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Officials, representatives ask Met Council to delay tree removal for SWLRT due to impact on endangered species

June 05, 2019 09:59 AM

A group of state representatives and city officials have asked the Metropolitan Council to halt plans to destroy any trees in the Kenilworth Corridor for the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) route.

The letter, which was sent to Nora Slawik, the Chair of the Met Council, said the request is based on the Met Council's need to comply with mitigation measures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

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The group's letter states moving forward with the destruction of trees and other habitats in the area on June 6 would violate FWS mitigation requirements and ignore an FWS request to be notified if the area will be disturbed between April 1 and Sept. 30. That time period is the 2019 active season for the rusty patched bumble bee, which was listed as a federally endangered species in 2017. The FWS letter also noted that potential negative impacts to the northern long-eared bat would also be substantially reduced if no trees were removed until the end of July.

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

The FWS letter, written by Field Supervisor Peter Fasbender to William Wheeler of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), stated the activities associated with SWLRT construction may affect, but aren't likely to adversely affect, the rusty patched bumble bee or the northern long-eared bat. It goes on to state that the FTA determined construction and operation would result in insignificant or discountable impacts to the rusty patched bumble bee, and further impacts to the northern long-eared bat are being substantially reduced by avoiding tree removal from June 1 to July 31.

The FWS letter also states it should be notified it it appears vegetation will need to be removed during the 2019 active season (April 1 to Sept. 30).

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

The group's letter was signed by District 61's Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. D. Scott Dibble, as well as by Minneapolis Councilwoman Lisa Goodman from Ward 7 and Park Commissioners At Large LaTrisha Vetaw and Meg Forney with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Members of the Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis support this letter citing the uncertainty of the federal funding with this project. 

"It's critical that these two species be protected. Why would we destroy their habitat and even destroy the pups when we may not even get the money to build the project," said Mary Pattock, board member of the Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis. 

The federal government has taken the first steps agreeing to pay their portion of this project, and on Tuesday local officials took further action to ensure the spending is there. The Met Council tells us this is standard practice for projects of this nature. 

The Met council says they've worked very closely with the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service including mowing of floral habitats to discourage bumble bees along the construction limits. Plus, they say there are no bats living in the Kenilworth Corridor.

At this time, it's unclear if plans to remove any trees later this week will still go forward.

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