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On a recent morning, past the riverfront rail yards southeast of downtown St. Paul and just beyond mounds of shredded trees at a wood recycling center, a trio of wild turkeys crossed the rain-slicked road to find refuge in one of the city's largest — and least visible — parks.
Thanks to a land-swap deal with St. Paul Regional Water Services approved last week by the St. Paul City Council, Pig's Eye Regional Park will for the first time get a parking lot and an entrance with a sign.
In exchange, the water utility will use a portion of the park to store soils removed from around broken water mains.
It's considered a good deal by Nelsie Yang and Jane Prince, the City Council members who represent the city's East Side.
An earlier proposal would have given the water utility a longer lease on a larger tract of land in return for the city getting the site of a former water reservoir in Highland Park to develop soccer fields.
But neighbors saw that as unfair, given that it reduced parkland on the East Side while adding to the already robust recreation offerings in a more affluent neighborhood on the other side of the city.
So city and water services officials reworked the lease.
The deal is now a shorter term — 20 years instead of 30, and it can be terminated if the city finds a better use — and the footprint for the storage of removed soils shrank from 8 acres to 5.5.
St. Paul Regional Water Services will make more than 2 acres of land it owns near the former Hillcrest Golf Course available for the city to use as additional parkland once Hillcrest is redeveloped.
And the utility will provide $100,000 for planning the East River Passage, which encompasses the East Side riverfront including Pig's Eye.
St. Paul still gets its future soccer fields in Highland Park.
"We all took a lot of time to put together a full and equitable proposal because we really owe it to the people of the East Side," said Yang, who Prince and others praised for hammering out a better agreement.
Mike Hahm, St. Paul Parks and Recreation director, said the Pig's Eye new parking lot and entry area will be developed when the water utility moves from the 3 acres where it has been recycling soil for the past decade to the new site farther north in the park.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428