Editorial: Camp Coldwater Spring / Challenge to MnDOT has merit
It's easy to understand the Minnesota Department of Transportation's resistance
to more scrutiny of its Hwy. 55 project, this time to determine the probable
impacts on Camp Coldwater Spring. Debate over this roadway has been unusually
harsh, and some of the objections have carried more weight than others.
But the merits of this challenge are beyond question. The spring is a
significant resource and an official historic site, figuring in the first
European settlement of the area and holding a sacred place in Native American
culture for generations before that. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
is a legitimate public body with a record of responsible service, and
its concerns here are plausible.
Last year, long after the highway work was underway, Camp Coldwater Spring
was placed within the watershed district's boundaries and, therefore,
within its mission to protect water resources. As its consultants began
to study the area, they grew concerned about plans for the Hwy. 55 interchange
with Crosstown Hwy. 62. Excavations to keep water away from the footings
would lower the water table by as much as 15 feet, they warned, and this
might reduce the flow of groundwater that feeds the nearby spring.
MnDOT disagrees. Testing shows that underground slopes near the interchange
carry water away from the spring, it says, and the spring's flow has not
been diminished by groundwater removal during construction. Besides, MnDOT
pledges, if the completed project is shown to have significantly damaged
the spring, it will rebuild to correct the problem.
Measurements by the watershed district, however, show some reductions
in spring flow already, and a dye-transfer test indicated that underground
fissures may carry some water from the interchange area to the spring.
So it proposed a more conclusive test, in which dye would be injected
into the ground nearer the interchange.
That test is now proceeding, but only by court order. After agreeing to
permit it, though not to be influenced by the results, MnDOT raised obstacles
that delayed the testing and finally prompted the watershed district to
sue. The district won, partly because of a brand-new state law written
to protect the spring -- a law MnDOT is now lobbying to loosen.
In MnDOT's behalf, it must be said that its engineers are correct in claiming
that no testing can conclusively settle this question in advance. On the
other hand, it is clear that MnDOT has chosen to fight the watershed district
where it might have found a compromise.
In court, MnDOT exaggerated the testing's impact on construction timetables
and costs, including a swiftly retracted assertion that light-rail work
might be delayed for a year. It continues to blame the watershed district
for delays that are partly its own fault. And having promised to mitigate
any damage it does to the spring, MnDOT is trying to modify the law to
ease its obligations.
It is not too late for MnDOT to redeem its performance in this battle,
probably the last big one it will have to fight over Hwy. 55. As the testing
proceeds, and as its implications are assessed, MnDOT ought to adopt a
more cooperative stance on preserving Camp Coldwater Spring -- a duty
that challenges not only its engineering, but its citizenship.
"Copyright 2000 Star Tribune. Republished here with the
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