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Archived Interview: Stop the Reroute (Circa 1999)

What follows is the transcript of an interview I conducted about 15 years ago, while working as the features editor for KVSC FM. It was originally broadcast January 12, 1999. There are probably some typos, but I'm not going to worry about them. It was a long time ago. This transcript was originally hosted on Angelfire, which is several kinds of hilarious by today's standards.

"In 1998 the world turned its eyes in our direction to watch history being made in Minneapolis, when the longest-running urban occupation in America culminated in the largest police action in Minnesota history, and KVSC was there to cover it from the beginning... Actually, maybe not quite the beginning. While the STOP THE REROUTE protest only first began to hold the media's attention on August 10th, it seems its history goes back nearly four decades. I'm Rob Callahan for KVSC News, talking with Carol Kratz, a Minneapolis resident who stood in the way of the new Highway 55 for forty years, until her home recently fell to the wrecking ball of the state DoT."

RC: Most of us first became aware of opposition to the Reroute early last August when Earth First! and the Mendota Community staged an occupation in the path of the new highway, but you've been involved in efforts to stop the reroute for much longer. When did you first become involved in the effort to prevent the Highway 55 project?

KC: Well, as far as I'm concerned, I date back to forty years ago, because we lived in our home for forty three years, and about two or three years after we moved there we started hearing about this highway that was going to go through and maybe take our homes, so we heard about it for quite a while. In the seventies they almost came close to buying it. They were going to come out and do the appraisal and the whole thing and give us an offer, but at that same time the Park Board was taking MnDOT to court because they didn't want a ten lane freeway going through their park, Minnehaha Park. So actually I've been hearing about this highway for a long, long time. Actually getting involved? I didn't get involved a whole lot. I know some of the neighbors did back in the 70's, but when we heard... Well, we thought the Park Board had won the lawsuit, and I guess they had, I don't really understand the whole process that that went through, but lo and behold a few years later we heard they were back making plans for this highway, that they were going to cut it down from a ten lane freeway to a boulevard, and that's when the task force and citizen groups came into play, and of course what MnDOT is saying is that these citizens' groups made the decision to put the highway through the park, but the problem with the whole thing is that we had found out in 1996, there was this meeting that MnDOT and the city and state officials called together to tell us about Highway 55, what they were going to do and of course, again and again, they were ramming it under our nose, not letting us say, "No we don't want this highway." We'd been saying it for a long time.

In 1992 there was a big meeting and everybody was just outraged and screaming, "No we don't want this highway!" Well of course in 1985 the Environmental Impact Study was signed that they're going by yet today, and by 1992, when they had that meeting, where everybody was trying to say we don't want this highway, the statue of limitations had already run out, so actually there was nothing anybody could say to try to protest. There was a group that formed out of that '92 meeting but they didn't get anywhere so they disbanded. So it wasn't until February of '96 that Park and River Alliance came together. After that horrible meeting in February we decided we had to try to stop it. There were about ten of us that started Park and River Alliance, and we tried to get people and tell them about all the issues, to tell them that the highway was going to be rerouted at 52nd, because most people didn't even know that. They just thought it was going to be expanded in its present alignment, and we found that repeatedly when we had the petition table down at the table the whole summer of '96, Spring, Summer and Fall, trying to tell people, "Hey, there's going to be a highway going through here. Do you know about it?" and I bet 95% did not know, and they were just appalled to think that they would put a highway close to the river, close to the Minnehaha bike trails, through the urban wilderness... and at that point we didn't even know about the Camp Coldwater issue. We didn't know about the Native American issue. We knew about the four oak trees, because we would take people that wanted to go on tours.

We would take them down through the oak trees, the woods that would be cut down if the highway goes through, and all the prairie grasses, and we knew that there was something special about those trees, because when you'd go into them you just didn't want to leave. There was something that kind of pulled you right into them and then when we found out about the Native issues we understood why, so this has been going on for a long, long time and nobody was listening. The politicians weren't listening. Even citizens were believing the politicians. They think that they can tell no lies, so they listened to them saying, "Oh no, they're not going to destroy anything. They're just going to take a few scrub trees and an old abandoned railroad right of way, so why is everybody complaining?" but that's not it. It's such a big issue, and it's going to destroy so many natural beautiful areas, and the sacred issues with the Dakota Mdewakanton and everything involved. So I guess that's kind of my history of the Highway 55 issue. It's been going on for many years.

RC: How did Earth First! and the Mendota Community become involved, and how did their involvement affect the efforts to stop the reroute?

KC: Well, Earth First! first got involved when we were having our own little protest rally to stop the reroute... I forgot to mention that after Park and River Alliance, which does have an appeal pending in court as we speak... and then a year after that, STOP THE REROUTE formed, which is a coalition of a lot of different organizations that are against having this highway go through, and we had some protest rallies down in front of City Hall and the Government Center. At that time some of the Earth First! people were there and came to our protest rally, and were talking to us about the highway issue because they didn't really know a whole lot about it at that point. They'd heard about it, and they were having their Little Alfie protest down there too, so we went down and supported them in those issues, and then about the end of May Earth First! came to me and said, "Hey, we've talked it over and we really want to try to help you with stopping this highway," not me but all of us involved, and I just thought it was so wonderful that this group wanted to help, because we were not being listened to. Again I say, we were flyering for different things and at times we had different rallies and it wasn't working. Nobody was listening.

