Margaret's Musings: How can a 'Club's' idealism override true 'stakeholder' rights?
I am extending an invitation to the U.S. District Court Chief Judge, whose recent ruling halted the construction of the new "Stillwater Bridge," to come for a walk with me.
For over a decade, I have tried to patiently ignore the ridiculous judicial wrangling over the St. Croix River Crossing Bridge. Now I realize Judge Michael Davis may not appreciate my calling his 93-page decision ridiculous. However it is my "summary" judgment regarding five decades of delays and nearly 20 years of bickering by over 27 different agencies and groups about how, when or if the bridge will be built.
In the 1995 everything was in place to proceed, the state of Minnesota had spent approximately $14 million dollars in engineering, land acquisition and acquiring public input. Wisconsin had spent $600,000 in preparation. The compression tests were performed in the river bed and the funding was in place. This last point is very, very, important. THE FUNDING FOR THE BRIDGE WAS IN PLACE. At that time the total cost was to be approximately $123 million.
The final environmental impact study was completed in April 1995, clearing the way for the bridge to become a reality. The National Park Service had other ideas, however, and in 1996 it determined that the project would have a "direct and adverse effect on the outstandingly remarkable scenic and recreational values for which the Lower St. Croix River was included in the National Wild and Scenic River System." The courts upheld the Sec. 7 evaluation of the project. Everything was halted.
Since that original ruling, the tenor and tone changed. Using conflict resolution, identification of stakeholders and a process of mitigation, the concerns of most of the parties seem to be met. This process required countless hours and considerable expense.
If the honorable Judge Davis were to join me, we would walk along the bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River, following a similar path that I took over 15 years ago with a MNDOT spokesperson. We stood on the spot where the bridge was going to meet the Wisconsin side, at the top of a ravine. As we gazed over the expanse of river, admiring its crystal blue color reflecting the sky's brilliant hues, our view included the Andersen Window factory, The Allen S. King Power Plant and the St. Croix Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant.
All these years later, I still fail to see how a well designed bridge, which in some parts of the world are appreciated for the architectural wonders they are, could create a worse view than the already industrial collection positioned on the Minnesota side.
If you think this is really about the beauty of the lower St. Croix think again. This is about one stakeholder choosing to confound the process and, unfortunately, Judge Davis by his ruling has allowed the Sierra Club to succeed in what can only be considered another selfish campaign.
The true stakeholders are the taxpayers who have seen their money pitched out the window and floated downstream. The increase from the 1995 cost of $123 million to the current $668.4 million (2013) price tag is a travesty. With each delay the cost rises and the funding, if available, goes to other less contentious projects. If the bridge is ever built, we will have a wonderful gateway to western Wisconsin, because our state did its part when it had the funding. A four-lane highway was built, ready to lead Minnesotans and their businesses out of state.
While, the years of court action are frustrating enough, another realization makes the whole convoluted process even more outrageous. The 1995 bridge and the current one are essentially the same.
I was not surprised to read on page four of Judge Davis' ruling "While there are some differences between the two bridges, common sense provides that they are generally similar - in purpose, location, and physical characteristics."
He is correct, which means that after 15 years of trying to please everyone, including offering six different alternatives to the public and stakeholders, the civil engineers had it right the first time. They are the professionals after all, not the members of the Sierra Club or for that matter the National Park Service.
I also realize that by sharing my frustration and opinion, I may receive a backlash. So be it. After reading many of the recent court documents, I can only come to one conclusion, the process is broken and organizations like the Sierra Club are using the courts to be obstructionists.
So Judge Davis, any time you want to leave the bench for a minute I would be happy to take you to that same spot to look over the valley. Or perhaps you would rather chat with some of the bluff residents who have been living in an extended state of limbo because of uncertainty.
My family in Italy once said, you only think you are free in America. Perhaps they were right.
For more information and copies of all of the recent court documents, go to www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/ projects/stcroix.