New suit challenges Southwest light rail route in Minnetonka

Opus Hill
A jogger used a recreational trail near Claremont Apartments and the Opus Hill area in Minnetonka, Minn. Tuesday, March 31, 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

The proposed Southwest Corridor light rail project faces a new legal challenge, this time from a Minnetonka group claiming the planned route would harm a 49-acre natural area.

The suit seeks to force the Metropolitan Council to consider an alternate route for the Minneapolis to Eden Prairie rail line.

"This is not a lawsuit to try and stop the project," said Bill Griffith, an attorney representing the Minnetonka group. "This is a way to say, 'Hey, you've had a lot of attention on other areas of the line. You need to focus on this part of the line and make sure that you don't do damage to park facilities and public trails.'"

The suit represents the latest in a string of legal obstacles for the $1.65 billion light rail plan, which would be the most expensive transit project in state history. Minneapolis residents filed a similar complaint last year. That case is still pending.

In February, some of the political uncertainty around the line lifted after the Minneapolis Park Board agreed to go along with the Metropolitan Council's plan to use a bridge to cross a channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

Opus Hill
A sign sits next to a recreational trail near Claremont Apartments and the Opus Hill area in Minnetonka, Minn. Tuesday, March 31, 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

The Minnetonka suit, filed Monday by city residents and the owner of a 330-unit apartment building near the route, argues the project would damage Opus Hill, a natural area with woods, open space and a popular recreation trail. The suit says federal law requires the Metropolitan Council to consider re-routing the line to avoid harming park land.

Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider says the group should focus on improving the current plan rather than trying to force a re-route. He says changing the route would be costly and could harm sensitive wetlands.

Schneider acknowledged the apartment building's view will suffer as a result of the project. "That's what happens when you put light rail lines through existing communities," he said. "Somebody has an impact from it."

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