical Areas Act is supposed to protect from “negative impacts” environmentally. But it’s an aging and obscure area of law that suffers as cities lose institutional memory through staff attrition, according to Steve Johnson of the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. A new DNR study mandated by the state Legislature will help lawmakers determine whether the act is doing what it’s supposed to. State Rep. Rick Hansen, who represents Lilydale, expects to jump-start that effort later this year.

Pork flies: Bill makes state pay for same land twice

As originally printed in the Minnesota Monitor Thu May 01, 2008 at 9:45:09 AM

by: Chris Steller

At the Minnesota Capitol, pigs — or at least pork — do fly. Some pork, like the proposed state subsidy for a new parking ramp at the Mall of America, flaps its wings loudly above bipartisan cheers. Other pork flies by more quietly, below the radar – like a bill legislators from both parties sent to the governor yesterday that would make the state pay for the same Minneapolis parkland twice.

This is a story of that other, quieter white meat – more thinly sliced than the fat slabs the mall gets, to be sure, but just as tasty. It starts with the new I-35W bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, which will be wider than the one that fell down last year. Federal rules say the state must own all the land under the new bridge, so the Minnesota Department of Transportation has been buying up parcels of land, 13 in all, that will lie in the new bridge’s bigger shadow. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board owned one of those parcels, about two acres in size, on the west bank of the river and to the downstream side of the bridge. The State of Minnesota first paid for the park board to acquire that land in the 1980s as part of the state’s funding for the extension of West River Parkway that carries the country’s Great River Road through the heart of Minneapolis and under I-35W.

But now, to comply with federal rules that apply to the new bridge, the state needs the land back from the park board. According to Minnesota law, whenever land purchased using state-issued bonds changes hands and changes use, the cash proceeds from the land transfer go back to the state. In this case, a state agency (MnDOT) was the buyer (through condemnation because of land title complications), so the $744,000 MnDOT paid this year for the parcel and for a road easement on an adjacent parcel must be returned to the state’s general fund.

That’s what state law says — unless the state Legislature grants a special exception. And the House of Representative passed just such an exception unanimously on Monday, after the Senate approved it two weeks ago by a vote of 52-10.

Got that? The state first bought the land for the park board and now will re-gift the value of the land to the park board and will restore the park board’s use of the land for a parkway. The bill now awaits Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s signature; despite his fondness for vetoing funds with urban destinations, the unanimous vote in the House (along with assurances that the money will go to buy other riverfront land) will likely keep his veto pen in check. Come December, freeway traffic will travel across an I-35W bridge, as before; bikes, cars and pedestrians will travel beneath the new bridge along West River Parkway, as before; but the state will have spent $744,000 on land it already paid for, once before.

TWIN CITIES SCHOOLS LOVE ARTIFICIAL TURF FOR ATHLETIC FIELDS, BUT QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT RISKS

As more and more Twin Cities schools install new-generation artificial turf, some critics are worried about its potential health and environmental risks.

By Bao Ong, Pioneer Press
Last Updated: 04/25/2008 11:01:58 AM CDT

Krista Lundgren, a Lakeville South High senior, is a fan of the artificial turf replacing grassy athletic fields across the state.

The 17-year-old soccer team captain believes the quick surface — with its plastic grass embedded in a rubber surface — helped the school win the girls state championship this past year. Despite the expense of new-generation synthetic turf, many tout its durability and ability to increase playing time in Minnesota’s fickle climate.

But as the popularity of artificial turf grows, critics in Minnesota and across the nation are beginning to voice concerns about potential health and environmental risks.

Environmental activists, including Friends of the Riverfront in Minneapolis, and public health officials in New York and New Jersey have dubbed certain fields “hazardous wastelands.” Stateline.org reported that bills in California and Connecticut call for studies to determine the health and environmental effects of the synthetic turf, which is made in part from ground-up tires.

Minnesota lawmakers introduced a bill this legislative session calling for the state to evaluate any health risks artificial turf may pose for athletes inhaling small rubber particles from the turf and any environmental risks incurred when rain runs off the field into groundwater, rivers and lakes.

The proposal, which did not receive a hearing, also would have required the Minnesota Department of Health to inspect all public fields made of the synthetic materials.

Three Minneapolis Democrats — Reps. Phyllis Kahn, Diane Loeffler and Jean Wagenius — sponsored the bill after some residents protested a proposed DeLaSalle High School stadium because of artificial turf use.

“We want to make sure it’s safe,” Loeffler said. “If there’s a problem, we ought to know about it.”

The bill may be dead this year, but the issue is not going away.

At least 17 Minnesota high schools — including those in Arden Hills, Cottage Grove, St. Paul and Wayzata — have artificial turf, and more school districts, such as Lakeville, plan to roll out the fake stuff.

The artificial turf typically consists of layers of crushed stone, sandlike material, crumb rubber made from recycled materials and plastic blades of grass.

