Good-bye to the back nine


The Park Board will hold a final public meeting on July 20 at Nokomis Community Center to decide what should be done with Hiawatha Golf Course.  Currently the Park Board is pumping millions of gallons of water from the golf course into Lake Hiawatha. Of course this water then returns through the water table back to the Golf Course and then is pumped out again in a never-ending cycle. It barely keeps the water table manageable and does help prevent some flooding of basements in neighboring homes.
Lake Hiawatha is returning to the state that it was in when it was first discovered by European explorers. On the first maps of the area in the early 19th century, the area was called Mud Lake because it was a swamp and wetland. Housing in Minneapolis was built all the way to Richfield by the first decade of the 20th century, but no housing was built around Mud Lake, now called Rice Lake, because it was swampland. In 1929 Theodore Wirth dredged the lake and creek and created the park we enjoy today. The city renamed it Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek.
The lake and creek are much higher today than they were 50 years ago. The water level at the storm sewer at the north end of the lake used to be low enough so a person could walk in it all the way to Lake Street. Today, the water level is at least 4 feet higher. Storm sewers that empty into Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek deposit silt and sand and, by raising the lake bed and creek bed, the deposits raise the water level. There are piles of sand at some of the storm sewer outlets that empty into Minnehaha Creek.
There is a dam at the outlet of Lake Hiawatha to Minnehaha Creek at 27th Avenue that keeps the water level artificially high, raising the water table and causing flooding of basements and the golf course.
It seems obvious that if the Park Board seriously wanted to stop pumping water out of the golf course and prevent flooding, then they should lower the outlet of Lake Hiawatha by dredging the creek and eliminating the dam. We have been arguing that for over a year in Southside Pride.
The Park Board has commissioned Barr Engineering to do two studies of the problem at a cost of $158,747.42 and $179,460.00.
One of the conclusions from their latest draft study released on Feb. 28, 2017, was that dredging 2000 feet of the Creek would result in lowering the water table by one foot. And, they conclude, that would seriously reduce the risk of flooding in the area.
In March of 2016 we wrote in Southside Pride: “I wrote to Tillges Excavating and asked how much they would charge to dredge a creek, digging a trench 4 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 1.3 miles long (about the distance from 28th Ave to the Falls).  They said, ‘It would all depend on the conditions. For example if it’s wet conditions you could get as high as 100,000.00 or even higher. I just bid a dig for electric trench one mile long and that bid was for dig and back fill that estimate was 85,000.00. I’d guess if it’s good conditions you’d be looking at 55,000.00 that would be also be spreading out the excess dirt in a reasonable distance from the creek bed.’ ”
The Park Board recognizes dredging the creek would be the solution to the problem, but they argue it is too difficult to get permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers: “Obtaining the necessary permits and approvals to alter lakes, streams, wetlands, and floodplains is difficult in Minnesota. Any proposed alterations to Lake Hiawatha and/or Minnehaha Creek may be denied by one or several of the agencies with jurisdiction.”
Did they get the necessary permits when they built the dam at 27th Avenue? Did they get the necessary permits when they built storm sewers to empty sand and silt into Minnehaha Creek at every street that crosses the creek?
One of their proposals is to cut a new path for Minnehaha Creek through the back nine. Don’t they think they’ll have to get permits for changing the path of a natural waterway?
But the Park Board has an agenda. They want to eliminate or cut back on the 18-hole golf course at Hiawatha. They want nature in its natural state. And the natural state of Lake Hiawatha is a swamp. Through their negligence in not dredging the accumulated sand and silt from the creek and lake, they have created a crisis, and they are using that crisis to advance their agenda. Naomi Klein, in her book “Shock Doctrine,” shows how unscrupulous venture capitalists used the crisis in Eastern Europe to buy up state monopolies and become very rich. The Park Board is using the flood of 2014 to argue that a golf course on the back nine at Hiawatha is untenable given the pumping that is necessary to maintain it and the flooding that could happen—but they could solve those problems by dredging the creek and eliminating the dam. They know that. Barr Engineering knows that.  But they don’t want to solve the problem, they want to eliminate the back nine and turn it into a fruit tree forest.
They have eliminated all other possibilities. They have held public meetings that have offered forced choices that have narrowed down to eliminating the back nine and fruit trees. And they’ve made it all seem very open and democratic, but, of course, it’s really been very manipulative. It reminds one of a scene described by William Shirer in “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” A Nazi commander was explaining how he manipulated people. He said he could make a cat eat turpentine voluntarily. The listener couldn’t believe him. The commander grabbed a cat, painted its butt with turpentine, and the cat frantically tried to lick it off. “See,” the commander said, “The cat is eating the turpentine voluntarily.”
And people will want to have fruit trees and do away with the back nine because that’s the only option they believe they have.  And they will do it voluntarily.

