$500K for St. Paul park, in a Pig’s Eye?

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Pig’s Eye Regional Park sits southeast of the St. Paul Downtown Airport, just across the Mississippi River. It is a 1,200 acre complex of water, wetlands, prairie and woodlands with one of the largest heron and egret rookeries in an Upper Midwest metropolitan area. It also contains a 500-acre body of water named Pig’s Eye Lake.

Because public access to the area is limited, the park doesn’t receive many visitors. HF116, which was heard and laid over, by the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee Thursday, seeks to change that.

Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul), sponsor of the legislation, explained the $500,000 bond appropriation the bill seeks would be used to pre-design, design and engineer improvements to the park that include enhanced public access, and could also provide new trails, boardwalks, observation platforms and canoe/kayak access.

In addition, small islands might also be created in the shallow lake to reduce waves, which in turn should reduce the disturbance of sediment that Donald Arnosti, policy director for Audubon Minnesota, said is the “largest single source of toxic contaminants to the upper Mississippi River.”

Speaking in support of HF116, Arnosti said years of dumping at a site on the north end of the wetland area is the source of the pollution, and work to shield the sediments from wave action could help suppress the sediments from re-suspension.

“This is more about access than development,” he said. “The development refers to some trails and some public water access so that people can get in and enjoy the birds and the natural environment.”

Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) asked if the $500,000 requested would cover the total cost of the project. When told that money would be used for planning purposes, and the improvements themselves would likely cost between $3 million to $5 million by the time they were finished, he asked how that money would be acquired.

Fabian was told not all the sources of funding have yet been identified, including any match that could potentially come from the city of St. Paul.

The companion, SF142, sponsored by Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.