Completed Grand Rounds seen as threat to nearby wetlands


As an avid bicyclist, Ray Bryan thinks it’s great that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is committed to completing the final, three-mile segment of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. Its more than 50 miles of parkway, bicycle and walking trails already encircle most of the city.

But Bryan and others also fear that the route proposed for the roadway — officially designated the “Missing Link” — would imperil the nearby Kasota Ponds, said to comprise the last remaining natural wetlands in the middle Mississippi watershed.

“I do want this missing link to add to the urban environment we share, but not at the expense of a hidden treasure that is already here,” said Bryan in personal comments submitted to roadway project staff. Bryan also is a member of the executive committee of the St. Anthony Park Community Council, which is on record as “adamantly opposed” to the route recommended to the Park Board by a citizen advisory committee.

As envisioned by that committee, the Missing Link would run along the Minneapolis city line and bridge the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway yard between Kasota Avenue on the north and the planned Granary Road on the south. This would bring traffic, including trucks, within 100 yards of the westernmost of the four Kasota Ponds.

Nick Eoloff, project manager for Grand Rounds Missing Link, acknowledged the St. Anthony Park opposition. “We understand their concern and will continue to work with them,” he said. “There is common ground here.”

The Grand Rounds, the nation’s largest urban scenic byway, reflects the 1880s vision of renowned landscape architect Horace Cleveland, the same man who designed the layout of St. Anthony Park. The eastern portion, between St. Anthony Boulevard and the River Road, was never built — although there were at least four plans in the past century to do so — because of impediments such as wetlands, industrial sites and railroad lines.

The Park Board revived the concept last year and funded a study to evaluate options for completing the Grand Rounds. There was fierce opposition to a proposed route that would have required demolishing 80 homes in Minneapolis’ Southeast Como neighborhood, causing planners to look east toward Hwy. 280.

Ironically, the St. Anthony Park Community Council supported this move, stating that it shared the concerns of its Southeast Como neighbors about routes “that would take out houses and/or stable student housing.” The council added that St. Paul residents should be included in the Missing Link planning process and that the project should protect wetlands and wild areas.

In May, the citizen advisory committee recommended its preferred route to the Park Board. Subsequent public hearings were held to elicit comments about the preferred route, with Bryan and others from St. Anthony Park participating, including Karlyn Eckman, a member of the Community Council’s Environment Committee.

Eckman, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center, is one of several university researchers who have studied the Kasota Ponds since the 1970s. She says they are remnants of what was once a 400-acre wetland.

The remaining wetlands are of value, she said, because they trap and filter nutrients and pollutants and serve as wildlife habitat, especially for aquatic species, amphibians and reptiles, and migratory waterfowl.

“The Kasota Ponds still function ecologically, but there’s been steady and incremental degradation,” she said. “A major issue with a new roadway is that it would cause an enormous amount of stormwater run-off, which would carry even more pollutants into the west pond.”

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is expected to act on the Missing Link recommendation in the weeks ahead, but many challenges remain for the planned 10-year project, including coming up with $105 million to pay for it.

At the state level, start-up funding was included in the bonding bill passed by the 2008 legislature, later vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty. That bill passed out of the House Capital Investment Committee, chaired by Rep. Alice Hausman, who represents District 66B, which includes St. Anthony Park.

“We were told that the exact Missing Link route was still to be determined, and I had no idea at the time that it would come close to the St. Paul border,” Hausman said. “When I became aware of the District 12 concerns, I set up a meeting to get all the players together around the same table. My understanding is that there continues to be conversation between Minneapolis and St. Paul. By the time we consider the next major bonding bill two years from now, I am hopeful both sides will have reached agreement.”

Cam Gordon, Minneapolis Ward 2 alderman, said that he generally favors the easterly path and is hopeful it can be modified to protect the wetlands, as well as accommodate businesses that might not want to relocate.

“I think the Missing Link has the potential to be very beneficial and could, for example, provide a valuable connection to St. Paul’s roads and bikeways,” Gordon said.

Said Russ Stark, St. Paul City Council representative for Ward 4, “What I really think we need and — as far as I know, don’t have — is a comprehensive plan for protecting the wetlands, so that we aren’t always reacting when development plans come along.”