Historical value of land reviewed in Highway 55 case

Mediation between Minnesota Department of Transportation officials and plaintiffs in a suit to stop the planned re-route of Highway 55 began and ended late Thursday at the federal court house in downtown Minneapolis.
In the end, MnDOT agreed to review the plaintiffs’ evidence and consider the validity of their claims.
Over the next few weeks the two groups will meet while MnDOT officials listen to the plaintiffs explain and support their claim that four trees patterned after a diamond, which are in the planned path of bulldozers, are of spiritual value to Dakota Indians.
“The agreement is to consider the evidence that the land is a traditional spiritual property,” said Jordan Kushner, lawyer for the plaintiffs.
MnDOT officials could not be reached for comment.
The trees are believed to surround a Dakota burial site from the Sioux Uprising in 1862.
“They have cultural, spiritual and historical value,” Kushner said.
Kushner said he is unsure of where the relationship between the two groups will go from this point.
If MnDOT decides the plaintiffs have a legitimate claim, they will stop construction, Kushner said. If not, the plaintiffs will have to move to the next step of litigation.
Construction on the re-route will not continue while the groups are in discussion although the area’s archeological study of the area will.
The survey is being done by BRW Inc., a civil engineering firm hired by the state.
Hennepin County District Judge H. Peter Albrecht ordered the mediation in early February. It was overseen by Gustavo Gaynett, a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“It is premature to say whether (the plaintiffs) are happy or not,” Kushner said.
The plaintiffs filed suit in both federal and state courts on Dec. 24. In January, both judges dismissed the request to halt construction, but Albrecht ordered further archeological testing on the site.
A separate suit against MnDOT regarding the Highway 55 reroute was filed by the Park and River Alliance and, after an unfavorable ruling last summer, is now in appeals court.
— Erin Ghere