The following article by Nick Halter was published May 23, 2011 on the web site of the Downtown Journal:
CROWN HYDRO PULLS PROPOSAL AFTER TWEAKS BY PARK BOARD
Crown Hydro told the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on May 30 not to bother voting on a letter of intent that would have allowed an unknown investor to buy the hydroelectric project and partner with the Park Board to operate the facility.
Crown Hydro attorney Todd Guerrero said the Park Board and Crown Hydro had together drafted a letter of intent on May 13. But on May 16 — 48 hours before the Park Board was set to vote on the letter — Park Board attorneys made substantial changes to the document that made the project commercially unreasonable, Guerrero said.
Most notably, the changed letter of intent gave the Park Board control over the facility from June 15 to September 15 every year — a provision that would allow the Park Board to close off the turbines and send more water over St. Anthony Falls.
Gurerro chided the Park Board’s late-game maneuver, but said Crown Hydro would continue to try to negotiate with commissioners and staff and explore other ways to move the project along.
“They made their choice,” he said. “We’re going to have to evaluate all of our options.”
The earlier letter of intent — before it was changed on May 16 — would have allowed the Park Board to enter into the project as a minority owner and would have required Crown Hydro owner Bill Hawks to sell his stake in the company to a new investor.
Hawks is a Republican fundraiser whose Lake Minnetonka mansion recently faced foreclosure, according to a Star Tribune report.
Guerrero said Hawks was willing to sell his stake at the Park Board’s request, but the changes to the letter of intent made the project impossible to sell.
“Mr. Hawks has spent millions and millions of his own money on this project,” Guerrero said.
Before the Park Board voted against executing the letter of intent, commissioners heard from Minneapolis residents on both sides of the issue.
Again, residents who live near the falls showed up to voice their opposition to the 3.2 megawatt facility that would be built underground on the west bank of the Mississippi River. They raised concern over the aesthetics of the falls as well as the structural integrity of the underground turbines.
“The closer you look at this project, the riskier it gets,” said Dick Gillespie, 10-year resident of the Stone Arch Lofts. “It would be much easier to support if it was clear all the homework was done.”
Commissioners also heard testimony from residents who showed up to support the project, touting it as a good source of renewable energy and a revenue generator for the Park Board.