What can we do about Coldwater Spring?

People are asking me what I would recommend doing to respond the National Park Service’s handling of the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines EIS process. As stated in the last few days, I believe that the Park Service has mishandled and manipulated the process to achieve rigged results that have harmed the public interest and the interests of Dakota people. The issues have to do with both short-term and long-term outcome of the process–what happens to Coldwater Spring in the short-term and who ends up owning Coldwater for the long haul. I will discuss these outcomes in more detail below.

However, the bottom line is that if you really want to be heard about the issue, especially if you believe that the Dakota interests in the property have been given little attention in this whole confusing process, the best thing is to write to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar (see how to contact him below), who ultimately will be responsible for making decisions about the outcome for Coldwater. It is important to tell him that the Coldwater EIS has been biased and has intentionally ignored the Dakota heritage found in the property. It is important to tell him that while short-term federal management and cleanup of the property may be reasonable, in the long term, the property should be returned to the Dakota. (When communicating with national officials who may not be familiar with all the details of the project, it is important to mention that EIS concerns the disposition of Bureau of Mines Twin Cities Research Center Campus, Hennepin County, Minnesota.)

It would also not hurt to write to President Obama, Kimberly Teehee (the president’s advisor on Indian issues), and Senators and members of Congress who represent Minnesota in Washington. While it would not hurt also to submit comments to MNRRA, the local branch of the Park Service, which has promised to submit comments along with the final EIS when it is sent to higher-ups in the Park Service and Department of Interior,  judging by past practice it may be more effective to communicate directly with the people in charge and the elected officials to whom they are accountable. Addresses and emails for communicating with the various officials are found at the end of this article.


Bulrushes in a wetland in the center of the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines property, March 2009

Last March, long before the release of the final EIS for the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines property, I wrote that continued federal ownership of the Coldwater Spring/Bureau of Mines property–on a short-term basis–was a reasonable outcome of the current Department of Interior environmental review process, one that many who disagreed on other issues might agree upon, even though they would not agree publicly. I said that the sticking points were about what should happen later.

That was written after an announcement by an Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Lyle Laverty, in the waning days of the Bush administration, of the selection of Alternative D as the Preferred Alternative, including the cleaning up of the property and D[3] the subsequent ownership and management by the Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, MNRRA.

I stated: “The Park Service has put the cart before the horse yet again. . . . Having announced the decision in December about keeping the Coldwater property in federal hands and cleaning it up, the Park Service had its open house on February 23 to get comment on how to accomplish the cleanup.” A comment period in later winter was designed only to elicit comment on the cleanup, not on longterm ownership.  But many of those who wanted to comment had real reservations about continued federal ownership. How could they comment on cleanup by itself, in the abstract?

When Park Service officials were pressed they stated that this was not the time to express opinions about the ultimate ownership of Coldwater Spring. That time would come later. Once the final EIS was released there would be a 30-day comment period when people could express their views about the Preferred Alternative, that the land would be cleaned up and then turned over to the MNRRA to manage long term.

That turned out to contain several misstatements, as MNRRA officials now acknowledge. The current 30-day comment period is not a comment period, but rather a period of “no action.” And the final EIS does not actually state that the Preferred Alternative actually involves long term ownership or management of Coldwater by MNRRA. When Lyle Laverty, the Bush official  came out for Alternative D, he should have said nothing about long term ownership. “He was kind of putting the cart before the horse,” an official told me recently.

Instead, officials now say that the EIS is only about comparing environmental alternatives, not ownership options. So in saying that the Park Service now calls Alternative D, the Preferred Alternative, that still involves all of the options I mentioned a few days ago. Under Alternative D, once the property was cleaned up by the federal government, the alternatives are:

[1]. The property could be transferred to a university or nonfederal entity–including Indian tribes–without conditions.

[2]. The property could be transferred to a university or nonfederal entity–including Indian tribes–with conditions.

[3]. The property could be retained by the federal government, including being held as trust land for Indian tribes.

Although Laverty, the Bush official came out in favor of keeping the land in federal hands, other entirely different outcomes are possible, especially under a new administration. Thus, despite announcements in December 2008 and December 2009 about Coldwater becoming a public park, this is not assured under Alternative D. And there is still no assurance that the land will remain in federal ownership.

