Work delayed at TCAAP site as pollutants linger


Contaminated groundwater deep beneath the Rice Creek Commons development in Arden Hills has delayed the project’s timeline, as officials look at clean-up and possible design tweaks. submitted graphic

Recently, overseers of the Rice Creek Commons development in Arden Hills had to reconsider the project’s timeline due to pollutants lingering deep beneath the property’s surface, delaying next-step approvals. 

Almost simultaneously, Ramsey County was recognized with an award for its environmental work on that same land — the former home of the long-defunct Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

The award recognized the county for its “leadership to sustainably demolish the vacant munitions factory, remove tons of hazardous waste, and remediate the soil on the property to residential standards.”

Minnesota-based nonprofit Environmental Initiative commended the eradication of harmful pollutants from the land, however, it seems the environment still needs consideration as contaminated water deep underground is sparking a reexamination of the project’s planned infrastructure.

Officials said dealing with groundwater issues could take some time, and may force redesigns of some project elements.

The 427-acre property — roughly the size of downtown St. Paul — is currently the state’s largest development project.  

 

Found underground

 At the May 22 Arden Hills City Council meeting, City Administrator Bill Joynes told council members the land’s contaminated groundwater issues will alter plans, effectively postponing final approval of a master development agreement until the end of the year. 

“This pushes back the dates that had been originally placed in the preliminary development agreement,” Joynes said of an agreement made in 2016 by the city council and the committee spearheading the project — known as the Joint Development Authority — which is made up of elected officials from both Arden Hills and Ramsey County.

The timeline for completing negotiations with developers was originally set for May 31, but now it looks like a groundbreaking isn’t likely to occur until 2018.

At the meeting, Arden Hills Mayor David Grant emphasized that the contaminants weren’t found anywhere near the surface of Rice Creek Commons.

“It’s all deep groundwater. It’s not the soil,” Grant said, signaling that the environmental work on that front had been successful, especially impressive in an area known as “the dirty 30” — 30 acres of land that were deemed the most environmentally troubling. 

The U.S. Army is leading a continuing effort to clean up the bad groundwater that remains. 

 

Creek and collaboration 

Environmental Initiative also specifically recognized the restoration of a section of Rice Creek that runs through the site. The nonprofit said it’s been “transformed back to its original path, creating nearly 2,000 feet of stream and restoring the floodplain.”

Someday that stream will wind past multiple residential neighborhoods. 

The award praised “the high level of collaboration and cooperation between the project partners.” 

In addition to the county and the City of Arden Hills, those entities include the master developer, Alatus, LLC, and other developers, as well as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Rice Creek Watershed District and others. 

 

Dates are estimates

 “Rice Creek Commons will soon be a community of residential and commercial neighborhoods integrated with a network of trails, green corridors, and pedestrian-friendly streets,” Environmental Initiative said in a statement. 

But it’s unknown exactly how long it will take to resolve the issue planners now face; Joynes said it shouldn’t come as a surprise if it stretches beyond the new dates, though officials do estimate the first occupants of Rice Creek Commons will move in sometime in 2019. 

Joynes noted that construction of certain access roads linking the development to existing local highways and streets will start this summer, regardless of the holdup, which halts the “moving of dirt or designing of elevations to probably late winter.”

Most of the grading will likely begin in early 2018, he said, noting that it’s also possible that some bureaucracy could push deadlines out even further. 

“There are six agencies that have to sign off on the optimization plan that deals with this contaminated water, and then it requires the governor’s signature ... it’s in a sense out of our hands,” he told council members.  

 

Background 

At its height, the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant employed 26,000 people and supported the war effort from when it opened in 1941 through the end of World War II in 1945, manufacturing small arms ammunition.

The site was operating again during the Korean and Vietnam wars, and then shut down completely in 2005. It was purchased by Ramsey County in 2012 for $28 million.

Pollution issues related to the site were — and still are — due to the longtime disposal of industrial waste, and aren’t just limited to Arden Hills. In 1981, New Brighton identified groundwater contamination issues linked to the TCAAP site. Following a settlement, the Army has paid for a city-controlled water treatment plant, ensuring New Brighton’s water is safe to drink.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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