Holler: Is all quiet, clean in Arden Hills?

Arden Hills/Ramsey County stadium rendering

With the Vikings stadium debate moved to Minneapolis, the Arden Hills cleanup has conveniently disappeared from the radar. So was the cleanup really all that serious or just an excuse to get the stadium proposal moved to Minneapolis?

There are things about Minnesota that are native to the people. They like their hot dish. They like their State Fair food items on a stick and they complain about the weather – even in the mildest of winters. But, as someone who has been on the outside looking in at Minnesotans, there's a line I've heard that I completely agree with – "you can tell someone from Minnesota, but you can't tell them much."

Eleven months ago today, Zygi Wilf watched on as face-painted men danced gleefully in an abandoned field in Arden Hills rejoicing that a local partner – at the time thought to be the only significant hurdle between the Vikings and a new stadium – had been found and agreed to join in the three-way-funding dance with the Vikings and the state.

Eleven months later, the power brokers that run Minnesota have made the Arden Hills stadium site extinct. They fired their machine guns with great rapidity and furious anger. After they took out the legs of the Ramsey County stadium proposal, they gleefully kicked out their crutches. It wasn't pretty. Welcome to Pottersville: Population You.

One of the primary arguments made by the sanctimonious lawmakers looking out for the best interests of Minnesotans was that the ground under the Arden Hills site – a former federal munitions plant that saw its heyday during the jittery Cold War years – was so polluted that there would be millions in untold costs associated with getting rid of what was sure to be contaminated soil buried below the surface.

Their argument was persuasive. I've been accused of being a homer of Hartmanesque proportions when it comes to advocating a new stadium. Guilty as charged. I understand the economic impact of the NFL – in-team and ancillary. I want the Vikings to stay in Minnesota. I make no bones about that. But the team's first legitimate stadium deal got riddled with more holes than a Sopranos subordinate that got out of line. The Arden Hills deal is dead. It's buried. Or is it?

Those same voices that alerted their media lapdogs to start yelping on command effectively shot down the Arden Hills site claiming the ground beneath the proposed site is poisonous. It's contaminated. It's unhealthy. They made their point. The Arden Hills site has gone away. It's Minneapolis or bust now for a stadium plan. But the poisonous, contaminated, unhealthy soil that was going to be dug up largely at the expense of the Vikings and Ramsey County still remains. If those who spoke up so vociferously against the stadium site were aware that the ground was contaminated and could potentially permanently impact the aquifer underneath, aren't they obligated for the public good to clean up the site? At their own expense?

For those who have lived through the sad stadium saga, they have the memory of the early decomposition of the Arden Hills proposal. The Minneapolis media was quick to point out that the proposed Ramsey County stadium site was sitting atop a potential cesspool of polluted soil. Now that the stadium isn't going to be placed on the Ramsey County site, are those same barking dogs going to continue to alert the public to the dangers of poisonous soil above one of the largest water basins in the state in terms of those who drink from it?

Maybe it's time for the chickens to come home to roost for those who set off the pollution alarms at the Arden Hills site. Congratulations. You won … or did you? Now that it's clear that something ain't right underground in Arden Hills, isn't it the state's responsibility to take care of that problem? Isn't that why the rank and file elect people to represent their interests? Had the Arden Hills site been approved, you could bet your bottom dollar that the Wilf family would have been asked to shoulder a considerable share of the burden to remove tons of poisoned soil under the former munitions plant. They would have begrudgingly agreed. They would have had no choice.

However, the fact the Arden Hills stadium proposal is swimming with the fishes doesn't remove the state from its responsibility to clean up the site, does it? The ground is still, as the dutifully-paid critics have told you, contaminated, poisoned and generally unfit. Is it going to be cleaned up? We were led to believe that there is an underground nightmare to be unearthed if a Vikings stadium was built in Arden Hills on the site proposed 11 months ago today. We take care of own – or at least we used to. Isn't that part of Minnesota nice? We have identified a contaminated site that needs to be cleaned up for the health of those who live within that watershed, right? Right?

The good news for those in political power that opposed a Vikings stadium at the Arden Hills site is that they successfully killed the deal – the crux of the argument being that untold millions of dollars would be needed to clean up contaminants that lie beneath. But, now that last rites have been administered, the Arden Hills stadium proposal is dead but the poison in the ground remains. At the very least, the Wilfs would have been stuck with one-third of the tab to clean the site up had it been approved. Ramsey County, as the host of that alleged parasite, would have likely been on the hook coughing up another third of the price for the cleanup. It would appear both can wipe their hands of the site … but the problem remains.

Whether the State Legislature approves a new Vikings stadium bill or not, the problem underground in the Garden of Arden remains and isn't going away. We had somebody willing to help pay the lion's share of the cost of cleaning up a potentially significant public health hazard before it got any worse. They got pushed away and now the state decision-makers (and the taxpayers who put them in office) are on the hook by themselves. They can ignore the Vikings and the team will go away to greener pastures. They can't ignore the browning of Arden Hills. Can they?

The state's financial contribution to the stadium debate might be much more expensive than their yapping lapdogs could have ever envisioned. Arden Hills is out of mind, but not out of sight. If the problem was there 11 months ago when the piranhas came out to skeletonize that cow, nothing has changed since – except those responsible to pick up the tab to clean it up have been reduced significantly.

Here's the real question after all of this: Was the contamination of Arden Hills the real issue or was it just an excuse to move the stadium proposal conveniently into Minneapolis? The actions of those elected should be telling.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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