Friday, June 9, 2023

Moving forward with tree removal on Cleveland Avenue, Ramsey County closes petition for Minnesota environmental review.

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

“The removal of trees along Cleveland Avenue has a limited local environmental impact,” the county’s attorney’s office said in a memo issued Tuesday to the state’s Environmental Quality Board. The district “determined that the project did not meet any of the required (screening) categories.”

Acting on this memorandum, seven elected county commissioners signed a resolution declaring the county exempt from the formal environmental assessment sheet. It’s a kind of environmental review that would otherwise be overseen by the state council.

This decision practically guarantees that the road works in the district, which began more than a week ago, will continue at the same pace.

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


On June 14, the State Environmental Review Board sent a petition to the county and ordered a suspension of road work until the county makes a further decision on the petition’s suit. According to the district council, by that time the felling of trees was already in full swing.

“Pending notification from the EQB, the crews hired for the project have completed the removal of all identified trees in the first phase of the project,” according to a resolution signed on Tuesday by the seven members of the district council.

The resolution further states: “All subsequent progress has been halted as plans to remove the existing roadway pavement and commence excavation have been delayed pending a decision by the Ramsey County Council. The suspension threatens the project’s ability to meet its goals of opening Cleveland Avenue to the State Fair, and a prolonged delay is likely to increase the cost of the project.”

In a brief interview Monday, the day before the vote, Trista County Council Chairman MatasCastillo pointed to a trench collapse that killed two workers working on a sewer project in Highland Park last week.

“When you see what happened in the Highlands, you understand why it’s critical that we get the job done right,” she said. “It’s really about plumbing and utilities, and the angle of trenching to ensure the safety of the workers while doing this job.”


The tree removal, which began on June 14, is intended to make way for a reconstructed street, replacement utilities, new sewers, on-street and off-street bike paths, and other amenities. Work is expected to progress in two phases, about half of which will be completed this year between Como and Buford Avenues.

Construction will continue until late fall before resuming in 2023 between Buford and Larpenter Avenues near St. Paul’s border with Falcon Heights.

On June 13, more than 170 residents of the Cleveland Avenue neighborhood filed a petition with the State Environmental Quality Board asking for a state environmental review of the potential impacts of tree felling.

The request for a formal environmental assessment sheet stated that the road reconstruction would “result in a range of significant environmental impacts,” including adverse impacts on bird and endangered bumblebee habitat, air quality, stormwater runoff, temperature control, “as well as visual and historical resources. along Cleveland Avenue.”

The petition also cites a 1997 study that found that the St. Paul Campus Lawn could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The next day, hired crews began an extensive tree felling between Como and Buford avenues.


Among the findings of the DA’s office, a state review would only be prompted by the construction of a road at a new location that is, for our lanes at least, wide and two or more miles long.

“The project is not a new location, not four or more lanes wide and not two or more miles long,” the EQB board said in a memo.

Regarding the impact on bees, “there is no evidence in the petition that the bumblebee is using Cleveland Avenue as its habitat, and the supporting documentation actually indicates that it is almost impossible for (the county) to determine if a bumblebee is actually present.” reads a June 21 letter from James Mogen, Assistant District Attorney in Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office to the State Environmental Quality Council.

“The area along Cleveland Avenue is regularly mowed, disturbed by vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, pets and the dozens of uses that exist in the urban environment,” he wrote. “Given the actual state of Cleveland Avenue, it is unlikely that the project will have any permanent impact on the identified species.”

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