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Upper Post Community sees wood pile diminish after 2+ year struggle

Posted on 24 April 2017 by calvin

Upper Post Road - 2017 01

A collaboration of many public and private sector partners helped secure the $17.2 million to build the Upper Post Veterans Community at 6210 Bloomington Rd. in Fort Snelling. The main building was barely visible in early March of this year, as viewed from Bloomington Ave. Much of the mulch created and stored at the chipping site has finally been removed, but the question repeated by residents was, “Why were we subjected to having to live like this for more than two years?” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
CommonBond Communities is the Midwest’s largest non-profit provider of affordable housing and supportive services for individuals and families with special needs. Recognizing that homelessness among veterans was a significant problem in the Twin Cities, the organization transformed five historic structures at Fort Snelling into apartments—and called it the Upper Post Veterans Community.

Residents began moving into the complex in October of 2015. Eligibility requirements were specific: units were available only to war veterans who had experienced homelessness, and their families.

The Upper Post features 58 studio, one, two, and three bedroom apartments equipped with central air conditioning, vaulted ceilings, and walk-in closets, among other amenities. Unfortunately, since the first residents moved in 2-½ years ago, they have also been presented with a very difficult neighbor, one who had long ago promised to move.

Upper Post Road - 2017 23Photo right: Justyn Hardwick, US Army veteran, said, “A lot of us have respiratory issues as a result of having seen combat. When the wind blows, we couldn’t open our windows on the east side of the building because of all the blowing sawdust. That’s the side that faces the chipping site. When our country called us, we answered that call, and we served. Don’t we deserve to live in a place where the air is conducive to breathing?” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

That neighbor is the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB). The adjacent 2+ acre site they own served as one of the primary wood chipping facilities for the City of Minneapolis and was only yards away from the front door of the Upper Post Veterans Community. At issue was the grinding of large, diseased trees that began at 6am every morning, the piles of brush, logs, and chipped wood that reached almost to the second story windows of the Upper Post apartments, and the unwillingness of MPRB staff to commit to a permanent closure date for the wood chipping facility.

Upper Post Road - 2017 07Photo left: A view from Colville Ave. in early March shows what the site looked like for years. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Despite very strong public comments from Upper Post residents, CommonBond management, and concerned citizens for 2+ years—the facility only closed its gates on Mar. 7 of this year, and the condition of the site is still unacceptable to the residents.

James Hudson and Richard Greggerson are two concerned citizens who have lobbied on behalf of the residents from the beginning. They do not live at the Upper Post, but they’re both war veterans. After playing golf at the public Fort Snelling Golf Club three years ago, they got to wondering about all the truck traffic, machinery noise and blowing sawdust across the street at the chipping site.

“I’ve been trying to work with the MPRB,” Hudson said, “the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Mayor’s Office in an honest, open way. I’ve heard the same thing from everybody over and over again, ’It’s not in my purview.’ The only elected official that showed any willingness to help was Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, through his aide Brian Shekleton.”

Upper Post Road - 2017 30Photo right: James Hudson (left) and Richard Greggersen (right), war veterans, life-long friends and, now, citizen activists. Hudson said, “As activists, I feel we have been marginalized by the MPRB. My experience of trying to speak at one of their public meetings was met with extreme disrespect. In addition, I feel the park board has marginalized the residents of the Upper Post Veterans Community by not listening to them—and by making them sicker.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Deidre Schmidt, Com­monBond President and CEO agreed, saying, “Part of what has made this situation so complicated is that the Upper Post Road is a no-man’s-land in terms of jurisdictional authority. It falls under the heading of undesignated, unincorporated land. Its official title is ‘the Unorganized Territory of Fort Snelling.’ There is no city council representation there, and the MPRB members have not been amenable to talking with us.”

Hudson said, “I care about this situation because I could easily have been facing homelessness myself when I came back from Vietnam. That’s why I’ve kept at it. The people living at the Upper Post, they served their country and ended up homeless. Now they’ve finally got a decent place to live, and they deserve to be treated better than they have been.”

Ralph Sievert, Forestry Director for the MPRB, said, “The processing of the trees is all finished. What’s left is to tear down the berms, and spread the debris as evenly as we can. The remaining wood chunks and brush will be processed at our new site in North Minneapolis called the Upper Harbor. It’s located in the Camden Industrial Neighborhood, and there are no residences bordering it. I never give a timeline for completing a project, and this one is no different. I can’t say when we’ll be done at the Upper Post.”

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