Hwy. 55 legal fight ends, spring flow raises issue

Star Tribune

Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

Published Friday, October 5, 2000

A new Hwy. 55 dispute has erupted, even as drivers travel the rerouted roadway and even though the last lawsuit challenging the project has been dismissed.

At issue: whether construction of a storm-water pond will choke off part of the ground water feeding Camp Coldwater spring, a place historically significant to both Indians and early white settlers.

A consultant to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has concluded that the work could permanently divert a third or more of the underground flow toward the spring.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, which previously hired its own consultant to review ground-water issues, disagrees. But it told the Watershed District Tuesday that it will raise the pond level to address concerns. The district's board is scheduled to discuss the offer but may ask for contingency plans for augmenting the flow of ground water, according to the district's administrator, Eric Evenson.

Nevertheless, the pond issue was introduced into a court hearing Wednesday that appears to have been the end of the road for legal efforts against the reroute. Hennepin County District Judge H. Peter Albrecht granted a state motion that dismissed the last of three suits filed by opponents of the project.

"There needs to be some finality to this lawsuit," Albrecht said.

Work on the project began in summer 1999 and is scheduled to be finished late next summer. Traffic began using parts of the new route on Tuesday.

Bill Sierks, a lawyer for the state, told Albrecht that many of the concerns raised by opponents of the project had been made moot by construction. Mike Hager, arguing for opponents, told the judge that more time was needed to consider the pond and other issues.

Geological consultant Kelton Barr raised concerns about the spring last month after the Watershed District asked him to review the matter. Reviewing studies by the state's consultant, he said both the temporary pumping of water from the area and the construction of a pond below the spring could reduce flow.

Preservation of the spring has been a major goal of reroute opponents, along with the now-lost battle to preserve four oaks deemed sacred by Indians. The spring lies about 400 feet east of Hwy. 55, just off the junction with Crosstown Hwy. 62. The pond would be part of the interchange that will connect the two roads, collecting rain and snowmelt and feeding it to the Mississippi River through a storm sewer. Work on the interchange is in its early stages.

The state earlier redesigned part of the sewer under Hwy. 55 after road opponents raised concerns about its impact on the spring.

Soon after crews began excavating for the pond, the hole filled with ground water; the pond will be completed later in the project, according to Valerie Svensson, a state engineer.

The issue is complicated by the fact that the pond lies within the jurisdiction of the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District, while the spring area is within the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

"All we can do is appeal to these other people to do the right thing," said Pam Blixt, president of the Minnehaha district's board.

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