Conservation Minnesota

A chaotic drive for resolution

tumafeature“Mrs. Medvec, 57 years old, fainted . . . the woman was revived, but she was hysterical until the second court order brought hope that her home might be restored.”
Minneapolis Morning Tribune May 25, 1923*

John Medvec and his wife were leaders of a squatters’ rebellion in Minneapolis’ famed immigrant slums on the west bank of the Mississippi below the Washington Avenue Bridge known as the Bohemian Flats. After statehood, the flats had become a staging ground for immigrants arriving by steamboat just below St. Anthony Falls. It was undesirable ground as it flooded nearly every spring, but the rent was cheap and there was always free lumber for firewood and construction of their shanties that had escaped from the lumber mills up river. The shanty community quickly developed its own character, separated from the booming metropolis by the West Bank bluff.

At the turn of the 20th century, the city fathers of Minneapolis became self-conscious about their floodplain slum and devised a plan to turn the flats into a barge and railroad staging area. Working with the new landlord C.H. Smith, they were determined to evict the squatters from their tenements in the name of progress. Smith had secured an order of eviction for the little community’s ringleader Medvec and sought to execute it while he was away from his home. The women of the neighborhood helped Mrs. Medvec barricade herself in her home in a near riot situation. The police were able to secure entrance to the home and were in the process of loading the Medvecs’ belongings into a moving truck.

Fortunately right at the brink of near defeat a local attorney, David Lundeen, who had taken up the cause of the squatters, appeared just in time to serve a second order from another judge that demanded the appearance of all parties in court for resolution of the dispute prior to eviction. The police dutifully returned furniture to the home and Mrs. Medvec recovered to do battle in court.

Eventually the squatters were moved from the site, but the last of the straggling squatters did hang on until 1960. The last few shacks were surrounded by coal and oil staging areas feeding the energy needs of the growing metropolis up the bluff from the Bohemian Flats. Eventually the staging area was no longer needed and has recently been cleaned up to become a park on the riverfront. It gained fame from the fact that it was a staging ground for the 35W bridge collapse rescue and the temporary resting area for the debris from the collapsed bridge.

The brinksmanship dispute resolution instituted by the city of Minneapolis with the Bohemian Flat tenants is pretty similar to the negotiation styles of the end of the legislative session. The last couple weeks of session become a chaotic drive for resolution where well over 95% of the work is done in quick succession. The many demands and positioning of the legislative members meets the reality of the need to progress to an orderly conclusion for the greater good. The hopes and dreams of the wide-eyed resident freshmen legislators meet the reality of the power of legislative leaders and the governor. It is a well understood strategic plan by the leaders to leave major issues to the end because it empowers them to make an effective global agreement to wrap up the session.

Unfortunately, the funding from the Legacy Amendment has been caught in this precarious whirlwind of activity. Though it is $362 million of critical investments in our lakes, groundwater, wildlife habitat and cultural attractions, it looks more like a small shanty in the old Bohemian Flats when compared to the issues swirling around the $38 billion state budget and historical cultural votes. Therefore, with the legislative session on the brink of its conclusion on May 20, advocates for our clean water and habitat are getting a little nervous when the Senate is just releasing its recommendations for the Legacy Amendment Funds this Thursday, May 8.

The Senate proposal does follow the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) recommendations for the one-third of the Legacy Funds for outdoor heritage. This is a large contrast from the House proposal that deviates substantially from the LSOHC recommendations. This House proposal will be tested on Friday as the full House votes on their Legacy Committee recommendations with a close vote expected. The Senate also followed the recommendation from the governor and the DNR on the distribution of the parks and trails funding with 40% going to Metro Parks, 40% state parks and 20% to greater Minnesota regional parks. The Senate Clean Water Legacy funding does deviate somewhat from the governor, but does not rise to the level of groundwater protection focus that is in the House proposal.

The last week of session will likely involve some fainting and hysteria, which is always the case in the end of session brinksmanship. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail without the need of any court orders or special sessions. The citizens of Minnesota did not vote to tax themselves for the protection of our great outdoors to see those funds sitting unused. Conservation Minnesota will keep you informed and hold the legislature accountable to the clear intent of the people of Minnesota to make progress in the preservation of our great outdoors with the Legacy Amendment Funds.

*Thanks to Ben Welter for relaying the story in his book Minnesota Mayhem, a history of calamitous events, historic accidents, dastardly crimes and deadly behavior in the land of 10,000 Lakes. The History Press 2012

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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