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Lawsuit Against City of Minneapolis Highlights Environmental Concerns of Upper Harbor Development

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA — A North Minneapolis community group focused on environmental justice concerned with development process of the Upper Harbor Terminal proposal filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis. The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy on behalf of Community Members for Environmental Justice (CMEJ), a coalition of residents and allies who are committed to addressing the environmental injustices occurring disproportionately in pollution-burdened neighborhoods in the City of Minneapolis.

The lawsuit targets the city’s failure to adequately study the environmental impacts the proposal will have on the overburdened community and on the rapidly accelerating climate crisis, and demands a full accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions as required by law.

Robust environmental analysis is particularly critical given North Minneapolis’ designation as one of the City’s Green Zones due to the disproportionate amount of toxic development that has been concentrated in the area over the years. The designation means the city has committed to improving the physical, environmental and economic health of the area. But, like developments proposed for Green Zones elsewhere in Minneapolis, such as the Southside Green Zone in East Phillips, the UHT proposal ignores many of those promises.

“Climate scientists have declared a ‘Code Red for Humanity’ — the City has a legal and moral responsibility to live up to its Green Zones promises,” said Roxxanne O’Brien, organizer for CMEJ. “We have a right to know how this redevelopment will benefit the health and wealth of our neighborhoods and our lives.”

The lawsuit specifically highlights the environmental study’s failure to assess the proposal’s cumulative impacts on historical and ongoing pollution in the area, as well as its impacts on the climate crisis, environmental justice, and potential displacement caused by gentrification.

“The environmental review for Upper Harbor was supposed to provide the City Council with a complete analysis of the proposal’s impacts so that the City could make a decision with all the information in hand. This is especially important in communities like North Minneapolis that have been overburdened by toxic industrial pollution for decades,” said Evan Mulholland, supervisory attorney for MCEA.

“The law requires a full accounting of the impacts this project will have on the area and people who live here, and so far the City of Minneapolis has failed to provide that.”

While the case is litigated, CMEJ is asking the city to pause the City’s project development so that residents can finally have an authentic opportunity to discuss alternate, community-driven visions for how the 48-acres of public riverfront should be developed to best serve the needs of their neighborhoods and the environment.

Five years ago, the City released a concept plan for UHT that included a several thousand seat music venue. This music venue and other cornerstone characteristics of the Upper Harbor Terminal proposal were never up for debate, and the community engagement process that has followed was designed to ratify that original concept. An authentic community engagement process should have started by asking the community what was needed, not by telling the community the plan before starting to engage people. Many North Minneapolis residents feel like the process was disingenuous, and failed to address the environmental and social impacts the proposal will have on the overburdened community.

“Some of CMEJ’s members were on the Collaborative Planning Committee and we walked away because we realized we had no real say. The city and outside developers decided what this development would be long before community was even invited to the table,” O’Brien said. “We need real community engagement, real restorative justice that addresses the historical trauma our community has faced, and real economic opportunities for the people who live here, not private developers exploiting our public land.”

The City of Minneapolis has not yet made a public statement about this issue.

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