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Minneapolis Park Board delays closing Hiawatha Golf Course

Posted on 26 October 2017 by calvin

Golf supporters have held rallies and other events to fight for the continuation of an 18-hole course at Hiawatha. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Next step is to form a community advisory committee to fashion a more sustainable water management plan\

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Golfers, the 18-holes at Hiawatha won’t be closing as early as thought.

While the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) decided in August to reduce pumping and effectively close the course by allowing it to flood at the end of the 2019 season, the commissioners agreed on Oct. 4 to keep the course open until a new master plan for the property is adopted, and implementation begins.

To facilitate that, the park board directed staff to obtain approval from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow groundwater pumping at the current volume of 242 million gallons a year. The existing permit is for 36.5 million gallons a year.
Approximately 17 percent of the water being pumped is stormwater runoff, 33 percent is seepage directly from Lake Hiawatha, and 50 percent is shallow groundwater.

The DNR has indicated it will support pumping at the current volume of groundwater as long as the permit application includes: a safety operations plan for the property; a plan for a community engagement process to evaluate alternatives for the property that addresses excessive pumping issues identified by the DNR; and annual updates to the DNR on the community engagement process to evaluate alternatives that address the excessive groundwater pumping.

While that’s good news for golfers for the next few years, it is still expected that the Hiawatha Golf Course will eventually cease to operate as an 18-hole golf course due to excessive groundwater pumping.

That said, the current board of commissioners has requested that MPRB staff strongly consider that some form of traditional golf remains on the Hiawatha Golf Course property.

MPRB has been working to address the recreational impacts and environmental concerns related to the volume of groundwater being pumped at the Hiawatha Golf Course since it was discovered following the June 2014 flooding. MPRB held nine public meetings between January 2015 and July 2017.

Community committee will make recommendations
The park board has not set a definitive date for when changes to the Hiawatha Golf Course property will commence. Instead, board members directed staff to begin a planning process for incorporating a more sustainable water management plan into the landscape, according to District 3 Commissioner Steffanie Musich.

“I am confident that the public planning process utilized by the MPRB will respect the past while considering the future of this parkland, the need to design a landscape that reduces pumping while protecting nearby homes, and is resilient to the impacts of climate change,” she said.

As is typical for MPRB projects, a community engagement process will be used to gather input and inform decisions about the future of the golf course property. A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) will be formed to recommend an amendment to the Nokomis-Hiawatha Master Plan that will lay out the plan for the Hiawatha Golf Course property.

The first step in creating a CAC is for staff to present the CAC’s “charge and composition” to the board of commissioners for approval. Once that is done, MPRB staff will begin taking applications for community members interested in serving on the CAC. Once the process opens, the information for submitting applications will be shared with the public through the Gov Delivery email subscription service, posted on the MPRB website, and shared through local media outlets.

The park board is expected to discuss a more refined version of the process and structure at one of its November meetings.

Stay involved and vote, urge golf course supporters
Supporters of keeping the Hiawatha 18-hole course are urging people to stay involved and do the same things they’ve been doing for months. Craig Nicols is glad that the park board listened to residents and considered the larger issue of water in the area.

“We very much encourage residents to gain as much knowledge as possible when making their park board choices on Election Day, because everyone uses parks,” said Nicols.

State legislators get involved
On Oct. 6, elected officials from the area representing Lake Hiawatha and the golf course held a hearing at the State Capitol about water issues and plans to change the recreational opportunities that would be available.

Testimony was provided by the Park Board, the city of Minneapolis, the DNR, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and others.

“Some of the citizen testifiers brought a different perspective,” remarked Rep. Jean Wagenius (63B), who pointed out that they talked about the high water levels at Lake Nokomis and constraints on the ability to release water from the lake. They mentioned high groundwater levels and wet basements in an area south of Lake Hiawatha. Citizen reports about water percolating up from basement floors were new; it had not happened before. And they are increasing.

“While much focus has been on Lake Hiawatha and the golf course, it became clear at the hearing that the issues there are symptoms of a larger problem,” remarked Wagenius. “This area of south Minneapolis is receiving more water than can be managed. All of us need to understand the larger problem before we can design solutions.”

Wagenius asked the DNR for a briefing on the impact of the surface land use on the deep aquifer below the Minnehaha Creek watershed area that is used for drinking water, and Senator Torres Ray plans to arrange additional hearings at the Capitol.

Concerns about trash, phosphorus remain
Local resident Sean Connaughty is deeply concerned about how this change will delay a solution to reduce phosphorus and trash from entering Lake Hiawatha from the storm sewer pipe on the north side. The pipe that was installed in the 1930s currently drains 1,195 acres of South Minneapolis directly into Lake Hiawatha without any mitigation or clean-up.

Connaughty has personally removed 4,000 pounds of trash from Lake Hiawatha since 2015, and other volunteers have removed several thousand more pounds. Additionally, he pointed out, “Water quality measurements at Lake Hiawatha recorded the highest phosphorous measurements in the entire Minnehaha Creek Watershed.”

The “open channel” option laid out in the MPRB’s proposals earlier this year would provide a system of filtering out the trash and pollutants, and is one he supports.

“I hope that all sides of the issue can come together and find an equitable solution that meets the ecological and water quality needs of the lake, surrounding parkland and watershed while addressing the historical significance and important equity issues it represents,” said Connaughty. “I think that comprehensively mitigating the north pipe could be the issue that all folks can agree upon. The pollution of the water via this storm sewer system is avoidable and letting it continue is negligence.”

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