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Residents express concern, frustration at UMore meeting

The University of Minnesota held a meeting last week to discuss the results of the first large-scale investigation of pollution on its UMore Park property, but many of the residents who attended found fewer answers than they wanted.

The study, conducted by Barr Engineering, found pollution at several locations on the property, which was home to a munitions plant during World War II and has been the site of several research and other uses in the years since. It did not find any reason to stop the university's plans to build residential housing on the property.

For some of the residents, though, the concern was less what the impact might be on future residents and more what that pollution might be doing to them now. Some have grown frustrated with what they see as a lack of information.

"This is our neighborhood and we want to know what's going on," said Carl Johnson, who lives across the street from a part of the property that will be mined for gravel over the next several years. "There's no reason anybody should walk out of here with unanswered questions."

Johnson and his wife, Ranelle, started paying attention to the project when they heard about the mining plans and have gotten more involved as they learned more about potential pollution problems.

"We have sat through a lot of meetings where (Carl) has gone into a private room and asked questions and they haven't been answered," Ranelle said.

That frustration came to the surface when meeting organizers finished their formal presentation last week and offered to answer further questions in small groups gathered around several maps that lined the back of the room rather than in front of the full group. That upset several of the residents in attendance who wanted a chance to air concerns for all to hear.

Meeting leaders, who said they would be able to provide more information if they had the maps as reference, eventually relented and answered questions from the front of the room.

Some residents expressed frustration with the limited scope of the remedial investigation conducted over the past several months by Barr Engineering. Barr took nearly 600 soil samples from around the property and found contamination in 41 sites. But there was concern Thursday that the study did not look for, among other things, evidence of asbestos contamination.

"I can tell you every one of the spots out there that's contaminated," Rosemount resident Myron Napper said. "They poisoned our water for three years, for crying in the night."

University services communication director Tim Busse said there is more investigation to come. He said the university will discuss the findings and figure out what additional investigations are needed. Most cleanup efforts will take place as development happens.

"It's not cost effective to do it before," Busse said.

Busse said staff from the university and Barr are working to address specific questions from residents.

Many in the audience Thursday expect more pollution to come to light. Terrance Yourcheck spent a career working on the U of M land, largely at a U of M-run poultry research station on the property. He said the university moved too quickly with its plans to build housing.

"Anytime you build near a plant that made gunpowder or ammunition or anything like that you're going to have problems," he said.

Arnie Jensen also spent many years working on the property, driving trucks.

"I helped build the place. I helped tear it down," he said.

Jensen thought the study was well done, but he expects more problems to come to light down the line.

"I don't think they realize how big a problem there is, really, he said. "They got some very good land, and they got some very bad land. They got some of the best land in the county and some of the worst. It was a package deal."