By Laura Gossman Horihan, Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
PRESTON -- A group of residents in Fillmore County have submitted a citizen’s petition to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board requesting that an environmental assessment worksheet or an environmental review be performed for the proposed bike trail between Preston and Forestville State Park.
Attorney Larry Peterson sent the petition to the board on Aug. 5 on behalf of his clients Vernon and Kay Ristau and John and Bernadette Snyder, two rural Preston couples who have refused to sell a portion of their land to make way for the trail.
The city of Preston has begun condemnation proceedings, but the process is on hold until the Minnesota Court of Appeals decides a similar eminent domain case in Granite Falls, Minn.
The couples collected 25 signatures from people in the Preston area in order to submit the petition for the environmental review.
According to the citizens’ request, the petitioners believe the eight or more bridges and culverts proposed to be built over the south branch of the Root River will damage water quality and trout stream habitat.
They’re also concerned that the construction of the 10-mile long, 10-foot wide bike trail along the river will damage water quality, harm the trout habitat and cause soil erosion when the river floods.
Environmental Quality Board staff member Jon Larsen said the board has reviewed the petition and forwarded it on to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for further judgment.
“The DNR will use all the information known or available to them to make a decision,” Larsen said. “The petition makes it an official question, but the DNR can also make the decision to prepare an EAW or EIS themselves, if they have their own concerns.”
Larsen said the DNR will have 15 working days to decide whether further environmental review is merited. The DNR can also ask for an additional 15 days if necessary.
Larsen said he sent the petition to the DNR late last week.
DNR parks and trails area supervisor Craig Blommer hasn’t seen the petition because it was sent to the DNR’s Ecological Services division for review.
Nonetheless, he said staff from the fisheries, wildlife and forestry divisions have already done a walk-through of the trail corridor.
“No one seemed to be concerned about the impact the trail could have on the river or wildlife,” Blommer said.
He said the south branch of the Root River is a designated trout stream.
Blommer said none of the trails that have been built in his area have required an EAW or an EIS, but he said other trails in the state have gone through an EAW.
Blommer’s area includes Olmsted, Fillmore, Houston, Winona, Wabasha and Goodhue counties.
Preston attorney David Joerg doesn’t think the request will slow down the trail project.
“The city doesn’t have any problem with these evaluations,” Joerg said. “We’re not opposed to any environmental investigation of any kind and we never have been.”
He believes the environmental review conducted by the DNR as part of the trail’s master plan is sufficient.
Joerg is hoping the Granite Falls case will be decided within the next two months, so that the Preston case can move forward.
If the Granite Falls case is reversed, a recent Mower County case could also be reversed.
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