Testimony in heron hearing concludes Monday

John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.
·2 min read

May 4—It will be at least two weeks before a decision is made on a temporary restraining order against construction at a great blue heron nesting site.

District Court Judge Pam King gave both sides until May 17 to file written summations of their arguments after testimony concluded Monday.

Three days of testimony were held to determine whether the order, issued by King on March 20, is necessary and would remain in place.

At issue is whether a colony of great blue heron nests on a 30-acre site in Rochester Township owned by Steven Connelly is a unique natural resource at risk of destruction. Connelly has agreed to sell the land, contingent on zoning and development approval, to International Properties LLC to build 10 homes and extend Boulder Creek Lane Southwest north toward Cascade Creek.

Adjoining land owners sued to stop the development, saying the nest colony containing an estimated 40 to 50 nests.

In the filing, Travis Ohly, representing Leal Segura, requested the order to prevent "irreparable harm."

Attorneys representing the developer and Connelly argue that the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act prevents them from removing nests or harassing the birds while they are nesting.

An environmental consultant, Jeff Broberg, a Minnesota licensed geologist and environmental risk manager, testified that the nesting site isn't "unique" and that he advised removing trees before herons began nesting in April, which would have protected the site under federal law.

"These birds are resilient," he said. "They'll find another nesting site."

He cited a report that great blue herons have been seen nesting throughout Olmsted County.

Carroll Henderson, retired head of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' non-game wildlife division, testified last week that the site was the only heron nesting colony he knew of in an upland forest and the only one he was aware of in Olmsted County.

International Properties President Aderonke Mordi told the court Friday she intended to have trees cleared for construction of the road before the herons nested in April.

Connelly's attorney, Paul Grinde, asked Connelly if he had begun work on the site.

"Have you engaged in any activity that has caused pollution, impairment or destruction of these nests?"

"No," Connelly replied.

The development plan is contingent on approval of a zoning change allowing suburban development and approval of the site plan.

The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners voted April 6 to delay a decision on the development to May 18.