Tree Removal to Begin in Hwy 34 Resurfacing Project Along Lake Country Scenic Byway
The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s long-awaited Highway 34 resurfacing project, which would see 21 miles be repaved, will officially begin later this month with by far the most controversial part of the project: The tree removal efforts around the Lake Country Scenic Byway.
The removal efforts would see roughly 50% of the trees between Snellman and Osage removed in an effort to reduce shade on the highway and minimize the amount of ice on the road. But the tree removal is the root cause of controversy for conservation organizations such as the Izaak Walton League of America and Honor the Earth.
“We contend that once you remove the face of the forest on either side of this highway, you virtually have changed and negated that which is of value,” said Izaak Walton League of America Prairie Woods Chapter member Willis Mattison.
MnDOT has previously made efforts to inform the surrounding communities about what the project itself would entail, including hosting an open house last October. However, organizations such as the Izaak Walton League have expressed how these efforts feel more like a lecture than an open conversation.
“It’s really unfortunate that, once again, MnDOT is planning its public engagement only to tell the people what they’re going to do, rather than engage the public in the design of the project in a way that honors the community and the value of the scenic byway,” said Mattison.
MnDOT has stated the main incentive of the tree removal itself is to improve safety along the byway and to prevent any traffic accidents that may occur.
“At MnDOT we strive for safety first…” stated MnDOT Project Manager Joeb Oyster. “We do our best to balance our budget with the safety and the environment so we don’t take any trees that don’t need to come down, so our goal is to make the road safe for people to drive on, so we want to get those trees closest to the road away from the road.”
While the tree removal is set to begin later this month, the resurfacing itself is expected to begin later in the spring.
“The major road portion part of the construction will not begin until May, or June, this spring,” said Oyster.
MnDOT stated that it would be possible to have another open house-style event in the near future discussing the potential effects the project would having regarding traffic along Highway 34.