It is alarming that the University of Minnesota design team hired by the city to work on a plan for Levee Park seems to have seriously derailed the conversation. It does make sense to make sure that what is done at the Levee will last into the future. When the levee flood wall was built after the flood of 1965, it was sold to the public as a way to protect Winona for years to come from the flood waters that ravaged the city in the fifties and sixties. And it has done just that.
However, the Levee Park conversation has strayed far from the idea of creating a way for the city to reconnect to its riverfront, and more into predicting the dire consequences of Global Warming on the river. Certainly, there is climate change, but there has been climate change on Earth that humans have recorded in history from the Bible onward. Noah’s flood, the Ice Age, all due to climate change.
One of the U of M designers, professor Matt Tucker, has gone so far, though, as to predict a “postindustrial” Winona, less than 40 years into the future, in which the river is not used for commerce, and manufacturing gives way to a service industry catering to ecotourism and those seeking the cultural institutions and events that Winona is so fortunate to have. The Winona City Council rightly took exception to this notion.
Some members of the council pointed out that without industry to create a vibrant economic community, Winona would be hard-pressed to pay for the things these future tourists would be coming here to see. It is because of the generosity of local manufacturers and business owners that Winona is what it is today, from the Prentisses and Lucases, and John Latsch on up to today’s benefactors. Certainly there are those of us who donate what we can, and the arts and entertainment sector cannot survive without our smaller donations, but Winona would be without a library, a state university, its distinctive architecture, some parks, the Beethoven Festival, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival, if not for the industrialists who paid and continue to pay for them.
Tucker also anticipates the near death of the barge industry and the increase in recreational use of the river due to high water. In Winona, during high water, when the river current is too fast for even the barges to be operating, we stay off the river — especially the main channel — as it is very dangerous. Additionally, if what Tucker says is true, Winona will be looking at an astronomic increase in truck and rail traffic. Commodities must somehow get from the fields and mines and oil fields to the consumer. Has the design team thought what the railroads will do if commodities cannot move by barge? Certainly the railroads will not be willing to close down lines if such a burden will be put on their present routes. They will be building more lines, and the state will be forced to build larger roads for the increased truck traffic.
I wonder if the city is getting from this U of M design team anything that is usable. Already, I fear, we have settled for an eyesore of a new bridge because of the team’s influence on those in power in Winona. Let’s call a timeout and regroup.