Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
It's been a years-long conflict, including lawsuits, between the city of Minneapolis and neighbors in a south Minneapolis community.
Minneapolis officials want to raze the former Roof Depot warehouse and build a new Public Works water facility on the city-owned site. That would consolidate operations that are currently spread around the city. It would house about 470 employees, city equipment and vehicles, and roughly 800 parking spaces.
The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) wants to redevelop the warehouse site into an urban farm. And members of the nearby Little Earth housing complex for Native Americans say the new facility will put more pollutants in the air that will affect the health of their community.
City officials have taken numerous steps to compromise with opponents and demonstrate that the site will be safe. In late January, the City Council voted 7-6 to move forward with demolition, which had been expected to begin next week. But a Hennepin County judge temporarily stopped that plan on Friday, providing more time for legal appeals. In the Star Tribune Editorial Board's view, it's time for the project to move forward.
Over the years, many divided City Council votes and turnover of council members have stopped and restarted the city plans while EPNI lawsuits in district and appellate court held up the project.
Opponents believe they are fighting to preserve the health of nearby residents, save lives and combat environmental racism that has historically concentrated pollutants in communities of color.
"This is a fight that can't stop," Rachel Thunder told the Star Tribune. She is a leader in the local American Indian Movement and one of the protesters who tried to occupy the site by on the property earlier this week to prevent demolition. She was arrested then released Tuesday night.
Community objections have generally not prevailed in court. Early this month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed that the city's environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for the project was adequate.
Also this month, Hennepin County District Judge Edward T. Wahl denied EPNI's request to stop demolition, finding that "potential" to disperse contaminants was insufficient to grant a temporary injunction. But on Friday, Wahl temporarily halted the demolition plan to give EPNI more time to appeal.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher told an editorial writer that the new facility would consolidate city water distribution and maintenance operations on one site. Frey said the building is in terrible shape, so damaged that inspectors must wear hazmat suits to go inside, and it needs to come down whether the new facility is built or not.
He said his administration has negotiated for years over the site and, at one point, thought it had an agreement. The city has said it would give 3 acres of the site to EPNI for community development, including a job training center. The city also had an environmental assessment done on the site and received Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Agriculture approvals.
Frey said that the building would be taken down in pieces and removed to limit the amount of dust released into the atmosphere. He added that the job training center would give priority spots to neighborhood residents to develop skills and get good-paying public works positions.
Some of the concerns voiced by the community are understandable, and EPNI deserves the chance to appeal. At the same time, city officials have taken the proper steps to provide answers and ensure that the project would benefit residents of the area.