The Metropolitan Council is planning to start felling trees in the Kenilworth Corridor as soon as May 13 despite a request from six local elected officials that the agency hold off until there is more certainty about the fate of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.
“The bucolic character of this corridor is prized by many,” reads a letter from the officials addressed to Metropolitan Council Chair Nora Slawik. “In the event that SWLRT does not proceed for any reason, elimination of this unique, urban forest preserve and passageway would be a reckless and irreversible mistake.”
The SWLRT project received a letter of no prejudice from the Federal Transit Administration in November, allowing the Met Council to proceed with “clearing and grubbing” and other pre-construction work. But final funding has not yet been granted from the federal government and the project still faces a lawsuit in federal court.
“We happen to be existing in the era of Trump, who hates transit,” said Sen. Scott Dibble (District 61), one of the signers of the letter. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen. Why don’t we just wait before we cut the trees down?”
Rep. Frank Hornstein (District 61A), Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) and Park Commissioners Jono Cowgill, Meg Forney and LaTrisha Vetaw also signed the letter to the Met Council chair.
Slawik responded that “any delay would have significant ramifications to the project’s viability.” She said it would cost public money to renegotiate the construction timeline with contractors and could “jeopardize the project’s status with the FTA.”
Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, the new Met Council member representing Southwest Minneapolis, said that while she shared “the sense of grief and sadness many along the Kenilworth trail are feeling,” there are “limitations on what I can influence at this stage of the project.”
“I grew up riding my bike on the trail, and have fond memories walking it with friends, and later in life, my husband and son,” she said. “So I understand the sadness over the impact construction will have on the natural space, trees, plants, and animals, as well as the families and individuals who live along the trail.”
The Met Council plans to remove 1,300 trees within the Kenilworth Corridor — about a quarter of which are at least a foot in diameter. During construction, landscapers will plant 1,100 new smaller trees, 2,700 shrubs and more than 4,000 perennials.
But plans to replant didn’t make Stuart Chazin feel better about the trees already being marked for removal near his property on Burnham Road.
“They would be cutting down trees that have been there for over 100 years,” he said.