Although the ink is now dry on the state’s budget and the government shutdown has officially ended, implications of the shutdown may be far from over for the city of Minnetonka—and its budget.
The reason: the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) stopped work on the during the shutdown. City officials said the decision was avoidable, and warned it could be expensive. And now, Minnetonka is considering taking legal action against MnDOT.
Members of the Minnetonka City Council reportedly met in a closed-door session with Minnetonka City Attorney Desyl Peterson on June 11 to talk about possible litigation.
While city officials have declined to give any more details on the meeting, citing attorney-client privilege, in the weeks leading up to the shutdown, the project had been the subject of a heated dispute between the city and MnDOT. Throughout that back-and-forth debate, Minnetonka City Manager John Gunyou insisted that stopping the project during a shutdown would cost Minnetonka taxpayers millions.
“Instead of working with us, it’s like they [MnDOT] kept finding ways not to work with us. … It was one thing after another.” Gunyou told Patch last month. “For MnDOT, it’s no skin off their nose [but] if this costs another $3 million, it’s our taxpayers who will have to foot that bill.”
Minnetonka Patch sought comment from MnDOT on possible litigation by the city of Minnetonka, but according to their spokesman, Kevin Gutknecht, he could not comment because the agency wasn't aware of any potential lawsuits.
THE BUMPY ROAD LEADING TO LITIGATION
The was one of 100 active construction projects across the state that closed during the government shutdown.
A significant delay to the project, Gunyou had predicted, would cost Minnetonka taxpayers an additional $2.75 million to $3.10 million—a 20 percent increase in the project, and almost one-third of the city’s annual budget for roads.
Gunyou also argued that because the state’s share of the funding for the project had already been appropriated and paid, and because the city of Minnetonka, not MnDOT, was fully administering the construction, shutting down this project wasn't needed.
“[This] is completely unrelated to the shutdown and utterly unnecessary. … It seems as though MnDOT staff is going out of its way to ensure the project is stopped,” Gunyou wrote in a letter to Transportation Commissioner Thomas Sorel and Governor Mark Dayton, in the days before the shutdown began.
Minnetonka lawmakers, (DFL-Minnetonka) and Reps. (DFL-Minnetonka) and (R-Eden Prairie/Minnetonka) agreed with the city that the project should continue during a shutdown.
But MnDOT was not convinced. The agency insisted that continued work on the project during a shutdown could put the driving public at risk because state inspectors would be unavailable to perform safety checks. MnDOT demanded that work stop and rescinded previous approval (‘state right-of-way’) for work along Highway 169.
“In the event of a shutdown, there will be no MnDOT personnel to carry out MnDOT’s duties … under state and federal law and therefore, work on the project must stop for the duration of a shutdown,” Transportation Commissioner Thomas Sorel wrote in a letter to John Gunyou on June 28.
NEXT EXIT: COURTROOM?
Because the project never came to a full stop during the 20-day shutdown—crews continued to do work outside of MnDOT's right-of-way—the delay is not likely to set city taxpayers back $3 million.
Regular activity on the project resumed at 7 a.m. Thursday.
However, the project was forced to stop just days before the Bren Road bridge that spans Highway 169 was set to be demolished. That demobilization of manpower and equipment before the shutdown and the now-remobilization post-shutdown, will be expensive, Gunyou told Patch in June.
The Bren Road bridge is currently scheduled to be removed Friday, July 29. The demolition and debris removal process will require a full shutdown of Hwy. 169 in both directions from County Road 62 to Excelsior Boulevard from 10 p.m. Friday, July 29, through 5 a.m. Monday, August 1.
City officials have not yet released the dollar amount that the delay to this project will cost the city.