Park Board Considers Legal Action on Southwest Light Rail

The following article by Dylan Thomas, dated September 15, 2014, was published in the Southwest Journal.

Park Board Considers Legal Action on Southwest Light Rail

Law firm would review Park Board’s legal standing under federal law

A second legal challenge to the Southwest Light Rail Transit project could come from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The Park Board votes Wednesday on a $22,000 contract with the Minneapolis law firm of Stinson Leonard Street to review its legal standing with regard to the $1.65-billion transit project. (Click here to view the resolution.) Park Board leaders seek assurances that light rail trains and tunnels won’t harm nearby parkland or the Chain of Lakes.

Section 4(f) of the Federal Transportation Act states federal agencies cannot approve transit project that impact parkland and historic sites unless “no feasible and prudent alternative” exists and there is planning to minimize any potential harm. In a resolution approved May 21, the Park Board acknowledged the Southwest LRT project might meet that standard, but also sought additional study.

On Sept. 8, the Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, a nonprofit citizens group, filed a lawsuit that claims Metropolitan Council violated state and federal laws by moving ahead with the project before completing an environmental review of tunnels planned for the Minneapolis section of the line, an area known as the Kenilworth Corridor. Along with the Met Council, the lawsuit names Met Council Chair Susan Haigh and the Federal Transit Administration as defendants.

The Park Board’s proposed contract with Stinson Leonard Street doesn’t cover the cost of potential litigation. The contract will be renegotiated if the Park Board decides to sue.