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City recognizes problems with expansion at Roof Depot site

Buried report comes to light, thanks to whistleblower

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Thanks to a whistleblower, supporters of the indoor urban farm at the Roof Depot site unearthed a city report from June that shows city construction of a city water yard expansion would be “problematic” given the lead and arsenic contamination in the area, and it proposed demolishing the existing water yard facility in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood (corner of E. Hennepin Ave. and 5th Ave. SE) and constructing a two-story building there.
According to the city report (which can be viewed in its entirety by clicking on link to the left):
“The siting of the Hiawatha Campus Expansion is problematic. The adjacent property to the east was a US EPA Superfund site contaminated with lead and arsenic that took millions of dollars and years to remediate. The addition of the Hiawatha Campus Expansion facilities and the relocation of a large amount of staff and equipment was not taken into consideration. According to the state Department of Health, residents of this neighborhood suffer some of the highest rates of asthma hospitalizations in Minnesota. The community has sought environmental justice to provide equity of opportunity for children to thrive. While the new City facilities are designed as slab on grade to minimize the amount of site remediation, during construction, demolition and site clearing activities will result in unassessed risk from legacy contamination, unaccounted costs, and increased exposure to the neighborhood from dust and from truck traffic hauling hazardous waste to landfills and will require dust mitigation. This document is intended to propose an alternative solution, demolition of the primary operations building at the existing site in Southeast Minneapolis and reconstruction of a new Water Yard facility.”
According to the  2003 Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association’s Master Plan, “The neighborhood supports the continuation of the industrial businesses along 9th Street.” Steve Fletcher represents the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood on the Minneapolis City Council.
Meanwhile, the report notes opposition from South Minneapolis residents to the city’s proposal, which has a plan to reuse the Roof Depot building instead of demolishing it.
“In contrast, the East Phillips Neighborhood has opposed the Hiawatha campus expansion project at the Roof Depot site since the City’s purchase of that property was first proposed in 1991. The Roof Depot is in a neighborhood with a high percentage of BIPOC residents that is adjacent to a US EPA Superfund site dubbed the ‘Arsenic Triangle’ since it was heavily contaminated with lead and arsenic from industrial stockpiles of pesticides. After years of remediation and unknown expense, the Superfund site has been cleaned up. Since contaminates migrate across property lines, the Roof Depot property redevelopment poses an unknown risk of contamination that could be released during demolition and hauling activities. In March 2021 the public comment period closed for the environmental assessment worksheet for the Hiawatha Campus Expansion. It has been reported that the City received approximately 1,000 comments.
“Throughout the City’s community engagement process for the redevelopment of the Roof Depot site, the Neighborhood has actively voiced its concern. Protests have also been held in opposition to the City’s redevelopment. In 2020 the East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC) filed a lawsuit to stop the development.
“In place of the City’s development of a Water Yard on this site, the Neighborhood has developed a vision to re-use the Roof Depot warehouse for ‘urban farming, aquaponics, low-income apartments, an industrial kitchen and mom-and-pop retail.’ They appear to have identified financial backing to purchase the Roof Depot property from the City.”
The city report points out that rebuilding on the existing water yard site would be cheaper than building new at the Roof Depot site.
“As of the end of 2020, the Water fund’s share of the estimated $100 million Hiawatha Campus Expansion project costs was $55 million. By rebuilding on the existing site, the new Water Yard will likely be considerably cheaper. The development of the site for activities of a single work group and the lack of contaminated soils are just two contributing factors that 1809 Washington St NE / 1803 Jefferson St NE will likely result in cost savings.
“Constructing a replacement facility on the existing is site has two distinct advantages: unlike the Roof Depot site, the ground is not contaminated and there are no buried utilities. This could be an opportunity for the City to use geothermal energy for heating and cooling the facility. By installing solar panels on the vast expanse of a roof, solar energy could be used to help power the pumps that circulate the heating and cooling lines. By creating this first of its kind city facility, the City could demonstrate commitment to its goals in the Minneapolis 2040 Policy 69 Renewable and Carbon-Free Energy: Encourage the use and generation of renewable and carbon-free energy in the city.”
The report concludes:
“By removing the existing main building at the Water Yard and replacing it with a new two-story facility that makes more effective use of the space, the City has an opportunity to accomplish:
• Providing a space that is sufficient and functionally laid out to effectively support Water field operations
• Preserving historic buildings and continuing to use them.
• Maintaining a sense of identity and common purpose for Water staff.
• Re-developing the land in a way that is consistent with and respectful of the Neighborhood Master Plan.
• Taking steps towards the City’s commitment to carbon-free building goals.
• Using RSP’s design for the Water facility at Roof Depot.
• Making use of City owned land
• Maintain a central location to minimize response time for Water crews to travel to any part of the City.”
According to an EPNI eNewsletter:
“Written in June, 2021, the Water Yard Renovation Proposal does not seem to have reached City Councilmembers who are charged with weighing the options in this issue, until very recently.  Instead, a faction of Council Members have believed that the Hiawatha Expansion in the East Phillips neighborhood is necessary, and they have worked to block EPNI’s efforts to build the vision of an Urban Farm at the Roof Depot site. 
“The report proposes to renovate the city’s already-existing East Hennepin Maintenance Yard, right where it is has been for the past 100 plus years in the historic Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.  The report lays out how an existing 2-story building plan - with minor alterations – could be used to make the East Hennepin site meet the needs of the City’s Water Maintenance Dept, and further points out that during the renovation, operations could temporarily be moved to a vacated City-owned space nearby. Additionally, this renovation would save the City a lot of money, and there would be no need for the Hiawatha Expansion. You can see the full plan on our website; go to epnifarm.org.”

