Friday, January 27, 2012

Controversial St. Croix River Crossing Project Bill Passes U.S. Senate

Stillwater Lift Bridge
On January 23, the U.S. Senate passed the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act (S. 1134) by unanimous consent, clearing the way for the much-debated and controversial measure to be considered by the House.  The bill, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), with three cosponsors would permit "any federal agency to authorize and assist in the construction of a new bridge crossing" over the St. Croix River as long as "specified mitigation items" contained in a "2006 St. Croix River Crossing Project Memorandum of Understanding for Implementation of Riverway Mitigation Items" are included within the project conditions.  The new bridge would replace an 80 year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge, which most people agree was never intended to carry the level of traffic that it currently does, is gradually failing structurally, and needs to be replaced.

However, two issues have consistently arisen at the center of a running controversy regarding the appropriateness of the bridge replacement project approved by the Senate's bill: the project's cost and its suitability, especially given the St. Croix River's Federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River.  Proponents, including Senator Klobuchar and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), maintain that the new bridge represents a safe and efficient alternative to the lift bridge that it would replace.   Bridge opponents argue that the project is not fiscally responsible and would be environmentally damaging, especially in light of what they say are readily-available, less costly alternatives (see, for example, this release from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN-4) and this from American Rivers, both in response to the Senate passage of St. Croix River bridge legislation).

The St. Croix River originates in northeastern Wisconsin, flowing out of Upper St. Croix Lake.  It joins the Namekagon River, and a few miles downstream of that confluence a considerably wider St. Croix River forms the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin (for approximately 130 miles until its confluence with the Mississippi River).

The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Budget committees for consideration.  To date, no action has been scheduled in any of those committees on the measure.

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