The Farmington school district, which plans to open a new high school in fall 2009, is considering artificial turf for its $3.6 million Tiger Stadium.

At a meeting this month, a University of Minnesota grounds crew employee talked to Farmington school board members about the hazardous potential of crumb rubber and silica sand components. The artificial turf also gets much hotter on summer days than natural grass does — sometimes by up to 60 degrees.

Jon Summer, the district’s athletics director, said the district would consider all its turf options and pointed out that school sports are played in cooler months.

“We’re always concerned about student safety,” Summer said. “I’m sure the board will take that into consideration.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has launched an investigation of the chemical makeup of artificial turf. Although the synthetic turf industry defends the safety of its products, the agency is concerned about lead contamination after officials closed an artificial turf field in New Jersey. New York officials also shut down some fields to evaluate health concerns, and the turf is banned in some European countries.

“It would probably require more studies to assess the risk,” said John Stine, Minnesota’s director of environmental health. “But I can understand the concerns.”

Lundgren, who plans to try out for the University of Wisconsin-Madison soccer team this fall, said her Lakeville South teammates are split between which surface they prefer.

The transition between grass and artificial turf can be tricky, said Lundgren’s teammate Kelsey Bertamus, because the speed of the ball changes and bounces are unpredictable.

Girls coach Dan Flood likes grass better for soccer and said professional teams compete only on grass during the World Cup.

Lakeville South senior Beau Radford, an 18-year-old wide receiver on the football team, prefers the synthetic surface because the artificial turf is not at the mercy of inclement weather. He thinks maneuvering his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame on a grass surface is more risky.

Many coaches and district athletics directors seem to agree.

Natural grass fields have limited use because they damage easily from play and wet weather, said Bob Madison, activities director at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills. The school watered, fertilized, mowed and scooped off goose droppings regularly, which added to costs.

Before the school installed artificial turf in 2004 for nearly $1.1 million, Madison said, the stadium could be used only about a dozen times a year. The field would be ripped up if it were used any more than that.

Now, the school and community have access to the field almost every day, except when there is too much snow. Even nearby teams from Bethel and Northwestern colleges ask to use the field.

“It’s been worth our money with how much use we get out of it,” Madison said. “We have no complaints, really.”

LAKE OF THE ISLES PARKWAY UPDATE

Kudos to East Isles resident Harvey Ettinger whose letters and phone calls, as well as an Open Time speech to the Park Board, brought attention to the severity of the deterioration of Lake of the Isles Parkway. The following Park Watch post is excerpted from a longer article by Council Member Lisa Goodman that appeared in the April 19, 2008, issue of the Hill & Lake Press.

OPEN LETTER ABOUT LAKE OF THE ISLES PARKWAY

From Seventh Ward Council Member Lisa Goodman

Given that we seem to have a path to success for renovation of the parkway in 2009, I thought I would share our progress with you now.

The work on LOI Parkway is being proposed as an extensive renovation with a full 7 inch grinding down of the roadbed, select curb and gutter work and completely new surface; this work is estimated to last for 29 years. Routine renovation work mills to 2 inches but due to the use of this roadway a more extensive process is being recommended.

This project was included in the City Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for 2009 at $500,000, 2010 at $500,000, and 2011 at $600,000 because it will take three years to accumulate all of the funding required from the net debt bonding program under the line item parkway paving, to cover the $1.6 million dollar cost from this source. The total project cost is just under 2 million as about 10-15% of the total project cost is assessed, just like all reconstruction projects, to adjacent property owners. In this case there is only one side of the road to assess as the park system “owns” the lake side and we can’t assess that.

Public Works WANTS to do this project in 2009 and is looking for a way to “front end” the project due to the horrific condition of the roadway. City crews have been out patching LOI Parkway 12 times already this winter and will have to continue to do so all season long in 2008 as well. There is a cost to this work and the cost benefit is clear that doing the reconstruction work in 2009 makes more sense than 2011.

Public Works will make a recommendation to CLIC, the citizen board that makes recommendations to the Mayor and City Council about capital request from departments, to front end the work and do most if not all of it in 2009. This does not mean CLIC will make that recommendation or that the Mayor and City Council will adopt that in the 2009 budget. However, I am optimistic that this can and will be resolved given the condition of the roadway, the cost benefit to doing the work in 2009, the strong support from the public works director and department, and the commitment from the Park Board that this will be the priority for parkway paving for 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Please know public works and city finance staff along with park staff and Park Board President Tom Nordyke have all been very positive, proactive, and helpful. I understand from staff the Mayor and his office support the plan to reconstruct the parkway in 2009 and pay over the three years as well rather than issue bonds over three years and do the work in 2011.

Many thanks for your patience with the condition of the Parkway as we collectively recover from the lake and park flooding and resulting deterioration of the roadway.

Lisa Goodman

post by Arlene Fried co-founder Park Watch
rough road ahead for Park Watch smaller file.jpg