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  1. William Hunter Duncan says:

    I am one of those advocating for a food forest/Veteran learning and healing farm, mentoring and education for kids in Mpls.

    So, healing the land, healing Veteran’s and helping kids learn how to grow food makes me a Nazi?

    William Hunter Duncan

  2. I wrote this in response to this article and ensuing conversation on the standish e-democracy forum and thought it might be useful here:

    On Jun 13, 2017, at 11:45 AM, Sean Connaughty wrote:

    I don’t believe the Park Board is exploiting a problem, but are simply trying to deal with the reality of a sinking but beloved golf course, built on a wetland. The golf course is already below the water table and has been maintained only through an ever growing system of pumping groundwater out of the golf course into the Lake. This ‘send it downstream’ approach in general has resulted in catastrophic failure in the flood of 2014. The question is whether or not to invest millions in restoring a golf course that will likely flood again. Also, haven’t we already had the dredging discussion numerous times already? Wasn’t it deemed unfeasible? It was human engineering that created this problem in the first place. It won’t be solved by manhandling nature again. The engineering of the past was designed to move water as quickly as possible downstream. This has created our current problematic scenario. Example: the miles of impervious upstream surfaces sending water downstream to us and add to the mix the impact of climate change. With that has come increased rain activity and rising average water levels here. This means that rain events like the 2014 flood are likely to happen again. I think the Parks are discovering that the land has reached its limit and may no longer be able to support this activity. Some, like myself, want to see a change in the way we treat the land and water. We are people who have seen the trash and pollution impacting the Lake and habitat. Who want to someday be able to swim in the Lake without fear of becoming sick. They are people who believe that nature should be treated with respect and like the idea of increased habitat, improved water quality and a balanced ecology.

    This debate has made me ask myself: what impact has the golf course had on the ecology of the land and the water quality of Lake Hiawatha and water bodies downstream?

    1. Inundation of the land with toxic chemicals and fertilizers have caused Lake Hiawatha to have the highest recorded concentration of phosphorous in the whole watershed from Lake Minnetonka to here. The soil has never been tested for the presence of herbicides and pesticides such as glyphosate and 2-4-D but we know that seventeen different pesticides and herbicides are used there. The Lake which is the recipient of 308 million gallons of water annually pumped off the golf course which is dumped directly into the Lake which then passes downstream to the Mississippi River where we and St. Paul get our drinking water. Thus we are adding pollutants to the source of drinking water for countless communities downstream.

    2. Changing the hydrological balance of the land, depletion of groundwater resources through groundwater pumping.

    3. Decreasing water storage capacity of the land, increasing susceptibility to catastrophic flooding for us and communities downstream.

    Also emblematic of this ethic of ‘send it downstream’ has been the massive storm sewer system that sends the pollutants and trash directly into the Lake with no mitigation. The trash and pollution from our streets has for nine decades been passed down to the Lake and beyond in an ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality. Why has there been so much resistance to changing the storm sewer system on the golf course? The stretch of two 60” pipes under the golf course has been unchanged since its construction in 1935. This major pipe passes under the fairway and empties directly into the Lake bringing tons of trash and myriad untold pollutants from our streets into our watershed. I support the Park Board if they decide to do the ethical thing and deal with our own collective detritus before sending the water downstream. In my opinion, whatever activities occur on the land are secondary to ending ecologically damaging behavior and protecting and restoring ecological function to the land and water.

    If the golf course ends I will be sorry for all those who will be impacted by its closing. I have no ill will towards golfers or the golf course. But I will work to see the end of ecologically destructive practices regardless of what is decided going forward.


  3. Penny Fuller says:

    What is presented in this article comes across as blatantly biased. It would seem as though it is you with the agenda (golf course), rather than the Park Board. You’ve made it out to be that there are only 2 models being considered: Golf vs Food Forest. This is quite simply untrue and certainly misleading. I’ve attended most of the monthly community meetings and followed along with the information released on their website. I’ve never once felt that they were pushing toward removal of the course, but rather gathering information with which to determine the best solution that would offer financially, environmentally and ecologically sustainable solutions while soliciting community input. That input has been diverse. Curiously, this article has not once indicated you have ANY interest at all in what is healthy for the lake or the surrounding land and wildlife, not to mention the people of Minneapolis who spend their time in and around the water there. Have you asked yourself what impact dredging may have besides the obvious? You assert your own solutions as though you are indeed the expert. But you have offered no proof of your qualifications for that role. You make many insinuations but I’m not seeing verified facts here, rather conjecture. And no, I’m not brainwashed by the Park Board or the Food Forest ‘Alliance’. I don’t represent either one. I do care about supporting supporting environmental protection, wildlife, clean water and sustainable cost.

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