December 06 2012

Innovating the Landscape from Ordnance to Ordinance in Minnesota

Abandoned Gopher Ordnance Works, Photo by Eric AlwardBrownfield remediation is becoming a common process in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. A few miles from the heart of one of the more successful projects – Mill Ruins Park – lies UMore Park (University of Minnesota Outreach, Research, and Education), a planned 5,000-acre development for 25,000 people in eco-friendly homes and neighborhoods.
Sadly there are a few hurdles standing in the way of that idyllic vision:

  • 71 Sites of Concern (SOCs) were tested with 39 of those being above the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) acceptable levels for residential use;
  • Levels of mercury are 200 times the acceptable limit;
  • Nitrate-nitrogen levels are above regulatory criteria;
  • Arsenic, lead, petroleum byproducts (PAH), and toxic PCBs are all above the limits;
  • An EPA superfund site where the University has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of laboratory chemicals and medical waste was not tested;
  • Trace cannon powder was found at 29 of the locations.

Trace cannon powder?  Yes.  Though this site had been utilized by farmers since the latter part of the 19th Century – and had been occupied by Dakota Indians before that – 11,000 acres was seized by the US government for the production of “smokeless powder.” A munitions factory, Gopher Ordnance Works, was established on the property that required the construction of 858 robust concrete structures that were fire and explosion proof.

The Gopher Ordnance Works was closed in 1945 after less than one year of production and the US War Department transferred 8,000 acres of property to the University of Minnesota in 1947-48.  The University used almost 300 of those still-standing buildings for research involving medical, agricultural, and aeronautical applications.  Testing of sub-surface contaminants by the US Army and the University of Minnesota has been ongoing since 1981.  In 1984, the MPCA reported that there was no contamination of concern.

Master Plan by Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. (HKGi)UMore Park has published a concept master plan that identifies qualities for the site including 13,000 houses, a thousand acres of open space, and an eco-friendly industrial park integrated into a mixed-use community. The forty-year process began mid-2012 at a heated community meeting where questions were raised about the impacts of the sub-surface deposits. Additionally, a gravel-mining operation is also just beginning, which will disturb local residents for the next twenty years.

While brownfield remediation is an emerging practice, is it possible that an eco-friendly community can emerge from such a polluted site?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Matthew Traucht

Matthew Traucht graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.A. in cultural anthropology and is now pursuing his Master of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. Inspired by the work he was doing as an archaeologist in New Mexico where he studied prehistoric lifeways and preindustrial agricultural techniques; Matthew established an organic farm business. Eventually this led him to join the US Peace Corps where he served as a Natural Resources Volunteer in The Gambia from 2007-2009. For the last five years he has been blogging about some of his observations about the interactions between nature and culture, most recently on Desire Lines. Now, as a graduate student, Matthew is interested in sustainable communities, brownfield remediation, and historic cultural landscape preservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 6th, 2012 at 8:26 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Innovating the Landscape from Ordnance to Ordinance in Minnesota”

  1. Ryan Says:

    I think a larger question is: Can a site that is located on the absolute urban fringes of a metropolitan area, that is currently open space, farm land, and a mine, truly be sustainable if it is developed into housing for 25,000 people? It is estimated that all of those people could be housed along the Hiawatha Light Rail Line and the soon to be operating Central Corridor Light Rail Line. And if a little more room is desired, those people could certainly be housed within other parts of the core cities and/or inner-ring suburbs.

    I think a project such as UMore is inherently unsustainable by the very nature of its development. And we still haven’t factored in the presumed increase in vehicle miles traveled as I’m sure that there will not be enough jobs nearby for people to walk/bike to, nor adequate transit service to provide alternative transportation for workers. And the circle of poor development decisions continue, as we can question if those investments are economically sound, when there is a greater concentration of people lacking adequate transportation options and service closer to employment centers and housing.

    So, the site should be cleaned up, and then turned in to some sort of open space, expanded farm land, or reverted to nature. A better plan would be to allow for slow and incremental growth in a more truly sustainable fashion.

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