Metropolitan Council members will be seeking input on the design of an Oakes Park lift station Wednesday, but some Hopkins residents continue to fight a sewer project that appears to be all but a done deal.
“I think the City Council made it clear that they don’t care how we the residents feel,” said C. Braun.
Braun and 2011 mayoral candidate Garold Healy estimate they’ve hung about 100 flyers asking residents around the park to speak out against the decision to put a lift station, or wastewater pumping station, in Oakes Park. They’ve also continued asking people to sign a petition against the project.
The lift station is part of a complicated trade in which the Met Council gives Hopkins additional property for Cottageville Park in exchange for the Oakes Park property. At a March council meeting, neighbors fought back against the project. But City Council members voted unanimously to approve a lift station agreement.
Wednesday’s meeting is supposed to offer residents a chance to learn about the project and discuss the design. But Healy and Braun see it as one more opportunity to kill the lift station.
“This may be the last chance you will have to make your voice heard to stop this project,” a flyer warns.
Healy’s campaign may have given him experience with local government, but Braun said this is her first time getting involved in a community effort like this. Her window looks out on the park, and she walks around it daily. Like residents who argued against the lift station the first time, she thinks a lift station would hurt the park’s character.
“It’s not going to be like a park anymore,” she said. “It’s going to be like an industrial building.”
Planners disagree, saying it could be an attractive building that shouldn’t hurt quality of life. If it includes public restrooms, as the city has discussed, it could even wind up being a benefit to park goers.
They also say there’s no other option that make as much financial sense. Alternatives either have insufficient space or engineering complications that would add to the project’s costs. One alternative would add about $1 million to the $10 million being spent in Hopkins because workers would have to tunnel under Minnehaha Creek.
Healy and Braun don’t buy that. But they’re just as upset because of the way they think the city went around park neighbors. Braun said she learned of the project four days before a neighborhood meeting to discuss it.
Like other critics, she attended the meeting to oppose the project. But she felt officials had already made their decision by that point.
“It absolutely was a done deal,” she said. “It was already decided. They just had to rubber stamp it.”
Minutes from City Council meetings indicate officials were discussing relocation of the existing lift station, currently located near Cottageville Park, as early as October 2009 in order to open up Cottageville Park—although Oakes Park was not mentioned in those minutes.
Oakes Park formally entered discussions by February 2012, when City Engineer John Bradford outlined the current plan at a City Council work session.
Braun wishes the city had involved Oakes Park residents as soon as a lift station in the park was a possibility—similar to the way it launched early planning discussions for light-rail development.
Said Healy: “I would think that before the city ever considered giving away parkland they would’ve brought it up to the public.”
Still, Hopkins officials have made their decision and Wednesday’s meeting will not involve any official action. Healy said he and Braun will continue working to get residents involved, but Braun acknowledged that it’s not always easy.
“We’re trying to get people on board but it’s hard when you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle,” she said. “I think a lot of people are opposed to it, but how do you fight City Hall?”
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