Hydro Resolution Bumped At First Meeting Of New Board

The following article by Cristof Traudes, which recaps a January 4, 2010 Park Board agenda item, appeared in the Southwest Journal:


Less than an hour into its very first meeting, the new Park Board got into a lively debate over a decades-old issue: whether to support a hydro power project along the Mississippi River.

The last Park Board shared a consensus that a privately owned power plant at St. Anthony Falls — such as the long-stalled, controversial Crown Hydro project — would not work. But with a sustainability goal to get the parks system off the grid, the board also requested information on public ownership of such a power plant.

Based on a subsequent report — which said hydro power would be the least expensive of three alternative energy options — Commissioner Jon Olson pitched a lengthy resolution that would have had the Park Board declare support for “public ownership of a hydro facility in Mill Ruins Park” and encourage “the next board to acquire the rights of water use, and authorization and resources to complete construction.”

Most of Olson’s colleagues on the new board showed little interest.

“I think this looks like a version of Crown Hydro, and we’ve already voted that down several times,” Commissioner Anita Tabb said, kicking off what became an occasionally fiery discussion.

Vice President Annie Young suggested the resolution had been written by a constituent, which Olson took immediate exception to.

“Whoa, excuse me,” he responded. “… Your comments, I find them just outrageous.”

That divisiveness is what Commissioner Scott Vreeland said was turning him off. Vreeland said he is all for exploring hydro power and other alternative energy, but by passing the motion, the Park Board would have moved ahead with something that’s continued to split allegiances.

The resolution, which was set to be moved to the Operations and Environment Committee, was instead voted down 6 –3. Commissioners Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Olson were the sole supporters.

Before the vote, Kummer — who has been supportive of Crown Hydro in the past — warned her new colleagues that perceptions outside of the Park Board are different from the reality within.

“I’d hate to have us start off on the wrong foot,” she said.

Also noted during the discussion was that the issue could easily brought back at the committee level, where Olson is chairman of Operations and Environment.