COUNCIL COMMENTS
Ward 12 City Council member Andrew Johnson remarked in an email to the Messenger on Oct. 1 that the report was surprising to read. “The council has been told by public works leadership that the water department facility should be relocated to Roof Depot, but the report suggested the staff who actually work in the water department disagree,” he said.
However, he was not surprised by the conclusion that building a new two-story facility at the existing site in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood would be cheaper. “Tearing down the Roof Depot building and dealing with the cleanup and site preparation will be very pricey. It’s a much larger project,” said Johnson.
He added, “The water yard has been welcome in other communities, too. Why not build where it in one of the many locations where it is welcome, rather than pushing it onto a community that has a different vision? Especially when that community has historically not had a say in what happens? That’s why this is an equity and justice issue.”
When asked about the 1,063 comments the city received on this issue, more than it has ever received on an issue before, Ward 6 Council member Jamal Osman said, “This has felt a lot more like a political campaign than any real attempt to talk through the policy and situation details specific to this site.” However, EPNI representatives has stated repeated over the last few years that they have not been invited to present their plan directly to the city council.
In response to a question about residents being frustrated they aren’t being listened to, Osman pointed to his support of city staff.
Osman labeled the whistleblower report as “at best a very preliminary draft contingency plan,” and expressed concern that it wasn’t signed. He is also concerned about the money the city has already put into the project.
EPNI representatives reiterated in an email on Tuesday, Oct. 5 that they had been in discussions with the Roof Depot property owners in 2015 when the city threatened eminent domain and purchased the land. “East Phillips Neighborhood Institute has persisted against all odds for years and has garnered tremendous support from community, potential business partners, and county, state and federal legislators for its vision. We are willing, able and prepared to move forward now. We need site control to realize our community-led dream.”
Johnson, along with Cam Gordon and Alondra Cano, have continued to ask fellow council members to stop the expansion at the Roof Depot site in response to the comments they’re recieved from citizens. “Don’t give up. Your voices do matter and over the years more and more elected officials have started to listen and realize that the city’s plan is wrong,” said Johnson. “You are making a difference and my fellow co-authors and I will continue to stand with you and try to change course.”
The city council will review a REIA study on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1:30 p.m. in regards to the project.
See link to article about that here: https://www.longfellownokomismessenger.com/stories/community-rallies-in-support-of-indoor-urban-farm-at-former-roof-depot-site,3497

*Editor’s Note: We have contacted multiple city council members for comments on this. We received written comments from Johnson and Osman which are above, and a note from Cano that she was continuing to focus on this issue. We did not hear back from council chair Lisa Bender, Steve Fletcher of Ward 3, Jeremiah Ellison of Ward 5, Jeremy Schroeder of Ward 11, or Cam Gordon of Ward 2. Gordon and Fletcher have voted in favor of halting the Hiawatha expansion.

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