Robert Williams, PE
805 Des Moines Drive
Windom MN 56101
August 28, 2008
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
ATTN: Commissioner Mark Holsten
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul MN 55155-4040
Dear Commissioner Holsten:
I am involved in local efforts to protect the reservoir/dam environment in Windom, and consider all the consequences of a potential dam removal in this urban environment, prior to the implementation of a solution to our local dam and reservoir issue. Previous correspondence relating to this issue is on www.windomdam.com. I recently made a data practices request and obtained related documentation from the local DNR office.
I believe you need to be aware of at least several matters that should be of concern to your office.
As part of this process (as a reservoir landowner and engineer) I became concerned that the DNR was ignoring the ramifications of a forced dam removal on several adjacent state highway bridges. The DNR is legally obligated to consider these matters under 6115.0215 Subp 3H (read attached Item “A”). Since I am employed by MnDOT and in order to avoid any conflicts of interest, I relayed these concerns to others in our Mankato and St. Paul offices. After assessing the facts, a letter of concern was generated and sent out by MnDOT. The letter was written in good faith in order to promote the protection of public infrastructure many people depend on.
I have learned through the DNR documentation I reviewed (Item “B”) that the DNR has done worse than ignore this concern. It appears evident that both I, and perhaps MnDOT associates, have had our motives and professional character attacked by the DNR in what may or may not be legally actionable misconduct by DNR staff.
Another dam the DNR is pursuing the removal of is located in the City of Jackson, downstream of Windom on the Des Moines River. As points of information regarding the DNR (please read item “B”), I had no immediate concern with the Jackson bridge because:
1) my immediate concern is with Windom where the DNR is advocating complete dam removal; 2) Jackson would have as an end result a water elevation fairly similar to the present condition;
3) the state has plans to replace the Jackson bridge in about 5 years unlike the Windom bridge.
As a professional engineer I am ethically obligated to take reasonable steps to make the appropriate parties informed as to risks to public and private property and safety caused by actions of the DNR (or anyone else for that matter). Local DNR staff have, again in writing, called such reasoned and logically stated concerns a “…fear tactic (geotechnical slope instabilities)….that has something to do with 8 years of Bush and Cheney tactics“. This “shoot the messenger” treatment of legitimate concerns that other professional engineers agree should be assessed is very disappointing to say the very least. Unfortunately it appears the DNR is not legally obligated to protect private property in “restoration” efforts. However the DNR is legally obligated to protect public property and you should see to it that your staff does so.
“Rip ‘n run” as a local DNR staff member put it in an e-mail, is not an acceptable, reasoned consensus-building dam removal process.
I have expressed concern in previous correspondence about the very serious damage done by the DNR to the prime duck, egret, heron, pelican, eagle, songbird, and muskrat habitats in the Des Moines River. Some of us considered the piles of clams left dead in portions of the dried up reservoir, in the name of improving the habitat for clams and kayakers. The DNR Windom office response to date regarding this large scale wetlands destruction has been to comment, again in writing, that “Further, the wildlife argument is merely qualitative recollections of the good ole days”. My question to you is: If I as a private contractor were to use this as an excuse for destroying a prime migratory bird habitat, would the DNR allow it? Shouldn’t this be part of the ecological consideration by the DNR instead of a subject of disdain? I thought this was a good thing and assumed the DNR would also place some value on this environment.
When I moved to Windom in 2001, I found a wonderful wetlands environment that I assumed was well managed and valued by those entrusted with it. This has certainly been proven so far to be not true.
Item “C” plainly shows that DNR staff would intend to subvert a law by waiting until after a legislative session ends and then overule plain wording by not allowing any sort of dam renovation. Is this accepted DNR practice? Is this how the DNR will be acting in considering future options for Windom? Do you consider this subversion of the process acceptable?
Finally I noted disappointment in one of the DNR documents about the public hating the DNR. I do not hate the DNR; your agency does do many good things. A lot of people however either fear the DNR or seem resigned to the fact that the DNR can and will do whatever it wants, regardless of governing rules. Based on my experience and the DNR documentation I see valid reasons for these opinions.
It is evident after reviewing the internal correspondence that DNR staff (particularly the environmental “purists”) seem to have ideologically preconceived agendas and they feel free to demean and attack any citizen who does not adhere to their line of thought in the pursuit of the destruction of a basically sound publicly owned dam. Instead of considering the “whole picture”, the DNR focuses one-dimensionally on very specific areas and apparently treats with disdain any other factors, even ecological ones. There is also evident contempt by some front line DNR professional staff for those citizens and landowners that are the most affected by DNR projects if they do not fully agree with the DNR’s predetermined agenda. I and others would expect the DNR to consider all factors, risks, and benefits, and be open to all viewpoints in the arrival at the best overall solution for the issues in Windom and to impartially follow the law and rules.
Cc: Windom City Mayor Tom Riordan
Enc: A: MN Administrative Rules excerpt
6115.0215 RESTORATION OF PUBLIC WATERS.
It is the goal of the department to encourage the restoration of public waters to:
improve and protect fish and wildlife habitat and the diversity of the habitat;
preserve the natural character of public waters and their shoreline zones;
encourage the use of natural materials for shoreline zone protection and restoration;
limit the removal of natural materials from the beds of public waters; and
prevent erosion and siltation of public waters, while maintaining natural processes.
This part applies to placement, construction, reconstruction, repair, relocation, abandonment, or other work needed to restore or protect public waters or to removal of any materials, structure, fill, water level control, excavation, or drainage device placed on or in public waters. For purposes of this part, "restoration" means the repair, reconstruction, or recreation of essentially natural or native conditions of a public water and its shoreline or banks. This part does not apply to restoration orders issued by the commissioner consistent with part 6115.0255.
Public waters alteration, protection, or restoration work is prohibited when the work:
is detrimental to significant fish and wildlife habitat and there are no feasible, practical, or ecologically acceptable means to mitigate the effects;
obstructs navigation or creates a water safety hazard, as determined by the commissioner;
violates the regulations of any local zoning authority or water management agency;
results in the creation of land above the ordinary high water level that is not deemed essential by the commissioner as part of the project;
uses materials that are not clean and free of pollutants, nutrients, and exotic species sources;
manipulates water levels solely to satisfy private interests; or
will adversely impact public infrastructure, particularly roads and drainage systems.