Hydroelectric plant debate resumes

The park board and Crown Hydro have been in negotiations for 12 years.

John Hageman

After 12 years of stalled and failed negotiations, the Minneapolis Park Board is renewing debate on constructing a hydroelectric plant on the historic St. Anthony Falls.

Crown Hydro representatives will present their latest proposal to build a 3.2 megawatt facility on the land near the falls at a park board meeting today.

The resumption of negotiations comes while legislation that would bypass the board and allow construction on the facility moves through the House of Representatives, shifting the debate at the Capitol from environmental issues to concerns of local jurisdiction.

While proponents of the project say it will power more than 2,000 homes in Minneapolis using clean energy, the park board has opposed it, claiming it would dry up the historic falls.

The board plans to discuss terms and conditions today, including assurances that the fallsâÄô flow will remain at 2,000 cubic feet per second, and the company would be responsible for any damage to the falls, according to park board President John Erwin.

Crown HydroâÄôs attorney Tim Keane said the company is âÄúsweetening the dealâÄù for the park board, increasing the annual royalty by $20,000 from the March 22 offer. The new proposal will also include a portion of revenues from electrical production.

Depending on what terms and conditions the park board discusses Wednesday, Crown Hydro could revise its offer, Keane said.

Legislative opposition

Because it would be built on the Mississippi River, Crown Hydro needed a federal license to build on the waterway, which it received in 1999.

But after 12 years of failed negotiations to build on the adjacent land on the west bank of the river, Crown Hydro decided to pursue legislation.

The bill, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, would not require âÄúconsent of any kindâÄù from a city or municipal board to build a federally approved facility like the Crown Hydro project.

Some local and state officials are concerned that the bill infringes on the cityâÄôs jurisdiction over local issues.

One of four representatives to take his name off the bill, Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said he supports the Crown Hydro project as a clean source of renewable energy but opposes taking away local control.

âÄúThe way that this one was written was basically clubbing the city of Minneapolis over the head,âÄù Nelson said.

Two senators also removed their names from the companion bill.

The House bill was sent back to the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee by a narrow vote last week.

The Minneapolis City Council formalized its opposition to such legislation at its full meeting Friday. council Vice President Robert Lilligren said the resolution allows city council members to testify against bills that infringe on local control. 

Meanwhile, some representatives have questioned why the bill continues to move forward despite the fact that the park board and Crown Hydro have re-opened negotiations.

Beard said the Senate is âÄúbiding its timeâÄù with the companion bill while the two sides reconvene.

But at last weekâÄôs committee hearing, Beard seemed unwilling to table the legislation in case talks do break down.

In 2009, the two parties left the Legislature with the intention to continue negotiations, but a deal was never reached. Erwin said itâÄôs difficult to determine whether this time around will yield different results, considering there are four park board members who werenâÄôt around two years ago.

Beard, who hoped that introducing the legislation would bring the two sides together for discussion, said heâÄôs âÄúencouragedâÄù by WednesdayâÄôs meeting.

âÄúFolks are having coffee and theyâÄôre talking,âÄù Beard said at a committee hearing last week. âÄúI like that.âÄù