Good-bye to the back nine

Storm sewer at 30th Avenue dumping sand and silt into Minnehaha CreekBY ED FELIEN

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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