Protesters brace for raid; questions uprooted with dig

Rob Kuznia

In the last week, the walls have been closing in on the Highway 55 protesters.
With the likely passing of $60 million for light rail, the completion of the Hiawatha study, the construction of sound barriers in the Phillips neighborhood and the Minneapolis Park Board’s vote to swap land with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, many of the protesters think they might be the next obstacle for MnDOT.
In fact, last weekend, representatives from MnDOT posted “no trespassing” signs near the site, prompting protesters to prepare for a raid.
Plans to reroute Highway 55 into what some claim are sacred woods has caused the standoff between MnDOT and the protesters.
In anticipation of another raid, reroute protesters sent out news advisories saying: “It is rumored that MnDOT, state police, and others will raid the nonviolent encampment.”
University employee Jim Anderson, who stayed at the site for six months this winter before coming back to work as a pipe fitter, said MnDOT needs to clear a couple more hurdles before any raid takes place.
“The park board land-swap vote still has to be approved in a court hearing on June 2,” he said. “And SHPO (The State Historic Preservation Office) has to approve the study’s findings by the end of the month.”
Nonetheless, Anderson suspects that these obstacles to the reroute are mere formalities.
“This is just another rubber stamping process,” he said.
On April 29, an archaeological and historical study found no evidence to support claims that human burial sites — including four oak trees that stand in a diamond pattern — lie in the path of the construction.
On-site protesters like Anderson and Minneapolis resident Emily Lindell said the study was inadequately conducted.
MnDOT spokesman Bob McFarlan said their concerns were unfounded because the study was comprehensive and thorough.
“The archaeological techniques they used were state-of-the-art,” he said.
But Lindell, who said she witnessed the dig, disagreed.
“They used a garden spade, and dug holes between four and 24 inches deep,” said Lindell. “Then they put the dirt in a little sifter. Anything that didn’t sift they put in a plastic baggy. That was their cutting-edge study.”
The reasons for the posting of the “no trespassing” signs last weekend is unclear. Anderson attributed it to a reroute Web site brief about an on-site, nonviolence training discussion that mentioned the words “civil disobedience.”
“MnDOT checked out the site and must not have liked the wording, so they came out there and let (the protesters) know it wouldn’t be tolerated,” Anderson said.
MnDOT spokesman Bob McFarlan denied this.
“MnDOT posted signs last winter, and they ripped them down,” he said. “We were simply replacing the signs that were torn down by the protesters.”
Additionally, MnDOT Demolitions Manager Kurt Barnard supposedly indicated to the protesters on-site that a police plan was in motion, Lindell said.
“First of all, he refused to shake my hand,” she said. “Then, he asked us when we planned on moving. I asked him if he had plans to move us out, and he made it clear that he wouldn’t tell me.”
Again, McFarlan disputed the claim.
“There is no law enforcement plan at this time,” he said.