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As the reluctant owners of the century-old Coon Rapids Dam, Three Rivers Park District will ask legislators to appoint a group to ponder the future of the Mississippi River dam.
The Hennepin County park district received the dam and adjacent land along the river as a gift from a utility company in 1969. It now finds dam repairs and operations are draining money from other park needs, putting an unfair burden on the Hennepin taxpayers who support Three Rivers.
Park commissioners agreed Thursday that asking legislators to appoint a commission to consider who should be responsible for dam operations and repairs would be a good way to bring state and local interests into the discussion.
"For the past 40 years, Three Rivers Park District has done a marvelous job of taking care of the dam,'' but in recent years the Park District has asked for help and "people have said no,'' said Park District Commissioner Mark Haggerty, who represents Crystal, Golden Valley, Hopkins, New Hope, Robbinsdale and St. Louis Park.
If the Legislature will appoint a commission to consider the dam's future, "it may take a couple years, but everyone will have their say and it will all be public,'' Haggerty said.
The dam creates a lake-like "pool" along six miles of the Mississippi River near Coon Rapids. The pool is lined with expensive homes and is busy with boaters during the summer.
Because people live on the reservoir created by the dam, "This is kind of a classic political issue, a highly charged political issue,'' said Park District lobbyist Cort Holten.
The Park District's role in the discussion is as a custodian of public funds, he said, and the district's position is that "this is tax money; we have to act responsibly over it.''
On Friday, a legislative hearing was held on a bill introduced early this month seeking to provide $8 million in state bonds to repair the dam. A recent Three Rivers evaluation of the dam found an underwater failure in the apron of the dam that the Department of Natural Resources said does not need immediate repair.
The bill's author, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the dam holds particular importance as a barrier from an invasive species of Asian carp that now threatens areas downstream.
It's customary for the DNR to assist with dam repair throughout the state, Hortman noted, and such a move would not indicate any intention to shift ownership to the DNR, she said.
"They already own 500 dams," Hortman said. "They don't have any interest in acquiring title to different dams."
The House environment and natural resources finance committee will provide recommendations on the bill to the bonding committee.
Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711
Tara Bannow is a University of Minnesota journalism student working on assignment for the Star tribune.