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City seeks delay of tree cutting for MnDOT project

The Grand Marais elm trees, as they looked on October 8, 2019 - Photo by Rhonda Silence
The Grand Marais elm trees, as they looked on October 8, 2019 - Photo by Rhonda Silence

After 17 citizens spoke during a crowded public comment period at the October 9 Grand Marais City Council meeting, the council agreed to talk to the Minnesota Department of Transportation about the trees that will be removed in the Highway 61 reconstruction project through the city.

Although three people spoke in favor of the removal of the trees for benefit of the project and the contaminated soil that will take place, the majority of speakers appealed to the city council to halt the project to try to find a way to save the elm trees between Voyageur Brewing Company and Buck’s Hardware. There were many comments, some tearful, and many questions.

During most of the public comment period, the council listened silently, although Councilor Kelly Swearingen answered questions referencing the increased cost of the project cost by saying that the council had addressed the increased costs at their last council meeting. She encouraged the public to review the YouTube video of the last council meeting to learn more.

At the October 9 meeting, the city council expressed frustration over what they have heard from MnDOT. They agreed there were questions about the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) part of the project and the monitoring wells; about the increased costs; about what it would cost to make changes at this point and more.

Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux suggested that the city contact MnDOT and ask if anything could be changed at this point. Arrowsmith DeCoux said he would call MnDOT project manager Michael Kalnbach and ask some questions, although he said he believed he knew what their answer would be.

After a lengthy discussion, councilors agreed to have the mayor speak with MnDOT, but Councilors Kennedy and Anton Moody said they see little way to stop the project at this point without major financial repercussions to the city.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux on Friday, October 18, to see what he had learned from MnDOT about changes—and a possible delay in removing the elm trees from the Grand Marais Highway 61 roadway.