MnDOT Makes Changes After Taxpayer-Funded Trees Were Cut Down

June 27, 2018 07:20 PM

A month after a strip of land between Interstate 94 and a St. Paul neighborhood was mistakenly cleared of all trees and shrubs, residents are getting an apology for what happened and a promise to make it right.

The berm was designated as a Minnesota Department of Transportation Roadside Community Landscape Project in 2016. The state used grant money to plant native grasses and trees to help create a barrier.

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But in May, MnDOT said a miscommunication resulted in Xcel Energy clear-cutting the berm. MnDOT officials said Xcel’s permit to do work to reduce vegetation was approved before they realized it was a landscaped area.

RELATED: Trees Planted as Part of Taxpayer-Funded Program Ripped Up

“Normally these things just don’t happen for us,” said Marcell Walker with MnDOT. “This will be the first time that we’ve had permitted activity encounter a landscape project in this manner.”

Walker, along with representatives from Xcel Energy and the neighborhood’s city council representative, met with community members. Walker said he offered the group an apology.

“Flat out, we apologize,” Walker said. “There was an error on our part and the buck stops there.”

Several things happened as a result of the mishap.

Walker said MnDOT has agreed to cover the cost of replanting the berm, and also will pay to maintain it for two years.

He said after the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS story aired in May, MnDOT officials launched an internal review.

Now all landscape projects in MnDOT’s system are flagged. Walker said when a permit to do work is submitted, the state will monitor what happens.

Residents like Thomas Rupp said that’s good news arising from a bad situation.

“This will create a process,” Rupp said. “It creates an improvement opportunity for both Xcel and the state to come up with procedures, so that other communities aren’t impacted the way we were.”

Others still have a bad taste in their mouth from the ordeal.

Lyn Rhodes' home borders the berm. She wants vegetation planted that can grow quickly.

“We’re looking forward, at this point, to having some trees planted maybe in the fall," Rhodes said. "And in 15 to 20 years, maybe (having) some resemblance of a sound barrier again."

MnDOT said it first has to clear-cut the berm - again - before crews can replant new grass and trees. That is scheduled to happen sometime in July.

Credits

Kirsten Swanson

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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