Minneapolis park officials are negotiating with Xcel Energy in hopes of leasing a former coal ash- processing site in the Columbia Park neighborhood for a soon-to-be-displaced wood-chipping operation at Fort Snelling.

They’re hoping for a 20-year lease with Xcel on the bermed parcel adjoining St. Anthony Parkway, NE Marshall St. and the Soo Line rail tracks. That’s north of Xcel’s Riverside plant. It is screened from the parkway by vegetation.

The current wood-chipping site on Park Board land across the street from the Neiman Sports Complex at Fort Snelling is getting residential neighbors. That’s because homeless veterans are moving into housing created in rehabbed former horse barns near to the chipping site.

Xcel closed its facility on the property in 2009 as it converted the power plant to natural gas fuel. It processed ash there for use in concrete nd other products. The Park Board would pave the portion of the area where it would chip trees in order to lessen odors and to minimize infiltration of rain into the capped  ash area. Xcel said it is exploring ideas for the site with the Park Board.

The Park Board has shifted its forestry operations from chipping at the locations where it prunes trees, or removes them because of disease or storm damage. It now trucks tree waste to the Fort Snelling location where a contractor pays $125,000 to lease park-owned land for chipping. Forestry Director Ralph Sievert said the current contractor no longer wants to pay for the site, but he's confident another can be found.

A staff report said that site isn’t suitable because the process creates noise and dust and throws pieces of wood up in the air in a way that’s unsafe with housing nearby. Superintendent Jayne Miller has earmarked $350,000 to create the new site.

The Columbia Park neighborhood wants assurances that trucks hauling to the site will be routed in a way that doesn’t disrupt traffic along Marshall, according to Darielle Dannen, co-chair of the Columbia Park Neighborhood Association.

Board President Liz Wielinski said that absent a new chipping facility in Minneapolis, the system would need to bear the expense of hauling downed trees farther to a more remote location. She noted that  the quarantine imposed for the emerald ash borer means that wood must stay within Hennepin County.

Wielinski is also the staffer for the Columbia Park neighborhood, but both she and Dannen said she recused herself when the issue was discussed by the neighborhood board.

“To me, a big, giant grinder is nothing compared to the giant bombs going by on the railroad tracks,” she said at the Park Board’s Wednesday night meeting, referring to oil trains that run through the area.

(Photos: above--Proposed site of the wood-chipping operation from the NE Marshall Street side; below--The Park Board's current wood-chipping site at Fort Snelling. Images from Google street view)