Steven P. Johnson of MNRRA went into more detail on these points in a recent statement:

The purpose of the EIS was not to decide who got the property, but what that property would look like. The Draft EIS was clear that it was the determination of the land-use scenarios that was the focus of the EIS. For instance, the Draft EIS, page iv, Summary states: “The environmental impacts of the alternatives depend on how a future owner would use the Center, and on the activities associated with that use.” However, neither the future owner nor the future use of the Center could be identified precisely until after the EIS process was completed.  .  .  .

Essentially, the Secretary has had the authority to dispose of the property to a qualified party as defined by legislation, Pub. L. No. 104-134 [1996]. (See page 6 of the Final EIS for more detail.) An EIS is designed to disclose the environmental effects associated with the disposal. To that end, the EIS does that in quite some detail. However, there are no environmental effects associated with the actual ownership; the eventual owner would have to agree to manage the property in terms of the selected alternative, especially if the government will go to some expense to prepare the property for that transfer. Again, the impacts associated with that disposal has been disclosed.

It precisely on some of these points that there is disagreement. Considering that the Park Service has refused to acknowledge an important aspect of the property for the Dakota, then it may very well be that not all environmental effects associated with places of traditional cultural importance for Dakota people are dealt with in the final EIS. And for Dakota people, there may very well be “environmental effects associated with the actual ownership.” But this is how the Park Service has interpreted the framework under which it operates. And under that framework, now is the time to be heard on the ownership fof the property.

Despite the fact that there is no comment period now about the final EIS and that the final EIS does not actually specify a long term owner for the Coldwater property, this is the time to make your opinions known about who should get Coldwater and what they should do with it. A decision will be made very soon. Now is the time to be heard.

When will the decision about ownership be made? Officials say it will be part of the Record of Decision, the ROD, which can me issued at any time after Midnight, January 11, 2010.

How long will the comment period be after that decision? There will be no comment period. It is in the discretion of the federal government to pick any alternative for ownership compatible with the alternative determined to be the best one under the final EIS.

So in other words, any comments that members of the public wish to have to influence the decision about what happens to Coldwater Spring–whether it be held on to by MNRRA following cleanup or transferred to an Indian tribe, a governmental or non-governmental agency–are best directed at the people who will make the final decision about what happens to Coldwater, or the people those decision-makers work for. Their contact information is found below.

Also, in all of this talk about the EIS, there has not been time to talk about the Section 106 process, through which federal agencies are required to consider effects of their actions on cultural resources found on federal properties. A concurrent Section 106 process is taking place involving the Coldwater property, including consultation with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in St. Paul. The SHPO will reconsider the question of the TCP status of Coldwater. If you have opinions about that status, you should also write to Britta Bloomberg the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer of Minnesota.

More on the Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines issues, including the 106 process, next time.

Contact Information
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Phone: 202-208-3100
E-Mail: feedback@ios.doi.gov
Online contact form

Senator Al Franken
60 East Plato Blvd
Suite 220
Saint Paul, MN 55107
(651) 221-1016
Online contact form

Senator Amy Klobuchar
1200 Washington Avenue South, Suite 250
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Main Line: 612-727-5220
Main Fax: 612-727-5223
Toll Free: 1-888-224-9043
Online contact form

Kimberly Teehee
Senior Policy Advisor on Native American Affairs
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
White House Comments: 202-456-1111
White House Switchboard: 202-456-1414
White House FAX: 202-456-2461
White House online contact form

Britta Bloomberg
Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer
Minnesota Historical Society
345 Kellogg Blvd. W.
St. Paul, MN 55102-1903
Phone: 651-259-3450
Fax: 651-282-2374
Email: britta.bloomberg@mnhs.org

Superintendent Paul Labovitz
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
111 Kellogg Blvd East, Suite 105
St. Paul, MN 55101
Fax: 651-290-3214
Email: miss_info@nps.gov
Online contact form


What can we do about Coldwater Spring? — 2 Comments

  1. Has this all been decided now? In favor of federal owners I am sure. Being it is August, I can only assume it’s all said and done. Am I right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *