St. Croix River Crossing: Dayton 'Corrects' McCollum, Says 'Compromise' is Out
Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a letter to Rep. Betty McCollum stating "compromise" is out of the question when it comes to the deadline to replace the Stillwater Lift Bridge. The only two options, the governor says, are build the proposed $690 million bridge, or
Gov. Mark Dayton’s office has been busy writing two of Minnesota’s congressional officials letters this week—first putting a March 15 deadline on the river crossing bill to pass, and most recently, saying “compromise” is out of the question at this stage of the game.
On Tuesday, Dayton sent Rep. Michele Bachmann a letter stating the St. Croix River Crossing bill must get exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by March 15 or he was going to reallocate the funds to other Minnesota projects.
Bachmann responded two days later calling Dayton’s deadline “crazy,” and saying it puts the project in jeopardy.
“To put an artificial deadline out like March 15 is absolute madness because we can get this done,” Bachmann told WCCO. “We shouldn’t kowtow to these radical environmental groups.”
Rep. Betty McCollum responded to the letter with a statement, that in part, reads:
“The Governor’s letter is a signal that it is time to take Transportation Secretary LaHood up on his offer of a working group and come to the table to reach a compromise.”
On Friday the Governor took issue with that sentence, and sent his second warning letter of the week to a Minnesota representative.
Dayton said he needed to correct the statement attributed to the Fourth District representative about the March 15 deadline.
“It needs to be very clear to everyone that, according to MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and his department, any redesign of the bridge, through your proposed working group’s ‘compromise’ or anything else, will cause significant delays,” Dayton wrote to McCollum. “As I stated in my February 21 letter to Representative Bachmann: “Furthermore, if new bridge designs or routings are to be considered, the project will have to return to the beginning of the process, with new state and federal environmental impact assessments, new design and engineering studies, etc. Such a restart would most likely consign any new bridge to another decade of debate with no assurance of a better outcome at the end.”
“While I would personally favor certain modifications, it was made very clear to me from the outset that the only two real-world options were to either proceed with the bridge as currently proposed, or go back to the drawing boards and the starting point where the project existed when I went to the U.S. Senate 11 years ago. Those still remain the only two options.”
McCollum's Office Responds
When McCollum spoke at Episcopal Church of the Ascension last month, she said the argument that building a less expensive alternative to the current bridge would take at least 10 years is “poppycock.”
“Another big myth,” McCollum said, is that if the current proposal doesn’t pass, the federal government will lose the money and the project will go away.
“That is absolutely not true,” she said. “The money is there. It could be put toward other projects if we reduce the size and the scope of this bridge.”
McCollum’s Chief of Staff Bill Harper said on Friday night that the congresswoman has not changed her stance on the river crossing project in light of Dayton’s letter.
The congresswoman agrees there’s a need for a river crossing, Harper said. Her belief that the chance of this replacement getting exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by the deadline of March 15 is “minimal.”
“Whether the governor reprograms the money or not, we will continue to work for a replacement for the Stillwater Lift Bridge—and that too will take an exemption,” Harper said. “The Governor’s letter today can be interpreted that he is saying there will be no replacement bridge—that if it doesn’t meet the deadline, he’s walking away. That’s not our view.”
This isn’t something the congresswoman is making up, Harper said. “Secretary LaHood’s offer to compromise has been on the table since November. The supporters of the mega-bridge have just ignored it.”
The congresswoman remains committed to an opportunity to work on a compromise on an exemption, Harper said.
“Ray LaHood effectively proposed the idea to try and pass the river crossing legislation as is, but at the same time work on a parallel track,” he said. “If everyone is on board—and it’s seen as a non-controversial issue—it will pass the House and Senate. That’s obviously not the case here. This probably won’t even come to a House vote before the deadline.”
Even if this legislation doesn’t come to a House vote and get signed into law by the president by March 15, the river crossing is an important issue to be addressed in the future, Harper said.
“That’s what we’re positioning for,” he said.