Roof Depot news roundup: More support for the East Phillips neighborhood, a scathing Op/Ed, and more

In this post, an update on the City of Minneapolis’ controversial plans to expand its Public Works yard in East Phillips, including.

  • City Council member Robin Wonsley writes ‘mic drop’ Op/Ed on Roof Depot, and what constitutes ‘safety’
  • Neighborhood groups, health care professionals, artists, press city to drop its Roof Depot plans
  • Roof Depot demolition updates
  • City of Minneapolis embarrasses itself trying to justify the Public Works expansion

City Council member Robin Wonsley writes ‘mic drop’ Op/Ed on Roof Depot and what constitutes ‘safety’

Minneapolis City Council member Robin Wonsley is standing strong for East Phillips — a neighborhood she doesn’t represent — and calling out some of her colleagues for lacking perspective on what “safety” really means.

The Minneapolis City Council recently voted to ask the Legislature to better define “lawful conduct at public meetings,” and voted to seek “tougher criminal penalties for threatening or assaulting a public official or employee,” MinnPost reported. 

The proposals followed disruptions to Minneapolis City Council meetings by protestors opposed to the city’s plan to expand its Public Works yard in East Phillips, as their neighborhood already has too much pollution.

Three council members filed police reports alleging protestors made threats against them and were intimidating.

Council member Robin Wonsley.

In a Tuesday Op/Ed, Wonsley said council members’ safety concerns are nothing new.

“I have experienced them myself and know the anxiety and fear they cause,” she wrote, adding she and a few colleagues received bomb threats in their first week in office.

But why were East Phillips residents’ protests the ‘tipping point’ that drove Council leadership to seek tougher laws? she asked

“Public comments made by the majority of council members about threats of violence is an attempt to shift the public narrative away from the reality that Minneapolis is choosing to commit a massive act of violence itself — continuing the ongoing poisoning of East Phillips,” Wonsley wrote. “The calls for increased criminal penalties is retaliatory, targeting residents the City Council has put in an emergency situation. Misrepresenting discomfort as danger delegitimizes the actual safety threats that elected officials face.”

Neighborhood groups, health care professionals, artists, press city to drop its plans

A variety of organizations are backing East Phillips in its efforts to block the Public Works yard expansion. They include:

Health Care Professionals

[Updated] A group of health care professionals is circulating a letter to be sent to Mayor Jacob Frey and other city leaders opposing the Public Works expansion. It says the city’s plan “would significantly increase air pollution for years to come in one of the most polluted neighborhoods in Minnesota … and with an asthma hospitalization rate 2-4 times that of the Twin Cities metro area as a whole.”

“The City has a moral obligation to this area: to reduce local pollution rather than intensify it,” it says.

The letter is being organized by the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center and the Seward Vaccine Equity Project. So far, it has been signed by 68 doctors and other health care professionals.

Neighborhood groups

A group of nine neighborhood groups wrote the mayor and City Council, calling on the city to drop its Public Works plans and embrace East Phillips’ vision for the Roof Depot, converting it into a community-owned indoor urban farm.

Signers were: Bancroft Neighborhood Association, Bryant Neighborhood Organization, Central Area Neighborhood Development
Organization, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, Kingfield Neighborhood Association, Linden Hills Neighborhood Council, Tangletown Neighborhood Association and West Maka Ska Neighborhood Council.

On March 8, the Seward Neighborhood Group wrote city leaders seeking a meeting as “we find that we do not have enough information to reassure ourselves and our neighbors that this project will not increase negative environmental and health outcomes in the surrounding areas.”


A sign-on letter by area artists has more than 320 signatures, saying: “People living in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood – including residents at Little Earth – deserve clean air and a say in their future. We support the neighborhood’s plan to renovate the vacant Roof Depot warehouse as a cooperatively-owned indoor urban farm and community hub.”

Roof Depot demolition updates

The city will pay Rachel Contracting LLC $1.66 million to demolish the warehouse on the Roof Depot site, according to the city’s contract.

The executive summary of Rachel Contracting’s detailed proposal begins with couched language around neighborhood opposition. It says the project is “one of sensitive nature to the city and surrounding community. Rachel Contracting is cognitive of the impacts day to day operations will have on perception to the community. Knowing this Rachel has provisions for adequate controls in site security, adequate communication site postings regarding the nature of the work, erosion controls and construction traffic flow to and from the site.”

A 2015 report prepared by city consultant Braun Intertec said arsenic levels in the soil below the Roof Depot site were below allowable residential levels.

However, in three groundwater samples taken at the Roof Depot site, arsenic levels were 10.8, 348, and 737 micrograms per liter. The allowable level of arsenic in drinking water is 10 micrograms/liter.

It says the city “anticipates the need for a filtration system for stormwater treatment on the south half of the site since it is too close to the existing area of arsenic groundwater contamination.”

About that Green Zone promise …

I was reviewing the city’s environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for the Roof Depot Demolition. It includes public comments and the city’s response.

The Roof Depot site is within the city’s Green Zone boundaries.

One criticism by the University of Minnesota Environmental and Energy Law Society (EELS) and the city’s response is telling about the city’s blindness to its own hypocrisy.

Comment: The EAW failed to acknowledge “that East Phillips is a recognized environmental justice community and is consistently ranked as having some of the worst air quality in Minnesota, in addition to the high levels of toxicity in the soil from arsenic, antimony, and other chemicals. Accordingly, the EELS believes that a complete EIS [environmental impact statement] is necessary in order to adequately consider the environmental impacts of this Project on the residents of East Phillips.”

City: “… Policy 61 of the City’s 2040 Plan strongly affirms its commitment to environmental justice. The project proposer [the city] agrees that the residents of the East Phillips neighborhood, primarily BIPOC, have been disproportionately affected and are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of pollution, and that the site is located in an environmental justice area and is included in the City’s designated Southside Green Zone. During the preparation of the EAW, the project proposer elected to focus on identification and mitigation efforts of potential environmental impacts.”

The fact that this statement went through the city’s editing process and no one caught it is disturbing.

It’s like saying, “Yes, your honor, I am committed to following the law. That said, I know what I am doing is wrong. I admit it, I’m guilty. However, in my defense, I have elected to do a few things — of my own choosing — that I’ve determined will reduce the harms I’m causing. So we’re good, right?”

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