U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Tunheim got it wrong when he ruled against Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis in the lawsuit that would have required the Metropolitan Council to follow the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regarding Southwest Light Rail.
When LPA brought its first motion for summary judgment, Tunheim stated the Met Council “has come dangerously close to impermissibly prejudicing the ongoing environmental review process.”
LPA uncovered a multitude of emails, letters and documents that clearly demonstrated the Met Council reached a decision on the route for SWLRT long before the end of the environmental review process in July 2016. The following are just a few examples:
— In August 2013, Susan Haigh, then chair of Met Council, asserted in a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton that routing the SWLRT outside of the Kenilworth Corridor had already been “rejected.”
— On Oct. 6, 2013, Adam Duininck, then a member of the council, sent an email to Susan Haigh stating he agreed with the City of Minneapolis that it was overwhelmingly clear the Met Council staff wanted the SWLRT to run through the Kenilworth Corridor.
— On Oct. 9, 2013 at a Southwest Corridor Management Committee meeting, Mark Furhmann, Metro Transit rail project program director, specifically stated that a proposed resolution to discontinue work on moving the existing freight rail out of the Kenilworth Corridor “will make it very clear for the (Federal Transit Administration) that the action of the SWCMC is a shallow LRT tunnel and all other options that were considered are no longer in play.”
Tunheim’s decision rests on the basis that agreements (referred to as memoranda of understanding, or MOUs) the Met Council signed with the City of Minneapolis, City of St. Louis Park and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board regarding SWLRT did not commit the Met Council to a specific route, “despite giving the appearance that it did.”
In effect, the court said the Met Council made promises that can be broken.
In addition, the Minneapolis MOU nowhere states that it is “nonbinding” or “conditional.” It specifically states that “in consideration of the mutual agreements set forth herein, the Parties agree as follows.”
This language makes the document a contract, based on mutual consideration binding the Met Council to a specific route before the completion of the environmental review in violation of NEPA.