MnDOT ignored warnings from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
that the longer it waited to investigate the road's potential effect
on the spring, the more expensive the cost of addressing problems would
How quickly the logjam is broken depends in part on the legislative
strategy MnDOT adopts to change the law. Waiting until the end of
the 2002 session to slip an amendment into a larger transportation
bill, the tactic Gleason expects MnDOT to use, takes longer. But it
may have a higher chance of success than full hearings where spring
defenders could testify.
The hydrogeology of the Coldwater area is complex and not fully
understood, even where soil borings and monitoring wells have pierced
layers of soil and rock near the proj ect. Without full-scale excavation,
there is no certainty about how water flows through glacial deposits
and layers of bedrock laid millions of years ago.
A MnDOT spokesman said this week that there was no discussion of
possible spring effects in the project's environmental impact statement.
Initial concern by water regulators was over the effect of construction
on ground water seepage in the gorge below Minnehaha Falls. But as
construction moved south, concern about the spring intensified.
The spring is held by some Indians to be sacred, and its waters refreshed
the soldiers who built Fort Snelling in the early 1820s and the small
settlement that grew outside the fort.
MnDOT had dismissed the issue by pointing to the 300 yards between
the intersection and spring. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District,
which had earned a reputation for taking on big public agencies over
water issues, first had its hydrogeologic consultant examine spring-flow
issues in the spring of 2000. The district's bid to expand jurisdiction
over much of the area initially was rebuffed by a state agency, but
it ultimately was awarded custody of the spring.
The consultant, Kelton Barr, raised initial questions in May 2000.
With added data, he concluded by late summer that the spring's flow
would be reduced by pumping needed to permit construction as well
as by storm sewers to be laid under Hwy. 62.
Debate over dye tests
By last March, the watershed was pushing MnDOT to permit
dye tests to explore the ground water connections that Barr suspected
existed between the intersection and the spring. After an initial
favorable reaction from project officials, MnDOT raised barriers to
routine tests that a veteran dye tester, University of Minnesota geologist
Calvin Alexander, described as specious. The state agreed to raise
the elevation of one storm water pond to above the ground water level.
With the Watershed District threatening court action, two dye tests
were permitted in early May, but neither was at the crucial intersection
where MnDOT's temporary and permanent drain systems would be at their
lowest points MnDOT said its project schedule didn't permit turning
off drainage pumps so that ground water patterns could return to normal
for the test.
So the Watershed District sued, and a judge ordered MnDOT to turn
off the pumps for four weeks. When test dye showed up at the spring,
the district seemed vindicated, but the battle wasn't over. MnDOT's
view was that although dye showed a connection, it didn't show much
else about the nature of that link. Prodded by the judge, the two
sides reached an agreement to remove the storm water pond and use
a blanket of clay or other material below the sewers to minimize their
drawing off the ground water that surrounds the low-lying roadway.
But that fell apart when a neutral consultant hired by both sides
applied a higher standard in evaluating the proposed design and concluded
that it wouldn't work.
That consultant recommended that a concrete barrier go under the
roadway, weighted with pig iron or similar material to keep ground
water pressure from floating it.
MnDOT disagreed strenuously with the higher standard but initially
didn't object to the concrete barrier, which would look something
like a bike fender turned upside down with its arc mostly flattened.
Department officials say they were willing to go along with the clay
barrier, despite their skepticism about the interchange-spring link,
because they felt that the $600,000 cost would be cheaper than further
delay. But when the barrier concept mushroomed to several million
dollars, they balked and filed to dissolve the legal agreement.
Hennepin County District Judge Frank Knoll, who had ruled in the
watershed's favor earlier, questioned MnDOT lawyers closely at a hearing
last week. And the group of spring supporters asked to join the lawsuit.
So MnDOT announced it would halt the proj-ect except to make a better
bypass for traffic over the winter.
Department officials say they'll reopen bids on the projct if the
Legislature eases the law. One key legislator, Rep. Carol Molnau,
R-Chaska, said legislators need to study the financial and legal issues
before they can address the matter.
Star and Tribune's diagram
of Camp Coldwater area.