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Minnesota DNR supports closing Hiawatha Golf Course

Posted on 27 June 2017 by calvin

Update on investigations 29 March 2016DNR favors reducing pumping at the golf course. Residents are split: peace and quiet vs. maximum usage of space.

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Of the two directions for the Hiawatha Golf Course that were presented to the public on May 18, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) favors the one that reduces the amount of pumping there by 70%.

“The DNR would prefer alternative B,” stated MPRB Assistant Superintendent of Planning Michael Schroeder. “It has multiple benefits while we’re reducing the pumping.” He added, “The 70% reduction is considered more sustainable.”

The Department of Natural Resources needs to sign off on the pumping at the golf course property. Currently, MPRB has a permit to pump 36.5 million gallons a year, far less than the 308 million gallons it is actually pumping.

“We’re really focused on reducing the pumping while still protecting adjacent homes,” remarked Minneapolis Director of Surface Water and Sewers Katrina Kessler.

Options either 18-hole golf course or something else
MPRB has decided against putting a 9-hole golf course at the site, despite a desire by April public meeting attendees to try to keep some kind of golf there even if the 18-hole course is shut down. There is only one 9-hole golf course in the state that is profitable, pointed out Schroeder, and it is located in Pierz, Minn. “Revenue for golf courses is generated by players who desire 18 holes,” he said. “In the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation system parameters, a 9-hole golf course simply doesn’t work.”

If golf is taken out of the equation, many other uses can be applied.

MPRB asked attendees to comment on two alternatives (photo at the top of page).

Hiawatha golf course meeting May 18 -1Photo right: After discussing two scenarios for the Hiawatha Golf Course, two people from each table shared comments with the entire group gathered at Nokomis Recreation Center on May 18. Meeting attendees were split on keeping golf versus discontinuing the pumping and letting the area flood. There were two competing interests: continuing the peace and quiet of the area versus maximum usage of the space. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

To keep the 18-hole golf course, MPRB would have to continue pumping 308 million gallons a year, while alternative B would require pumping 94 million gallons of groundwater, allowing the lower areas of the property to be covered with water. With Alternative A, there are 9 acres of open water; with Alternative B, there are 41 acres.

To keep the 18-hole golf course, MPRB would have to continue pumping 308 million gallons a year, while alternative B would require pumping 94 million gallons of groundwater, allowing the lower areas of the property to be covered with water. With Alternative A, there is 9 acres of open water; with Alternative B, there is 41 acres.

“Mother nature never intended it to be a golf course,” remarked Joseph Jones. He observed that in the 17 years he’s lived nearby, the area has flooded three times.

Some people at the meeting pointed to a generational and financial gap between the golfers and the other residents, while others countered that they didn’t see a generation gap and regularly golf with their children and parents at the course for $12.

“I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that Hiawatha Golf Course is gone,” said one attendee during the feedback section of the May meeting. “It has some serious water issues. It wants to be a lake.”

Another person commented that the loss of the golf course seemed “inevitable,” while others stressed that the golf course has been profitable the past three years and should continue its operation.

“This project is really divisive, pitting neighbor against neighbor,” stated one man who supports retaining the golf course. “It’s really unfortunate that we are being pulled apart by this issue.”

Phosphorus load could drop 191 pounds per year
There would be no change to the phosphorus load at the property if the 18-hole golf course remained, but a whopping 191 pound a year reduction under Alternative B. Park Commissioner Steffanie Musich pointed out that she has never seen that amount of a reduction on a report before. “It’s a really big deal,” said Musich. Most mitigation efforts drop phosphorus by about 7 pounds a year.

Trash mitigation is included in both options. An open water channel would provide a place for trash to be collected and pollutants filtered out before entering Lake Hiawatha. Alternative B adds more land use changes, including remeandering Minnehaha Creek.

Local resident Sean Connaughty questioned whether changing the outlet of the creek from the south side of the lake to the west side was a good idea because of how it would affect the existing habitat and wildlife there. He didn’t support the suggestion to put a retreat center where the current outlet is now for the same reason.

“We want to see clean water and habitat protection,” said Connaughty.

Local resident Steve Burt was glad to hear about the reduction in trash planned for the lake. “It’s like a receptacle for trash that comes in from every part of the city,” he observed.

Some people expressed concerns about mosquitoes that might come with increasing wetland restoration.

Users estimated to jump if land is used for other things
Attendees also considered how many people currently use the property versus how many might if there were other amenities there. Currently, there are 10,500 golfers, and that number is estimated to rise to 146,000 if the event center is updated. However, if the range of uses at the site was diversified, that number is estimated to be 522,462.

For comparison purposes, Minnehaha Regional Park has 1,717,600 users each year, Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park 5,101,700 (the highest in the state) and TheodoreWirth Regional Park 570,200, according to a Met Council report.

“The neighborhood has been wanting to get access to his park for years,” observed Burt. He recalls the “fence wars” that have occurred as neighbors cut the golf course fence in order to walk around inside. He mentioned how nice Wood Lake Nature Center is, and supports something similar here. “I think that anything that opens people up to nature in the city is a good thing,” said Burt.

Willie Gregg is in favor of using the land for something other than a golf course. “It feels more open and inviting for a variety of users in a wider variety of ways,” he remarked.

Meeting attendees expressed concern about a possible increase in users and the additional traffic and parking issues that would bring. Some stressed that there should not be any additional paved parking lots, while others didn’t want to see street parking problems such as those near Minnehaha Park. Some residents didn’t feel that the infrastructure was in place to handle 500,000 users at Hiawatha.

Update on investigations 29 March 2016Photo left: There is no easy way to summarize the kind of input provided at the April 20 meeting, remarked MPRB Assistant Superintendent of Planning Michael Schroeder. MPRB put the keywords into a word cloud engine and created this graphic to show which phrases were most popular. (Photo submitted)

There were two competing interests: continuing the peace and quiet of the area versus maximum usage of the space.

Others expressed support for the use of solar power and renewable energy at the site, the return of wild rice, the continuation of cross country skiing, an edible food forest, prairie restoration, and increased programming for kids. If the golf course is changed, some are concerned that the property will sit empty and look badly for years during the transition period.

“If we’re going to lose our golf course,” said one commenter, “let’s make it something special.”
Future meetings

A final meeting with the public was held June 21 when there was little public comment in comparison to the past two meetings that were primarily focused on soliciting stakeholder opinions.

Schroeder pointed out that any changes at the course wouldn’t happen this year, or likely even next. “When we get to the Park and Recreation Board, we still have years,” he said.

MPRB will discuss the issue at its July 12 board meeting and select a direction to pursue at its Aug. 9 meeting. Comments are being collected via an online survey available on the MPRB Hiawatha Golf Course project page.

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