What you don’t know about the City of St. Paul’s Ford Plant Proposal may hurt you.

 

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It’s often been said that “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

When it comes to the City of St. Paul’s proposed radical mass density development scheme for the empty St. Paul Ford Plant site there’s an awful lot we don’t know.

In fact, any number of data practices requests have been submitted to the City of St. Paul trying to get information that St. Paul taxpayers entitled to know.

Information that might explain why politicians and policymakers are hell bent on getting the St. Paul City Council to rubberstamp the vote of the St. Paul Planning Commission to create an urban development nightmare of epic proportions.

What is it we don’t know that we should know about the current state of the Ford Plant site in St. Paul?

More importantly, what should we know that hasn’t been disclosed to the media or taxpayers about the real reasons behind the City of St. Paul’s incessant march to passing a zoning plan for a piece of property they don’t own?

What is the true level of pollution at the Ford Plant site?

We know that the City of St. Paul, Ford Motor Company and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have agreed that current mitigation plans are sufficient to address pollution at the Ford Plant site to accommodate certain types of development.

What we don’t know is to what level of mitigation would taxpayers expect to be achieved if the City of St. Paul were to insist that Ford Motor Company clean the site up to a state in which more single-family housing could be built on the site.

Additionally, under other circumstances would it not make sense to demand that Ford Motor Company clean up their site to a much higher level given the environmental sensitivity of the Mississippi River bluffs and the groundwater systems that feed directly into the river?

There is great controversy in northern Minnesota about a mining project and the potential impact of runoff into the groundwater and the BWCA.

Yet, we have yet to hear any conclusive statements from the City of St. Paul or Ford Motor Company that the types of pollutants and contaminants that were dumped into the ground over nearly 100 years will not leach into the groundwater or the Mississippi River.

Furthermore, why won’t the City of St. Paul and Ford Motor Company come clean about the real reasons for the decision not to build more single-family housing on the Ford Plant site?

It’s not because the market won’t support more single-family housing.  The fact is the controversy over tear-downs in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ford Plant site prove that argument to be false.  The reason for the tear downs is because the current single-family housing stock is not meeting market demand.

The real reason is that Ford Motor Company doesn’t want to pay for a level of brownfield mitigation that would not only cost them more money but might make them liable for future damages if they do not achieve a much higher level of mitigation.

That the City of St. Paul would allow this is striking given the current Mayor’s strong environmental record and advocacy and the tremendously fragile ecosystem in the area surrounding the Saint Paul Ford Plant site.

Is the significant history of Native American activity in this area being adequately explored?

Even a casual observer understands the enormous spiritual and historical significance of the Mississippi River to Native Americans in Minnesota.

The history of the Dakota tribe in and along the Mississippi River might well be directly impacted by the plans of the City of St. Paul to develop the Ford Plant site in the way they are pursuing.

While there are no clear records that prove that the Ford Plant site is historically significant to Native American tribes in Minnesota there is clear evidence that Native American activity and trading took place in this area.

To the extent that this area has been examined by state and federal entities to ensure that the rights and claims of Native Americans are being protected has yet to be disclosed by the City of St. Paul or the Ford Motor Company.

Any potential developer is going to want to be assured with absolute certainty that any project they may pursue is not going to run into the prospect that the Ford Motor site may contain historically and spiritually significant claims by Native Americans.

Saint Paul residents will want the same assurance.  Far too many Native American sites in Minnesota, and across the country, have been simply ignored or destroyed for the sake of “progress”.  The loss to the Native American community and our state and nation is immeasurable.

It ought to be a priority of the City of St. Paul, Ford Motor Company and the St. Paul community to have complete assurance that this matter has been fully reviewed and considered.

What has been the cost to taxpayers so far?

Public relations consultants, outside development consultants, travels to Europe and elsewhere, staff costs are just a few of the things that the City of St. Paul has spent money on so far as it relates to the St. Paul Ford Plant site.

While it is true that some outside entities have helped cover these costs there shouldn’t be any reason not to include those expenses, as well as those expended by the City, and presented to the public.

Are we talking a few thousand dollars?  A few million dollars?

Where did the money come from?  Who made the decision to spend that money?  Was it diverted from other projects that were put on the backburner while advocates for the City’s Ford Plant vision pumped more and more money into the project?

Where are the contracts for outside consultants?  How about the communication involved with those contracts? 

In addition, what are the plans, strategies and tactics that were developed and executed by the city and those consultants?  Is the public entitled to see them and examine them and any communication between the consultants and city officials?

It would seem a reasonable request that should be easily provided to the public and to the media.

What role does Fresh Energy, District Energy, Every-Green Energy and Xcel Energy have in this project?

