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Residents call for compromise at Hiawatha Golf Course

Posted on 28 August 2018 by calvin

On July 25, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners passed a resolution directing CAC members to reduce pumping at the golf course while also maintaining a minimum 9-hole course. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

After four years of disagreement, some are optimistic and others apprehensive about new Park Board direction

Neighborhood residents are being asked to compromise and come together over the Hiawatha Golf Course after four years of disagreement.

Standish resident and Hiawatha Golf Course Community Advisory Committee (CAC) member Sean Connaughty pointed out that compromise was achieved by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) commissioners during a 6-2 vote on July 25.

“Although it gives nobody everything they want, it meets the basic needs of all constituents including Lake Hiawatha. Homes will be protected, climate resiliency restored, pollution mitigated and the golf course preserved as a 9-hole course,” observed Connaughty.

“Picture an ecologically run 9-hole course, which maintains the key community asset of Hiawatha Golf Course in a reduced pumping scenario, honors the African American history and provides habitat and public access to spaces unusable for golf.

“I am just one person in this community and an appointee on the CAC, but I accept this compromise,” Connaughty said. “Let’s get excited about the near future. May the CAC move forward now with the business of the master-planning process.”

Photo right: Some wetland areas already exist on the golf course land, including this pond in the northwest corner. Under the reduced pumping scenario, lowland areas of the course will be flooded and unsuitable for golf. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Last year commissioners directed the CAC to begin a master planning process for the golf course property. Some CAC members felt that their official charge was not specific enough, and asked that the board, which had changed following the 2017 election, look at the issue again.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners did that on July 25 and passed a resolution directing CAC members to reduce pumping at the golf course while also maintaining a minimum 9-hole course. Voting in favor were Commissioners Stephanie Musich, Meg Forney, Letrisha Vetaw, Jono Cowgill, Chris Meyer, Brad Bourn; voting against were Londel French and Kale Severson; AK Hassan was absent.

The golf course is currently pumping 242 million gallons of water each year in a circular fashion to keep water from flooding the course, which sits two feet below the lake, although it only has a permit through the Minnesota DNR for 36.5 million for irrigation. Commissioners directed CAC members to reduce pumping by 70% to 94 million gallons.

The revised compromise resolution was drafted by new At-Large Commissioner Vetaw, who resides in Southeast Minneapolis.

Some optimistic
According to District 5 Commissioner Musich, “I am optimistic that the public planning process utilized by the MPRB will be able to proceed in a productive way now that the new board has reaffirmed the decision made by the previous board.

“The adopted resolution respects the past while considering the future of this park land and the need to design an ecologically diverse landscape that reduces pumping while protecting nearby homes from groundwater intrusion, and is resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

Musich pointed out that the property will continue to be operated as it is today until a master plan is adopted by the board and ready to be implemented. The park’s planning division estimates the process, including procuring funds, will take at least five years.

Ryan Seibold of Friends of Lake Hiawatha is pleased with the park board decision.

“I think it is wonderful that plans will prioritize cleaning up the water, adding more habitat for wildlife, and restoring ecosystems in our city and neighborhood,” said Seibold. “The decision to redesign this public space to be flood-resilient and ecologically-driven is the most sustainable decision the board could make. Protecting our water resources and dealing with climate change is important now and in the future. As a community member, I hope that the CAC as a whole will collaborate effectively with the park board on this positive direction forward.”

Some apprehensive
However, some community members remain apprehensive.

“As someone who lives in a former wetland area that has been developed for residential purposes and has personally experienced the cost of fluctuating groundwater levels, I am apprehensive to say that adding more water to an area, allowing it to go back to its natural state, is a good idea—especially, when you are now taking away a floodplain (Hiawatha Golf Course) that has historically protected the area,” stated CAC member Joan Soholt, who resides near Lake Nokomis.

“The concern that was expressed at the meeting is that we do not understand the hydrology in the neighborhood adequately to understand with high enough certainty to assure that pumping at the golf course will impact that water levels in the neighborhood,” pointed out Dana Lonn, an engineer who lives between Nokomis and Mother lakes and supports keeping the 18-hole golf course.

“There is a significant concern that reduced pumping will result in a further raising of the water table which put some homes at risk. Some of the park commissioners see the issue as a very narrow decision as whether we are pumping only to save the golf course. The decision may be that narrow. However, a number of the commissioners and many in the neighborhood see the decision to be much more complex than that,” said Lonn. “We are advocating for a more comprehensive study to understand the implications of reduced pumping at the golf course.”

Residents associated with the Nokomis/Hiawatha Water Sustainability group are asking for an unbiased study from United States Geological Society (USGS) to more fully understand the interrelated issues of water management in the area.

This issue is being evaluated by the Lake Nokomis Groundwater and Surface Water technical team, which is composed of representatives from the city, the park board, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

Lonn worked for Toro Company in Bloomington for 48 years and was connected to the golf industry. “The MPRB has not done their homework on the impact of a golf property,” Lonn maintained. “Properly managed golf is an environmental asset to the community. The view by many is that it is a toxic waste dump. That is just not true.”



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