Coon Rapids dam's future is secure, but parkland dispute isn't over

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2011 - 10:11 PM
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Board members with the Three Rivers Park District are considering options regarding the future of the dam at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, in light of a failure of the structure�s underwater apron.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Its future seemingly secured by $16 million approved in the newly passed state bonding bill, the 100-year-old Coon Rapids dam is poised to become a barrier to keep the dreaded Asian carp from infesting northern Minnesota lakes.

The funding also assures that the dam, between Hennepin and Anoka counties on the Mississippi River, will continue to back up the river to create a pool that is popular for boating and fishing.

But the legislative victory for Anoka County and Three Rivers Park District, which owns the dam, hasn't resolved another matter that divides them: the terms under which hundreds of acres of valuable Mississippi River parkland near the dam in Anoka County will change hands.

Anoka County has asked for the land for free. Three Rivers, which owns the 214 acres, has said not so fast.

"The idea that they are going to get it for free is probably overly optimistic on their part," Three Rivers Chairman Larry Blackstad said. "It's a lot of land and has substantial value to it." But, he said, "we are willing to negotiate terms."

Negotiations between the two sides are being arranged for early August.

Three Rivers, based in suburban Hennepin County, received the land in 1969 as part of a gift from Northern States Power Co. that included the dam and 225 acres of parkland along the Mississippi. The land on both sides of the river is now part of the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park.

Since 1994, Three Rivers has leased the 214 acres to Anoka County for $75,000 a year, with the understanding that Anoka would eventually buy it. Anoka maintains the area as part of its park system and operates a boat launch there.

This spring Three Rivers board members abruptly terminated the lease after learning from their State Capitol lobbyists that Anoka County was using its standing in the lease to stymie park district efforts to transfer the dam to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

When it yanked the lease, Three Rivers gave the county a year to pay the remaining $673,000 and buy the property outright.

In response to losing the lease, Anoka County asked for the land at no cost. The request came in a June 20 letter from Anoka County Board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah, who wrote that conversations with county and park district staff showed a willingness "to consider an expedited transfer'' of the land that would free both sides of the lease's conditions.

"To that end, and as you requested,'' Sivarajah wrote, the county "graciously requests" that Three Rivers "consider releasing Anoka County from all conditions of the lease agreement and transferring to the county the leased property at the Coon Rapids Dam."

Three Rivers Board Member Marilynn Corcoran, who represents the district that includes the dam, said she was amazed at the suggestion. "I think it's a cheap shot on their part."

The proposal does not offer Anoka County's support in helping Three Rivers get ownership of the dam transferred to the DNR, Corcoran said. "It only includes our giving them land that has a value."

Sivarajah was out of town and could not be reached for further comment.

The dam improvements will begin as soon as the DNR can get the project going, and the park district is willing to work with the DNR to get it underway, said Boe Carlson, assistant superintendent for Three Rivers.

"What needs to be done now is to solidify plans and put them into a constructable project."

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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