Today the US Senate unanimously approved legislation — supported by Minnesota senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken — that would let a proposed bluff-to-bluff interstate-style bridge be constructed in violation of the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale helped write the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act when he served as Minnesota’s senator. Ironically now Klobuchar and Franken will help weaken that law. We have come to expect simple issues and solutions from Klobuchar, but Franken has been a bit more thoughtful and determined in supporting smart policy. The proposed St. Croix bridge is neither smart nor thoughtful.
First of all, let’s remember why the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in the first place. It exists to protect the scenic and ecological value of the America’s rivers from political and economic interests that would compromise the river’s natural value. Precisely because people will want to build projects like the proposed bridge is the reason for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
What we do today has a permanent impact on the river’s future and let’s face it, we don’t always make the best choices in the here and now.
But on a more practical level this bridge does not make sense. The proposed bridge is needed, supporters claim, to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge. If this is true, then the proposed new bridge does more than replace the existing bridge, it goes well beyond the service of the current Stillwater bridge. Designs for a bridge that would in fact replace the service of the current Stillwater bridge exist.
Designs for a smaller bridge respect the tenor of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The law was passed in 1968 with the intent of preserving designated rivers from further degradation. The Stillwater Lift Bridge existed in 1968. Replacing that bridge with a similar bridge stays within the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
And the smaller bridge designs cost less.
In this era of austerity, it is ironic that small government people like Michele Bachmann support a bridge that will cost $700 million and more. Investing in infrastructure is a smart move during an economic recovery, but we have many projects on existing roads and bridges that need attention and which would benefit more people and a stronger economic base. I won’t call the multi-lane bridge proposed now a bridge to nowhere, but it does connect metropolitan Minneapolis/St. Paul with relatively undeveloped west central Wisconsin.
If the bridge does spur more growth in west central Wisconsin it will add another layer of threat to the St. Croix River. Rivers are more than the main river channel, they are watersheds. What happens miles from the river’s banks impacts water quality. More development in the watershed is a quality management risk.
It isn’t too late for more thoughtful ideas to prevail. Representative Betty McCollum (D-St. Paul) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) and a growing list of state and local politicians oppose the plan are clear-headed voices opposing a bridge that requires circumventing Federal law.
Better ideas exist, let’s support those ideas and in turn support the river and respect the law.
- Wrong Idea on Proposed Stillwater Bridge (alittletourinyellow.wordpress.com)
- A Better Stillwater Bridge Solution (alittletourinyellow.wordpress.com)
- St. Croix Bridge Clears Senate, but Prospects Still Uncertain (startribune.com)
- New bill calls for less costly St. Croix bridge (stillwatergazette.com)