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'I Did Not Have A Choice': Dozens Of Businesses Forced Into Relocation By Southwest Light Rail Project Still Await Reimbursement

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A project intended to benefit the public as a whole in Minnesota has resulted in more controversial consequences.

The Metropolitan Council designed the Southwest Light Rail Project to bring public transportation from downtown to Eden Prairie. Land needed to be acquired to make the much-debated and delayed $2 billion project happen. Business owners have found progress is painful.

Terri Bourgeois and her company Precision Air got caught in the middle of the Southwest Light Rail Project. She thought her Hopkins business would benefit from the project moving through. Instead she had to relocate.

READ MORE: Reality Check -- The Cost Of Subsidized Transit

"I did not have a choice," Bourgeois said.

She says the Met Council told her the land was necessary to complete the 14-and-a-half-mile extension of the Green Line.

"That began the process of, 'We're here to help, we're going to be fully reimbursed. We will buy everything. It's not going to be a problem. We're here to make the process as simple as possible,'" Bourgeois said.

Her building was bulldozed. What she found was financial hardship. She was paid months later for the building, and relocating her business proved challenging.

"I am not sure where to begin to count the ways," Bourgeois said.

She took out a loan to cover the relocation knowing the interest would not be repaid.

Southwest Green Line LRT
(credit: CBS)

"We've had to borrow it, and the debt has been crippling for the company my size," Bourgeois said.

She's still negotiating with Met Council to get reimbursed.

"I actually have another $400,000 that I would like to be reimbursed," Bourgeois said.

She's not alone. The Met Council acquired property rights from 153 parcels. Some were temporary easements, others permanent. So far about half have been paid. Relocation reimbursement numbers are roughly the same.

"I think they wholly underestimated the complexity of these relocations," attorney Jon Morphew said.

So far, three companies have appealed what they're being offered. Morphew represents two of them. He argues the Met Council is nickel and diming companies they forced out to expand a public project.

"Hundreds of thousands of dollars that have not been paid. They're using very restrictive interpretations of what are eligible expenses, meaning they're trying to limit how much they have to reimburse a company for the expenses they incur," Morphew said.

Some of the cases have been going on for three years, and Morphew says it could extend another few.

"Keep the business basically alive while we fight to get them the compensation we think they deserve," Morphew said.

Project Director Jim Alexander said the Met Council didn't set out to hurt businesses, but admits it is the price of progress.

"We are a big project and sometimes we have to do things that aren't favorable in the arena and we try to keep that to a minimum as possible and realizing some people are going to be impacted," Alexander said.

He stands behind the law when it comes to reimbursing companies for their moving and relocation expenses.

"We define there's certain things that can be relocated, but there's a limit of what the state allows. And it's $50,000 for relocation. So by law we have to follow that to keep things on equal par and looking at taxpayer money," Alexander said.

And he points to the greater benefit.

"We look at the whole we think this is a very good project, very valuable for the community," Alexander said.

That doesn't help Bourgeois or other business out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"I am so disappointed. Their insincere promises that we would be made whole because their definition of being made whole and what an actual business needs are entirely different things," Bourgeois said.

The Green Line extension is expected to be complete and open to riders in 2023. Click here for project updates.

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