After delays, bid-letting for Hwy 34 tree removal now set for Oct. 28
“Both White Earth Nation and the 1855 Treaty Authority are opposed to this plan, and their objections have helped us to pause the tree-cutting for another month,” White Earth tribal member Winona LaDuke said in an email to supporters. “Your input can turn this temporary delay into a permanent win for the Smoky Hills and Scenic Byway as we meet with public officials during this time.”
DETROIT LAKES — Timber-cutting bids on scenic Highway 34 have been delayed until the end of this month, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation Project Manager Joeb Oyster.
“We had extended the bid-letting from August to September,” due to some issues raised by the Federal Highway Administration, which is a partner in the Highway 34 improvement project and is providing part of the funding, he said. “They have to authorize the project, since federal money will be spent on it,” he said. The agency has now given its stamp of approval, he added.
MnDOT is reviewing the plan and schedule for the tree work, but expects that road construction will take place next spring and summer as originally scheduled, according to its website. Any tree removal work must be done between Nov. 1 and March 31, according to state law.
The new date for tree removal bid-letting is Oct. 28, Oyster said. “I’m not sure why it was delayed,” he said, but it gave MnDOT a chance to hear from concerned residents and explain the project at an open house held Tuesday in Detroit Lakes.
There was no presentation given, just maps and graphics of the project on display, but more than 50 people showed up, Oyster said, and “from my conversations with people, we had a lot of positive feedback. In some areas we are not removing any trees – people were surprised, they had a positive view after viewing our exhibits,” he said.
The open house, he said, “gave us the chance to have final discussions with participants and stakeholders.”
A number of individuals and groups, including Becker County, the White Earth Band, the Detroit Lakes Tourism Bureau and the Ikes conservation group strongly oppose MnDOT’s plans — which call for clear-cutting all trees 65 feet back from the center line along the entire 21-mile stretch of the project.
And beyond that 65-foot clear-cut, for a 7-mile stretch in the Smoky Hill State Forest, half the trees on the south side will be removed for another 85 feet back from the roadway.
MnDOT says the tree removal will make the road safer and allow the agency to use less salt in the wintertime, while opponents say it will change the look and feel of an iconic stretch of roadway, and is a slap in the face to the state’s Scenic Byway program, which is supposed to preserve beautiful stretches of state highways.
The tree-clearing part of the project has been adjusted several times, but opponents remain frustrated that MnDOT doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of the existing Highway 34 corridor to people who live in the area, and there is frustration that the extent of the logging seems arbitrary and seems to differ greatly between MnDOT districts.
The delay in bid-letting for logging trees along Highway 34 was due to tribal officials getting involved, according to Winona LaDuke of the Honor the Earth organization.
“Both White Earth Nation and the 1855 Treaty Authority are opposed to this plan, and their objections have helped us to pause the tree-cutting for another month,” LaDuke said in an email to supporters. “Your input can turn this temporary delay into a permanent win for the Smoky Hills and Scenic Byway as we meet with public officials during this time.”
The $13 million construction project involves a 21-mile, full-depth reclamation and repaving project from the Four Corners (Highway 29) intersection to the old Highway 225 (now County Road 47) intersection near Osage.
Construction work will be done in 2023, but tree-cutting will start this fall, unless a moratorium is imposed, as requested by Becker County and others.
Plans for tree-cutting along Highway 34 have changed several times this year, after locals voiced outrage over the original plan — which involved cutting 85% of trees back 250 feet from the highway along that 7-mile Smoky Hills southside stretch.
First MnDOT modified that to 75% of trees back 150 feet in the “shade zone,” then to 50% of the trees, after MnDOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger met with Becker County commissioners and project opponents in Detroit Lakes on April 5.
But MnDOT has steadfastly refused to change plans to cut all the trees in the 65-foot “clear zone” on both sides of the highway along the entire 21-mile project.
That segment of right-of-way hasn’t been cut in years, and is a big reason the scenic byway is so popular — there are a lot of mature and even old-growth trees there that will be taken out, permanently changing the look and feel of the roadway.
For more information about the project, visit mndot.gov/d4/projects/hwy34 .