Newport hopes 3M money will pay for Mississippi access

Newport wants a closer relationship with the Mississippi River, and is asking for help from 3M.

The city is considering a package of river-friendly proposals — buying an island, removing a levee, adding boat launches and building two riverside parks.

But according to City Administrator Deb Hill, Newport will need part of the $850 million settlement from a 3M lawsuit.

“We couldn’t do that all on our own,” Hill said.

The city council discussed the proposals at a workshop Thursday. Hill said the proposals are preliminary, and there are not yet any cost estimates or timetables for the work.

The proposal calls for the purchase of an undeveloped 22-acre island, west of Cedar Lane, which a nonprofit called Peacebunny Island bought for $35,000 in 2018. The proposal didn’t specify any potential improvements for the island.

Across from the island, a new park would be created along Cedar Lane.

This would require breaking through a levee built in 1965, allowing the floodwaters to flow into an area of roughly one city block.

The city would buy and demolish the last house left in the flood plain – a two-story at 1651 Cedar Lane. The city is seeking aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the purchase of that house, which has an estimated market value of $341,000.

The park would have a canoe and kayak launch and a parking area for up to 10 vehicles.

South of that park, near Ninth Street, another park would be built on a parcel called the Mill Pond property.

That park would have a deck for fishing and a 10-car parking area. The new park would include the historic Mississippi overlook at 10th Street, which would be expanded and improved.

3M paid $850 million to settle an environmental damage lawsuit in 2018. The state attorney general charged that 3M chemicals damaged the environment when they seeped from landfills into groundwater and river water in the area.

Out of the $850 million, $20 million was earmarked for enhancing “outdoor recreational opportunities.” City administrator Hill said the Newport projects might qualify.

Two advisory groups have been meeting regularly since 2018 to make recommendations for spending the 3M settlement money, of which $700 million remains after legal expenses.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources will have ultimate authority for distributing the money. The lawsuit settlement specifies that projects will be chosen that protect the quality of drinking water and enhance the area’s natural resources.

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