Thursday, March 1, 2012

Controversial St. Croix River Bridge Crossing Bill Passes House - Sent on to President

This morning (March 1), the U.S. House approved the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act (S. 1134) under a suspension of rules (339-80 roll call vote to suspend the rules and approve the resolution). Today's House approval follows a Senate passage by unanimous consent on January 23. The Obama Administration has neither overtly supported nor expressed its disapproval of the bill, so it is largely expected that the measure will be signed into law by the President.

The long - debated and rather controversial measure, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), 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 Memorandum of Understanding is available here; its Paragraph 9 being the relevant “mitigation” section).

The new bridge would replace an 80 year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge, which most 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 been at the center of a running controversy regarding the bridge replacement project: its cost and appropriateness (the latter focused on the St. Croix River's Federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River). Bridge proponents, including Sen. 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. Its 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’s passage of the bridge replacement 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).

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