Concerned about being driven out of their St. Paul neighborhood because of gentrification, a coalition of black businesses, nonprofits and residents sued Central Corridor light-rail line planners on Tuesday.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, names as defendants the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration and the Metropolitan Council, which is leading the nearly $941 million project.
The suit alleges that the agencies have not adequately analyzed potential negative effects of the line on residents and businesses. It also says that measures to deal with those effects weren't sufficiently looked at.
"We don't take this action lightly," said Nick Khaliq, president of the St. Paul NAACP. "We gave every government entity an opportunity to reach us halfway."
He said his coalition's concerns haven't been addressed with the same urgency as other institutions affected by the line.
According to the suit, the potential negative consequences include: business interruption during construction, increased rents and taxes, and displacement of existing residents and businesses.
It says planners also did not consider the history of the Rondo neighborhood, which had been the spine of the city's black community. Hundreds of families were displaced in the 1950s and '60s when Interstate 94 went through. More residents had to leave during urban renewal projects in the '70s. "Dislocating this community a third time ... will further destroy community cohesion," the suit said.
The coalition wants a court to say the government agencies violated federal environmental policy, make the defendants study the issues again and come up with better solutions and pay for court costs and attorneys' fees.
None of the defendants was served with the suit Tuesday.
"I am very disappointed that these groups have chosen to file a lawsuit against the Met Council and the Central Corridor LRT project," said Met Council Chairman Peter Bell. "I am firmly convinced that the project will help spur the revitalization already occurring in the corridor and provide improved access to employment, educational and economic opportunities for its residents."
The FTA did not comment on the suit.
Nancy Homans, policy director for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said although the city wasn't named in the suit, she was disappointed by it. "I'm not sure it's inevitable bad things will happen," she said.
A lawsuit, filed by the University of Minnesota, and two civil rights complaints, filed with the FTA, are pending.
The FTA has previously indicated to the Met Council that the lawsuit brought by the university needed to be withdrawn before the project would have full federal approval.
The 11-mile line would connect the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Local planners are awaiting a decision by the federal government to fund half of the project.
Staff writer Jim Foti contributed to this report. Chris Havens • 612-673-4148