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Coleman gets it now Minnesota’s junior senator takes a stand on DME

On Thursday, Sen. Norm Coleman got behind Rochester. Coleman would say he has always been there, but his support for the city in its struggle with the DM&E has, in the past, been more opaque than crystal clear.

Coleman said he will work to stop the proposed $2.3 billion federal loan for the DM&E expansion and upgrade plan if the Department of Transportation doesn’t come up with a mitigation plan for Rochester.

Coleman supports the rail project and the commercial upgrade it would offer to rural communities, and he continues to say Rochester’s interests and those of Mayo Clinic must not be harmed by the rail project.

Now, however, Coleman’s overall support for the proposal comes with a deadline. Coleman’s line in the sand for a DOT written mitigation plan is the end of December, before the start of the next congressional session.

If a plan doesn’t arrive, there could be consequences.

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"I need to soon see a mitigation plan. If there isn’t a plan then I’ll do everything in my prerogative as a senator to stop this project either through the appropriation process or the legislation process," said Coleman.

Coleman rightly pointed out that Mayo Clinic has not come up with a mitigation proposal. The only mitigation Mayo Clinic supports is no rail development through Rochester. It is a hard-line stance that is only softened by the greater anti-DM&E coalition of the city of Rochester, Olmsted County and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

A statement from the coalition suggested a tunnel might be an alternative, but any rail line development above ground is unacceptable.

With Mayo taking a hard line, Coleman now says the responsibility for any mitigation plan belongs to the DOT. This is particularly true, he says, if they are making plans to fund the DM&E proposal.

Coleman said the DOT has said it would come to Rochester for another meeting on the issue, but he insists nobody needs "another meeting."

"We know what the concerns of Mayo are. We’ve had public hearings, we’ve had discussion. At a certain point in time you’ve got to say fish or cut bait," said Coleman.

Coleman’s words were clear. He is pressing the DOT for a mitigation plan for Rochester and it needs to get the work done by the end of the year. His calls come with a warning: Get it done, or he will work to kill the loan.

No DOT administrator should take such threats lightly. A cranky senator can be tough on a department’s budget.

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This is the kind of support Rochester needs from Coleman. That he took some time getting here is less important than where he is now.

What seems to be going on is Mayo Clinic creating the thunder in a strategy of negotiation through strength. While Mayo Clinic pounds away with its message of "never," the Rochester coalition floats a mitigation idea around a tunnel.

Whether such a strategy will work is unclear. What is certain is that Coleman has, at some point around the time of the last election, had a moment of enlightenment. Perhaps he sees a connection between Rep. Gil Gutknecht’s decision not to support Rochester’s opposition to the DM&E project and Gutknecht’s election defeat. Gutknecht, after all, failed to even carry his home county, Olmsted.

But why and when Coleman came to support Rochester is not what matters. What’s important is that the city has gained the vocal support of an important player in the process. Now Coleman has to put his words to action.

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