Monthly Archives: March 2009

Bill to force hydropower project falls flat

This article was from the March online issue of the
Friends of the Mississippi newsletter.


By Irene Jones

Last month a bill was introduced in the Senate that would require local governments to lease public land, including parks, for development and operation of any hydroelectric facility of 100 megawatts or less, provided the hydroelectric company has been granted a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The bill was pulled by the author after the Minneapolis Park Board, citizens and other stakeholders, including FMR, cried foul about what would amount to a blatant taking of public property.

Crown Hydro, a company that seeks to build a hydroelectric facility on parkland in the Saint Anthony Falls Historic District in Minneapolis, put the bill forward. Crown Hydro received a FERC license in the late 1990s for its original proposal to build the facility in the Crown Roller Mill building. Since that deal fell through nearly a decade ago, the company has continued to make investments in the project and has been pursuing alternatives that would site the facility in Mill Ruins Park.

These efforts have largely been rebuffed by the Minneapolis Park Board, which voted last year to reject a proposal to conduct an Environmental Assessment Worksheet and to establish a Citizen Advisory Committee for the project, all of which would have been paid for by Crown Hydro. Local citizens of the downtown riverfront area, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, have been advocating against the controversial proposal on the grounds it would irreversibly damage historic resources of local, state and national significance.

The introduction of Senate File 840 was a strong-arm approach that raised the ire of many stakeholders. In response to concerns and claims of misinformation, Rep. Bill Hilty, chair of the House Energy Finance Committee, pulled together an ad hoc public hearing to discuss the project and the bill. Sen. Linda Higgins and Rep. Bobby Joe Champion, who represent downtown Minneapolis were present, along with Sen. Kenneth Kelash, chief author of the bill, and a handful of other interested legislators.

The hearing room was packed and virtually everyone who testified (other than Crown Hydro) spoke against the bill. FMR testified against the taking of public land in the river corridor and expressed concerns that the law could have negative implications for other rivers in the state. The City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Park Board, Minnesota Historical Society and the National Park Service all spoke against the bill.

The testimony of the Park Board and several local citizens shed some light on the controversy, but it was the grilling of Crown Hydro representatives by legislators that exposed the truth about the role bad business decisions have played in Crown Hydro’s plight. After an hour and a half of testimony, Sen. Kelash closed the meeting by announcing he would pull the bill.

The bill died swiftly, but Crown Hydro does not appear ready to give up. Local citizens are vigilantly keeping an eye on the project, unsure of what lengths the company will go to next.

Link to photo


Crown Hydro failed to obtain legislative support for the senate bill which would have forced the MPRB to turn over parkland for the controversial hydro plant.

In February, legislation drafted by proponents of the Crown Hydro project was introduced in the Minnesota Senate as bill SF 840. Essentially, this bill mandated that the Minneapolis Park Board relinquish local control and step aside and give Crown Hydro access to the land in Mill Ruins Park that they have failed to obtain using normal channels. THIS BILL WOULD HAVE SET A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT IN MINNESOTA BY PROVIDING UNLIMITED ACCESS TO PUBLIC LAND FOR HYDROELECTRIC PLANTS WITHOUT REGARD FOR ANY OTHER FACTORS OR RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROJECT.

This bill was opposed by many including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, the National Park Service, Friends of the Mississippi, Friends of the Riverfront, the League of Cities, the legislative representatives for District 58 and 58B (Linda Higgins and Bobby Joe Champion) along with other residents of Minneapolis that support local control of such important issues.

At the request of a Park Board representative, these groups rallied behind the Park Board to oppose this legislation and participated in a stakeholder meeting held at the State Capital on Tuesday, March 3, 2009. At the end of the meeting, there was agreement that the legislation was a bad idea and it was withdrawn. The legislation had not been introduced at the House so there was no companion bill to withdraw.

The following quotation is from the statement of opposition prepared jointly by the National Trust for Preservation and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM) that was presented at the meeting by Bonnie McDonald, Executive Director of PAM:

“The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are deeply concerned to learn about the proposal of S.F. No. 840, which requires municipal boards to approve any lease agreement for a hydroelectric facility of less than 100 megawatts. It is our opinion that this legislation will only harm Minnesota’s natural resources, and could have unintended consequences on proven and effective local government regulatory processes.

The Crown Hydro hydroelectric project is obviously one of the intended beneficiaries of this legislation, since this project’s request for use of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (“Park Board”) property located in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District near Mill Ruins Park was denied. Repeated challenges to this decision have only reinforced the appropriateness of the Park Board’s original determination to deny a permit for a new hydroelectric facility on Park Board land in a highly-visible and sensitive area of the riverfront that contains many natural and historic resources.

A study of the Crown Hydro project has determined that it would adversely affect important historic archaeological resources in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. For this reason, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota placed the archaeological resources of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District on our 2008 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places List. While we strongly support renewable energy production through alternative sources such as wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power, we do not support the destruction of our state’s limited and nonrenewable cultural resources for the creation of renewable energy.”


As a result of citizen pressure, the Board voted at the March 4, 2009, meeting on an expanded CAC charge:


They also voted for a one-year food concessions contract with Wheel Fun/Fun Time. General Manager Don Siggelkow presented this one-year contract to the Board without a competitive bid and he failed to follow Park Board procedures which require that contracts get approvals in committee BEFORE coming to the full Board.

Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson asked Don Siggelkow if the Wheel Fun agreement had been approved in committee and he said that it had been “discussed” in committee. When she pressed him again, he indicated that it had, which was misleading because the one-year contract with Wheel Fun/Fun time was NEVER voted on in committee as it should have been. So the board can chalk up another procedural violation.

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch

Letter of the day: Will Park Board take Calhoun paradise, rebuild a parking lot?

The following item appeared March 10 on the Star Tribune’s editorial pages as the letter-of-the-day:

Regarding the March 5 article “Windsurfers fear losing easy access to Lake Calhoun”: I have watched the windsurfers on Calhoun for the past 25 years. Their beauty and excitement entertain from April through November. It would be sad to push out this little bit of Hawaii from the lake with an ill-conceived reconstruction project.

– Jan Lane, Minneapolis


The following item regarding the March 4, 2009, Park Board meeting agenda was posted by Liz Wielinski on the Issues list on March 4:

This week the Park Board is starting around 6:30 as the board will be attending the Charter Commission meeting at City Hall.


Full Board vote on the Citizens Advisory Committee ( CAC ) for the Lake Harriet Concession area.

Vote on most current variation of the Park Dedication FeeVote on Contract with Wheel Fun to run the Concessions at Lake Harriet for the 2009 season ( can not see which committee this came from to be at the full board this week, not in any past meeting minutes )

Vote on amending Ordinance to extending liquor permit areas to include the community center and grounds in Loring Park


Vote on revised schematic for the East Phillips Community and Cultural Center and direction to staff to proceed with implementation


Donor Tributes agreement with the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks ( proceeds to be divided 50/50)
examples: New tree with a 6 month name bracelet, replacement guaranteed for first 2 years $5000-$7500
20 year bench with brass plaque on or near $25,000

Lease Agreement with the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks for 335 sq. ft. at the Historic Wirth House
some of the terms – $20,000 from 2008 Bike tour proceeds to furnish common areas – $11.95 per sq. ft. rent for first year, 3 % increase annually for 3 years – no utilities – no alterations to the structure but may do approved interior work up to $5000

– must allow for up to 4 tours per year of main level and basement area on weekends with the availability of a Friday if it is a school group

NRP agreement with Waite Park Neighborhood for 2 staff at $10/hr for 150 hours of extra programming.

To see the agenda in detail

Liz Wielinski

StarTribune: Windsurfers fear losing access to Lake Calhoun

The StarTribune is reporting that Twin Cities windsurfers may find their access to Lake Calhoun in jeopardy due to development plans the Park Board wants to pursue. The area used by windsurfers to prepare and launch might become too small for such use if planned parking lot modifcations are made. Wind surfers were forced off Lake Harriet more than a decade ago. Windsurfers are not happy with the plan.

Read the entire story on the StarTribune website.



Park Watch has been following the Park Board’s efforts to dispose of the 201 Building and the seven acres of land since the summer of 2007 when the Request for Proposals for the 201 Building was circulated by the brokers for the Park Board. The most recent Park Watch post on this subject was on October 15, 2008.

The 201 Building, also known as the failed skateboard park at Ft. Snelling, is the large, vacant building one passes on the way to the airport on Highway 55. It was purchased in 2000 with the intention of leasing it to the Wild Hockey team. But when the deal that was being negotiated by General Manager Don Siggelkow fell through, the Park Board was left with an empty building. During the entire eight years that the Park Board owned the building, it has never been occupied or earned any income for the Park Board. But while the building remained vacant, the Park Board was paying out annual interest on the bonds which had been sold to support the purchase. The 201 Building has the distinction of being a costly “enterprise” disaster. (Enterprise projects are supposed to earn money for the Park Board–not rack up expenses.)

With the signing of the purchase agreement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in October of 2007, progress was made in unloading this white elephant. On November 26, 2008, the Park Board closed on the first half of its sale of the 201 Building and land to the Boy Scouts. The sale price for this parcel–the east parcel–was $2,000,000 and included the building. After the $80,000 brokers’ fee and miscellaneous closing costs were deducted, the Park Board netted $1,910,425 on the sale.

The second half of the 201 property remains unsold. The Boy Scouts still have an option to purchase the second half of the 201 property–the west parcel–for $2,250,000. If this sale materializes, the Park Board will net approximately $2,160,000 after the $90,000 brokers’ fee is deducted. This figure added to the $1,910,425 for the east parcel totals $4,070,425.

But, if the Boy Scouts are unable to exercise their option to purchase the second parcel, then the Park Board will have been successful in unloading only one-half of this white elephant and will still be stuck with the unsold parcel.

At a Park Board meeting in August of 2006, it was estimated that at the time, the 201 Building had so far cost the Park Board $3,075,000. It is important to note that this figure, which included the $945,000 settlement figure for the lawsuits against the MPRB, did not take into account the accrued bond interest of approximately $575,611 or escalating legal fees paid to Brian Rice’s law firm. In reviewing the 201 Building’s legal fees (acquired through the MDGPA) from June of 2004 to December 31, 2008, the total for this period was approximately $271,226. With the addition of the $170,000 for brokers’ fees, the 201 Building’s total costs are approximately $4,091,800. And this $4,091,800 figure does not take into account the countless hours of staff time spent on this project over the eight years of its existence.

To be made whole again from this failed project, the Park Board needs to sell both parcels and recapture the entire $4,091,800 that this project is costing the Park Board and taxpayers.

Thus far, the only parties benefitting financially from this fiasco are the brokers and the attorneys.

Arlene Fried

Co-founder of Park Watch