GreenStar shines in Seward remodel

New state certification program guides sustainable home construction
The home of Neil Cuthbert and Louise Robinson, located at the foot of a tree-studded hill on the West River Road, was “green” long before the term became a marketing buzzword. Their living room coffee table, which Neil crafted out of old stage sets from plays the pair produced with their daughters, is a testament to the fact. So when the couple was offered a chance to be the first home in Seward to have their remodeling project certified through the new Minnesota GreenStar pilot program, they naturally jumped at the chance. “It immediately appealed to us,” said Robinson. “These things are just values for us.”
Minnesota GreenStar brings together a consortium of builders, architects, remodeling companies, and utility representatives from across the state to create a program to rate construction and remodeling projects based on their environmental footprints. Continue Reading

All power to what people? Community charges cronyism

Minneapolis chose to run its EZ program as a function of the city government, rather than through a local non-profit as some other cities have done. That sometimes has meant allowing city priorities to eclipse those of the neighborhoods. This is the fourth in a series of four articles on the Minneapolis Empowerment Zones. The ten-year Empowerment Zone program began in 1999, with grants to 15 large cities to attack poverty in specific zones with in the cities. There are large zones in north and south Minneapolis, as well as a small one in northeast that has had only one project built.Empowerment Zone Governance Board co-chair Peter Heegaard set the tone in a 2000 meeting, when he told the group “as board members, our primary responsibility is to the City of Minneapolis and our secondary responsibility is to be advocates for our goals and geographic areas.” Since then the board has funded several projects that seem to put city goals, such as developing the Northeast Arts District, over the intended EZ goal of eradicating poverty. Continue Reading

The color of funding

“Economic disparity by race is perhaps the most significant problem facing Minneapolis today,” the city’s 1998 Empowerment Zone application warns. “People of color living in Minneapolis are impoverished at rates higher than any other city in the country.”
To drive the point home, then-director Kim Havey told a March 2003 EZ Executive Committee that Empowerment Zone initiatives “pay special attention to the needs of people of color.”
This is the third in a series of four articles on the Minneapolis Empowerment Zones. The ten-year Empowerment Zone program began in 1999, with grants to 15 large cities to attack poverty in specific zones with in the cities. There are large zones in north and south Minneapolis, as well as a small one in northeast that has had only one project built.A year later, Havey found himself appearing at North Minneapolis community forums sponsored by the Urban League, defending himself and the EZ board against charges that most of the funding had gone to white-led organizations. Since its inception, the program has caused bitterness among some neighborhood activists, who say it hasn’t directly benefited the African-American communities it was intended to serve. Continue Reading

Falling short—business development, housing, and job creation in Empowerment Zones

With no clear benchmarks by which to judge its success, it’s hard to find evidence that the EZ made a dent in poverty in Minneapolis, or has even gotten a few licks in. Job creation is a tangible goal. Project proposals aiming for job creation specify the number of jobs to be created for EZ residents, and reports say how many jobs have been created. Despite its importance, job creation has been an elusive goal. The EZ “Success Stories” brochure showed that Minneapolis ranked dead last in job creation among the 15 cities awarded the program the same year, losing out to cities like Knoxville, Tennessee that received fewer EZ dollars. Continue Reading

Public money for private business: Empowerment Zone bonding for former director’s project

“There’s something about it that just doesn’t smell right.” Annie Young doesn’t mince words when speaking about the bio-mass incinerator/generator project proposed for the Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Young, a commissioner-at-large for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, adds, “A lot of us that were initially supportive of it are now changing our minds.” For previous articles on the Midtown Eco Energy project, see:
Green fuel or green-washing? by Dan Gordon, TC Daily Planet
Neighbors blast proposed Phillips biomass plant at public hearing by Dan Gordon, TC Daily Planet
March meltdown ahead for Midtown Eco-Energy? Continue Reading

Burning wood and building an empire

Ed. note: District Energy is at the center of the burning controversy in St. Paul. Wood, coal, natural gas, garbage — the arguments swirling around fuel sources sometimes generate more heat than light. This article looks at one of the major players: St. Continue Reading

Neighbors blast proposed Phillips biomass plant at public hearing

A standing-room only crowd overwhelmed the moderator at the December 13 public hearing and blasted both the developers and the MPCA for what they claimed was disregard of the plant’s impact on air quality, noise pollution, and quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods. Throughout the fall the issue has simmered, but the pot was stirred once again last night as developers appeared for a second time before the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) seeking approval of a revised incinerator permit. Public comments, most of them emotionally charged and sharply critical of the proposed plant, were fired off at the development team as it squared off against neighbors at Trinity Lutheran Church, several blocks from the site of the proposed plant. Midtown Eco-Energy, a Minneapolis development firm and a subsidiary of Kandiyohi Development Partners, caused some controversy last August at the first public hearing on its proposal to build a wood-burning power plant in the Phillips neighborhood. The south Minneapolis neighborhood is already home to a metal foundry, two asphalt plants, and a contaminated arsenic site. Continue Reading

Contract negotiations underway for Minneapolis teachers

Teachers in Minneapolis’ public schools are heading into negotiation for a new contract. Emma Hickson, chief negotiator representing Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, says the school district hopes to bring the new contract more in line with its strategic goals of closing the student achievement gap. At the moment, Minneapolis teachers are allowed to transfer into new positions based upon their seniority. Hickson said the school district would like to change that model by changing the way teachers obtain school assignments and even how they’re laid off. Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president Robert Panning-Miller says the city needs to consider reducing class sizes to close the gap. Continue Reading

Eagan’s Best Brands uses immigration status to replace full-time workers with temps

On September 10, managers at Eagan’s Best Brands factory began summoning workers into their office one by one. By the same time the following week, the baked goods company had fired somewhere between 60 and 100 workers, almost a third of the factory’s staff by workers’ estimates. Behind the closed doors, human resources staff told each worker that there was a problem. They said the company had been notified that Social Security numbers on file didn’t match up with employee names. These notices come from the Social Security administration and are generally known as “no-match letters.” Continue Reading