Group breaks into East Bank steam tunnels

Chad Hamblin

University police are searching for several people who broke into the East Bank steam tunnels on Aug. 8 around midnight.

In a surveillance video taken by a security camera, one female and three shirtless males appear to explore the area with flashlights.

Nothing was stolen, but the suspects caused about $5,000 in damage, according to a police report.

“In an effort to improve security we’ve added many alarms and motion-activated cameras in the system,” University Deputy Police Chief Steve Johnson said. “If you break in and start traveling through the tunnels, we’re gonna know who you are.”

Ken Mingo, general foreman of the Steam Utilities Energy Management, said people always try to break into the tunnels.

“They’ve tried really hard to get in,” Mingo said. “It’s a challenge for them.”

Mingo said there are more than 15 miles of tunnels underneath the Twin Cities campus. Those tunnels pump high pressure steam to about 100 University buildings, he said.

The steam can be used to heat water in the dormitories and supply processed steam for labs, among other things, he said.

Mingo said the people who explore the tunnels rarely damage anything, and he said he worries more about someone getting hurt.

“If they broke a valve off or tampered with equipment, they could get hurt or killed,” he said

Action Squad is an urban exploration group that started in 1996. The group has visited many underground tunnels around the Twin Cities, but formed specifically to explore the East Bank steam tunnels.

The founder of Action Squad, a University graduate who identified himself as Max Action, said via e-mail that the East Bank steam tunnels are one of the “coolest” tunnel systems around. Max said he has visited the tunnels dozens of times, but would not recommend going there anymore.

“They now have plenty of motion sensors, cameras, locks, et cetera down there,” he wrote. “And these days, (the police) actually respond when you set off an alarm,” he said

The suspects broke the entrance to the steam tunnels and also damaged three metal doors, totaling $5,000 worth of damage, according to the police report.

According to Max, Action Squad does not vandalize any of the places it explores because that leads to increased security.

“Plus, it’s just boring,” he wrote. “I’d rather find a more elegant way in than simply breaking down a door.”

Although Max said he knows the danger of exploring underground tunnels, he said skill, education, planning and luck help him stay safe.

“Hell, everyone takes risks of some kind in pursuit of what they care about or enjoy,” he wrote.

“We just happen to enjoy rooftops, caves, tunnels, abandoned structures and other places that people aren’t

supposed to be getting into,” he said, “and find our desire to

experience these places to be more compelling than the array

of counter-arguments that are supposed to dissuade us

– including the potential dangers.”

The surveillance video can be seen on the University Police Web site.

Johnson said people who can identify the suspects in the video should call the police at (612) 624-9560.

Skateboarders

Police responded to a complaint of 50 skateboarders near the Classroom Office Building on Saturday.

When police arrived on the scene, there were more than 200 people skating off railings and rooftops, according to a police report.

A group of people started shouting obscenities at the police and spitting on them, Johnson said.

There were many underage people drinking beer and there appeared to be several parents among the crowd, Johnson said.

The crowd dispersed when police squads from St. Paul and St. Anthony arrived, according to the report.

Disturbance

A cab driver flagged police down on a disturbance Aug. 10 around 3 a.m., according to a police report.

The police saw a man dragging a struggling female into a doorway, Johnson said.

The police ordered the man at gunpoint to get down on

the ground and called for back-up.

Police then found out the man was the woman’s boyfriend and was trying to keep her from driving drunk, Johnson said.

“It was a good thing to check out,” he said.

Lawnmower

Police saw a man running down University Avenue pushing a lawnmower Sunday.

The man told police his employer fired him, so he was taking his lawnmower to a pawn shop to get some cash, according to a report.