“Our air! Our health!” Purple and white pre-printed signs proclaimed opposition to the Midtown Eco-Energy burner proposal at the March 21 City Council meeting. About 40 people filled the chamber, waiting for what they hoped was the last act in the drama.
Nothing happened. And that may mean victory for the South Minneapolis communities trying to stop the burner. Without council action, the deal between the city and Kandiyohi Development Partners for sale of land to build a biomass burner will expire on March 30.
The city owns the land where Kandiyohi Development Partners proposes to site a biomass burner to produce steam and electricity. In June 2006, the council granted Kandiyohi Development Partners an option to buy. Last March, the council granted a one-year extension, which will expire on March 30, 2008. The March 21 council meeting was the last scheduled meeting before the option expires.
Darlene Fairbanks brought her grandchildren to the council meeting. She lives in Corcoran and works in Phillips at Little Earth of the Tribes. Her house is five blocks from the proposed biomass burner, and she is concerned about air pollution. “We have arsenic, we have lead, and so much stuff in Phillips,” Fairbanks said. “Why do they want to add this? “
Longfellow resident Lucy Arias brought her nine-year-old daughter, who has “been going to a lot of meetings with me.” She agrees with Fairbanks.
“I believe in better sources of energy and not in the heart of the city,” Arias said. thinks the first step is to try to lower energy consumption and then to seek other sources of energy.
Initially, political support for the biomass burner was strong. Then questions about pollution, fuel, financing, and Kandiyohi Development Partners principals began to emerge. Community opposition to the biomass burner project grew strong and vocal. In January, the East Phillips Improvement Coalition rescinded its previous support for the project and withdrew from the “good neighbor agreement” with Kandiyohi Development Partners. Other neighborhood groups also expressed concern.
Community opposition has focused on emissions from the proposed burner, in an impoverished neighborhood that already has multiple environmental problems.
Dan Dittmann lives near Chicago and Lake. For him, the “biggest thing is concern for children.”
“On a statistical basis,” Dittmann says, “children of minorities suffer asthma and other respiratory problems at a higher rate. Putting a burner in their backyard won’t help.”
Kandiyohi Development Partners wrote to city officials March 14, requesting a five-month extension of their option to buy. Their letter asked that the Transportation and Public Works committee of the city council consider their request at a March 25 meeting. It is unclear whether the committee would consider the request, or what action it could take, as the option will expire before the next meeting of the full city council.
Other concerns about the project include fuel availability, lack of job creation in the neighborhood, and the developers themselves. A March 21 Star Tribune article summarized concerns about the political connections and financial track record of Kandiyohi Development Partners principals, Michael Krause and Kim Havey.
Interviewed before the council meeting, long-time political activist Dave Bicking said, “With the combination of public opposition and good media coverage from the Star Tribune and the Twin Cities Daily Planet, we’ve got a good chance of stopping the burner. … But even if it doesn’t go through today, we need to be vigilant. I’ve organized against the stadium for a long time and I know that no project is ever really dead.”