Council delays vote on zoning for steam plant

Kamariea Forcier

Minneapolis City Council members postponed a vote Friday on a zoning ordinance that could prevent the University from renovating its steam plant.
The zoning amendment would prohibit coal-fired power plants that do not rely on river water for processing from operating on the Mississippi River in an area deemed critical in the city of Minneapolis.
The University’s Southeast steam plant relies on coal as its primary fuel source, a practice that the University plans to continue after the plant is renovated.
City Council members delayed a vote on the issue because of a request from Tom Reagan, chairman of the University’s Board of Regents, said City Council member Joan Campbell. Reagan asked the council to review several points regarding the zoning amendment with University officials before a decision is made.
Sue Markham, vice president of Facilities Management, said in a letter to City Council members that the University would not comply with the city zoning amendment without a judicial order.
The University claims it is not liable to the city’s regulations because of a charter written into the state constitution granting the University autonomous rule.
Campbell said there is reason to believe the charter may not pertain to this case because the steam plant property was purchased by the University, rather than being part of the original land grant.
“We expect that the University will sue us (if the amendment is passed),” she said.
Campbell said the city has tried to work with the University to get the steam plant off the river. The City Council offered the University $4 million to “take the plant off the University’s hands” and have a new plant built elsewhere, Campbell said. But the University wanted more than that, she added.
The City Council meets again June 7, when they could vote on the amendment. Nine votes are needed for it to become a part of city ordinance. “There’s strong support for it in the council,” Campbell said.