Report finds hazards at UMore Park

The U doesn’t expect the findings to delay development plans for the 5,000-acre land.

Christopher Aadland

Crumbling building foundations, scattered debris and contaminated soil are among the main areas of concern listed in a recent report on the University of Minnesota’s UMore Park property.

The Minnesota Department of Health released the report late last month that revealed the land’s potential health hazards left over by a WWII-era gunpowder factory on the site.

But the University, whose data contributed to the assessment, said it was aware of the potential contaminants and said they won’t yet impact development plans for the area.

The University’s Board of Regents approved plans in 2008 to develop part of the 5,000-acre land located in Dakota County into a self-sustaining community for 20,000 to 30,000 people over the next three decades.

University Services spokesman Tim Busse said the University isn’t in a hurry to clean up the hazardous materials left behind by the former Gopher Ordnance Works facility until development plans move forward.

“The understanding all along was that there was going to be some work that was going to be needed to be done,” he said.

The report highlighted hazards that could endanger the health and safety of the public, like soil contaminants such as lead, mercury, arsenic and asbestos.

But the report found that the most urgent thing that needs to be addressed is the dangers associated with the remainders of the former gunpowder facilities, like crumbling foundations and exposed pits on the site.

Emily Hansen, co-author of the assessment and MDH environmental research scientist, said those factors can make it dangerous for onsite workers.

She also said it’s clear that people have trespassed, and a fence should be built to help keep people away from the structures.

The health department recommended that the structures and building materials left from the facilities be removed before there is any cleanup of the chemical contaminants.

Though the report didn’t find any unsafe contamination levels in the area’s groundwater supply, Hansen said, continued monitoring is necessary to ensure that the water remains safe and that there are no contaminants they haven’t yet tested for.

Although addressing the chemical soil contamination wasn’t a top priority in the report, Hansen said it would be necessary if people lived on the land.

“We definitely would look at it differently if there were children on the site or opportunities for more contact with the soil,” she said.

Since the University anticipated finding hazards on the site from the get-go, Busse said, cleanup costs were included in the project’s overall budget.

But to what extent the property will need to be cleaned depends on how its individual parcels are developed in the future, Hansen said.

For now, Busse said there’s no timeline for when the University will implement recommendations for the site or conduct testing on a wider scale.

“Much like remediation, any additional testing or investigation will be performed as needed,” he said. “If land use or ownership changes, then obviously we’d do more investigation.”

Although some cleanup will be required for the project to move forward, there shouldn’t be any delays with the long-term plan, Busse said.

University Regent John Frobenius, who was on the board when it approved the initial development plans, said though it’s unknown how the report will affect development plans, the University should be cautious when spending money on the property.

“I for one am hopeful the University can limit its capital expenditures in that area,” he said.