Off Beat

Author, Author!

OCCASIONALLY OFF BEAT likes to get out of the office for dinner and a show. So it was that we wound up last week at the Guthrie Theater for the much-anticipated premiere of Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth. As we settled into our seat, we noticed that the elegantly coutured opening-night audience included both Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and the author herself. At intermission, our neighbor turned to us the way people who don't know one another sometimes do at such times, and offered his take on the proceedings thus far: "That lady may be a hell of a poet, but she sure can't write plays." And, for good measure: "That was the worst piece of shit I've ever seen." This eructation was notable for its vehemence, and also for the fact that the Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate happened to be seated directly in front of the malcontent. Dove turned her head slightly, opened her mouth as though to speak, but then turned away. Thereafter we noticed a certain slump in her shoulders. We'll leave it to the critics to hash out the merits of Dove's stage creation elsewhere, except to note that at a venue where works typically inspire standing ovations simply for starting on time, Darker Face was received, well, sitting down. Save for Her Honor, who leaped to her feet as the lights came up and continued to applaud even after it became clear that she was the only soul in the house with the intention of doing so.

Positively Fifth Street

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER wrinkle in the planned light-rail transit (LRT) line connecting the airport to downtown Minneapolis. Last month tireless eco-crusader Leslie Davis sued the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDoT), charging that the agency failed to perform a proper environmental-impact study. Among other things, Davis's suit alleges that MNDoT's "complete closure of Fifth Street to other vehicles" would "greatly exacerbate traffic in the downtown area." In a March 6 response, lawyers for the Minnesota Attorney General's Office nitpickily pointed out that Fifth Street South wouldn't be "completely closed"; they'd just be shutting down traffic on the block between Third and Fourth avenues (the stretch that separates Minneapolis City Hall from the Hennepin County Government Center). "The public has no idea about that!" crows an undaunted Davis (who takes glee in referring to the state as "the defendant"). MNDoT spokeswoman Mary McFarland says the closure has always been part of the LRT plan. "There were traffic studies done," she adds. "My assumption is that the studies claimed that it would not have a significant impact on the traffic." But Greg Finstad, director of transportation and parking services for the city, says his department is in the midst of a comprehensive downtown-transportation study that will include an analysis of the Fifth Street question. "How does that traffic redistribute itself and what problems does that create?" he asks rhetorically. "It's kind of a work in progress right now."

Timber!

IS ATTORNEY STEVE Young a glutton for punishment? Off Beat couldn't help but wonder when we heard that the Republican activist and erstwhile U.S. Senate candidate had resurrected his logging lawsuit. In most instances, of course, there's nothing unusual in a lawyer taking a second crack at a case. But Young's revisiting of the Deep Ecology suit against the U.S. Forest Service and the environmentalist groups Superior Wilderness Action Network and Forest Guardians (see Mike Mosedale's "Holy War," September 22, 1999) comes on the heels of a blistering rebuke administered by U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum. In dismissing the case last month, Rosenbaum labeled Young's legal arguments "bizarre" and "frivolous" and demanded that the attorney explain why he shouldn't be sanctioned for his actions. The original suit, filed on behalf of the northern Minnesota timber group Associated Contract Loggers, argued that the Forest Service violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution (which prohibits the government from favoring any religious group or sect) by paying undue heed to the "eco-religious" views of environmentalists who oppose timber sales in the Superior National Forest. Despite ridicule from the mainstream press and environmentalists (who insist science, not religion, motivates them), Young and the loggers aren't without their defenders. They've garnered letters of support from various sportsmen's groups and northern Minnesota politicians, and the suit netted Young several appearances on Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated talk show. "We're not in it for money. We're seeking a principle of law," the lawyer contends, noting that his revised suit asks for $45,000 in damages, as opposed to the $600,000 sought in the original. SWAN and Forest Guardians, meanwhile, have filed a joint memorandum seeking court costs, attorneys' fees, and "an additional financial penalty." They've also requested that Judge Rosenbaum send Young to the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board for a further scolding.

 
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