U files lawsuit against Met Council

The suit alleges that the final environmental impact statement on the Central Corridor light rail line does not sufficiently address the University’s concerns.

by Briana Bierschbach

The University of Minnesota filed suit against the Metropolitan Council Tuesday seeking protection for what officials say will be the âÄúadverse effectsâÄù of construction and operation of the Central Corridor light rail line on University research labs. The suit alleges that the final environmental impact statement and related decisions about the project fail to sufficiently address the effects the vibrations and electromagnetic interference from the line would have on 80 laboratory facilities in 17 buildings on or near Washington Avenue. âÄúWe canâÄôt put the UniversityâÄôs research laboratories and mission at risk,âÄù University President Robert Bruininks said, adding that the labs conduct about $200 million dollars annually in research. The Central Corridor, slated to begin construction in late summer of 2010, will connect downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul via University and Washington avenues. Construction is expected to be complete in 2014 . At the end of July, the Met Council submitted its final environmental impact statement to the Federal Transit Administration . By August, the FTA had approved the statement. According to state law, the University had to file any grievances with the decision within 30 days of the FTAâÄôs approval, Mark Rotenberg, the UniversityâÄôs General Council, said. âÄúUnder Minnesota law there is a clock that was ticking,âÄù he said. Rotenberg said he urged the Met Council to wait to issue the impact statement to the FTA until after they and the University had come to a solid agreement on how to mitigate the UniversityâÄôs concerns. However, the Met Council did not respond, he said, and submitted the statement without University approval. The Met Council has said its mitigation measures, which include special track beds to stop vibrations, would protect the UniversityâÄôs research labs. At the end of August, the Met Council announced that an additional $14 million was available for the project due to an inflation adjustment. Of the extra cash, $4.8 million was set aside to help mitigate the effects of electromagnetic interference and vibration at the University. The Met Council is waiting for a final grant agreement from the FTA that would secure half of the projectâÄôs $941 million price tag in federal dollars. However, the Met Council has said the UniversityâÄôs delay jeopardizes receiving federal backing. The Met Council could not be immediately reached for comment on the lawsuit. Bruininks said the University strongly supports development of transit on campus and is working hard to come to a solution on which both parties agree. âÄúAnything short of that is simply unsatisfactory to the University,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs acceptable to spend a billion dollars on a project and create significant harm to the University of Minnesota.âÄù The University has had disagreements with the Met Council on the project in the past, including disputes about the line running in a tunnel under Washington Avenue. The project also came to an agreement in April after a Minnesota Public Radio raised concerns about noise and vibrations on their ability to broadcast in St. Paul.