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Group opposed to Southwest LRT line to present petition urging Walz to hold off on cutting down trees

Group opposed to Southwest LRT line to present petition urging Walz to hold off on cutting down trees Photo: KSTP

May 14, 2019 11:27 AM

The Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis says a delegation is scheduled to present a petition to Gov. Tim Walz Tuesday, asking him to instruct the Metropolitan Council to hold off on cutting down acres of trees in the Kenilworth Corridor until funding for the Southwest Light Rail line is assured.

This even as construction work on the project gets underway. A group spokesperson said they do not expect to meet with Walz, who is busy with budget negotiations this week. But they do plan to present the petition to an aide.

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RELATED: First rails for Southwest Light Rail project roll into St. Louis Park

The proposed line would connect downtown Minneapolis and the southwestern suburbs, and would pass through the Kenilworth Corridor, a one-and-a-half mile strip of land in Minneapolis that currently contains a freight train line and a bike/running path.

The group has long opposed the project, even filing a lawsuit to stop it. The suit, first filed in 2014, alleged the Met Council and the Federal Transit Administration (which was later dropped from the suit) violated state and federal law, including the National Environmental Protection Act, when it came to the procedures followed in the approval of a portion of the line's route.

In February 2018, a federal judge ruled proper procedures were followed, finding for the Met Council. Though the group has appealed that decision.

RELATED: Federal judge rules for Met Council on Southwest Light Rail Project tunnel plan

Meanwhile, a portion of the Kenilworth Trail has been closed so crews can begin taking down around 1,300 trees for this project. Those trees are scheduled to be replaced once construction is done.

A portion of the Cedar Lake Trail running through St. Louis Park and Hopkins has also been closed as crews begin the complicated process of building the line from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis. 

The 14.5-mile project is expected to cost roughly $2 billion and the Met Council is urging those accustomed to using the trails to find alternate routes for the next two or three years while construction is underway.

RELATED: 2 popular trails close to runners, walkers, bicyclists as SWLRT construction begins Monday

According to the Met Council, it is anticipated that the Federal Transit Administration will provide $928.8 million for the project through the New Starts program with a Full Funding Grant Agreement in 2019.

See Met Council's Southwest LRT funding breakdown

The FTA granted a Letter of No Prejudice in November of last year, clearing the path for construction work to begin.

RELATED: Southwest Light Rail project gets key federal approval

But the Lakes and Parks Alliance contends the federal funding portion of the project's cost may not be certain, and taking down the trees now would be premature.

"If there is no funding and the project must stop, the deforestation will have been irresponsible, they say, and have happened for nothing," the release reads.

"The Met Council is about to destroy thousands of trees along the densely forested Minneapolis trail to make way for the SWLRT project — even though, under President Trump, Federal Transportation Administration funding for this category of projects has become unpredictable.

"Funding may also be withheld until the Lakes and Parks Alliance environmental lawsuit against the project is resolved, and a still-outstanding BNSF agreement is signed."

RELATED: Met Council approves Southwest Light Rail construction contract

The release said the group will gather at the South Entrance to the State Capitol at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and proceed to Walz's office at 3 p.m.


 

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