U negotiations with Met Council end, mediation to begin

The University rejected requests to begin preliminary light-rail construction on Washington Avenue.

James Nord

Negotiations have stalled between the University of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council over the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line, and a court-mandated mediator will now lead discussion between the two sides. In an e-mail to University President Bob Bruininks on Thursday, Met Council Chairman Peter Bell said the council would âÄúrelentâÄù to mediation on the issue if the University agreed to allow preliminary construction on Washington Avenue this summer. The University declined the request, but the two sides will enter mediation anyway because of the court order. Vice President of University Services Kathleen OâÄôBrien said the University declined giving the Met Council permission without a formal agreement in place. One part of that agreement would deal with potential problems arising from the construction. The two sides had engaged in informal meetings until January, when âÄúshuttle mediators,âÄù two county commissioners and the groupsâÄô respective attorneys had to be used to aid the flagging talks. On March 15, a Hennepin County court handling the UniversityâÄôs lawsuit against the Met Council ordered the two parties into mediation, OâÄôBrien said. In a letter to Bell on Friday, Bruininks noted the Met Council had declined five University offers to go into mediation, dating back to October. âÄúPeter BellâÄôs offer to go into mediation if we would grant the [preliminary construction] seems on its face absurd,âÄù OâÄôBrien said. âÄúHeâÄôs been ordered into mediation.âÄù Delaying preliminary construction could inflate costs by about $1 million. Pushing the project back a year could add $30 million to $40 million to its total cost, according to BellâÄôs letter. âÄúThis is a very important project to people all along the corridor, to the business community and to the region as a whole, and the U clearly is holding it hostage,âÄù Met Council spokesman Steve Dornfeld said. But Bruininks said rushing construction could put sensitive research equipment at risk, jeopardizing research infrastructure and funding.