Crown Hydro vote delayed until May 5

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April 19, 2004 // UPDATED 1:19 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Meetings about power plant planned for Mill District residents

Riverfront residents successfully delayed a vote on a new hydroelectric plant at St. Anthony Falls' west bank.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will reconsider Crown Hydro's lease request Wednesday, May 5. Several Park Board Commissioners asked the project's backers to use the extra time to meet directly with Downtown residents and answer their questions.

Critics, notably new Downtown riverfront residents, say the project would turn a park into an industrial area and divert water from St. Anthony Falls, detracting from its aesthetics. They raised concerns that plant vibrations could affect nearby residences.

Project supporters say Crown Hydro creates renewable energy and improves the area's historic interpretation. (The plant would be built underground, and developers say they will pay for aesthetic improvements to the site.) They expressed willingness to negotiate on waterflow issues and to provide more information on residents' vibration concerns.

Crown Hydro's initial plan guaranteed the power plant would shut off when St. Anthony Falls' flow hit 300 cubic feet per second (cfs), or a few inches over the top of the spillway.

Park Board Commissioner John Erwin said he wanted to set a 500 cfs minimum and asked that the Park Board have flow control during peak visitor times -- 4-9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends.

"For me to vote on it, we need to have some control," Erwin said.

Peter Grills, a Crown Hydro attorney, agreed to work with the Park Board on Erwin's proposal.

The Park Board and Crown Hydro would finalize a number of details through an operations and maintenance agreement, Park Board staff said. Some opponents said they did not want the Park Board to sign a lease until they had the details worked out.

Crown Hydro proposes building a 3.2-megawatt plant on Park Board land. Crown Hydro needs a Park Board lease to get its federal license. It plans to reopen the historic canal, divert water from above the falls and drop it through a new powerhouse built west of Portland Avenue near the Stone Arch Bridge.

Approximately two-dozen opponents turned out to the April 7 Park Board meeting, and approximately 10 spoke against the project.

Tyrone P. Bujold, 117 Portland Ave., said he and his wife had moved in a month ago, and thought they were moving in next to a park, not an industrial area. He gave the Board a petition with 112 signatures of Crown Hydro opponents, residents of 117 Portland, and 600, 700 and 750 S. 2nd St.

Grills said Crown Hydro's underground design would have a park aesthetic, not an industrial one.

The Park Board held a public hearing on the project March 17 but came under fire for not providing more advance notice. Crown Hydro had several renewable energy advocates speak for the project at that meeting.

The Park Board's vote delay means Crown Hydro missed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license application deadline. The Park Board voted to send FERC a letter supporting Crown Hydro's extension request.

Crown Hydro is asking for a 50-year lease with a 50-year renewal. Park Board approval will require six of nine votes.

Crown Hydro open houses April 24, 26

Crown Hydro is hosting two open houses to allow Downtown residents to ask questions about the proposed hydroelectric plant.

The meetings are Saturday, April 24, noon-2 p.m. at the Winter Garden in The Depot at Washington Avenue and 3rd Street South and Monday, April 26, 5-7 p.m. at the Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd St.

The public will have the opportunity to circulate among various tables to review blueprints, technical construction diagrams, aerial photos and river volume charts, and ask questions directly to project experts.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff will attend and answer questions. Crown Hydro proponents will provide site tours.

Crown Hydro investor Bil Hawks said the underground hydroplant would operate quietly and not disturb neighbors. One of the best ways to address concerns, "is to open the doors and let people directly question and directly view the actual ideas," he said.

(The Minnesota Historical Society, which runs the museum, is renting the space for the March 26 meeting, not taking a position on the project.)