Scores of opponents of a proposed floodwall at St. Paul Downtown Airport turned out at an East Side meeting Monday night, but Mayor Chris Coleman wasn't sounding dissuaded by fears expressed about changes to Holman Field.
"We're not going to do this if it is an environmental disaster," Coleman told a standing-room-only crowd at the Dayton's Bluff Community Council offices on East Seventh Street. But he also said he wouldn't block City Council approval of the dike and cautioned people not to "dismiss the positive impact of this airport." He may well have the final say on the matter by the end of April.
"We all know that we are concerned about the long-term future of the St. Paul Cos., and the impact of losing (the company)," Coleman said. "Not that they're going to pack up and leave, but they could … move their corporate headquarters out of there. One of the things that is a definite asset that they point to is their ability to use that airport to bring their executives from Hartford (Conn.) and their board of directors from around the country. They use that airport."
Neighbors fear the floodwall, proposed by the Metropolitan Airports Commission, will increase the number of planes flying low over Dayton's Bluff, Highwood, the West Side and other St. Paul neighborhoods. But a series of Mississippi River inundations over the past 13 years has raised questions about the long-term viability of the airport, a base for corporate and military aviation.
Opponents argue that a number of high-profile users, like the St. Paul Travelers insurance company, the Minnesota National Guard and the 3M Co. have been coping with high water at the airport for decades and that there's no need for $46 million in improvements to the airport.
And many, like Dayton's Bluff resident Bryan Higgins, don't believe assertions that convenience for Holman Field users won't come at the expense of the quality of life for the airport's neighbors.
"I think basically nobody trusts the MAC," Higgins said of the commission's projections that the floodwall won't contribute to already growing traffic at the airport and airplane noise in his home. "They shoot right up over the bluff, at 4:30 in the morning," he said of the planes.
Still, Higgins and his neighbors, like Dayton's Bluff resident Wade Moen, were sounding a consistent note of resignation about the project, which Coleman has been hinting he will allow to go forward.
"I don't think anybody is against the airport," Moen said as the meeting broke up. "But it just seems like they (the MAC) can just do as they please down there … and there's nothing we can do about it. The MAC is a powerful force, with a lot of money."
The MAC and the neighbors will likely have a lot more to say about the project in coming weeks. An appeal to last week's preliminary approval of the dike by the Planning Commission is likely to be filed Thursday or Friday, opponents say.
The City Council is expected to hold a public hearing about the project, potentially as early as March 15.
Tim Nelson can be reached at email@example.com or 651-292-1159.
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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.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration verbally committed $20 million for the Metropolitan Airports Commission project.
The governor appoints most of the 13 members of the commission, but the Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors have one appointment each.
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.