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Stillwater bridge backers make their case in D.C.

Photo by Dan Hansen Participants in last week's lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. were (left to right) New Richmond City Council member Kirk Van Blaircom, New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne, New Richmond City Council member Jane Hansen, Tini Soderberg of New Richmond, Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing Co-Chairman John Soderberg of New Richmond and New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce Director Russ Korpela.

Local supporters of a new St. Croix River crossing near Stillwater traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressional members and lobby for speedy passage of a bill that would clear the way for the span to be constructed.

Among the 18 area residents who were part of the trip, coordinated by the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, were New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne, New Richmond City Council members Jane Hansen and Kirk Van Blaircom, New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce Director Russ Korpela, and John and Tini Soderberg from New Richmond.

Also attending were St. Croix County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer, Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce President Kim Heinemann, federal lobbyist Bill Berndt, Lakeview Hospital President Curt Geissler, Stillwater Mayor Ken Karycki, Washington County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gary Kriesel, Stillwater Deputy Mayor Jim Rousch, Leo's Grill and Malt Shop owner Cory Buettner, Iron Workers Local 512 representative Troy Seboin, Coalition Executive Director Mike Wilhelmi, Washington County Transportation Planning manager Ted Schoenecker, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters Political Director Kyle Makarios, and Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters Political Director Mark Reihl.

The group had a full day of meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 21, starting with a gathering early in the morning with U.S. Rep. and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Other meetings included U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.).

Between Wednesday meetings, Korpela reported that everyone was impressed by the large contingent that traveled to the nation's capital to lobby Congress. What was particularly impressive to elected officials was the wide range of people supporting the new span, Korpela said, including Democrats, Republicans, labor leaders, business leaders and public officials from both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"It's no secret that there's a lot of gridlock in Washington, D.C.," Korpela said in a telephone interview. "It's rare to see this kind of non-partisan support. All of the different groups are working together to get the bridge done."

Horne said everyone that the group has met with so far has been very positive about the chances for the St. Croix River crossing gaining Congressional approval. Congress needs to exempt the project from the restrictions of the Wild and Scenic Riverway Act to pave the way for the bridge's construction.

The new bridge is vital, Horne said, because so many people cross at Stillwater to get to jobs, health care appointments and shopping opportunities. The message about the importance of the bridge project was clearly delivered to congressional members on Wednesday, he noted.

"They see that the whole community is speaking out that we want and need this bridge," Horne said.

While there is no definite timeline for Congress to vote on the necessary bills, Horne said the group helped to deliver the message that the project is a major priority for this region.

The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing organized earlier this year to help bring about the final approval for the bridge. Supporters hope to replace the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge, which some feel is inadequate to handle current traffic and fails to meet current bridge standards.