Position, Goals and Challenges
- As part of the RiverFirst Vision for the Mississippi River corridor, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is designing an exciting eight-acre riverfront park on the former Scherer Bros. lumberyard site in Northeast Minneapolis.
- Along with the creation of active riverfront parks, the RiverFirst Vision suggests restoring rich natural habitat found on islands that once existed in the river channel. Hall’s Island, at the Scherer site, was one of those. In 1966, Scherer Bros. partially excavated and joined the island with the mainland to expand its commercial property.
- In Minnesota, we are blessed with strong environmental regulations intended to prevent environmental degradation of our waterways; permitting to restore Hall’s Island is required.
- Strict regulations can also prevent beneficial projects from occurring because it is impossible to address every situation with regulatory rules. This is the situation that the Minneapolis Park Board faces with the proposal to reestablish Hall’s Island.
- In order to protect against harmful habitat modification, placing fill in public waters is prohibited by the Department of Natural Resources, unless:
Filling to restore or improve fish and wildlife habitat, except for filling in designated trout streams, shall be permitted provided plans are submitted showing the nature and degree of habitat to be benefited, and the project will not create other adverse effects such as flooding, erosion, sedimentation, or navigational obstructions. (STATE RULE 6115.0191, Subp. 6: Fish and wildlife habitat.)
Habitat restoration along the Mississippi River is vital.
- Multiple state and Federal agencies and nonprofits are collaborating on habitat restoration.
- In 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had 89 habitat projects underway, completed or planned on the Upper Mississippi.4
Neglecting habitat on the Upper Riverfront reinforces a “missing link”; one missing link effectively breaks the habitat/flyway chain.
- Because of its urban setting and depauperation (lack of plants/animals), the Minneapolis Upper Riverfront hasn’t been a priority for habitat restoration.
- A largely armored shoreline and paucity of island habitat distinguish these five miles as a “missing link” in the Mississippi River ecosystem; it has been described as an ecological “desert” and a “ditch.”
RiverFirst proposes to transform the “ditch” by restoring island and shoreline habitats on both banks through multifunctional, ecologically sustainable parks with benefits that include:
- Cleaning the water – reducing the concentration of E. coli and other contaminants
- Protecting against invasive species – healthy native communities resist colonization
- Creating economic and recreation opportunities – National and Regional Park visits will increase
Process to Date
May 2013: The Minnesota House this week passed the omnibus bill 976, which includes language authorizing the restoration or recreation of “Hall’s Island or such similar island” within six years. In addition, the restored island “shall remain in public ownership in perpetuity and shall be maintained as a natural habitat island for birds and other wildlife.”
January 2013: Minneapolis Park Board calls meeting of Upper Riverfront partners to discuss options for moving forward, with consensus that Hall’s Island restoration is significant to the RiverFirst Vision globally, and Scherer Park in particular.
National Park Service, supporters of RiverFirst Vision and Hall’s Island Restoration, convenes a meeting between Minneapolis Park Board management and staff, and counterparts at DNR.
Public meeting occurs to advise the community of progress and design direction, and seek input, on RiverFirst Priority Projects.
November 2012: The revised Hall’s Island design is presented to DNR and USACE staff, who informally do not endorse its habitat viability. No formal response has been received.
October-November 2012: Responding to DNR and USACE comment, the RiverFirst Design Team redefines the Hall’s Island concept to emphasize habitat, reduces recreation program by eliminating the “barge swimming pool” and other intensive uses, while maintaining viable channel and recreation uses on the shoreline beach. Design Team also develops an in-depth technical analysis of flood, flow and navigation channel.
October 2012: DNR staff advises the Design Team in writing not to pursue the Hall’s Island project, citing objections to the March 2012 design concept.
August 2012: The RiverFirst Design Team, under contract to the Minneapolis Park Board, begins Schematic Design on Scherer Park and other RiverFirst Priority Projects. Outreach to DNR and USACE recommences.
March 2012: The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board adopts the RiverFirst Vision, including a design concept for Scherer Park that includes restoration of Hall’s Island as an “active” recreation area. DNR and USACE contribute to RiverFirst Vision development throughout the yearlong process as members of the Technical Advisory Committee.