Monday, April 19, 2010

More Details On Light Rail Emerge

From the Daily:

The Met Council expects to begin minor construction in early May, following a timeline requested by the University that would allow work to end before football season starts in September.

The University had previously argued that it should receive payment if the accepted standards for electromagnetic interference and vibration are exceeded, originally slated to be $25,000 per occurrence. The University abandoned this stance under the current agreement.

In place of this, the two sides established a set of scenarios to deal with vibration and electromagnetic interference that exceed those standards.

Under certain circumstances, such as the “catastrophic” failure of some light-rail infrastructure, the University could cover up to half the cost of replacing the equipment, granted the Met Council has performed adequate maintenance.

While not a final agreement, this deal lays the groundwork for more serious discussion between the two sides, who have engaged in legal wrangling since the University sued the Met Council in September.

“It is the first step in achieving our objectives and allowing the advanced traffic improvements to start on schedule,” O’Brien said in a press release. “We now have a framework for a comprehensive agreement that includes the necessary protections for research.”

New progress from the mediation sessions came in the form of agreed-upon standards for vibration, dust and noise during the construction process, a boon to the University.

O’Brien called the negotiations “sometimes tense and sometimes cooperative.”

Lawmakers canceled a Friday meeting to discuss legislation that would have forced the University to give the easement.

Questions whether the looming legislation motivated the University to promptly come to an agreement on the issue were met with few straight answers by administrators.

[Cough, cough..]

But President Bob Bruininks said the University had been interested in mediation for months.

He called legislators “grumpy and cranky” about the easements and other issues but said the University was working diligently on coming to an agreement.

[An incredible thing for President Bruininks to say under the circumstances.]

All this comes as the University and the Met Council will go to lawmakers for additional bonding allocations as part of the deal.

The University will need $25 million to move sensitive research equipment away from the construction site, O’Brien said. The Met Council and the University will ask the Legislature to provide half of that funding.

[I'll bet they'll be really happy to do this. And where will the $12.5 mil on the U's side come from, President Bruininks? Tuition "revenue" ? Job cuts? The Northrop fund?]

Bruininks said Gov. Tim Pawlenty “strongly supported” the allocations and expected him to sign a bill containing that language.

Roughly $15 million of the $25 million could go to relocating the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance lab, O’Brien said. The facility, which houses seven enormous, powerful magnets used to investigate health sciences, receives more than $100 million in funding yearly and is accessed by about 160 University researchers, as well as the private sector, O’Brien said.

Plans for moving the lab have been in place for about two years, Bruininks said. It could be relocated to an East Bank parking garage, under current plans.

[Again, incredible. They have been planning to move the lab for two years and yet publicly yammering about EMI, etc. as if the lab were going to remain in place? Fantastic job, Mr. President.]

An additional five or six labs could be relocated or refurbished with added protections using the remaining $10 million. O’Brien said the cost of moving or remodeling a typical lab ranges from $750,000 to $1.5 million.

Both parties were in mediation for three days before the agreement was reached, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said. They were originally ordered into the forced talks by a Hennepin County court March 15 after negotiations bottomed out in January.

[And, it should be re-iterated, the threat of eminent domain looming in the background to finally motivate the U?]

The two sides are expected to go back into mediation April 26, and O’Brien said it would be “wise” to reach a final agreement soon after that.

[It would have been wise a long time ago, VP #40.]

She said 95 percent of the remaining issues, including the specific details of the Washington Avenue pedestrian/transit mall and other easements, were essentially agreed upon, but nothing has been signed yet.

Once the final agreement is official, the University would drop its current lawsuit, O’Brien said. Before signing it, however, an amendment to the agreement requires the Board of Regents to be consulted.

No comments: