Liz Wielinski, President of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), has issued the following statement in response to Governor Dayton’s recommended funding cuts to the MPRB and statements about the MPRB’s actions related to the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT). Park Watch has just become aware of this letter dated January 27, 2015.
MPRB Response to Gov Dayton’s Recommendation to cut MPRB Funding
I am extremely disappointed that the Governor wants to punish the Park Board and more than 15 million users of regional parks in Minneapolis because the Met Council did not do their job in their pursuit of taking park land.
Today Governor Dayton recommended reducing $3.77 million in funding for the regional parks that the MPRB operates and maintains for local and non-local visitors. I am dismayed that he is recommending this reduction in funding to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board “due to the Board’s continuing efforts to obstruct progress on the SWLRT project,” when the Park Board has provided the Governor with ample information to the contrary. In addition, the Governor has been misinformed about the Park Board using state money to do the engineering studies; the Park Board has not and cannot use state money for these studies.
First, the MPRB is not obstructing SWLRT. Since 2012, the MPRB has consistently and regularly communicated to the Met Council and the public, through public Board actions, its support of light rail transit and its position regarding the SWLRT options as they impact parkland. The MPRB has not deterred the project or the project timeline. The MPRB has worked, and continues to work, diligently to stay within the project timelines. The MPRB actions are below and available atwww.minneapolisparks.org/currentprojects, select “Southwest Light Rail Transit.”
Secondly, the MPRB has a fundamental responsibility to protect parkland. Under a provision of federal transportation law referred to as 4(f), no federal dollars can be spent on a transportation project that impacts park land unless there is no “feasible and prudent alternative” and the public agency responsible for the park (the MPRB in this case) determines that the transportation impacts are “de minimis,” i.e. insignificant. The MPRB needs data to determine what option, bridge or tunnel, is the most feasible and prudent and will have the least impact on parkland. The Park Board has repeatedly requested the Met Council provide answers to what park impacts would occur in the corridor. The Met Council did a preliminary engineering study of extending the south tunnel under the channel and stated it was feasible; however has not provided the MPRB with the data it needs to determine if it is prudent or will have the least impact on parkland. In November 2014, the MPRB initiated, at its own expense, an engineering study to further evaluate the Met Council tunnel option and explore other tunnel options for feasibility. In January 2015, once it was determined that two tunnel options were feasible, the MPRB, at its own expense, extended the engineering contract to examine the prudence of the tunnel options and their impacts on parkland. The Park Board needs to have this data to comment on the required SDEIS (Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement) yet to be done by the Met Council and SWLRT Project Office.
Third, while the Minneapolis Park Board’s action have not slowed the project, the SWLRT Project is currently facing problems with the federal cost share and the lack of support from the Minnesota legislature that are not related to the Park Board’s study of the channel alternatives.
Finally, and most importantly, the Governor’s proposal will greatly impact regional parks in Minneapolis that serve over 15 million visits each year. A reduction of $3.77 million in the 2016-17 biennium will be detrimental to regional park operations, maintenance and capital improvements. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is one of ten regional park systems that annually receive State funding for operations, maintenance and capital improvements of the regional parks in the metropolitan area. The Minneapolis regional park system receives more visits than any other park system within the state and, as an urban park system, serves some of the most racially diverse communities. It would be unfair to penalize the Minneapolis park system and those who use Minneapolis parks by reducing our operations and maintenance funding by $634,000 annually and our Lottery in Lieu of funding by $1,253,000 annually. The impacts to these proposed cuts would directly impact the Park Board’s ability to maintain and operate parks in the regional system such as the Mississippi River Gorge, Theodore Wirth Park, Minnehaha Park, and the Chain of Lakes. In addition, capital funding for improvements to the pavilion at Minnehaha Regional Park, bank stabilization along West River Parkway from the 2014 mudslide, and trail improvements along West River Parkway and other sections of the Grand Rounds would also be directly impacted. Ultimately, these cuts would have dramatic impacts on the Park Board’s ability to maintain and operate the entire Minneapolis park system which is already underfunded. This action will place a tremendous and unjustifiable burden on Minneapolis residents and taxpayers to fully fund regional parks, when 48% percent of regional visits are by non-Minneapolis residents.
As outlined below, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has been proactive and transparent in articulating its position and concerns related to the SWLRT:
12/05/12 – Resolution 2012-321: Resolution Approving a Comment Letter to Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority for the Southwest Transitway Draft Environmental Impact Statement
08/21/13 – Resolution 2013-282: Resolution Stating the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Position on Project Design Alternatives Recently Developed in the Preliminary Engineering Phase of Southwest Light Rail Transitway Planning
02/05/14 – Resolution 2014-114: Resolution Urging the Southwest Light Rail Transitway Project Office to Conduct a Detailed Engineering Feasibility Study and Cost Comparison of Tunneling Under the Kenilworth Channel as Part of the Shallow Tunnel Option
05/21/14 – Resolution 2014-209: Resolution Stating the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Determination That, Based on Southwest Light Rail Transitway Project Office Preliminary Finding of Feasibility, Tunneling LRT Under the Kenilworth Channel May be the Only Section 4(F) Feasible and Prudent Alternative Within the Shallow Tunnel Option Regarding Minneapolis Parkland Impacted by the Project, However that Determination Requires Greater Analysis
09/17/14 – Resolution 2014-293: Resolution Authorizing a Professional Services Agreement with Stinson Leonard Street, LLP for Legal Services Related to the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in the Amount of $22,000
10/01/14 – Discussion item: Presentation and Discussion on Stinson Leonard Street, LLP’s Legal Review and Recommendations for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Regarding the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project
11/19/14 – Resolution 2014-347: Resolution Authorizing a Professional Services Agreement with Brierley Associates for Engineering Services Related to the Feasibility and Prudence of Kenilworth Channel Crossing Alternatives in the Amount Up to $245,500
01/07/15 – Resolution 2015-106: Resolution Authorizing an Amendment to Professional Services Agreement with Brierley Associates for Engineering Services Related to the Feasibility and Prudence of Kenilworth Channel Crossing Alternatives in the Amount of $248,275 for a New Contract Total of $493,775
01/07/15 – 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 athe Southwest Light Rail Transit Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the FTA and the Metropolitan Council