Moving forward with Cleveland Avenue tree removal, Ramsey County shuts down petition for MN environmental review

Moving forward with Cleveland Avenue tree removal, Ramsey County shuts down petition for MN environmental review
·4 min read

Declaring the county exempt from a proposed state environmental review, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday rebuffed efforts by Cleveland Avenue homeowners to stop removal of up to 160 trees from a 1.3-mile stretch of the avenue in St. Paul.

“The removal of trees along Cleveland Avenue creates a limited, localized impact to the environment,” reads a memo issued Tuesday from the county attorney’s office to the state’s Environmental Quality Board. The county “has determined that the project does not meet any of the mandatory (review) categories.”

Acting on that memo, the county’s seven elected commissioners signed a resolution declaring the county exempt from a formal Environmental Assessment Worksheet. That’s a type of environmental review that would otherwise be overseen by the state board.

The decision all but ensures that the county roadwork — which began more than a week ago — will continue unabated.

“The only recourse we have is judicial appeal to the Court of Appeals, as I understand it,” said Pat Thompson, a designated spokesperson for the Cleveland Avenue homeowners.

COUNTY: WORK ALREADY UNDERWAY

The state Environmental Review Board forwarded the petition to the county on June 14 and ordered the roadwork to be halted until the county could make a further determination about the petition’s claims. By that time, tree removal was already well underway, according to the county board.

“Prior to receiving the notice from the EQB, contracted crews hired for the project completed removal of all identified trees in the first phase of the project,” reads the resolution signed on Tuesday by the seven county board members.

The resolution goes on to state: “All subsequent progress was stayed with plans to remove the existing roadway surface and start excavation being held until determination by the Ramsey County Board. The stay threatens the ability of the project to meet goals to reopen Cleveland Avenue for the State Fair and an extended delay likely will increase costs of the project.”

In a brief interview Monday, the day prior to the vote, County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo pointed to a trench collapse last week that killed two workers who had been completing a sewer project in Highland Park.

“When you see what happened at Highland, you see why it’s critically important that we do the work the right way,” she said. “It really is about those water and utility lines, and the angle of the trenching for safety for workers to do that work.”

TREE REMOVAL

The tree removal, which began June 14, is intended to make room for a reconstructed street, utility replacements, new sewer links and in-street and off-street bike lanes, among other amenities. The work is expected to move forward in two phases, with about half completed this year between Como and Buford avenues.

Construction will continue into late fall, and then resume in 2023 between Buford and Larpenteur avenues near St. Paul’s border with Falcon Heights.

On June 13, more than 170 Cleveland Avenue-area residents submitted a petition to the state’s Environmental Quality Board seeking a state environmental review of the potential impacts of tree removal.

The request for a formal Environmental Assessment Worksheet claimed that the road reconstruction “will result in a variety of significant environmental effects” including adverse impacts on bird and endangered bumblebee habitat, air quality, storm water runoff, temperature control, “and visual and historical resources along Cleveland Avenue.”

The petition also cited a 1997 study that found the lawn area of the St. Paul campus could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The next day, contracted crews began extensive tree removal between Como and Buford avenues.

REVIEW BY RAMSEY COUNTY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

Among the findings of the county attorney’s office, a state review would only be triggered by road construction on a new location that is at least for or more lanes in width and two or more miles in length.

“The project is not a new location, not four or more lanes in width, and is not two or more miles in length,” reads the memo to the state Environmental Quality Board.

As far as impacts on bees, “the petition has no evidence that the bumblebee uses Cleveland Avenue for its habitat, and the supporting documentation actually indicates that it is virtually impossible for the (county) to determine if the bumblebee actually has a presence,” reads the June 21 letter from James Mogen, an assistant county attorney in Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office.

“The area along Cleveland Avenue is mowed regularly, disturbed by vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians, domestic animals and the dozens of uses that exist in an urban environment,” he wrote. “Given the actual condition of Cleveland Avenue, it is unlikely that the project will make any permanent impact to the identified species.”

Thompson on Tuesday was unimpressed. “The area north of Folwell Avenue … is not at all a typical boulevard area and could easily contain bumblebee nesting habitat,” she said, in an email. “Do they know that? Probably not.”

Related Articles