Highway 55 protesters clash with police

V. Paul

Colliding interests and breakneck determination marked the start of construction of the Highway 55 re-route project between 46th Street and Minnehaha Creek on Hiawatha Avenue over the past two days.
As commuters traveled south over the newly opened Lake Street bridge on Hiawatha Avenue Tuesday, demonstrators butted heads with law enforcement officials guarding the construction site at the Minnehaha Parkway intersection.
Minnesota Department of Transportation officials plan to build a bypass at the intersection to detour Hiawatha Avenue traffic, while a 700-foot tunnel is dug under the Minnehaha Park for the new Hwy. 55.
Transportation officials are determined to push through a project they feel has “widespread community support,” said Lucy Kender, a transportation spokeswoman.
Police presence for the construction efforts will be evaluated on a case by case basis, she said. More than 50 state, county and city law enforcement officials escorted the crews who worked in an area cordoned off by orange plastic fencing. Monday, about 12 officers guarded the site through the night.
“We want to make sure this construction project is carried through,” said Kent Barnard, another transportation spokesman. “We want to make sure things are done safely.”
Construction crews and transportation officials removed 30 trees in about three hours on Monday from the site. Transportation officials expanded the site north of the Minnehaha Parkway on Tuesday as workers removed the trees on the block.
Protesters were just as determined to impede construction efforts, using any nonviolent means to get in the way of project officials.
Nine demonstrators were arrested Monday, including 17-year-old Madeline Gardner, who sustained a leg injury in the incident. Gardner is a sister of University sophomore Annah Gardner, who was arrested Tuesday with about two dozen other protesters. They were charged with obstructing a legal process, disobeying a lawful command and trespassing.
“We’ll be here,” said Leo Ronneng, vice chairman of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community. “We’ll be here in force. There’s many people here willing to lay down their life to protect the trees.”
Rushing to Judgment
Speeding down Hiawatha Avenue in a brown mini-van, three demonstrators withdrew from the protest site Monday and rushed back to Camp Coldwater, an encampment of anti-re-route activists established in November. Annah Gardner, her sister Emily and Anne Marie Rush were worried construction crews were cutting down trees at the camp.
“We don’t know what is going on,” Rush said. “I just overheard someone saying (crews were at the camp).”
At the campsite, all was quiet; no one was cutting down trees, but the sense of urgency was still strong. Annah’s sister Madeline had been arrested, Annah would be arrested the next day — police actions did not deter them from getting in the way of the tree demolitions.
Tuesday’s batch marched arm-in-arm across the intersection of Minnehaha Parkway and Hiawatha Avenue, and sat down, blocking the morning rush-hour commute.
Monday’s arrestees were caught by law enforcement officials as they sprinted across the construction site, attempted to chain themselves to trees or to the equipment, or laid down in the way of police vehicles.
Amid the chanting and crying of protesters and the spoken orders of the police, Karen Gardner watched as ambulance workers took her daughter, Madeline, away on a gurney.
“She’s very committed to the cause as are both our daughters,” said Karen Gardner of St. Paul, the three sisters’ mother. “They’re doing the right thing.”
Constructing Consensus
“I don’t think getting arrested accomplishes anything,” said Mark Gleason, state representative for District 63B, which includes Coldwater Spring, an area affected by the construction. “I don’t support the elements here that are that radical.”
Gleason is sympathetic to community members who oppose the re-route project, saying that “[p]utting a freeway over the park is a very dumb idea.”
“The park was here first,” he said, but lamented, “I had really hoped this would be a peaceful protest.”
The re-route project is designed to link Interstate-94 to Highway 62 parallel to the current Hwy. 55 route. The new four-lane highway is expected to be completed in 2002. The first phase, which includes rebuilding two bridges for the bypass and digging the new tunnel, is expected to be completed in fall 2000, Barnard said.