Pressure mounts for Congress to act on Stillwater bridge proposalThe campaign to win Congressional approval for a new Stillwater bridge is in full steam. Last Thursday morning, the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting of local business people and government officials for the purpose of keeping the pressure on the Wisconsin and Minnesota congressional delegations to act.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The campaign to win Congressional approval for a new Stillwater bridge is in full steam.
Last Thursday morning, the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting of local business people and government officials for the purpose of keeping the pressure on the Wisconsin and Minnesota congressional delegations to act.
An exemption from the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act’s prohibition on new St. Croix River crossings is needed for the bridge to be built.
Lobbyist Michael Wilhelmi of Stillwater gave a pitch for the new bridge and an update on the effort to win its approval.
His firm, Wilhelmi Government Affairs, has been hired by the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing to generate public support for the bridge and increase the pressure on Congress to approve it.
“Citizens must make their voices heard,” Wilhelmi told the audience of about 50 gathered in a basement meeting room of Citizens State Bank. “We don’t want this to be decided by bureaucrats and lawyers.”
Wilhelmi said there are more supporters than opponents of a new bridge being constructed. But the opponents — namely members of the Sierra Club — are better organized, have national financial support and influence in certain high places of government, he said.
The meeting ended with Wilhelmi and others urging those in attendance to join the coalition and encourage their friends and neighbors to join, too. He also asked them to voice their support for the project to their congressional representatives.
Everyone in attendance was offered a pack of 10 informational cards on the bridge project to give to others.
Larry Dowell of Dowell, Stute and Associates, St. Paul, is working with Wilhelmi to put pressure on Congress to act.
Wilhelmi said the project will have to win approval by the current Congress to advance. He said that $118 million in federal funding for the project will expire if an exemption for the bridge isn’t granted.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has set another deadline for the approval. Dayton says he needs to know by Oct. 1 whether Congress will approve the bridge. Minnesota stands to lose $350 million in federal money for highway projects if it doesn’t allocate it soon.
Wilhelmi said Oct. 1 may not be a firm deadline, but Dayton needs reassurance by then that the project is proceeding or he’ll allocate the money for other badly needed highway projects.
The mid-point of current cost estimates for the bridge project is $633 million, Wilhelmi reported.
He emphasized that the project involves much more than building the four-lane bridge across the river.
The total length of the project is eight miles, he said. It includes rebuilding a portion of Minnesota Hwy. 36, restoring the existing Stillwater lift bridge for bicycle and pedestrian use, construction of a new bicycle and pedestrian loop trail, building Wisconsin highway connections and restoring bluff lines.
Wisconsin’s share of the project cost is about $280 million, Wilhelmi said. Minnesota’s is more (about $350 million) because it will be rebuilding a stretch of Hwy. 36.
The location of the planned bridge is just north of the King power plant in Bayport, Minn. It is 1.1 miles south of the existing bridge.
“This is not a wild and scenic area,” Wilhelmi said, noting that the new bridge would also be just south of a sewage treatment plant on the Minnesota side of the river.
Wilhelmi and others called a recent proposal by environmental organizations for a lower, narrower bridge closer to downtown Stillwater an effort to stop any bridge from being built.
Wilhelmi said the National Park Service previously rejected a three-lane bridge like the one the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership proposed.
“It can’t be built and it won’t be built. Ever,” he said.
A U.S. Senate committee hearing on the bridge proposal agreed to by 26 of 27 stakeholder organizations is set for July 28.