Nearly a year ago, I wrote about two veterans, James Hudson and Richard Greggersen, and their relentless efforts to move or shut down a wood chipping facility near a housing community for formerly long-term homeless veterans. I’m saddened to say that despite months of promises from city, state and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board officials, Hudson and Greggersen are still at it.
The Upper Post Veterans Community near Fort Snelling consists of several buildings that were renovated and reopened in 2015 to serve men, many of them with physical or mental illnesses, looking for a permanent respite from the streets. They began moving into the facility after being promised that a wood chipping facility virtually in their backyard would soon be moved.
The site is leased by the MPRB to process ash trees in its effort to get rid of ash borers from the city. When I spoke to officials last April, they said they were in the “final approval process” of moving the chipping plant and the mammoth piles of wood shavings. That still has not happened.
Meanwhile, the vets have to live with constant noise, starting sometimes as early as 5 a.m., blowing dust and pungent smells that invade their homes and upset their lives.
In a letter to the Park Board, Deidre Schmidt, president of the housing developer CommonBond, wrote: “Residents complain that their apartments, cars, food and clothes are covered in wood dust. The odor from the mountain of chips is strong. Noise wakes our residents in the very early morning hours. We and our residents will no longer tolerate the MPRB’s inaction and its impact on the well-being of our residents.”
Schmidt concluded: “Given this history, I find it disingenuous to assert that the health, safety and livability of our residents matter to the MPRB. … I have to ask myself: Would more affluent residents’ health and comfort be disregarded for this long?”
Last week, Hudson appeared before the Park Board to again ask about the vets. They gave him one minute.
“After one minute, they were ringing the buzzer,” said Hudson. “It’s still a mess. The health and quality of life of these veterans is being affected, and it’s not right.”
Hudson and Greggersen were originally alerted to the problem by a rat. Literally. They were golfing at the Fort Snelling course when they spotted a rat. Out of curiosity, they followed the rat to the wood piles, which were steaming in the spring heat. The retired vets spoke to a couple of residents, who were afraid to complain too much because they finally had a place to call home and were afraid they might be kicked out.
So Hudson and Greggersen began to call officials from the park board, the city, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and even the governor’s office.
“During this process I learned the phrase ‘not in my purview,’ ” Hudson told me at the time.
Tuesday, Jeremy Barrick of the MPRB told me the site was closed to new materials as of Monday, and that they planned to end wood processing by March 23. There is a new lease and operating agreement at another location beginning March 15, he said.
Hudson will believe it when he sees it.
“They keep making excuses,” Hudson said. “First, they couldn’t find a place to move it. Then it was a budget issue. They keep blowing us off.”
On Tuesday, Hudson visited some of the residents, who told them of the toll it was taking on them.
“It was in full swing with the noise and dust,” said Hudson. “Someone told me they were going to get rid of it in three weeks. “They can’t do it. There are piles of wood and logs 30 feet high. It’s disgusting what’s going on down there.”