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The Ramsey County site, a former 260-acre munitions plant about 10 miles from downtown St. Paul, is one of the largest swaths of undeveloped land left in the Twin Cities.

Mckenna Ewen, Star Tribune

Arden Hills cleanup may not depend on stadium

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • February 24, 2012 - 9:59 PM

Maybe they won't get a purple-and-gold end zone in Arden Hills, but with that goal fading, some Ramsey County commissioners still hope to develop hundreds of acres just 10 miles north of the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The big white elephant is the site of the long-abandoned World War II-era Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP). Conversations in the past year have focused on putting a $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium at the site, but commissioners now hope to turn that attention toward a discussion about how to get the land cleaned up and back in use.

"At this point, we're still waiting to see what happens with the Vikings," Board Chairman Rafael Ortega said. "We haven't had the general discussion."

Commissioners had been expected to take up a controversial policy change next Tuesday that could provide some cash to purchase the land, but the agenda item was pulled Friday and it's uncertain when it will be discussed.

While all commissioners would like to get the federal Superfund site back on the tax rolls, sentiment is mixed on how to make it happen. Some have concerns about how the county would finance the purchase. Some also say they want the state or federal government to take responsibility for the cleanup of the land, now owned by the federal General Services Administration.

The Ramsey County Board already has accepted a $20.6 million bid from Carl Bolander & Sons Co. to remediate the property, but that won't start unless the board takes another vote and decides to go forward. The county can buy the site for $28 million and the cost of the cleanup would be deducted from that price.

It's not yet clear where the $28 million would come from.

Behind the scenes, draft language has circulated to change the county's Solid Waste Master Plan to allow the county to use solid waste fees for acquisition, cleanup and redevelopment of land. Consumers pay the fees as part of their trash bills.

The money now is used for waste disposal, but the fund has a surplus of $21 million, according to County Finance Director Lee Mehrkens. He said $6 million of the surplus is committed, but $15 million remains.

As recently as a month ago, Ortega said Gov. Mark Dayton told him he wanted to find $28 million for the county to acquire the land. Dayton's spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said the governor wants to clean up the site -- stadium or not -- but she said he hasn't indicated if there will be money this year to do so.

Commissioner Tony Bennett, who sponsored the stadium proposal with Ortega, supports changing the master plan so the surplus could be used to buy the land. "If it opens up our options for the TCAAP site, I'd be more than happy to do it," he said.

Other commissioners note that if the surplus is used, the TCAAP site shouldn't be the only land considered. Board Member Jim McDonough noted the former West Publishing building downtown near the Mississippi River and Member Janice Rettman spoke of land the Frogtown Neighborhood Association has sought to buy.

Rettman is not only opposed to the TCAAP acquisition but also to using the solid waste surplus. Instead, she said, the county could stop collecting the fee for a couple of years or give customers a rebate.

'Let's be ready'

The Arden Hills site, along Interstate 35W and Hwy. 10, came to prominence last May when the Vikings and Ramsey County presented a proposal for a new stadium. State officials discussed it for months, but have since focused on the Metrodome site in Minneapolis.

Until 1941, the site was farmland. About 300 buildings were constructed and in 1942 the manufacturing of small-arms ammunition began. The plant employed 26,000 at its peak.

Laws back then didn't govern disposal of chemicals, and state and federal agencies have since found contamination in the groundwater, soil, sediment and surface water.

McDonough said he's wary of spending money to clean up the site if no development will occur, but believes the board should move ahead. "Let's be ready for the next development," he said.

Projects at the site have fallen through in the past. In 2009, Arden Hills withdrew an offer to purchase a 774-acre tract after Ryan Companies ended its proposed development agreement, in part because of the sunken economy. The city had visions of parkland, homes and businesses on the site.

If the county were to get control of the site, McDonough said, he would like to see mixed-use development not unlike what Ryan had planned. "Your strongest, most stable communities have more mixed-use development," he said.

Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said she likes the idea of green manufacturing for the site. Bennett said the city and the developer would determine a use. "I won't dictate what should be done," he said.

McDonough, however, still hasn't given up on the Purple.

"In my mind, it's still the best site and where the Vikings will end up," he said.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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