So it was just like the clouds opened up for me when they said that and I just thought, "Oh, this is great," and that's how they got involved. So then they put up Camp Two Pines in the end of May. So they've been involved since then, and it was Bob Greenberg that approached the Dakota Mdewakanton, and that was only a couple of weeks before August 10th when they stopped the houses from being torn down. So that's how they, they didn't even know about their Native lands here in this area, so Bob explained it all to them, and they came out to my house and I called Mary Jo Iverson, who is another very active person in trying to stop this highway. She knows the history of the area like the back of her hand. She'd been working with David Fudally who is the historian who told us about Camp Coldwater. So the Dakota Mdewakantons came to my house, Mary Jo came over and we took them on a long tour down by the Camp Coldwater Creek and the spring and the whole area, and they were shocked. They were just shocked, and it seemed kind of strange to us too, that they hadn't known about it, but they didn't know. So that's when, on August 10th... I can't remember if they came that day or the following day and put up a tipi in my front yard, and they've been there ever since, also learning about all their Native culture and all the sacred sites. So they've been in a learning process themselves, we all have. So that's how they got involved.

RC: On October 14, Minneapolis police and State Troopers escorted utily workers into the area to disconnect gas and water lines to the homes that protesters had occupied, and you were there...

KC: Right. I was there. We had had a protest rally that same day, a big protest rally over at the Capitol, and that's the day that the police chose to come in because they knew there wouldn't be very many people at the camp, because everybody wanted to go to the protest rally, and it was a wonderful rally, or it would have been, but it was cut very, very short because while we were at the Capitol and everybody was making their speeches, we heard that the police were there raiding the camp. They were going to shut off the gas lines so a lot of people left right then and went back to camp, and some of us stayed to try to finish the protest, which was cut very, very short, and I didn't get back until after they had made a couple of arrests of people, and I had my grandchildren with me so I really couldn't stick around and participate too much because they were so scared, and I all I knew was that I had to get them home. So I really wasn't there for the whole thing. I walked through it. I knew what was going on. It was not the greatest thing to see, and I didn't want my grandchildren to see what was going, what can happen in this country.

RC: What was it that scared your grandchildren?

KC: Well, the police with their helmets and their billy clubs, and they were dragging this one lady to the paddy wagon as we were walking by, and there were a lot of police at that time, and I can see where it would really be fearful for small children.

RC: You left your home on December 10. What was it that finally made you move out of the area after so many years of refusing to leave?

KC: I had no choice. I took it as far as I could. I went to condemnation court on October 14... and I keep saying maybe if the encampment would have started sooner, but that just started on the 10th [of August]... the judge might have listened more to me. I asked him to stay until March of this year, and I also asked him if I lost my house, if I could have first choice to buy it back if the highway didn't go through, and it was no on both counts. So I knew that I had done everything I could. There was nothing left. I had to sign the papers.

RC: How has your life changed since then?

KC: It's been really horrible. Just the thought of leaving my home, and my husband is ill, and that's another reason I wanted to stay until the Spring, because I don't know how long he's going to live, and all he wanted to do is die in the house where he loved so much and lived for many years, and fed all the animals. That's all he did was watch the animals because he can't do anything else. So it was very, very traumatic the day I signed the papers. I tried not to even think about it, but I died inside, and I guess I feel like I've been dead inside ever since, because it's just awful when you think that there's just no way that you can protect something you love so much. So it's made quite a difference in our lives. Where we live now, it's a nice place. It's a house, but we don't live in the wide open spaces like we did on Riverview road. We're not on the park anymore. That's what made it so special, so it's made quite a difference. My husband has gotten worse since we moved. He's very confused. He keeps wanting to go home. He realizes the house isn't there, but still he forgets and wants to go home. It's very difficult.

RC: But you've been back to the area since you moved.

KC: Yeah. I tried as much as I could, but moving here, I can't leave my husband that much, and so I knew it was going to make a big difference in that respect, because when I was living on Riverview road I was right in the middle of it, and I could leave him in the house and go outside and talk to people and do what I could do. After moving here, it wasn't quite as easy to get back, yet I tried to go as much as I could, because I support what they're doing so much.

RC: And you were at the site on the morning of December 20, when police moved in again, this time to remove the protesters and demolish seven homes, including your own, that still stood in the way of the reroute.

KC: Yes I was.

RC: There have been numerous conflicting reports concerning what happened that morning in Minneapolis. As a witness, can you tell me what you saw during that police action?

