Park Board likely to nix Mill Ruins power plant

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May 3, 2004 // UPDATED 1:27 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

A controversial proposal to build a new hydroelectric plant on St. Anthony Falls' west bank is in troubled waters as it heads to a key May 5 vote.

In the face of stiff opposition from riverfront residents, Crown Hydro appears to lack the needed Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board support.

Crown Hydro is asking for a 50-year lease, with a 50-year renewal, for Park Board land in Mill Ruins Park near the Stone Arch Bridge. The long-term lease is equivalent to a land sale and requires a two-thirds Park Board majority for approval, or six of nine votes.

Four Commissioners -- or one more than necessary -- say they will vote against Crown Hydro or are leaning against it.

Commissioner Vivian Mason, whose district includes St. Anthony Falls' west bank, and Commissioner John Erwin said they would oppose the lease.

Commissioner Rochelle Berry Graves said she is "really leaning towards voting no." Commissioner Annie Young is "wavering" and "leaning no," she said.

Commissioner Marie Hauser is out of town and said she would not return in time for the vote. Her absence would, in effect, be a vote against the plant.

Under the proposed deal, Crown Hydro would make improvements to Mill Ruins Park, give the Park Board a one-time $100,000 payment and make $30,000 annual lease payments.

Erwin said the return to the Park Board is not worth the risk. Mason said she had concerns about diverting water from St. Anthony Falls. Further, Crown Hydro had not demonstrated enough community support for the project, she said.

Young, a Green Party member, said she is torn by the vote. "I preach and preach and preach about renewable energy all the time," she said, yet called the 100-year lease "excruciatingly long ... if things go wrong with this."

Commissioner Carol Kummer is the only board member to indicate support for the project.

Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, whose district includes St. Anthony Falls' east bank, said he was undecided. Prior to the vote, he planned to meet with a group of St. Anthony Falls residents organized by Brighton Development's Peggy Lucas, he said.

Commissioner Bob Fine said he is sitting on the fence. "The only thing that I can say it that my own feeling is that it is not real certain that it will pass," he said.

Park Board President Jon Olson said he had no comment on the Crown Hydro proposal.

Work on Crown Hydro began more than a decade ago. While the hydroelectric plant has been slow to become reality, high-end housing and the new Mill City Museum have sprung up on the riverbank, and the new Guthrie Theater will soon follow.

Under the current plan, Crown Hydro would reopen the historical "headrace" canal above the falls. The canal once carried the water that powered the city's west bank mill district. Now, it would carry water to a new 3.2-megawatt hydroelectric plant that could power up to 3,000 homes.

Crown Hydro backers tout its renewable energy and its contribution to the interpreting the area's history. Nearby residents say they have concerns about the plant's impact on the park and their neighborhood -- everything from reduced flow over St. Anthony Falls to noise, vibration and the impact on the area's archeology.

Crown Hydro representatives say a detailed operations agreement would address neighbors' concerns. Neighbors say they don't want the

Park Board to sign a lease until the details are worked out.