Thank you to the Star Tribune for publishing "Habitat vs. housing: Maplewood haven for grassland birds is possible site for affordable homes" (July 18). It is important for the public to learn about a rare grassland that provides habitat to uncommon birds and likely other unique species. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of nature to human physical and mental health. Nature, of course, has its own intrinsic value.
The Battle Creek grassland provides habitat for rare and endangered species, and the deep-rooted prairie plants are important for carbon sequestration. Drought, heat and wildfires indicate the urgency of the climate crisis. Grassland birds, once common throughout Minnesota, are now in precipitous decline, indicative of the extinction crisis. Ramsey County has numerous already degraded properties that could be used to address the housing crisis. Protecting the Battle Creek grassland is an extraordinary opportunity to achieve the county's goals of environmental stewardship and community health in an equitable and fiscally responsible manner.
Jane Schuler, St. Paul
This reporter did an admirable job detailing the conservation concerns regarding the land parcel adjacent to Battle Creek Regional Park, which had been anticipated as an opportunity to further enhance the park but is now being considered as a possible site for housing development. Certainly the need for affordable housing is urgent, as is locating suitable land for this use, but the selection of rare grassland habitat currently in use by endangered species is not an appropriate answer to housing needs. I commend Ramsey County for ordering natural resource inventory and Maplewood Mayor Marylee Abrams for seriously considering the unique features of this precious resource.
Alternative sites for housing can and must be found. We must not be asked to choose between access to housing and access to nature.
Ellen Lowery, St. Paul
HIAWATHA GOLF COURSE
Don't ever resurrect that proposal
Reducing the Hiawatha Golf Course to nine holes would have gone down in history as one of the most inequitable and unnecessary decisions in the history of the Minneapolis park system ("Hiawatha Golf Course redesign killed again by board," July 22).
Those in favor of the master plan believed they were honoring the ecology of the property. This belief was mistaken. The flooding and ecological problems at the course are the result of massive upstream development. Reducing pumping on the site would not change this fact; reduced pumping would simply move water into the surrounding neighborhoods. After pumping is reduced, constituents would have dealt with flooded basements in other areas. More likely than not, the city would have been forced to return to pumping in substantially the same amounts. As long as millions of people live in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro, there will be pumping on the site. The future residents of Minneapolis would have wished the city had simply left the course the way it was and has been for years.
Second, the idea that supporters were creating an equitable experience by reducing the historically African American golf course to nine holes was seen for exactly what it was: racism and classism. A nine-hole course is vastly inferior to an 18-hole course. The current 18-hole course is the pride of working class and minority golfers in south Minneapolis. Not every child has a daddy who is a member of a country club. Supporters were asking the working class and lower income residents of Minneapolis to sacrifice their access to a tangible, quality-of-life asset based on alleged ecological grounds because of the excess development of wealthy upstream residents. The master plan catered to white, upper-income residents with expensive "fat tire" bicycles and high-end cross-country ski gear and kayaks. Describing the plan as "celebrating history in a meaningful way" was insulting. The idea that it was going to "tell the story" of the Lakota people through a cheap placard is as embarrassing as a totem pole at Disneyland. Simply put, changing Hiawatha to nine holes would have been a slap in the face to working class and minority residents of Minneapolis.
Finally, spending tens of millions of dollars to give residents less would have gone down as a great financial blunder. Fewer golfers would play the course. Fewer golfers would mean less revenue. Years from now residents would have had to spend millions more converting the course back to 18 holes. Now we can spend the money on something else.
Courtland Merrill, Minneapolis
To witness the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board once again reject the Hiawatha Golf Course property master plan is to witness the painful collision of racial justice and environmental stewardship.
Exclusionary practices in golf are not ancient history; while the MPRB began eliminating noxious Jim Crow policies at Hiawatha in the 1940s, discrimination persisted at private clubs into the 21st century. Indeed, change at Hiawatha Golf Course only happened due to the tenacity and commitment of Solomon Hughes Sr., a Black golfer who fought for integration of the course and clubhouse. As a non-golfer learning about this history, I'm extremely sympathetic to those who are fighting to preserve it. I agree that the move to rename the clubhouse after this pioneer is long overdue.
But as a civil engineer who works in water resource management, I do know the story of the land that the course was built upon. Wetlands and lowlands were not always appreciated for the role they play in water quality and flood management. Hiawatha Golf Course was built on the assumption that filling in wetlands for other land uses would have no environmental impact. Nature responded with flooding and water quality degradation. Finally, in 1991, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Wetlands Conservation Act. If this law existed at the time of the development of the Lake Hiawatha area, the golf course would never have been built. Today, the Park Board must pump hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater on a temporary Department of Natural Resources permit to keep the back nine from turning into a swamp.
The Hiawatha master plan is a compromise that acknowledges the errors of the past. It renames the clubhouse in honor of Hughes and retains nine holes of golf on the higher portion of the course. It cuts back on groundwater pumping and works to preserve and rebuild the wetlands that naturally filter stormwater runoff and provide a good measure of flood prevention.
By voting no on the master plan, the Park Board voted to allow the status quo, which in itself is a threat to Hughes' legacy. Nature will have the last word; the course will inevitably flood as it did in the storms of 2014. If climate scientists are correct, future flooding will be more frequent, rendering the course unusable and necessitating costly repair and restoration.
It's only a matter of time until crisis forces the Park Board to revisit the problem of the Hiawatha Golf Course property again. Let's hope that we have a board of commissioners willing to make the difficult compromises that serve both community needs as well as our natural resources.
Cathy Abene, Minneapolis
The writer is a candidate for the Park Board in District 6.
Possible electoral incentives
So Republican politicians are finally encouraging their followers to get vaccinated ("A welcome vaccine push from GOP, Fox," editorial, July 23). Did they only just realize that it will be impossible to get elected if half their constituents are dead?
Bruce Lloyd Hughes, Brooklyn Park
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