Monday, February 1, 2010

More on MoreU

Sunshine is the best disinfectant...

Rosemount, Minn. — The University of Minnesota has big plans for UMore Park, 5,000 acres it owns south of the Twin Cities. The university hopes to build an environmentally friendly community on the land, one that could be home to 30,000 people in a few decades.
The university's UMore Park proposal is massive in scope. Essentially, the university wants to build a new town from the ground up near Rosemount, about 20 miles south of the Twin Cities.

Right now, the eight-square-mile piece of land, which the university bought for $1 from the U.S. Army half a century ago, is essentially abandoned. One portion holds massive concrete ruins left by the Gopher Ordnance Works, a short-lived World War II-era gun powder factory. Most of the property though is farmland the University currently uses for research.

The first phase of the UMore Park development is actually under that farmland. An estimated 380 million tons of gravel sits under the soil, a valuable resource the U wants to mine starting in the summer of 2011.

That plan clashes with work done by some of the university's own researchers.

Lois Braun, a research associate at the university, is studying hazelnuts and whether they might make a good alternative crop in Minnesota. It turns out her research plot sits right on top of hundreds of millions of tons of gravel.

"Apparently that vein of gravel runs right up through here," Braun said. "It happens to coincide with the land that is the best farmland out here."

Braun figures that within a few years her plot, and the research plots of other researchers, will be dug up as the area is mined for gravel. She questions whether that activity is worth the loss of land.

"It's part of the legacy of the people of Minnesota, to have this land to research the future of food production," she said.

The gravel mining might mean a healthy profit for the U. Within a few years the school could pull in $3 million to $7 million annually from the operation. Concerns about the project haven't been limited to the effects of mining on research at the site.

"It's very important to us to be contributing money to the university, as opposed to taking money away," Muscoplatt said.

So far, the university has put more than $9 million into the plan. Muscoplatt said gravel mining revenue means the project will pay that money back by next year, and start providing revenue to the university.

We've heard some real hype about all this. e.g.

"Bruininks said he didn't know of a university in the United States that was doing something [MoreU Park aka Muscoplat's Folly] as 'courageous and innovative.'" (Daily - 6/13/08)

"Regent David Metzen said he thought the future of the project is the most important decision to face the University in the last 15 years." (Daily - 6/13/08)

And Lois Braun is not the first U of M person to point out some bad signals in all of this:

Ann Forsyth did some work on UMore Park planning when she was director of the U of M's Metropolitan Design Center. She left the university last year and now works at Cornell University.

"There are these huge contradictions about it, and there are these unrealistic ideas that it can both make money in the short run and be a model community," Forsyth said.

Forsyth said a model community would be much more practical near the university's St. Paul campus rather than in Dakota County.

"It would have to be a fantastic development to counteract its location," she said. "There is no way you're not going to have a number of traffic concerns coming out of it. Unless it is highly designed and then it becomes very expensive.

For further information, please see an earlier post:

Exactly how long is the UMore Park Craziness Going to Continue?

We will see how all of this pans out. Unfortunately those responsible for the mess will be long gone by then. Too bad it is so easy to speculate on someone else's nickel. The University of Minnesota should not be in the gravel mining business or land development. That is not our mission.

No comments: