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UPDATED: Oak Park Heights City Council Approves $3K Contribution to Coalition

The Oak Park Heights City Council on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night decided to contribute $3,000 from city coffers to the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.

The Oak Park Heights City Council on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night decided to contribute $3,000 from city coffers to the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.

Council members Mike Runk and Les Abrahamson dissented.

“I don’t see what exactly the purpose is, because basically all that is mentioned is a possible lawsuit and the funding is not permissible for use in that,” Runk said.

The Coalition facilitates a lot of the communications between MnDOT, businesses and various governmental agencies, Council Member Chuck Dougherty said.

“I have no problem with that,” Runk replied. “But when we had issues, it almost seemed like a case where they were trying to lobby us, rather than assist us.”

Abrahamson agreed.

“I think the Coalition did a very nice job in achieving its goals, but there were occasions where I was frustrated with the Coalition when it relates to the city of Oak Park Heights meeting its goals,” Abrahamson said. “I don’t think we were always supported to the affect I would have liked.”

During a work session, former Mayor David Beaudet simply asked for a letter of support recognizing that the issues—that are now resolved—were valid, Abrahamson said. “We couldn’t even get a letter to come back from the Coalition, before it passed in Congress, and it is for that reason I won’t support this.”

Chad Kulas clarified that the Coalition would not be involved in the litigation if legal issues with the bridge arise, but the Coalition can be helpful in garnering legislative support, as it did by lobbying for a federal exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The funds would also be used by the Coalition to “provide advocacy, educate the public and hosting a ceremonial event as an educational opportunity to help the community better understand the positives of the project,” Kulas said.

“Let me point out that should be the responsibility of the bridge owner, and in that case, it is the state,” Abrahamson said.

The project team is aware of the Coalitions intent of doing a ground-breaking event as an educational opportunity, Kulas said. “They are supportive of us, and have no plans of doing one on their own.”

UPDATED FROM:

The Oak Park City Council will take up a request from the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing to contribute $3,000 out of city funds to “help keep the (bridge) project on schedule.”

Last month, the council tabled the vote so staff could look into the legalities of the request.

In a memo to the council, city staff writes that a contribution to the Coalition would seem to be a viable public expenditure if it benefits the community as a whole, relates to the functions of government and does not have a primary objective to benefit a private interest.

Chad Kulas, a representative for the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, told the council last month that public contributions are needed to fend off potential legal challenges and host an open house celebration when construction of the bridge project is complete.

“While we remain optimistic construction can begin, opposition still hopes for delays, as in the past when we have repeatedly seen efforts to replace the old lift bridge get stopped at the last minute,” a letter from Coalition Co-Chair and Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki to the Oak Park Heights City Council reads. “Stopping things now would increase both costs and the chances the project never occurs.”

Other than stating the fear of an “activist judge,” Coalition members have not indicated what potential threats or legal lawsuits may pose a challenge for the project.

“In our view, the Coalition would not have the legal standing that would allow it to participate in any litigation should that ever present itself, relative to the bridge, as it has no legal standing in the issue,” a letter from Oak Park Heights City Attorney Mark Vierling to the council reads. “Consequently, the anticipation of capital building for litigation or legal defense in my opinion would be an illegal gift.”

As for the grand opening celebration, Vierling wrote, “I assume those would be MnDOT sponsored and funded and the council may want to wait to participate in such events until they are actually planned by the bridge owner.”

The council may want to inquire into the current financial status of the Coalition in terms of funds on hand in its projected budget, anticipated revenue and the like, Vierling wrote, but if the council identifies a worthy and beneficial public purpose for the contribution, the council has the legal authority to make a donation in the amount it sees fit.

RELATED: Stillwater City Council Gives $10K to Coalition for St. Croix River Crossing

Washington County Board Gives $15K to Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing

Stillwater City Council Approves $15K for Lobbyists Last-Minute Push to Pass St. Croix River Crossing

Washington County to Partner With Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing

Stillwater River Crossing Supporters to Launch Advocacy Coalition

Making the Case for the St. Croix River Crossing

Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing Receives Public Policy Achievement Award

Ripple in Stillwater: Coalition 'Muddies the St. Croix Waters with More Misinformation'

St. Croix River Crossing: 'We'll Just Have to Agree to Disagree'

Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing to Give $80K Donation Back to Stillwater

St. Croix County has also contributed $20,000 to the Coalition.

According to the Jan. 10 Stillwater Township Board minutes, the Coalition asked the township for a $1,000 contribution, but the Board’s consensus was to “respectfully decline as we do not see a clear community benefit.”

A discussion about the contribution is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday during the City Council meeting at Oak Park Heights City Hall.

Susan February 12, 2013 at 06:45 PM
How wonderful for the Coalition that they want taxpayers to pay for their celebratory party. The audacity and sense of entitlement by this group is disappointing. I am glad that at least one local voice in city government understands that this coalition seems to be putting their own interests first without recognizing that they are not an official or legal representative of the new St. Croix River Crossing.
Randy Marsh February 12, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Can the city of Stillwater replace Mr. Magnuson with Mr. Virling? He brings up a salient point that our own well paid legal representative is seemingly oblivious to. Perhaps the reason our legal counsel bends over for the mayor (funny, also a co-chair of the bridge coalition) is that Harycki basically spent the first year of his mayoral reign threatening Magnuson's job. I would like to believe Magnuson is better than this, but look at his track record of late and it has just been one beat down after another.
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:06 PM
“Despite the high profile work of the coalition, it is difficult to find out who its members and contributors are. Dowell [the coalition director] would not release a list of the coalition's 82 donors and members." ****Why? "The coalition reports raising and spending $300,000 since its founding. Dowell said 85 percent of that came from individuals or businesses, and the rest from the public sector. Tax forms show members of the organization also pay annual dues of $100.” ****The coalition has received $70,000+ in public sector money. If this is 15%, they should have a total in donations of $470,000, not $300,000, as Dowell says. ****Why are they hiding so much information and misleading the public? http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/12/18/business/st-croix-bridge-lobbying-group
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:15 PM
"The letter appealing for money was signed by coalition co-chairman Ken Harycki, who also is Stillwater's mayor. Harycki voted in favor of the $80,000 donation and also his city's subsequent donation." "While we remain optimistic construction can begin, opposition still hopes for delays, as in the past when we repeatedly have seen efforts to replace the old lift bridge get stopped at the last minute," he wrote. "Stopping things now would increase both costs and the chances the project never occurs." "In all, donations of public money to the coalition from both sides of the river now total almost $75,000 -- a sum that doesn't include about $40,000 the city of Stillwater forfeited in penalties after the coalition returned the disputed $80,000. The request in September to donate money again drew a sharp exchange between Harycki and another council member at the time, Micky Cook." "Why in God's name are we spending another dime on this?" asked Cook, who frequently clashed with Harycki over bridge spending. "Because they're still out there," Harycki replied. The mayor said threats of a "frivolous lawsuit or activist judge" could block construction." ****They’re still out there? The law has been changed, there are no lawsuits pending, the mussels are moved or moving, who or what can stop this from being built? cont...
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:17 PM
“Another council member at that time, Jim Roush, said the donation amounted to "DOUBLE TAXATION" of Stillwater residents because Washington County also had donated. He and Cook voted against the $10,000 donation, which was $5,000 less than the coalition wanted.” ****The Coalition must realize that they have no official or legal status for representing the new St Croix River Crossing - they are a lobbying group. Their secrets and misinformation are troubling, to say the least. http://www.startribune.com/local/east/190114421.html?refer=y
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:30 PM
“Post election, if you want something new to question Rep. Michele Bachmann about, question her involvement in Minnesota’s St. Croix River bridge project. Until Bachmann stepped in, the various stakeholder groups were working on completing an appropriate compromise. When the new mega-bridge was suddenly pushed through it made no sense – on the surface. After all, there is a comparable bridge just a few miles away in Hudson. Bridge traffic in Stillwater didn't warrant a new bridge of such massive proportions. And Minnesota has bridge projects it can't even fund for repairs.” “What was on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River, across from Stillwater, that was driving the so-called need for a mega-bridge? Frac sand. Frac-sand mining operations are "exploding" in St. Croix, Barron, Rusk, Dunn, and Chippewa Counties. The industry’s projected hundreds to thousands of trips per day by trucks carrying heavy frac-sand loads needed such a massive bridge. In north St. Paul on the Minnesota side of the river, rail yards list “frac sand loading” as part of advertised job descriptions.” “The first choice for frac-sand transport would be by rail, but there is this wee bit of a problem with many of the railroads in Wisconsin. They are not up to the job. Many tracks in northwest Wisconsin are idle or in a state of disrepair, tracks would need to be built or rebuilt. And transfer fees are cost-prohibitive.” cont.
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:31 PM
“The other two “issues” cited, while couched as local government concerns, were essentially the industry’s concerns: “road weight restrictions” reducing profitability, and “disproportionate” liability for damage to local roads.” “Another mode of frac sand transport is by river barge. The aggregate river terminals in Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park have truck access, not rail. It was also interesting to note Minnesota Department of Transportation statements that, “Currently, there are no active terminals on the St. Croix.” However there is a “non active” terminal at “the Xcel Energy [Allen S. King] plant at Bayport on the St. Croix River.” This non-active terminal is just a hop, skip, and four miles from the new mega bridge exit. There is also a rail line at the Xcel Energy Allen S. King plant. With the building of the St. Croix River mega-bridge, all frac-sand transport bases would be covered.” cont.
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:32 PM
“And a sniper shot may well have come from Michael Wilhelmi, recent executive director/president of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing. According to its website, “The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing is a group of business, labor, government and community leaders from Minnesota and Wisconsin.” No mention of citizens. Nowhere on its website is there a list of its board of directors, sponsors, business and labor members. The State of Minnesota however has a list of lobbyists. Lobbyists register and file termination with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. On Oct. 31, 2012, Wilhelmi terminated his role with the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing as a lobbyist “to influence legislative action” and “to influence the official actions of a metropolitan governmental unit.” Five days later, on Nov. 5, 2012, he turned around and registered “to influence legislative action” for the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota (ARM). As the ARM website states, “Aggregate is sand, gravel and crushed stone in their natural or processed state.” Frac sand.” ****It’s seems the coalition and Mr. Wilhelmi may have had a whole lot more than Stillwater on the mind when they forced this over-sized and over-priced bridge down our throats. http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2012/12/st-croixs-mega-bridge-will-mostly-benefit-corporations-not-citizens
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:35 PM
I wonder how much the coalition has received from the frac-sand mining industry?
Randy Marsh February 12, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Susan or Shawn, does the coalition have non-profit tax exempt status? If so, I believe all of their records would be public and just because the coalition doesn't want to release them does not mean the public doesn't have the right to see them. Not sure what the deadlines would be for the coalition reporting that information, if this is indeed the case, but it's probably worth looking into.
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Randy, the MPR link that I gave above has a copy (at the bottom) of tax form 1024 Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501 (a). I went through it quickly, and didn't see any specifics.
Susan February 12, 2013 at 11:55 PM
It does list the board members as of that filing: Louanne Berg Curt Geissler Ken Harycki Kiim Heinemann Russ Korpela Chuck LeRoux Bill Rubin John Soderberg Daryl Standafer Todd Streeter
Shawn Hogendorf February 13, 2013 at 12:22 AM
The tax forms can also be found here: http://stillwater.patch.com/articles/coalition-for-st-croix-river-crossing-to-ask-oak-park-heights-for-3-000
Randy Marsh February 13, 2013 at 03:17 AM
After some spotty research, it appears the coalition does have to list its contributors in the IRS filing, but that is apparently not available for public consumption. It also seems they don't have to release the membership names unless an actual member requests it. Susan, are you ready to join the bridge coalition?
Susan February 13, 2013 at 03:21 AM
Well, people give hundreds of thousands and can pretty much remain anonymous, I wouldn't have to pay taxes on that money and better yet, I don't have to explain how I spend it....where do I sign up? A little birdie just told me that OPH voted 3-2 to give the coalition the money.
Susan February 13, 2013 at 03:23 PM
"Chad Kulas, a representative for the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, told the council last month that public contributions are needed to fend off potential legal challenges and host an open house celebration when construction of the bridge project is complete." This is MNDOT's responsibility, not the coalition. Our tax dollars already pay for MNDOT. They are asking the taxpayers to pay for something that the tax payers already pay for. We have paid at the city level, at the county level, at the state level and these people keep misleading the public to try and get more money for something that is not their responsibility. In fact, they have no official or legal status regarding the new St Croix River Crossing.

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