KC: Well I was there. I had gone over earlier in the evening because we had heard that it might be going to happen that night, and then I came home to check on my husband because, like I said, he's not well, and to warm up a little bit, and then I went back around three o'clock, and when I got there they said that they had heard that they were going to be coming in, and I just couldn't believe when the Ryder trucks pulled around the curve. They were just going so fast, and each one of them pulled into a house, and then I heard the back end come down, and all these SWAT teams ran out of these trucks and were charging into the houses, just kicked the doors in and went charging in. I heard that they had gassed the inside of the houses too, but I didn't witness that myself. I didn't know because I was standing across the street. It was dark and all you could see were all these black figures standing between the houses, by the houses, and the flashlights going through the houses, and then of course the police cars. After the Ryder trucks, the police cars came in, and it was just one after the other, and we kept thinking, "Why," and, "When are they going to stop," and they pulled up over the curb to block all of us off that were on the opposite side of the street, and there were two police in each patrol car, and they got out with their helmets and their billy clubs, and they just stood facing us, the witnesses that were on the other side of the street watching, and they didn't say a word in the time that I was there. So it was just a horrible, horrible experience, and I'm glad I was there, because if I hadn't been... I mean people can tell you what happened, but unless you really experience it for yourself, you have no idea. It was brutal. It was brutal, and then to think that they came in...

I didn't stay to watch the houses come down. I couldn't. I watched enough of them come down over the years, all around me, and it just broke my heart each time a house was pulled out of there. So I couldn't watch that happen. So I did come home, but the whole thing was just, as far as I'm concerned, they didn't have to do that. They really didn't. Not with that force, that was just... I don't know what word to use...

RC: "Excessive" is one that comes to mind.

KC: Very, very excessive. 600 police to 37, maybe 40... and it was a nonviolent camp. They knew that. But to think that my friends that I loved, that I grew to love, the Earth First!ers that were locked down were going to be hurt, that was very hard too, and to know that I couldn't do a thing about it. They were in there and they were going to be hurt and I couldn't do anything. And they were hurt, they were sprayed with mace and pepper spray so bad, and treated so horribly. Not only at the raid, but also while they were in jail, and I guess most of the police just said, "Well, you shouldn't have been here in the first place." That was their reason for treating them so badly... Where is freedom of speech?

RC: One of the initial stories run in the Twin Cities media referred to "Public Safety" concerns and to a recent natural gas explosion here in Saint Cloud, and claimed that you had reported seeing pirate natural gas hook-ups at the site of the occupation, but the protesters who were arrested insist that they were not using illegal natural gas.

KC: Not that I am aware of. No. I know that the day I moved out, there was a pipe laying there. It wasn't connected to anything, I don't know, it could have been thrown. There were wood stoves in all the houses, and fireplaces. They really didn't need to have natural gas hookups. I don't know where that came from, or what it was doing there, whether it had been there for a while, I just have no idea, and I'm not aware of what went on with that.

RC: Our new Governor, Jesse Ventura, recently spoke about his feelings on the protest and last month's police action on Minnesota Public Radio and asked if this is so important, why wasn't anyone trying to stop the reroute thirty years ago?

KC: It's been important, and it has been tried to be stopped thirty years ago, but it never worked. Like I said the Park Board took them to court to stop it, and what happened after that, why the Park Board gave in to let them put this land tunnel through the park, I can't imagine why the park board would let them do anything to destroy Minnehaha Park, but then again I don't know all the answers to that one. And as far as the Native American issue, we didn't know anything about it, we didn't know ourselves. We didn't know ourselves. We didn't know about Camp Coldwater Springs until last summer, and that was because David Fudally ran into Mary Jo and started telling her about the history down there, and that's when we found out about it, because the Camp Coldwater Spring was buried in the Bureau of Mines property for years. And I don't know the year that the Bureau of Mines was built, but once that was built down in that area it was surrounded by fence, barbed wire around the top, with signs all around it: "No Trespassing. Keep Out." It was just a place that, like my kids said, they wouldn't have dared go near because there was something real ominous about it. So you didn't go into the Bureau of Mines property. You didn't know what was going on there, and you had no idea what else, that there was a spring. The first settlement was inside of those fences. We didn't know, so how can you fight something you don't know about?

RC: If the reroute is stopped and the land is preserved, what does the future hold for you and your family?

KC: It depends on what we can do to preserve the land. What I would like to see is, if the highway does not go through, I would love to see that area preserved as park land. Either that, or put houses back in again, but park land would be really wonderful, to extend the park and have that be park land. After the houses are down now, and the snow covers up all the destruction, you can kind of look at and think, "Oh this would be okay if this was a park." These are my feelings, this would be okay if this was a park.

RC: We're almost out of time. Do you have any final thoughts on this reroute?

KC: I just hope that Jesse Ventura will come out and take a tour of the area and see what we're talking about, what the Native Americans have, what their issues are, what the environmental issues are, because there are many environmental issues involved. I doubt if he's even been to Camp Coldwater Spring and knows the history of that, and he just needs to familiarize and learn about it, and then make a decision. Don't just listen to what other people say. Find out for yourself, and this is kind of what we've asked everybody that we've talked to to do. Please come and just find out about it, and then if you want to say the highway needs to go through here, at least you've looked at it, and a lot of people won't even come and look at it. They mayor of Minneapolis never has come out, I could name several, but I do feel it's important that people make themselves aware of the issue before they say, "Oh these people are crazy trying to preserve this area." It's not true. It's an area that has to be preserved.