Heritage Bill lobbyists call for more University support

by Andrew Tellijohn

Several environmental lobbyist organizations gathered Tuesday on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis to voice support for the Mississippi River Heritage Bill.
And afterward, state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, asked the University to step up and do its part in assuring the river’s renovation and preservation.
The legislation would provide almost $64 million in bonds for restoring and protecting existing lands. The proposal includes $9.9 million to construct the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center at the National Historic Landmark Crosby “A” Mill in Minneapolis.
“It’s not a Minneapolis issue, it’s not a House issue, and it’s not a party issue,” Kahn said at the press conference. “It’s an issue that covers very much of the entire state.”
The proposed legislation is being reviewed separately in Senate and House committees.
The environmental groups, which included The Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Mississippi River and Natural Areas Project Steering Committee, also discussed The Greenways and Natural Areas Initiative. This citizens’ proposal would provide funding to encourage communities to develop local greenways and educational projects complementing individual regions of the river.
Kahn and leaders of several environmental research agencies and lobbyist groups lauded the history and beauty of the area. They said the area must be preserved because of its history and relevance to the state.
In the future, many groups want to see even more renovations to the area including connected bicycle paths and areas set aside for water sports, such as kayaking and rafting.
“It would be an opportunity to combine some recreational activities with everything else that is going on,” said George Dunn, vice chairman of the Mississippi Whitewater Park Development Corporation.
The plan is still being developed but the group is hopeful they will have some funding this year.
In an interview after the meeting, Kahn commented on the absence of University officials from the event.
“The University needs to join with the (river effort) as a responsible steward of the community,” she said. “It would be nice to see them as a full partner and participant,” she said.
Barbara Lukermann, senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute, attended the conference. In an interview later, she said anyone with an interest in the river can always do more regardless of University affiliation.
She also said land use policy advice and instruction on proper scientific techniques are clear ways the University could aid the river project.
Lukermann added that many University faculty, such as herself, are working behind the scenes individually, but their contributions aren’t widely publicized in the community.