Ruling attaches stipulation;

Erin Ghere

Hennepin County District Judge H. Peter Albrecht ruled Tuesday night that further archeological research must be done on the site of the Highway 55 re-route — and must continue throughout the project.
While some opponents of the development are encouraged by the ruling, Albrecht’s decision allowed the construction to continue. Highway 55 is being re-routed though a controversial plot of land in preparation for a new light-rail system.
Mendota Mdwekanton Dakota Community and other plaintiffs brought the suit against the Minnesota Department of Transportation, alleging an area in the path of the future light rail and the re-route of Highway 55 might be an ancient Native American burial site.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Jordan Kushner, said his clients are pleased with the decision and are happy with any action which could hinder the highway and protect the trees and cold springs.
They would like something more permanent than Albrecht’s ruling and will likely follow other non-legal channels to continue their protest of the highway, he said.
Three sections of the area in and around the path of the construction were in question: an area called Coldwater Spring, Fort Snelling Historic District and four oak trees standing in a diamond shape.
Albrecht ruled that the Coldwater Springs and Fort Snelling Park would not be impacted by the re-route; MnDOT redesigned the original path of the storm sewer system of the highway to avoid those areas, said Jennifer Weist, Albrecht’s clerk.
The curious placement of the oak trees has led people to believe they surround a burial site from the Sioux Uprising in 1862, which would give the area spiritual and archeological value. The state disputes this, claiming the trees are not old enough to have served as death scaffolds at the time.
It is undetermined exactly how old the trees are — one study estimated 150 years and another less than 120 years, Weist said — and because of their potential spiritual significance, they have not been cored to settle the dispute.
The judge ruled that the survey of the area must continue and if artifacts are found in the future, the development will stop for further review, Weist said.
“The project is going forward with safeguards,” Weist said.
The state hired BRW, Inc., to do an archeological survey of the area. But the Dakotas opposed the firm’s methods.
Some groups also raised doubts about the objectivity and truthfulness of BRW, Inc. Because the company is a civil engineering firm and not an archeological firm, it stands to benefit from future contracts, said Patricia Donaldson, a member of Park and River Alliance. A completely independent firm would have been preferred, she said.