Mining for sand and gravel, image: Wikimedia Commons
Now that gravel mining has been put off at UMore Park and considerable discussion has occurred recently by the agricultural faculty at the University of Minnesota, perhaps taking a step back and re-evaluating the whole situation would be a good thing to do? A real economic analysis might also prove useful...
Part I. Are We A Land Grant Institution or A Gravel Mining and Development Corporation?
Senate Research Committee
Monday, April 25, 2011
"Professor Linn, Head of Animal Science, said that his department has conducted research on land at UMore Park for over 50 years, including with sheep, dairy and beef cows, and swine, and at present it has research facilities for turkey and beef cattle. Their research facilities are on the edge of the area where the proposed gravel mining will start. They have expressed concern all along about the loss of agricultural land and their animal facilities."
"What is key for them, Professor Linn said, is replacement of the facilities. There has been no discussion of the loss or replacement. This is a multi-million-dollar problem. Second, this is a primary turkey-producing state, but they have no idea what the effect of mining will be on the research facilities. They bring in $300,000 – 500,000 per year to support the facilities the research facilities at UMore Park, and the impact of the mining has to be addressed."
"The land is their laboratory, Dr. Braun explained, and UMore Park turns their labs into a gravel mine. The value of the lab far exceeds the value of the gravel mine. They have asked for alternative land but are skeptical that will be provided with the kind of land that is needed."
"The University is abdicating its land-grant mission, and he[Professor Baker] does not know of another land-grant school that does not have land close to its campus to train undergraduates. To sell off an asset to pay for operations is like selling one's kidney to pay for groceries, he said, which is why they are so upset with the plans for UMore Park."
"The land that has been suggested as an alternative is not equal to what they have now, Professor Orf said, nor does it have the millions of dollars of infrastructure (storage sheds, irrigation, and laboratories for threshing and storage of plants, etc.) that currently exists in the land they use. There was great concern about the impact of the light-rail trains on research on the Minneapolis campus; they have the same concerns about the dust and equipment storage and safety of the people working at their sites."
Professor Hutchison, the Head of Entomology, said that his department still has active research at UMore Park and they have not seen enough consultation with faculty members; he thanked the Committee for hearing about their concerns. Their faculty see these recent discussions as re-arranging deck chairs on the "Titanic."
"A number of faculty members (23) in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) wrote to the Board of Regents in July, 2010 to express their concerns. The Regents wrote back to respectfully disagree about the quality of the land and the lack of a farm for the University."
"Dr. Becker also noted that when the University received the land at UMore Park after WW II, University Agronomists and Soil Scientists conducted surveys and determined the agricultural plots needed to be where they are because most of the landscape at UMore Park was disturbed in building the munitions plant. Topsoil and subsoil were mixed or significantly altered, rendering those areas wholly unsuitable for research other than reclamation research. We cannot just move onto other lands impacted by the plant construction. "
They and others have been doing studies for ten years or more and will not be able to continue because of the gravel dust. E.g., photosynthate measurements will be erratic and altered because of widespread gravel dust deposition.
These sites encompass the entire Agronomy farm research areas, and he would not want to be around them, nor would he want his students working on the land near them. Dust, noise, VOCs from the asphalt plant, conveyors transporting rock overhead, and heavy equipment traffic - they cannot co-exist. The take-home message is that the University has to acquire new land in the area. As Dr. Al Levine, Dean of CFANS put it; it is like taking buildings down on campus and making no alternative arrangements for the faculty who were housed in them.
Professor Linn said that the Regents' letter indicates the plans will go forward even though most faculty members on the St. Paul campus oppose them. Dr. Braun reported that the gravel mining has been postponed because of the economic situation (an 80% decline in the demand for gravel), which buys them time to explore alternatives, such as mining on the east side and not disrupting the agricultural land.
Professor Vaughan asked if the Regents made the decision without consulting the faculty. Essentially they did, Professor Baker said. The Board was led to believe there would be additional discussions about what would serve the research needs of the faculty, but those discussions have not taken place.
Professor Linn said that from the time the process started and all along, they have said that what is going on there is not acceptable. There will be mining and a new community; the key issue is the lack of responsibility for agricultural research that has been there for 50 years. They are not looking at the importance of how to replace that land—the focus has been on the mining and the new community.
Dr. Braun reported that it was in March 2010 that agricultural researchers were informed about the plans for UMore Park. Many had no idea anything was being planned, even though UMore Park had been in the works for years.
The implication is that Vice President Mulcahy talked about the cost of relocating the NMR machines because of the light rail trains, which involved a cost in time and expense, including the effect on graduate students. One would have thought they would have had similar relocation costs as part of the UMore Park project, but apparently they did not, which reflects a misunderstanding of the research enterprise.
The argument was that things cannot go on like they have been, Professor Cleary said. What does that mean? That the value of the land and gravel outweighs the value of the research? Professor Orf said that, per Professor Baker, some of this research has a history and it would take 15 years to get back to the same point. Will NSF provide funding for another 15 years? That is not likely. Professor Cleary said he could not understand the negative views about the agricultural research being done on the UMore Park land.
These are merely excerpts. There is even more horrible stuff available where that came from.
Part II. Follow the Money
My fellow University of Minnesota alumnus, Michael McNabb comments on the situation:
Recent discussions have confirmed concerns about the UMore Park development. The gravel pit will be located on land that has been used for agricultural research that has produced hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy of Minnesota. See the remarks of the professors from the College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resources Sciences at the April 25, 2011 meeting of the faculty research committee at More On MoreU Park.
In July 2010 the Regents dismissed the concerns expressed by CFANS faculty members about the decision (already made) to transform UMore Park. At that time the Regents were under the impression that the gravel pit would generate $3 million to $10 million in revenue per year. That projection by senior administrators was wildly unrealistic. See Section 1 of University Inc. Part II.
See UMore Park Craziness for a partial list of the numerous consultants who have received part of the $9.3 million (and counting) that the administration has spent planning the development of UMore Park. Note that there is not a single consultant from the fields of agriculture or veterinary medicine. (The Vet School has an entire farm at UMorePark.) It appears that the senior administrators and the Regents made the decision on UMore Park without consulting either the professors who were engaged in research on the land or any agricultural economists!
The decision of the administration on UMore Park fails to recognize the essential value of agricultural research for a land grant university:
“CFANS is a college devoted to solution-driven science; we use critical and innovative thinking plus all the tools of the arts and sciences to make our planet a productive, friendly, and sustainable environment--to solve everyday problems. We study the health of the land and the health of the living.”
See the message from the Dean on the University of Minnesota web site.