Carlson sees what we’ve been seeing all along

The steam plant is really ugly. I mean, uuug-ly! Have you ever seen it? It’s the rusty brown cluster of four smokestacks visible from the 35W bridge. If you’ve ever walked across the 10th Avenue bridge from the West Bank, it’s pretty hard to miss.
Governor Arne Carlson thinks it’s ugly too. In fact, he announced last week that he now favors removing the plant from the Mississippi River, and he’s got $6 million to back up he means what he says.
Actually, he didn’t really say that it was ugly. “The governor believes that the Mississippi riverfront can be a valuable recreational resource in downtown Minneapolis and wants to save the riverfront for future generations to use,” said Carlson’s spokesman Brian Dietz last week.
Translation: The damn thing’s in the way of Carlson’s stadium!
I happen to live a few blocks from the steam plant, where, just across the river, Carlson has his mouth watering over plans for a new stadium. In case you haven’t seen the computerized “dream sketches” that detail the new stadium, it’s designed with a clear riverfront view from home plate.
What better way to show off the beauty of Minneapolis than to have a riverfront stadium? Fans can watch the game, eat a Hormel hot dog, lick their Kemps ice cream cone, and look across the green field across the great Mississippi to the — ugly brown steam plant.
Suddenly, Carlson is encouraging community beautification. Carlson also announced last week to Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton that he supports redevelopment of the milling district that also serves as a backdrop to the new stadium vista.
Now that I’ve outlined Carlson’s plans, allow me to let off a little steam myself. For four years, the University’s Southeast Steam Plant has been a publicly debated issue. Students, faculty, some state legislators, and even government organizations such as the Minneapolis City Planning Commission and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have had a tough time with the issue.
For four years, they’ve debated whether to allow the University to use the 92-year-old facility to heat the campus with the coal-burning, sulfur- and carbon-dioxide emitting steam plant. For four years, Carlson has remained silent. He never proposed to help move the steam plant, even though the University regents said they would consider moving it with extra money. He never proposed to offer money, even after some in private industry came forward with alternative plans.
Now, like a savior riding in on his white horse, Carlson suddenly has a revelation to move the plant after the city-mandated Jan. 1 deadline to do so. A bill was introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate to prove that Carlson is serious, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
Though I applaud the governor for his power and his willingness to move the steam plant, I simultaneously shake my head in disgust.
Governor Carlson, please stop and take a deep breath. Inhale, and inhale deeply.
The steam plant you propose to move emits between 385 and 606 tons of sulfur dioxide each year. It burns mostly natural gas, but still releases heavy metals into the air we breathe each day. You and Minneapolis citizens inhale 16 pounds of mercury and 16 pounds of lead each year.
If I would have known these facts before moving to this city, I probably would have been better off in Los Angeles — which has hazardous air quality on any given day.
If we are to move the steam plant off-river and enact guidelines about what kinds of fuels it can use, let’s do it because we inhale every day. Let’s not do it because we support recreational sports.
Carlson and his steam plant idea makes me think of the evil Montgomery Burns from “The Simpsons.” Just as the citizens of Springfield are led by the profit-hungry owner of the community’s nuclear power plant, we too are vulnerable to decision-makers who have power over a hazardous facility that both endangers our health and protects us from the cold.
As far as I’m concerned, Carlson has already left Minnesota citizens in the cold. His decision-making proves that he is interested in aesthetic and environmental concerns when it is in his personal interest to do so.
Maybe in a few years, I’ll be sitting in the stands of the still-unfunded, un-roofed Twins stadium and look across the river as I bite into my pretzel. I’ll kick my feet back over the chair in front of me, put my sunglasses on, and thank my lucky stars that the governor moved the ugly steam plant from my view.
But then again, who knows if I or the Twins will be in Minnesota to enjoy it?
Sara Goo is a copy editor at the Daily.