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History vs. progress: County board hires MnDOT for Gold Line impact study

Three properties on the proposed Gold Line bus-rapid transit route will be assessed to determine if they are historically significant, and therefore more sensitive to the environmental effects of the project.

At their Feb. 14 meeting, the Washington County Board of Commissioners approved a work order for Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to evaluate the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood, 3M Co. and Johnson Parkway. Personnel from their Cultural Resources Unit will work with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The study is required in order for the Gold Line project to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, senior planner Lyssa Leitner told the board.

Should the properties be deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, MnDOT would then evaluate the potentially adverse impact posed by a nearby busway.

The work is part of the environmental assessment phase of the Gold Line project, Leitner said.

Any project with federal dollars requires an analysis of the properties.

"We already went through and analyzed all of the properties," she said in a later interview. "The rest of them were fairly straightforward. These three remaining are more complicated to investigate."

The work must be completed in order for the county to submit an application to the Federal Transit Administration to begin the project development phase.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the word order at a cost not to exceed $100,000. Most of the money will come from Washington County's guaranteed Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) funds.

That didn't sit well with Commissioner Gary Kriesel. The lone dissenter, he said it didn't seem fair that Ramsey County was only contributing 5 percent for the project but getting most of benefit since Dayton's Bluff and the Johnson Parkway were both in Ramsey County.

"It appears that Washington County has 95 percent into this and Ramsey County has 5 percent. I'm trying to look at the equity of that," Kriesel said.

Letiner responded that this was a relatively small part of the Environmental Assessment Project.

Commissioner Stan Karwoski of Oakdale said it was important to look at big picture.

"They're not perfect," Karwoski said. "One county's going to get more benefit on one phase and conversely Washington County might come out better in another phase of the study."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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