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 a day).

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 Coldwater" wagon.

"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.