Civic beat: Crown Hydro vote

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May 9, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Crown Hydro vote reaches Park Board

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board was scheduled to vote on an offer from Crown Hydro at its May 4 meeting, a few hours after this issue of The Journal went to press.

Crown Hydro has been trying for a dozen years to build a 3.2 megawatt hydroelectric facility above St. Anthony Falls on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The private company needs to get authorization from the Park Board to construct the underground facility, although it is also attempting to get the state Legislature to pass a bill that will force the Park Board to do so.

At the Park Board’s April 20 meeting, Crown Hydro lawyers and engineers gave a two-hour presentation to commissioners in hopes of getting them to sign off on the project.

Several Park Board commissioners, as well as Minneapolis City Council members, state legislators and neighbors oppose the project because they say it could dry up St. Anthony Falls and put public infrastructure at risk.  

For an update on the Park Board’s decision, go to journalmpls.com.

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Park Board denies free speech zones at Pride Fest

A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board committee on April 20 denied Twin Cities GLBT Pride an exclusive permit that would allow organizers of the annual Loring Park festival to station opposition in a “free speech zone.”

Several anti-gay activists attended last year’s festival, holding offensive signs, preaching against homosexuality and handing out offensive literature, said Twin Cities Pride Executive Director Dot Belstler.

Pride organizers last year tried unsuccessfully to get the Park Board to prohibit one protester from attending the festival. Pride has a pending lawsuit against the Park Board, which is not expected to be resolved before the June 25–26 event.

Belstler said she was willing to work with the Park Board as to where to place the free speech zone. She said organizers would guide protesters to that area, but in the event they would not be moved, organizers would ask for Park Police assistance. Pride pays a fee for police presence at the event.

Park Board lawyers wrote in a staff memo that Loring Park is a public forum, and the government in a public forum “is strictly limited in its ability to regulate private speech.”

“Yes, we would like to restrict them,” Commissioner Bob Fine said of the anti-gay protesters. “The question is, How do we start restricting? I think that’s what’s is really difficult. We are all offended by some of the statements that are being made.”

Belstler said she does not doubt the sincerity of Park Board commissioners saying they don’t like the anti-gay messages, but said they’re trusting Park Board lawyers who are giving them bad opinions. She said the Denver Pride Festival has free speech zones.

“Your refusal to compromise is costing the Minneapolis taxpayers an unconscionable amount of money in lawyer fees and court costs,” Belstler said. “When we prevail it will cost the Park Board even more.”

In an April 4 court order, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote of a potential compromise: “In theory, Twin Cities Pride could designate ‘free speech zones’ on the Pride Festival grounds in which anyone who wishes to distribute literature or display signage may do so.”

Belstler said that recommendation should have given the Park Board reason to grant the free speech zones.

“Do you serious think Federal Judge John Tunheim would suggest a compromise … if he did not think it was constitutional?” she said.

Pride organizers still have the right to deny anyone a booth at Loring Park. Loring Park has been home to Pride Fest for 33 years.

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Minneapolis joins elite list of bicycle-friendly cities

The League of American Bicyclists on April 29 gave Minneapolis a gold-level award for being a bicycle-friendly city. The gold award is the top honor from the bicycle advocacy group and only 13 other cities have the distinction.

“The city’s great investments in bike lanes, bicycling safety education, and encouragement programs have paid off for its residents. In fact, communities across the country are now looking at Minneapolis as a model,” said Bill Nesper, the organization’s Bicycle Friendly America program director.  

According to a city press release, Minneapolis will boast more than 86 miles of off-street trails and 91 miles of on-street bikes lanes by the end of 2011. The city is also expanding its Nice Ride bike-sharing program this summer.

Minneapolis had been designated a silver level city since 2008. Mankato and Rosemount were given honorable mentions at the award ceremony.

Minnesota is the fourth-ranked state for its bike friendliness, according to the League.

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Feds commit to pay half for Central Corridor

The federal government on April 26 signed an agreement to cover half the cost of the $957 million Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line.

Construction began on the line in 2010 and service is expected to begin in 2014. The 11-mile line will link the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis via Washington Avenue, University Avenue, the state Capitol and the University of Minnesota.

According to the Met Council, the project will create 3,400 engineering, construction, management and operations jobs before the trains begin running.

Reach Nick Halter @nhalter@mnpubs.com. Follow him on Twitter @NHalterJournals.