Judge puts the demolition of the Roof Depot warehouse on hold

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The demolition of the Roof Depot warehouse, in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood is on hold —after an order by a Hennepin County district judge.

But residents in Little Earth — less than a mile away — say they’re still worried about the future.

“The reason we’ve started this fight is because we don’t want no more pollution,” declares Cassie Holmes, a Little Earth mother of two — and a plaintiff in a legal battle against the city. “I do not want the city to tear down the building and release that arsenic.”

This week, the building and the property it sits on — both vacant since the early 2000s — have been the focus of protests.

The debate about what to do with the site has spilled into heated exchanges at city council meetings.

The issue?

The sprawling structure was slated for demolition on Monday.

The Minneapolis City Council voted 7-6 to demolish the warehouse in January.

After buying the property in 2016 — for nearly $7 million —the city planned to use the site to expand its water and sewer maintenance facilities.

Opponents, including the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, or EPNI for short, have long advocated to build an urban farm there.

“It will show us more about green living, green jobs, green training, green housing, and everything this community needs,” Holmes says.  

She and others say they’re concerned about underground toxic chemicals that could be disturbed during the demolition process.   

“When you think about demolishing something, hitting something, there’s always dust, no matter how much you wet it down,” explains neighbor Nicole Perez — who says her family has worked in construction. “And I just think we’re one block away.”

But for now, that demolition is on hold.

Earlier this month, a Hennepin County district judge denied a request to halt the process, saying there was “insufficient evidence to show contamination would be dispersed throughout the neighborhood.”

But on Thursday, District Judge Edward Wahl granted a temporary injunction, saying demolition opponents have the right to have his decision reviewed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

That means the building will remain standing until the Minnesota Court of Appeals has a chance to render an opinion.  
“We cannot in this moment demolish the building,” Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the Minneapolis Public Works Director told reporters Friday. “We can continue on-site preparation, and I think that is where we’re at.”

The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying “The order issued Thursday shows support for the city’s position on all counts. His ruling yesterday simply allows the Court of Appeals to review.”

City Public Works officials and project managers say the demolition plan is safe — and that it’s been given approval by the Minnesota Department of Pollution Control and the Department of Agriculture.

MPCA issued this statement Saturday about the project: “The MPCA understands the concerns being raised by the local community regarding potential air impacts. The agency reviewed and approved the project’s response action plan for the portion pertaining to air monitoring for potentially impacted soil. The plan also outlines measures for dust control and other air monitoring activities, which should minimize airborne dust from the potential disturbance of soil during the demolition. We believe the agency has taken reasonable action through our regulatory authorities for construction storm water to protect the community given the known presence of arsenic at the site.”   

Project managers say the plan includes air monitoring of the site to check for dust emissions, the collection of hundreds of soil samples and groundwater and vapor testing.

Project consultant Steve Jansen addressed the arsenic issue this way:

“So we’re talking levels that are being found on the Roof Depot property are a thousand times less than the levels found on the adjacent superfund site,” he says.

Authorities say the Roof Depot is a former superfund site.

As part of the ruling, EPNI must raise $10,000 to cover the cost of delaying the project and to secure the building.

The group must also agree to tell people in the community that no one should enter the warehouse or the property.

It’s unclear how long the demolition will be on hold.

But for now — some Little Earth residents say this is a reprieve.

“I’m terrified — and I’m terrified if they tear that building down,” Holmes says. “I’m blessed because I can move if I need to. But I’m terrified for community members who can’t move, and children who can’t.”