Holman Airfield Floodwall:
Balancing Ecology and Economy
In 2002, the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) announced plans to build a floodwall and dike system to protect Saint Paul’s downtown airport, Holman Field, which is situated on the Mississippi River Floodplain. Holman Field serves corporate, private and fleet air traffic, and is considered an important economic asset for the East Metro region.
For four years, the MAC’s floodwall plan was engulfed in controversy. Citizens and river organizations raised concerns about environmental and aesthetic impacts. The MAC held firm in its belief that a floodwall was needed to protect Holman Field. There seemed to be no common ground.
In 2006, Mayor Chris Coleman asked the Riverfront Corporation to help. In facilitating the debate, we foundthat most parties could agree that protecting our downtown airport was important. And most parties could agree that protecting the unique character and ecosystem of the downtown river valley was also important. From this point of shared understanding, a successful design solution was found. Today, construction of the Holman Field floodwall is complete, including a wonderful new connection to the water’s edge via stairs at the historic site of the old floatplane harbor. The wall meets both infrastructure and design aesthetic goals. It reminds us that even when consensus seems impossible, there is always a way to move forward.
When we mediate an issue like Holman Field, we rely on the guiding principles of the Saint Paul on the Mississippi Development Framework. These principles inform our work as we help identify issues, solve problems, develop strategies and strive for the highest quality in urban design.
Prior to its construction, concerned citizens and river organizations raised serious issues about the ecological and aesthetic impact of the floodwall as proposed by MAC. The Riverfront Corporation assembled and chaired a work team, including technical experts, to study these issues, which included:
- Ecological appropriateness of the vegetation plan
- Review of potential soil contamination issues relative both to construction and future dredging
- Potential water quality impacts of the Sub-Drain Improvement project
- Visual impact / design recommendations for the dike
- Endangered species review
- Review potential noise impacts
Work team members included the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation (as chair and technical support), Saint Paul Mayor’s Office, National Park Service, Friends of the Mississippi, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Saint Paul Public Works, Minnesota DNR, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Metropolitan Airport Commission, citizen advocates, Barr Engineering and Wenck Associates.
Several months of work by team members and their associates resulted in a report to Mayor Chris Coleman, authored by the Riverfront Corporation on behalf of the Work Team. The report guided design improvements that led to the construction of a floodwall that protects a valuable downtown asset without harming the ecology or character of Saint Paul’s unique river valley.