With harsh words, the St. Paul City Council ordered the Metropolitan Airport Commission today to rip out a $6 million drainage sewer built in connection with a planned floodwall around the St. Paul Downtown Airport.
Commission officials said the 4-3 vote wouldn't affect construction of the floodwall, expected to begin in the fall. But the vote signaled lingering distrust and anger over the project, which the council approved in 2006 after years of controversy.
Minutes after the vote, Mayor Chris Coleman vowed to veto the council's action.
"I cannot allow city government to demand that the MAC tear down a multi-million dollar project only to rebuild it. If allowed to stand, the council's proposed action would be an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars - and an unacceptable outcome for a project that is good for the city of St. Paul," Coleman said in a statement.
The sewer project has hit several bumps along the way. The commission failed to apply for grading permit and a variance needed for the project - a variance commission officials say they didn't know was required.
That led to growing animosity from floodwall opponents, including council President Kathy Lantry, toward the commission. On Wednesday, Lantry accused the commission not only of misleading the city, but of being arrogant in its dealings with St. Paul.
"It is deplorable for another government agency," Lantry said.
Commission executive director Jeffrey Hamiel said he was disappointed in the comments directed at the MAC during the meeting. But he said even if the order to rip out the sewer stands, it wouldn't affect construction of the mile-long floodwall, which goes out to bid next week.
"It's really hard to sit and listen to the criticism of the MAC made by the council president. It's disappointing," said Hamiel, adding that the commission has never been subjected to such withering criticism.
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Environmentalists say that the dike will adversely affect the river and that neighbors fear having flood protection will promote increased operations at the airport and lead to more noise.
Mayor Chris Coleman wasn't sounding dissuaded by fears expressed about changes to Holman Field.
This is the fourth time the floodwall has been deployed at the airport, having been erected once in 2009 and twice in 2010.
The St. Paul Planning Commission on Friday tabled a decision about the Metropolitan Airports Commission plan to put a dike around Holman Field to protect it from flooding.