Billion dollar Vikings stadium still not for the birds


LOOK OUT ABOVE: For about $1 million, the MN Vikings new stadium could be far less lethal to migratory birds in the Mississippi River flyway.

By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Bird lovers launched a last-ditch drive at Monday’s Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority meeting to protect migratory species from what they consider a killer Minnesota Vikings football stadium being built with $500 million in taxpayer funding.

The Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds went to the top of the political pecking order, calling on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to fire MSFA chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen.

“The MSFA and the Vikings leveraging their power to make choices, which insult the values of the people who are paying for it, is an outstanding example of a corrupt system in which the desires of just a few individuals can override the desires and values of many thousands more,” said Wendy Hann, a member of the citizens group in addressing MSFA board members Monday.

One of Dayton’s closest allies, Kelm-Helgen has refused to push for bird-friendly fritted glass at a cost of $1 million, one-tenth of one percent of the project’s $1 billion budget.

“It is the board’s responsibility to look out for the interests of the public and make responsible choices. This means balancing budgets, design, construction, access, and impacts on the environment and neighborhood to finish the project in July of 2016,” the MSFA said in an emailed statement.

An email from a Dayton environmental aide provided to Watchdog Minnesota Bureau, however, indicates the governor will likely continue to punt on the issue.

“Unfortunately, the position of the office at the moment is that the Governor isn’t going to weigh in on this. If any new policy change happens, I will be happy to update you,” said Yassin Omar, a Dayton staffer in an Oct. 15 email to Stephen Greenfield of the MCPMB.

The controversy involves a huge glass exterior that critics maintain will reflect the sky and lead to thousands of bird deaths at the stadium, located blocks from the Mississippi River flyway used by migratory species. As the glass gained public visibility last summer, Kelm-Helgen and the Vikings’ fumbled their initial explanation, blaming the cost before turning to design issues as the reason for rejecting a bird-safe substitute.

Tens of thousands of emails and calls have flooded MSFA and team offices from birders around the country over a design that critics claim would not be approved today under new bird-safe state guidelines implemented after the project’s onset.

“Our ‘new’ stadium could not be built by today’s standard. Our ‘new’ stadium is already old,” said Wayne Swanson, one of about two dozen members of the citizen group protesting at the meeting. “This authority is a public entity funded by public dollars, mandated to protect the public interest, charged to provide for the public good, and given the sacred trust to express the will of the citizens of Minnesota.”

Even as the construction clock continues to run with 28 percent of the work already completed, the citizens group stressed in a recent meeting with Kelm-Helgen there’s still time to go for a bird-friendly alternative.

“Bird-safe glass does not have to delay the opening because it’s not new glass or a different design, but a treatment applied to the glass they have already ordered,” said Swanson.

But when MSFA signed off on the latest round of upgrades for lockers, seating and concession at the board meeting, there was nothing for the birds.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Bird lover Wendy Haan delivered the citizens group letter requesting that Gov. Mark Dayton fire the chairwoman of the MN Sports Facilities Authority.

“Michele Kelm-Helgen has listened respectfully and carefully to many voices and opinions and has guided efforts to make a consensus decision about the design of the new stadium with the Authority’s board,” said the MSFA statement. “We appreciate that this interest group is disappointed, but the Authority already has already committed to adopt all of the Minnesota Audubon Society’s lighting design standards and numerous operational recommendations regarding mitigation of risks for birds.”

They may be running out of time, but bird lovers refuse to throw in the towel, hoping for better results than the fortunes of the Vikings team that will play the 2016 season in the new stadium, under the controversial glass.

“This is a taxpayer-funded people’s stadium and the people would like the state’s natural resources to be protected. It is now time for new leadership to be appointed to the MSFA that is willing to advocate for the interests of our citizens and our environment,” states the MCPMB letter to Dayton.