Letter to MPRB District 4 Commissioner Shaffer from Friends of Lake Hiawatha

Dear Commissioner Shaffer,


First, let us acknowledge that this process is difficult and painful for nearly everyone in our community. Especially so for many of our Dakota and Indigenous neighbors and many members of the Black community.


We are alarmed that you seemed to express support for the extreme Lehman/Bronze concept that proposes to obliterate the Lake Hiawatha Delta Habitat and separate Minnehaha Creek from Lake Hiawatha. This would devastate the ecology and wildlife of Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek; permanently altering and damaging Lake Hiawatha, treasured in our diverse community, home to abundant wildlife, and a key stop for migratory birds on the Mississippi River Flyway. This area is a refuge and critical habitat for over 250 animal species. This great biodiversity is beloved in our community and Lake Hiawatha is enjoyed as a recreational “asset” by incredibly diverse visitors who enjoy fishing, swimming, paddling, bird watching, and more. 


The Minneapolis Park Board does not own Lake Hiawatha or Minnehaha Creek. These waters are “owned” by the citizens of the State of Minnesota and citizens of the United States. These are protected waters. 


It is inarguable that the Lehman Plan would be devastating for wildlife and ecology. Let us explain why: 
  1. The Lehman/ Bronze plan separates Lake Hiawatha from Minnehaha Creek. Even if we ignore the insurmountable legal problems this would entail, and the problematic issues of privatization, the plan would devastate the ecology of Lake Hiawatha by depriving the Lake of the flow of Minnehaha Creek. Replacing an adaptive natural system with an artificially controlled environment destroys nature’s ability to respond to our changing climate because of the dramatic hydrological shifts this plan would entail. Removing the adaptability of the Lake and Creek in this way creates chokepoints. For example, the resident beaver family could overwhelm and disrupt the system by doing what beavers do as ecosystem engineers and would inevitably be trapped and killed for trying to restore the habitat to a more natural state. This is only one small example of how this plan attempts to fix the problem of Wirth’s destructive and brutal engineering effort that devastated the ecology of Rice Lake with an even more brutal plan that imposes even greater control over the environment. History has taught us that the answer is not in controlling nature but in finding a way to restore nature's ability to respond to dramatically changing conditions without impediment. This is the function of the floodplain and former wetland that the sinking golf course is built upon.

  1. The other problem is that this concept pushes our waters even faster downstream to become someone else’s problem even more so than we are currently doing. The Lehman Plan also proposes to channelize Minnehaha Creek.  Channelizing waters is widely known to be destructive to the ecology and a major reason why the Mississippi River is so polluted and is why we have a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It is understood that channelizing streams and rivers increases the speed of their flow and increases the amount of sediment and pollutants these waters carry. Channelization has long been known to increase erosion and makes a naturalized shore nearly impossible to maintain. For decades communities along our rivers and streams have been struggling to undo the leveeing, channelization, and damming of our waters that have occurred since colonization, working to restore some semblance of natural function to our devastated waters.  

We cannot stress enough how alarming it is to us that a powerful, private, and wealthy group can come in under the guise of equity and propose to annex our treasured ecology and our public process. 


This alternative concept escalates community tension by presenting a clearly untenable solution that is as far from compromise as could be imagined. The Lehman Bronze concept falsely claims to address “ecological concerns” which it plainly does not. The concept establishes a false binary choice that is misleading to constituents, increases division, and is harmful to the fabric of the community.  


This has done a great disservice to our community and undoes the diplomacy and negotiation that has taken place these eight years. Allowing this extreme plan to be presented publicly to the Park Board without the benefit of fact-checking, expert analysis, or agency consultation was an even greater disservice to the public. The Lehman group got hours to present their case before the board and public while advocates for the ecology were left out and not allowed equal time. Friends of Lake Hiawatha were also blocked and removed without explanation or provocation from the online “public discussion” that was conducted by the Lehman/Bronze group earlier in March. 


The eight years of input and good-faith negotiation with neighbors and community could have been wiped out of this public process in a single evening were it not for the courage of commissioners to reject the attempt to allow more time for the Lehman group to foist this unsanctioned and extreme plan upon the public. We hope this signifies the end of this Lehman/Bronze concept.


You wrote: “If we can continue to listen, give grace to one another and consider the viewpoints of others as strongly as we hold our own…..we will accomplish much together.” 


This statement is a sentiment we wholeheartedly agree with and was the cornerstone of the community’s work over the past eight years to create the Hiawatha masterplan. What we have seen from the Lehman/Bronze concept and the presentation we saw on Wednesday night did not demonstrate this collaborative spirit. 


In light of some of the new commissioners' statements, We feel it is necessary to provide a little context on the past eight years of community negotiation. We mention this because it has been implied that Black golfers were not aware of the threat that pumping, flooding, and climate change pose to the sustainability and longevity of Hiawatha Golf Course and the long-standing community discussion of its important history. Seeking diplomacy and compromise, Friends of Lake Hiawatha have had numerous conversations with golfers and Black community leaders and Black government officials  throughout this process. In 2016, we met privately in North Minneapolis with Black Community leaders and golfers to discuss the importance of the site to members of the Black community and the history of Black golf at Hiawatha, and the ecological problems of the Lake. The gentleman who is the organizer of Savehiawatha18 and a Bronze Club member has been a vocal presence since this all began in 2015 after the flood. He has been quoted in nearly every article published on the topic in the Star Tribune going back to at least 2017. The history of the course has been explored and celebrated and written into the Hiawatha master plan. Let’s also not forget that the Hiawatha CAC (Community Advisory Committee) was composed of a majority of golfers and included Black golfers and Indigenous Peoples representation. With a complete Park Board public focus session dedicated entirely to an extensive exploration of the history of Black golfers at Hiawatha and Black community leaders giving moving testimony about this important history. The Hiawatha CAC consisted of 18 community members and only about four of this group were advocates for the Lake. The majority of the CAC members were golfers. Because of golfers in involvement in the development of the Hiawatha masterplan, traditional golf is maintained, the First Tee program is maintained, additional youth golf programs added and the history of Black golfers is to be honored and celebrated and the clubhouse was renamed after Solomon R Hughes.


Additionally, an Indigenous Peoples focus session was held by the Park Board that was the most moving Park Board meeting we have ever participated in. Unfortunately, Dakota and Indigenous Peoples and their history have been largely left out of the current board’s discussion, despite the fact that a major topic of concern is about erasing history and legacy connected to land. We have felt and seen the pain of Dakota friends in response to the repeat of their trauma that is proposed in the Lehman/Bronze concept. While we cannot speak on their behalf, we urge this board to ask yourselves why Native voices have not been present in public discussions for some time and to ask themselves how the impact of a bias around the history of one cultural group over another is affecting another marginalized community. This is another reason that we still support the 9 hole compromise masterplan that restores the ecology, protects resident wildlife and preserves the community asset of Hiawatha Golf Course and its history.


Thank you for your time and consideration, 
Friends of Lake Hiawatha


Friends of Lake Hiawatha is a community group representing more than one thousand community members who are dedicated to healing and protecting Lake Hiawatha and wildlife residents as a treasured community lake and critical habitat. the above letter was written collaboratively by members of FOLH.


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