Minneapolis riverfront project hits DNR snag

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December 26, 2012 // UPDATED 1:30 pm - January 7, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

Correction: Hall's Island was not dredged, it was filled into the east bank of the river 

A new plan to develop the riverfront in Northeast Minneapolis has run into an obstacle.

One of the immediate and significant projects of the RiverFirst Initiative is to restore an island at the former Scherer Bros. Lumber site, just upstream of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board already owns the site and has cleared it for development of parkland and perhaps private development. But it needs a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permit to restore the island.

The DNR, however, said that’s not going to happen, and even told the Park Board to stop using resources on restoring the island project.

“Please be advised that we are not able to authorize island creation in the Mississippi River in Minneapolis due to the prohibition of placing fill in a public water to create upland. We have consistently denied other such proposals over previous years and decades for the same reasons,” wrote DNR hydrologist Jack Gleason in a letter to the Park Board. “We strongly recommend that no further public resources be expended on this proposal.”

The Park Board is considering what to do next. That could include making a request that the Minnesota Legislature grant the project an exemption, said Bruce Chamberlain assistant superintendent of planning.

“They have very specific rules that they need to follow,” Chamberlain said. “Thankfully in Minnesota we have strong environmental legislation that disallows bad things to happen, but we feel in this case — as in other projects — it also disallows good things that could happen.”

Hall's Island disappeared in the 1960s when it was filled into the east bank of the river. 

Chamberlain said restoring the island would provide a habitat for migrating birds, block strong river currents so that a beach could be created on the shoreline and also set up a cove for canoes and kayaks. Boardwalks would connect the island to the shoreline.

Earlier plans for a pool barge and ice skating rink on the island have been dropped, Chamberlain said.

The RiverFirst Initiative anticipates the creation of the Scherer Bros. park in the next four years, so it would be one of the first of many projects under the initiative.

Park Board to begin offering free swimming lessons, plus boost lifeguard hours

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board plans to begin offering free swimming lessons in 2013 and add more lifeguards to city beaches under an 11th hour budget addition from Park Board President John Erwin.

In recent years, kids have drowned in Minneapolis lakes because they didn’t know how to swim and because beaches didn’t have lifeguards. Erwin originally wanted to roll out a $225,000 summer camp program that taught kids to swim, fish and cook, but because of budget constraints, is offering a swimming lesson-only proposal.

“What we recognized is an increasing population of kids in certain places that don’t have an opportunity to get swimming lessons, so we are trying to fulfill that need,” Erwin said.

The Park Board plans to offer free, late-morning swimming lessons with transportation from recreation centers to Wirth Lake and Lake Nokomis. Erwin had originally proposed adding lessons to Harriet or Calhoun, but said budget constraints and inadequate storage facilities wouldn’t allow for lessons at one of those lakes.

The Park Board also added $68,000 to the lifeguard budget, which adds about 8,000 lifeguard hours. Erwin said that the money would staff lifeguards seven days a week at Harriet, Wirth and Nokomis.

The lessons and lifeguards together will cost about $92,000.

Budget passes with 3 percent hike

As was expected, Park Board commissioners on Dec. 12 approved a 3 percent tax levy hike. The tax levy passed on a 7-2 vote, with Anita Tabb (District 4) and Bob Finn (at-large) voting against the hike.

In addition to adding free swimming lessons and lifeguards, the 3 percent levy increase also maintains recreation center hours across the city, plants 5,000 trees, adds $300,000 for parkway paving, continues aquatic invasive species inspections and increases staffing for the Night Owls program.

The 2013 tax levy will be $48.6 million, up from $47.2 million in 2012.