Regent, mayor willtry to compromise

Bei Hu

University officials hope a proposed meeting between Board of Regents Chairman Thomas Reagan and Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton will reconcile differences about the future of an outdated steam plant.
At the meeting, Sayles Belton and Reagan would explore the possibility of reaching a compromise on whether the University should renovate its existing steam plant or build a new plant at an off-river site.
“I think it will be the kind of meeting where they can look at whether or not realistically they can come to terms on this,” said Ann O’Loughlin, University community relations coordinator.
Mary Pattock, the mayor’s communications director, confirmed that such a meeting is being arranged.
The University owns the 93-year-old southeast steam plant facility located by the Stone Arch Bridge. The plant heats and cools both Minneapolis campuses and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The University’s plan to refurbish the outdated plant, approved by the board last January, has found considerable opposition in City Hall. Critics oppose the steam plant’s riverfront location and say the University might continue to use coal as the major fuel in the renovated plant, causing more pollution than a plant that would burn primarily natural gas.
To summarize Sayles Belton’s stance on the issue, Pattock said the mayor “feels that the steam plant is an inappropriate use, and certainly not the best use, of the Mississippi Riverfront.”
In the controversy, the mayor has sided with Joan Campbell, the city council member who represents the ward that contains the steam plant.
Campbell wants the University to build a new steam plant off-river, and open the river bank to public recreation. Last March, she introduced an ordinance that could potentially bar the University from renovating the existing steam plant on the Mississippi River.
The University has not openly ruled out the possibility of an off-river steam plant, which it believes will be more costly than renovating the existing facility. But it has insisted that an organization find a 15-acre site for a new plant, pay for the relocation, and take responsibility for the southeast steam plant. These requests might cost $17 million, according to a recent Star Tribune article.
O’Loughlin and Pattock remained tight-lipped about the details of the proposed meeting, and declined to comment on its potential effect on the renovation plan.
Steven Bosacker, executive director of the Board of Regents’ Office, declined to associate the proposed meeting with Campbell’s zoning ordinance. “Regent Reagan just wants to continue to explore the options, and just see what the mayor is at on the whole issue,” Bosacker said.
Although planning of the meeting only began about two weeks ago, O’Loughlin said, “The intent here all along has been to amicably settle this, if possible.”
She added that the University has extended its deadline for the city to agree to buy the southeast steam plant. The University set the original July 15 deadline in anticipation of obtaining an air emission permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in July. The agency will take up the issue at an August meeting.
No date has been set for the meeting between Sayles Belton and Reagan. However, Bosacker said the two sides expect to meet in August.