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Differing views on timing of SW LRT impact study, city vote

Attorney Tom Johnson says it is clear to him that Minnesota statutes outlining the process for municipal consent prior to a major public project, such as the Southwest Light Rail Line, require a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) be completed before city officials vote to approve or disapprove the preliminary plan.

“Statute defines what documents comprise the preliminary plan; one of those documents is a Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” said Johnson, who sent a letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council President Barb Johnson asking them to delay a decision on municipal consent until after the DEIS is complete.

Johnson is an attorney representing the Lake and Park Alliance of Minneapolis, a citizens group concerned about the environmental impact of the light rail and the freight lines running through the narrow strip of land between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.

A DEIS on the proposed Southwest Light Rail Line was completed in 2012 but that was before the plan included shallow tunnels in the Kenilworth Corridor for light rail and when there were plans to re-route the freight trains through St. Louis Park.

“We’re just saying that we have to follow the statues,” said Johnson, “so people can comment intelligently.”

Minnesota statute 473.3993 outlines the information needed relative to the preliminary design plan prior to a vote by a city, county or town during the process of municipal consent. Included are the location of tracks, park and ride facilities and the length of the line. It also specifies the “preliminary or draft environmental impact statement for the light rail transit facilities proposed.”

Meredith Vadis, communications director for the Metropolitan Council, which oversees the approval process, contends that under the law “the municipal consent process runs parallel to the environmental review process.” She says the law does not preclude going forward with the municipal consent process before the completion of environmental reviews.

A supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the current plan for Southwest Light Rail is expected to be complete in the fall of 2014.  The current deadline for municipal consent by the five cities  along the route and Hennepin County is July 14.

The SDEIS will “evaluate proposed adjustments” to the route that have transpired since 2012, according to a statement from Vadis.

The final environmental impact statement is expected to be published in 2015 and willk include all changes and updates to the plan.

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