Guest Column: New St.Croix River bridge -- accepting the challenge to change
The historic Stillwater lift bridge is old. Last July we celebrated its 80th birthday. While this milestone birthday signals the success of historic preservation efforts, it is bittersweet because the fracture-critical bridge is still relied on as key transportation between St. Croix River Valley communities and two states.
What is even older than the bridge is the wisdom of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who said that "nothing endures but change."
Change is inevitable and sometimes dramatic. There was a time when a bridge didn't exist between Minnesota and Wisconsin. We also didn't drive to our jobs, the store, or the hospital, or distribute goods and supplies from factories to communities. Life was a lot less complicated. We floated logs down the St. Croix River to saw mills. Today those logs would flow past counties that are 10 times more populated than they were in the 19th century, with marinas, power plants, and job-supplying businesses of all sizes.
Today the St. Croix River Valley is ready to respond to the many changes as we move forward with a new St. Croix River Crossing. In a world that is dominated by how much people can disagree and justifications for why things can't get done -- especially in government -- Minnesota and Wisconsin came together to fight for a better bridge. Our voices were amplified by the fact that we incorporated feedback from so many different points of view and designed a project that balances our unique transportation, environmental protection, and historic preservation needs.
Yet recently we read stories about a very small group of St. Croix County landowners who are upset that this project is moving forward. The landowners own a small section of land along the 3.5 mile stretch that would be purchased as a part of the project. (Some media outlets have inaccurately characterized the size of the group by saying that "many in St. Croix County are outraged"). The landowners do not like the reality that both sides of the river will experience change to make sure that we can finally have a safer, more dependable way to travel between our homes, stores and jobs. It is understandable that these landowners are passionate, but one of them went as far as to claim that the "... whole bridge project is about as crooked and political as anything can get."
I respectfully join the tens of thousands of people from both sides of the river who strongly disagree with this viewpoint. I don't for one second discount the impact this project will have on the handful of people who will have to sell land and may choose to move because of the bridge project, but we can't ignore that this region has a massive problem that needs to be fixed. The St. Croix River Crossing is a consensus solution that was debated and approved in a very transparent and professional way, and we worked hard to limit landowner impacts. In fact, from the years of meetings with stakeholders to the massive reviews by countless bureaucratic layers, the St. Croix River Crossing has been one of the most reviewed and scrutinized projects in recent history.
I am privileged to represent the people of my district as chairman of the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors. I am also proud to be part of the broad-based coalition that helped secure approval from the U.S. Congress and President Obama to allow this project move forward. We were successful because, according to a poll conducted by a nationally recognized firm, more than 86 percent of St. Croix and Washington County residents support the project. It is inspiring to see so many citizens working together for something that will benefit the whole region.
The Stillwater lift bridge is part of what makes the St. Croix Valley so special. It's why so many people and groups worked collaboratively for decades to solve this problem. Change is here, and the St. Croix River Crossing will help positively shape our future.