Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board

Resolution
2015-107

Resolution Approving a Letter Requesting a Meeting to Discuss Legal Jeopardy to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts Program Created by the Implementation of the Program for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the FTA and the Metropolitan Council

Information

Department:Planning ServicesSponsors:
Category:Legislative AgendaProjects:No Project

Item Discussion

Whereas, The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is the steward of the Minneapolis park system;

 

Whereas, The Metropolitan Council’s Southwest Project Office has proposed a bridge crossing of the Kenilworth Channel as part of its Southwest Light Rail Transit project;

 

Whereas, The Kenilworth Channel is a 100-year old connection between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles and lies within Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park and provides a recreational and scenic passage for park visitors between these lakes in all seasons;

 

Whereas, The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park receives over 5 million visits per year and is one of the parks that is linked by over 50 miles of parkway and trails to create the Grand Rounds Historic District which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places;

 

Whereas, The proposed bridge crossing by the proposed SWLRT project has been determined to pose an adverse effect on the Kenilworth Channel within the Section 106 consultant process, including nearly doubling the expanse of bridge structure crossing the channel as compared to existing bridge structures accommodating trail and freight rail traffic;

 

Whereas, The crossing of the channel by light rail vehicles will generate noise and vibration and will generally intrude upon the tranquility of the channel and its quiet enjoyment by park users in ways that will permanently impact the public park, scenic, recreational and historic character of the park;

 

Whereas, The MPRB has stated publicly that a tunnel under the channel for SWLRT is likely to be the most feasible and prudent alternative for accommodating the multiple modes of movement in the Kenilworth corridor and is in the process of exploring more definitively the feasibility and prudence of tunnel alternatives;

 

Whereas, The MPRB is supportive of the transit improvements offered by SWLRT but is gravely concerned that the National Environmental Policy Act is being circumvented and that MPRB concerns related to the impacts of the proposed SWLRT alignment under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act will not be addressed in a timely manner due to the process by which the project is being developed and funding secured;

 

Whereas, The MPRB is obligated to comment on proposals that may impact upon the parks and recreation resources under its jurisdiction; and

 

Whereas, This resolution is supported by the MPRB 2007-2020 Comprehensive Plan which envisions “Dynamic parks that shape city character and meet diverse community needs.”

 

RESOLVED, That the Board of Commissioners approve a letter requesting a meeting to discuss legal jeopardy to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts Program created by the implementation of the program for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the FTA and the Metropolitan Council; and

 

RESOLVED, That the President of the Board and Secretary to the Board are authorized to take all necessary administrative actions to implement this resolution.

 

Body

BACKGROUND:

 

The actions by the Board of Commissioners of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board of Commissioners through resolutions dating back to late 2012 have consistently recognized issues related to the impacts of the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) Project on parks, park resources, and park user experiences along its proposed alignment. Since the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in 2012, the alignment of the proposed SWLRT has evolved based on design and engineering work performed by the Southwest Project Office (SPO) and impacts on parks and park resources identified in the DEIS have changed. The process of this evolution has not allowed MPRB to fully evaluate those impacts, particularly in the area of the Kenilworth corridor and the crossing of the Kenilworth Channel, despite requests for additional information and research made to the SPO.

 

The changes to the SWLRT alignment will be demonstrated in a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). However, the SWLRT project has already received Municipal Consent from municipalities along the project route and from Hennepin County prior to release of the SDEIS and any documentation of impacts that might be presented in the SDEIS. While MPRB does not have authority to render opinions in the Municipal Consent process, it maintains the sole responsibility and authority for protecting parks and parkland in Minneapolis. MPRB’s General and Special Counsels have opined that MPRB parkland affected by the proposed alignment meets definitions of “public park,” “recreation area, and “historic site” under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act and that the proposed alignment will be directly and adversely affected by the proposed alignment. General and Special Counsels have also advised that the proposed SWLRT alignment has failed to properly consider a tunnel under the Kenilworth Channel, to determine if such a tunnel is a feasible and prudent alternative to the planned bridge crossing of the channel, and to perform all possible planning to minimize harm to the park, recreation areas, and historic sites. General and Special Counsel have also advised that the proposed SWLRT alignment will not meet the de minimis requirement of Section 4(f) and have advised the MPRB to not provide any concurrence with the alignment proposed for SWLRT to the United States Secretary of Transportation, which is necessary for the project to proceed.

 

Most recently, and recognizing that information related to lack of consideration of the feasibility and prudence of a tunnel alternative for crossing the Kenilworth Channel, the Board authorized investigations focused on alternatives for crossing the channel. This investigation allows the MPRB to fairly and fully evaluate alternative methods of crossing the channel, to compare impacts to park, recreational, and cultural resources of bridge and tunnel alternatives at the Kenilworth Channel and, eventually, to offer informed comments on the SDEIS.

 

The process of defining an alignment for SWLRT has made it difficult for MPRB to evaluate feasible and prudent alternatives prior to municipalities and Hennepin County being asked to consent to the proposed alignment. As a result, the MPRB will be asked to render decisions about the impacts of the alignment without information that allows for a comprehensive or thoughtful analysis. Staff believes this process circumvents the intent of the National Environmental Policy Act, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

 

The letter to the Federal Transit Administration describes these issues and highlights MPRB concerns related to the process of determining the most feasible and prudent alternative for crossing the Kenilworth Channel. The letter requests assistance from the FTA in MPRB’s efforts to work constructively with the SPO to identify the most feasible and prudent crossing of the Kenilworth Channel so that SWLRT project can proceed in a timely and efficient manner.

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

Staff recommends approval of the letter requesting a meeting to discuss legal jeopardy to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts Program Created by the  Implementation of the Program for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the FTA and the Metropolitan Council.

 

This action is supported by the following vision and goal statements in the MPRB 2007-2020 Comprehensive Plan.

 

              Vision Theme 3:              Dynamic parks that shape city character and meet diverse community needs.

 

              Goal:              Parks shape an evolving city.

 

              Goal:              Focused land management supports current and future generations.

 

Meeting History

Jan 7, 2015 5:00 PM  Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Regular Meeting

President Wielinski called upon Michael Schroeder, Interim Assistant Superintendent Planning, and Brian Rice, Counsel to the MPRB to present the Letter to the FTA Requesting Meeting to Discuss Kenilworth Alternatives.

Approved on a roll call vote.

Amended by Consensus of the board:

Resolution Approving a Letter Requesting a Meeting to Discuss Legal Jeopardy to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts Program Created by the illegal Implementation of the Program for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the FTA and the Metropolitan Council

RESOLVED, That the Board of Commissioners approve a letter requesting a meeting to discuss legal jeopardy to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts Program created by the illegal implementation of the program for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the FTA and the Metropolitan Council; and

RESULT:ADOPTED [5 TO 2]
MOVER:Scott Vreeland, Vice President, Commissioner District 3
SECONDER:Jon Olson, Commissioner District 2
AYES:Liz Wielinski, Scott Vreeland, John Erwin, Meg Forney, Jon Olson
NAYS:Brad Bourn, Steffanie Musich
ABSENT:Anita Tabb, Annie Young