The Metropolitan Airports Commission will begin its second attempt Thursday to get permission from the city of St. Paul to build a flood wall around the Downtown Airport. This time the divisive proposal has the blessing of Mayor Chris Coleman
While the wall still would be made out of sheet metal, the Airports Commission has agreed to make $2.6 million worth of improvements to the design and to update its plans to mitigate noise in the neighborhood. The commission also will assure the city that it will not extend the airport's runways or increase its load capacity
Additionally, five acres of pristine waterfront property that would have been blocked off by the original flood wall proposal now will be open to development as a launch for kayaks or canoes. The land, which the commission owns, also could be connected to bike or pedestrian paths
Coleman said the "tremendous improvements" came after a two-day design session two weeks ago that included Airports Commission officials, members of Coleman's staff, designers with the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service and the Audubon Society
Coleman said his goal is to move beyond treating the river like an industrial area
"At the end of the day, people who don't want the flood wall aren't going to support the changes," Coleman said. "Is this a much better project than it started off? Absolutely."
In April, the City Council voted 4 to 3 against granting the Airports Commission a zoning variance to dredge the river channel and build the levee. Coleman said he believes that a majority of council members will approve the project when the new proposal comes before them again, possibly in mid-August
Though he didn't say directly, he indicated that he would be willing to veto a decision of the council majority if necessary. It would be his first confrontation with a council majority since he took office in January
The Airports Commission's director of airside development, Gary Warren, said the agency will need to come up with about $800,000 to pay for the improvements, because the work was projected to come in under the amount originally budgeted. With improvements, the flood wall is expected to cost about $29 million
It is part of $47 million in improvements at the airport being funded mostly by the MAC and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), plus about $2 million in private and state contributions
Warren said his agency stands to lose $3 million from the FAA should St. Paul reject the proposal a second time
Jackie Crosby - 651-298-1541
FLOOD WALL COMPROMISE
The new proposal for a flood wall at the St. Paul Downtown Airport includes these changes:
- The flood wall, originally about 1.5 miles long, would be shortened by 948 feet, the length of about three football fields
- It would be pulled back from the shoreline as much as 20 feet, so that more of it is hidden by vegetation and the sloping Mississippi River bank
- Trellises and decorative posts with caps would be installed every 30 feet along the wall
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The governor appoints most of the 13 members of the commission, but the Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors have one appointment each.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration verbally committed $20 million for the Metropolitan Airports Commission project.
Not content to see the airport flooded occasionally, the Metropolitan Airports Commission wants to protect it by spending $28 million to build a lengthy perimeter dike along the river.
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.