Met Council moves to block judge’s order in SWLRT lawsuit

Updated: January 26, 2016 - 3:10 pm

The agency and a citizens group are fighting over access to communications records

Metropolitan Council objected this week a judge’s order that the agency share documents with a citizens group suing over the $1.77-billion Southwest Light Rail Transit project.

On Jan. 11, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Steven Rau gave Met Council 15 days to share communications records with Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, which is seeking to stop the routing of light rail through Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor. On Monday, one day before the deadline, Met Council filed an objection to Rau’s order.

“We would just like to know what they’re trying to hide,” alliance spokesperson Mary Pattock said. “The public has a right to these documents.”

The two groups are fighting over access to Met Council correspondence that could shed light on the controversial decision to send light rail trains through the Kenilworth Corridor. Already an active freight rail corridor, the tree-lined route also contains biking and walking trails.

The citizens group argues Met Council violated state and federal law by getting local governments to OK the route before completing an environmental review. A draft environmental impact statement was filed in 2012, but that was before the Met Council added a Kenilworth Corridor tunnel to its plans in a compromise with Minneapolis.

The tunnel’s potential impact will be studied in an updated environmental statement expected this year. But when the case came before him in August, U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim stated the agency was “dangerously close to impermissibly prejudicing the ongoing environmental review process” because alternatives to the Kenilworth Corridor tunnel were mostly off the table.

A statement released Monday by Met Council Communications Director Kate Brickman read: “After reviewing the Met Council’s actions last summer, Chief Judge Tunheim concluded the Met Council complied with state and federal law governing the environmental review of the SWLRT project.

“This small group of opponents now seeks to engage in a fishing expedition, hoping to find some new ground to undermine the proposed project which is supported by all the cities it will serve. This unprecedented attempt to revisit matters that have previously been ruled upon comes at a great cost to taxpayers.”

Pattock responded: “Either they’re hiding documents that show what they’re doing is illegal or it would be embarrassing or both.”