Highway 55 reroute might threaten area’s water quality

Travis Reed

Coldwater Springs runs south of 54th Street in Minneapolis, cutting through the proposed Highway 55 reroute. The area has been thrust into the center of attention by an area agency.
The stream and nearby land surrounding the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport have become orphaned. And no one is sure why.
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, a regional agency responsible for protecting area water resources, discovered the orphaned land when an independent hydrologist examined whether Highway 55 construction would affect water quality.
The agency, which monitors nearly every Twin Cities neighborhood, hired the independent hydrologist because officials didn’t believe the Minnesota Department of Transportation thoroughly evaluated the possible environmental impact.
Though the report is not complete, Kelton Barr, the independent hydrologist, has raised preliminary concerns indicating construction could adversely affect the stream and other parts of the district.
“It’s too early to say whether or not the plans would harm the seeps, but the shallow water source for the spring could be affected by the construction,” Barr said.
The agency’s administrator, Eric Evenson, said MnDOT has been cooperative, but some members of the agency’s board of managers aren’t convinced.
“My impression is that MnDOT is not as concerned as they should be,” said Jim Calkins, a member of the district’s board of managers and a University horticulture-education specialist. “They have been reluctant to comply thus far.”
The watershed district issues permits for projects that might affect an area’s water quality. MnDOT issued a conditional permit this summer to begin construction, a decision that split board members.
Calkins and other managers opposed the permit, saying they felt MnDOT should be held to a higher standard.
Though MnDOT agreed to the permit’s conditions when issued, officials later filed a lawsuit challenging the district’s authority to protect groundwater.
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the watershed district won’t be able to negotiate changes in construction plans in the Coldwater Springs area.
And that’s left some board members with a bad taste in their mouths.
“We all believe the hole should be covered by some sort of water-management organization,” said board president Pamela Blixt. “Unfortunately, somehow it has managed to be exempt.”

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.