To the Editor, 

The arrogance of MnDOT’s District 4 engineers and their autocratic disdain for the expressed will of the community is reprehensible. Why are they ignoring the controversy over their ill-conceived plan for tree demolition, revealing their own hypocrisy about highway safety? And why did they green-light the chain saws as of Monday, Jan. 23? Apparently, because they can!

MnDOT cannot defend its design given the glaring flaws, scientific inaccuracies and dishonest completion of forms exposed by credentialed members of the public. To say nothing of its denial that controversy even exists. State and federal funds are involved, and citizen experts have documented violations at both levels. According to regulations, either the controversy or these flaws trigger an environmental assessment it prefers to avoid. 

MnDOT and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials refused to attend a January 24 public meeting for technical and scientific discussion. That’s why this gathering of 130 plus people at M State in Detroit Lakes turned into a rally to preserve our magnificent trees and plants like Minnesota’s beloved wild orchid, the pink lady’s slipper. Attendance alone proves the controversy is real.

How do these officials justify rejecting reasonable highway safety alternatives? When confronted with citizens’ grief over the imminent destruction of this beauty, MnDOT’s project manager—in a public online conversation I witnessed—had the cheek to reply: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Are agency officials solely responsible for this debacle? Certainly not. They are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, policymakers in the governor’s and legislators’ offices. When those elected officials were asked to intervene in MnDOT’s mishandling of this project, what did they do? They also refused to attend or even send representatives to the meeting. Further, they justified abdicating their constitutional responsibility to oversee agencies like MnDOT and FHWA by saying they defer to the expertise in those offices. Really?!  No profiles in political courage there!

We citizens are not stupid. Technical expertise is one thing; policymaking is totally another; and self-respecting policymakers cannot continue to normalize agency wrong-doing.  In refusing to confront MnDOT and FHWA, our elected officials are violating not only a contractual Memo of Understanding for special handling of state scenic byways, but also the declared purpose of state and federal environmental laws like MEPA, MERA, and NEPA. These policies protect our natural resources from impairment and destruction, along with the right of citizens to enjoy their benefits. Our officials’ flagrant dereliction of duty is a disgusting betrayal of the public trust! They must be held to account, along with MnDOT’s rogue District 4 officials who created the disgrace this so-called highway improvement project has become.

To state and federal officials, here is the bottom line: You can spare yourself a lot of embarrassment in the media and with the public. Before our Scenic Byway’s beauty is utterly destroyed, and our trust in your integrity is damaged beyond repair, I implore you to immediately initiate a meaningful public dialogue exploring reasonable alternatives that honor the environment and better serve us all. Until that happens, Please stop the tree cutting! 

Mary A. Conrad,