Southwest light rail protest to highlight loss of trees

Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis sponsors “Speak for the Trees Day” Nov. 7

A Metropolitan Council crew conducted a Kenilworth Corridor tree survey during the winter of 2013–2014. Credit: File photo

KENWOOD — A protest planned for Nov. 7 aims to draw attention to the hundreds of trees that will be lost during Southwest Light Rail Transit construction in Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor.

“Speak for the Trees Day” is sponsored by Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis. The group is also behind an ongoing federal lawsuit claiming violations of state and federal environmental review rules by Metropolitan Council, the agency leading the $1.77-billion transportation project.

“The goal of it is to demonstrate the extent of the destruction that would take place,” Mary Pattock, an alliance spokesperson, said.

The alliance is encouraging families to attend the event. They plan to tie green ribbons around hundreds of trees in the Kenilworth Corridor to highlight just how many trees could disappear when construction of a station, light rail tracks and shallow tunnel begins in 2017.

In a press release announcing the event, the alliance states as many as 5,000 “fully mature” trees could be cut down, a loss that “would significantly and permanently damage Minneapolis air quality” and offset the environmental benefits of a new mass transit service expected to transport thousands of people a day when it opens in 2020.

The project extends the light rail Green Line already running between St. Paul and Minneapolis another 14.5 miles to Eden Prairie. It is the largest transit project in Minnesota history.

Running light rail through the Kenilworth Corridor remains controversial years after the local governments cooperating on the transit project agreed on that route as the “locally preferred alternative.” Many argued for a route that would’ve sent trains through densely populated Uptown, but that alternative lost out in part because the area is already well-served by Metro Transit buses.

From December 2013 to January 2014, a Met Council crew that included a state-certified tree inspector conducted a survey of the trees and vegetation growing in the Kenilworth Corridor. The study area was a 1.3-mile segment of the corridor north of West Lake Street and south of Interstate 394.

The crew recorded 480 “significant trees” as defined by Minneapolis city code, meaning trees with at least a 12-inch diameter at the “breast height,” or roughly where an adult could wrap his arms around the tree. Most were native softwoods, including cottonwood, elm and boxelder. Roughly one in ten had a diameter greater than 2 feet, including one with a diameter measured at 66 inches, or 5-and-a-half feet.

In total, the crew recorded 1,960 trees in the Kenilworth Corridor with a diameter at breast height, or DBH, of at least 6 inches. That finding appears to be at odds with Lake and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis’ claim that there are 5,000 mature trees in the corridor, which it also describes as home to the “largest urban forest” in Minneapolis.

In an email, Met Council spokesperson Laura Baenen wrote that the project office expects to preserve about 200 trees during construction. Project leaders also plan to make up for some of the losses by planting 485 new trees.

The Kenilworth Landscape Design Committee has been meeting since May to develop long-term vegetation plans for the corridor, as well.

The Speak for the Trees Day event is planned for 10:30 a.m.–noon Nov. 7. Those who wish to attend should gather in the Kenilworth Corridor near 2512 Upton Ave. S.

CLARIFICATION: Based on incorrect information provided by the Southwest Project Office, an earlier version of this story stated project managers expected to preserve 200–250 trees. The office’s actual estimate is 200 trees.