Senator Amy Klobuchar‘s legislation for a new bridge across the St. Croix River south of Stillwater in violation of the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act appears to be moving closer to making that bridge possible.
Proponents of the idea argue that they existing lift bridge in Stillwater is old and out of date, even dangerous, they say.
Opponents argue many points. The bridge violates federal law, for one; it is a threat to the environment is another; and it isn’t economically the best choice for infrastructure investment at this time is yet another.
I want to support a middle ground that has already been proposed. Rather than build a bluff-to-bluff interstate style multi-lane bridge, build one that truly replaces the function and purpose of the aging Stillwater bridge. If the real motivation in building a new bridge in violation of federal law is a matter of replacing a worn out existing bridge, then stick to a plan that matches that bridge’s impact in the area.
One of the issues that the opponents raise when arguing against the current new bridge design is it’s environmental impact. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is in place to protect the environmental quality of the river and opponents of the plan have a valid point.
Protecting a river involves more than protecting the primary river channel. A river draws from many, many miles within a watershed. Building a bridge larger than the current Stillwater bridge will encourage development in the region that might not otherwise happen. Development, more than the span of a new bridge, is the real threat to the quality of the river and its environment.
Moreover, the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is the sort of law that we put in place precisely to protect natural assets from the risks of “pragmatic” excuses for doing things that might harm those natural assets. It is hard to monetize the value of a public good like a wild and scenic river. These things certainly would not exist in an entirely free market society. The federal act is in place to protect the river against harmful, but otherwise popular, ideas and activities.
So if we are going to cave in and give up the literal intent of the law, we might as well try to preserve the tenor of the law. When the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed, the current Stillwater lift bridge existed. The impact and its potential impact were already a part of the region and its future. Replacing the bridge with one matching its capacity and impact will maintain those conditions. What is wrong with a compromise like that?
This is a very costly project. It doesn’t need to be as costly as it is. Other proposals offer a solution at a third less the cost. Before we make such a large investment, should we be certain it isn’t a reckless one? It seems to me that the strategy has been to defeat the federal law then take advantage of that victory with as much structure as possible. More modest ambitions would be sufficient and prudent.
NOTE: You can still contact your representatives and voice your opinion. There is word that there will be a “summit” next week among congressional representatives and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to discuss these plans.
- Bachmann’s bridge project could draw Republican rivals’ fire (thehill.com)
- Is Michelle Bachmann’s Plan to Violate the Wild & Scenic Rivers the Green Move? (treehugger.com)
- Is This Bridge Worth It? (nytimes.com)
- Stillwater bridge plan opposed by 30 Minnesota, Wisconsin legislators (MinnPost)
- St. Croix bridge has $8 million obstacle (StarTribune)