Nokomis Edition, October 2001
Vol. XI, Issue 8, pages 1 and 5
By Susu Jeffrey
The Metropolitan Airports Commission will not be purchasing Camp Coldwater
Springs after all. Because of post-Sept. 11 belt-tightening measures by
the airline industry the proposed runway 4-22 extension has been canceled,
removing the historic "Birthplace of Minnesota" from the runway safety
zone and saving $6-million.
The cancellation also changes overflight height restrictions for the Highway
55/62 interchange. The roadbed can now be raised out of the path of underground
water feeding Coldwater Springs.
"There is no longer any reason to not raise the road," said Tom Holtzleiter
of Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition.
"Raising the road is the cheapest and easiest solution," said Minnehaha
Creek Watershed District Administrator Eric Evenson. The watershed district
has been in a fierce legal battle with the Minnesota Department of Transportation
over road design and hydrology science. A court-ordered independent third
party recommended the construction of a concrete liner, nicknamed "the
bathtub," to surround and encase the low road. The $4 to $8-million "bathtub"
would theoretically channel the underground water around and under the
sprawling multi-lane Highway 62 roadbed for several hundred feet, allowing
the water to resume its original flow on the other side. But would it?
Evenson described the Highway 55/62 interchange area as "a sink," wherewater
seems to be flowing in from all directions. Not all the water in the construction
zone outflows to Coldwater. There is more than one aquifer system.
Coldwater gets a third to a half of its water from under the interchange
Evenson said. The watershed district said results from the dye tests and
construction dewatering showed the relationship between the construction
zone and the spring. MCWD hydrogeologic consultant Kelton Barr measured
about a 25 percent loss of flow to Coldwater. Dennis Larson, Principal
Engineer with MnDOT's Water Resources Division, said there is no significant
effect on the spring from dewatering 250 gallons per minute (360,000 gallons
The clue is the word "significant." MnDOT attorney Lisa Crum said "MnDOT
(design) standards were based on reasonable estimates" when Hennepin County
Judge Franklin Knoll chided: "MnDOT is one of the largest and most well-staffed
departments in Minnesota. Your engineers, geologists and water specialists
all signed off on this design..How could your professionals be so far
off in their hydrology? What facts were not available to you." Thomas
Vasaly, another MnDOT attorney at the Sept. 13 hearing at which MnDOTwas
seeking to be released from all previous agreements with the watershed
said, "Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and MnDOT are not going to agree."
The Department of Transportation, with a $600 million yearly budget, and
the MCWD, with a $5 million annual budget, don't even agree on the baseline
daily flow of water at Coldwater Springs. Figures range from 90,000 to
144,000 gallons per day.
Five days after the hearing where MnDOT's argument wilted, MnDOT canceled
construction of the Highway 55/62 intersection because, it said, the law
guaranteeing the flow of water to Camp Coldwater Springs was too stringent.
An unmentioned factor was the project was so far behind schedule it could
not have been completed before winter. MnDOT paid $2 million to Ames Construction
as a broken contract penalty for the job stoppage.The following day Richard
Stehr, MnDOT metro district engineer, told KFAI news "We aren't considering
any alternatives." The state transportation department planned to take
the issue back to the Legislature, which overwhelmingly passed the law
prohibiting any diminishment of flow to or from the spring last May.
Cancellation of MAC's runway extension-and its trail of effects on MnDOT,
MCWD and the Legislature-saves face all around. Incumbent and challenger
candidates for the November elections are already jumping on the "I saved
"We were told we would lose and we would win," said Jim Anderson, cultural
chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community. "We lost the Four Trees
but we saved the spring."
MnDOT's road is designed to last 15-30 years. Coldwater Springs has been
flowing at least 10,000 years.