Fresh Energy is a non-profit that has been at the center of driving the radical mass density vision of the St. Paul Ford Plant site.  So, too, has District Energy and its subsidiary, Ever-Green Energy.

Each of these entities stands to gain something form the current vision at the Ford Plant site.  It is no secret that many Fresh Energy staff are publicly associated with advocacy of the radical mass density vision of the St. Paul Ford Plant site.

What is less known is what is the arrangement between Fresh Energy – District Energy – Ever-Green Energy – and Xcel Energy?

What agreements have been reached as to the development of energy delivery on the Ford Plant site with any or all of these entities?  What City Staff are leading these conversations?

What is the financial benefit to these organizations and who has authorized them to pursue agreements outside of the public eye?

There is clearly a desire by City planners to achieve what is euphemistically termed a “zero carbon footprint” on the Ford Plant site.

Ironically in creating a “zero carbon footprint” on less than 140 acres of land they expose tens of thousands of other St. Paul residents with a measurably higher carbon footprint as soon as the upwards of 10,000 new residents, workers and visitors take one step off the Ford Plant site.

Few public discussions have taken place about how is energy going to be created and delivered on the Ford Plant site.  Energy doesn’t just show up.  It doesn’t grow on trees.

Someone is leading these conversations with these companies and their leadership.  Who is it?  What are the discussions?  The agreements?  And, if contracts and plans are being negotiated why are they not being done in the light of public scrutiny?

Who is the developer in this project and what conversations has the City of St. Paul, the Port Authority and the Ford Motor Company had about the sale of this land?

Much has been made that Ford Motor Company intends to put this property on the market sometime this year or in 2018.

What hasn’t been talked about is what conversations they, the City of St. Paul and the St. Paul Port Authority have already had with prospective developers.

More importantly, who is leading those conversations with the City of St. Paul and the Port Authority and what is the right of the public to know about these conversations?

Whether those conversations are being held formally or informally – as in ex parte communications – the fact is that they are likely leading up to some pre-arranged agreement among some or all of these entities – two of them public and one of them private.

What conversations is the City of St. Paul and/or the Port Authority having with Ford Motor Company about the timing of their decision to put this property on the market? 

Equally important, how much influence has Ford Motor Company had on the City’s zoning changes throughout this process?

One has to wonder why the City of St. Paul cares what Ford Motor Company claims it will or won’t do with respect to cleaning up pollution on their site.

If the City did not have such a single-minded obsession with its radical mass density vision on this property they would be telling Ford Motor Company what they must do to clean up the site – not listening to Ford Motor Company tell the City what they won’t do to clean up the site and land they polluted.

It’s completely amazing that any municipality would permit a corporation to tell them they won’t clean up their pollution to the highest level possible.

Ford Motor Company has allegedly told the City they will only clean the land to a level in which certain type of development will be allowed on the property.  Where are those documents?  Where is the record of those conversations?  Who has had those conversations and why hasn’t the public been given access to the content of those discussions?

What is driving the timeline for the City Council to vote on this project before the next Mayor is elected to office?

Finally, one must wonder why the City of St. Paul has been pushing this project with such ferocity this year.

There is no deadline. There are not timelines that have to be met to receive funds from some government entity. There is no pressing event horizon that will have any impact on the outcome of the City’s zoning proposal for this site.

Yet, despite significant opposition from the neighborhood – a blatant misrepresentation of public opposition to the project on the City’s own public website – and deep-rooted questions about the impact of this project on the neighborhood – the City Council is prepared to vote on this project in September.

Why?

Why can’t a vote on this project wait until a new Mayor is elected in St. Paul?

Given the nature of concerns being expressed what can possibly be driving the timeline for elected officials to plow ahead on this project?

Is it the current Mayor’s gubernatorial ambitions?  Is there some behind-the-scenes timeline that the public hasn’t been made aware of?  Are City Councilmembers concerned that further details of this project being disclosed may derail the momentum they have tried to build behind getting it passed?

It’s a fair question and one that has yet to be answered by the City of St. Paul.

A reasonable request would be to delay any further work on this project until a new Mayor is elected and given the opportunity to sit down and talk with the broader St. Paul community about the impact this will have citywide.

An unreasonable reaction is to ignore that altogether and vote to proceed without regard to public opposition.

There’s a lot of questions that still must have to be answered.

One hopes that policymakers – perhaps prodded by the media who might ask some of these questions – would finally respond to some of these questions.

By refusing to do so they raise red flags among tens of thousands of neighbors who cannot understand why a project with so little support – so few advocates – and so many unanswered questions continues to move forward.

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