In Bryn Mawr, bike paths versus wetlands

A Bryn Mawr resident has asked for an environmental review of city plans for a 12.5-foot-wide bike lane along a wetland buffer next to Ewing Avenue, south of I-394.

The environment review could delay the work and jeopardize the trail, one elected official says.

The project involves rebuilding a short stretch of Ewing west of Cedar Lake, between West 22nd Street and Drew Avenue South. It includes building the bike trail, so cyclists have a safer connection from France Avenue South to the Cedar Lake Bike Trail, said Don Pflaum, a city engineer.

The city is now rebuilding the road and building the bike trail at the same time. Pflaum called it one of the worst roads in the city. Engineer Don Elwood said the city had hoped to start construction in June. The request for an environmental review has delayed it.

The project touches an old nerve.

The neighborhood had tried to preserve 9.5 acres of undeveloped land in the early 1990s, said Bob Miller, executive director of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). A developer, Halley Homes, bought and developed 5.5 acres.

The neighbors used NRP money to preserve the rest of the land, approximately 4 acres, Miller said. (It cost $167,000, according to a 1994 contract.)

Chris Levy, who lives near the proposed project, filed a request with the state Environmental Quality Board for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet to assess the bike trail’s wetland impacts. The trail would cut a 200-foot-long strip along the buffer area, the petition said. A 26-signature petition supported his request.

Levy’s petition, filed June 13, said the bituminous bike trail "was granted to and acquired by the City city of Minneapolis for purposes of protecting the wetland. In place of the wetland buffer, the city proposes to construct an unsightly, man-made concrete sediment basin and retaining wall which would directly adjoin the delineated wetland, destroying the buffer’s inherent and prominent natural beauty and scenic views and vistas."

The bike lane project has strong support from public officials, including Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, whose district includes the area. City Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), who represents the area, supports the project, said aide Doug Kress.

Dorfman said the county and the state Department of Natural Resources had contributed $50,000 each for the bike trail.

"I have been pushing this for a long time, because I feel it is an important part of filling the gap in our sidewalk and trail system," Dorfman said. "It is a dangerous stretch of roadway that makes access to Cedar Lake Trail from the south difficult."

"My sense is that we are very close with coming up with a balanced compromise that accommodates those goals of vehicles, bike trials and environmental protection," she said.

The city has requested permits from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District for erosion control, storm water management and wetland protection for the project. Renae Clark, District permitting officer, said the project meets the district’s rules, and the staff has recommended the board Board approve the permits.

A public hearing was scheduled for June 19, but cancelled. The District cannot act until the city makes a decision on completing the Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

Gregg Downing, Minnesota’s environmental review coordinator, said the state referred the Environmental Assessment Worksheet request to the city for review. By law, the city has 30 working days to decide if a Worksheet is needed.

If the city decides a worksheet is needed, it typically takes three to four months to complete, he said.

A lengthy review could affect the bike trail project.

City engineers say the road project has to be done this year, Dorfman said. "If this isn’t cleared up, we run the risk we will get the road project without a trail."

Kim Ramey, an Ewing Avenue resident opposed to the bike trail, said neighbors are disappointed in by the city’s, "not being good stewards of our public trust."

She still has a copy of the 1994 NRP contract.

"Acquisition of this wetland and the surrounding woodland to the east, west and south will aid in preserving water quality, and habitat for bird life, animal life and other flora and fauna," it said, giving the land to the city’s Public Works Department to manage.

Miller said it was ironic that at the same time it is increasing utility bills based on impervious surface, it is adding more impervious surface near a lake.

Legally, he didn’t think the NRP contract language was strong enough to stop the project.

"I think the intent of the project was clear," he said. "It wasn’t about creating bikeways, it wasn’t about enhancing the roadbed, it was about preserving the trees [and] the wildlife that was there."