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Monday, March 20, 2023

St. Paul City Council denies stop-work order against manmade islands

In St. Paul’s biggest wetland, seven manufactured islands comprised of dredged soils will continue to be constructed.

This month, a coalition of advocates for Pig’s Eye Lake, a 628-acre riverine off the Mississippi River, suffered a setback when the St. Paul City Council voted 6-1 against their request for a stop-work order that would have prevented the state Department of Natural Resources from continuing the $15.6 million project within the waterway.

As of a September project update published by Ramsey County, construction of the seven islands was about 25% complete. Since 2012, the county has collaborated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to campaign for shoreline restoration and improvements to land and aquatic environment at Pig’s Eye Lake Park, which for decades functioned as a renowned unpermitted dumping site.

The islands, which are due to be finished in 2025, are anticipated to offer habitat for turtles and shorebirds while minimizing coastline erosion via wind buffering, but opponents have questioned whether the dredged soils would sustain healthy plant and fauna. According to Army Corps authorities, the dredged earth is being topped with two feet of topsoil in order to establish a bird habitat.

Environmental activists from Friends of the Mississippi River and the previous head of the Audubon Society’s Upper Mississippi River Campaign have supported the Army Corps’ approach.

Stop Work Request

Tom Dimond and the Friends of Pig’s Eye Lake Park petitioned the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to issue a stop-work order for the construction project. As the project is governed and sanctioned by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, the proposal caused some misunderstanding among the board.

Dimond highlighted, however, that the city retains authority over buildings constructed above the normal high water line.

The islands will protrude over that level, he added and should be evaluated for compliance with Mississippi River flood plain and “critical area” standards. These criteria would then prompt a site plan review by the city, a review of the grading permit, and public hearings before the city’s Planning Commission.

The Board of Zoning Appeals decided 4-0 to reject his request for a stop-work order on September 7, after three separate hearings to review it.

Request municipal council

Dimond and the Friends organization appealed the decision to the city council, who denied the appeal on November 16 by a vote of 6-1, despite Council Member Jane Prince’s vociferous opposition.

Friends of Pig’s Eye Lake has failed to establish that the BZA erred in any of its facts, conclusions, or processes, according to Council President Amy Brendmoen, who submitted the first move to dismiss the appeal.

Prince pointed out that the county and state failed to conduct a meaningful community dialogue before to initiating the project, did not reach out to local district councils, and never secured an official resolution of support from the city.

Prince, speaking from prepared materials before to the vote, said, “This project, located in St. Paul’s biggest lake, is the latest attempt by government entities to dump toxic materials into what the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency designated as a Minnesota Superfund site in 1989.”

“During the 20th century, this was the state’s greatest unpermitted dump site,” said Prince, citing recorded sewage sludge ash from the Metropolitan wastewater treatment facility and dumping by major firms that were originally located on the East Side of the city. I have consistently criticized the inadequate public procedure used by the corps and the county.

Mitra Jalali, a member of the council, was troubled by the depiction of this decision as one to contaminate the water. This is for the continuation of the DNR’s resource management process. A great deal of technical skill has been applied to the review stages… I believe it is vital that we correctly describe what is occurring.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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