District Court Judge Edward Wahl has ordered the city of Minneapolis to stop the imminent demolition of the former Roof Depot warehouse.
The order is a temporary win for Indigenous and environmental activists who have recently escalated their opposition to the city's plans for a new Public Works facility in the East Phillips neighborhood by attempting to occupy the site, located at 27th Street and Longfellow Avenue.
Wahl had earlier denied a request by the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) — a neighborhood group seeking community control of the city site to develop an urban farm — for a preliminary injunction. EPNI appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals.
On Friday morning, Wahl granted a temporary stay of demolition pending that appeal on the following conditions:
- EPNI requests an expedited appeal.
- EPNI posts at least $10,000 bond within two weeks.
- EPNI asks members of the public not to trespass on the Roof Depot property.
- The city can make the case that further delay will create financial damages requiring EPNI to post more bond.
"We're resolved to reduce pollution and keep the neighborhood's dream alive for a cooperatively run indoor urban farm and community hub," EPNI said in a statement. "This month's huge swell of support shows a clear path forward for East Phillips, a path towards healing past environmental injustices and ensuring a healthier future for residents."
City spokesperson Sarah McKenzie noted that Wahl nonetheless agrees with all of the city's arguments in favor of demolition.
"His ruling today simply allows the court of appeals to review [the case]," she said.
The city bought the Roof Depot site in 2016 to expand its existing Public Works campus with a new yard for water maintenance staff, their equipment and vehicles — a vision that requires tearing down the vacant warehouse.
East Phillips neighborhood activists and their representatives on the City Council have opposed those plans, saying they do not want the city to bring diesel trucks and potentially hundreds of employees' personal vehicles into a low-income community overwhelmed with heavy industries and high rates of asthma.
Environmental activists are also worried demolition will stir contaminants in the soil. A former pesticide manufacturer nearby left arsenic groundwater contamination — with a plume spreading below the Roof Depot site — and required Superfund remediation of hundreds of neighborhood lawns a decade ago.
The city has a demolition remediation plan approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Agriculture. Opponents, though, reject the city's assertion that demolition can be done safely.
On Friday afternoon, the city held a press conference in which Steve Jansen, vice president of geotechnical consulting firm Braun Intertec, presented demolition safety measures.
It will take about a month to knock the building down and haul the debris away. The city will remove any contaminated surface soil and spray water to prevent dust from spreading, Jansen said. There will be continuous air monitoring and provisions to temporarily halt work if elevated pollutant levels are captured.
"The building itself doesn't have any issues other than it is a very old building," Jansen said. "The levels [of arsenic] that are being found on the Roof Depot property ... are 1,000 times less than some of the levels being found on the adjacent Superfund site."
As the city's original demolition date of Feb. 27 neared, opposition to the project grew. Residents of the Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex for Native Americans attempted to occupy the Roof Depot site Tuesday. Their camp was disbanded within a day and several protesters were detained.
The next day, the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors Group, a collaborative of more than 25 American Indian organizations, denounced the crackdown and "environmental racism" that placed polluting industries in proximity to minority communities. The Bancroft, Bryant, Central and Powderhorn Park neighborhood associations asked Mayor Jacob Frey and council members to abide the "decade of consistent and unyielding opposition" to the city project.
Two last-minute City Council votes Thursday to cancel demolition of the Roof Depot warehouse failed with council members split 6-6.
East Phillips activists have criticized the city for not presenting demolition remediation plans to the community at large in a way that allows questions.
Last October, as part of negotiations with EPNI over its lawsuits, city and Braun Intertec representatives spent several hours with a group of EPNI representatives responding to some of their questions about the site. The meetings occurred in the afternoon during work hours.
"We don't get paid to sit in meetings like you got. We have jobs ... I have a kid on my hip at almost every meeting," said Little Earth resident Cassie Holmes during a news conference at the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center on Wednesday. "But I did tell them: Believe when my community is needed, they're going to show up."
Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher reiterated Friday that the city's project has been approved by state regulators, the District Court and the Court of Appeals.
"We would not be going forward with this project if the city of Minneapolis did not believe it was a safe project and a project that is going to improve the area," she said. "One of the things that's important to this area is cleaning up these industrial sites and having them become something different."