St. Croix River Crossing Debated in the House of Representatives
Representatives Michele Bachmann and Betty McCollum give remarks about the St. Croix River Crossing Project during a 40-minute debate on the House floor Wednesday evening.
The St. Croix River Crossing Project was debated on the House floor Wednesday night. A suspension vote on the bill to exempt the river crossing from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act will happen on Thursday.
Below are remarks from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)
Check back later for more coverage.
Rep. Michele Bachmann made the following remarks in support of the project:
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'd like to have the record reflect very clearly that if Representative McCollum gets her way, she will kill building the bridge over the St. Croix River. As we all know, this is, our office has been told, this is one of the longest, if not the longest, unfinished bridge projects in the history of the United States. That's why it's come to this point.
“Mr. Speaker, where we actually have to go to Congress to get permission from the federal government so that the State of Minn. and the State of Wis. can build this commonsense bridge at their own expense and that's the point that we're at. Not only will Representative McCollum be acting against the wishes of 86 percent of the people that live and reside in the St. Croix River Valley, the responsibility for the increased costs of building this bridge rests squarely on the shoulders of Representative McCollum and on her compatriots who have fought for decades to kill the building of this bridge.
“The cost? The bridge would have cost $80 million to complete back in 1992 if her compatriots wouldn't have tied this bridge project up for decades in the federal courts; in nuisance lawsuits. And why? Because they said there was pollution that was involved. And what was this pollution that they asserted? They said it would be visual pollution. Visual pollution? Because a federal bureaucrat came out to this river and pointed to the river and said they didn't think that a bridge would look good built on this river and that's in spite of the fact that there's already a bridge that's here on this river. This is a wide part of the river. This is the river that is literally the birthplace of Minn. As long as people have been in the State of Minn., Stillwater is the birthplace.
“I've been working on this issue as a young mother, living in this community, as an activist citizen, who saw what a commonsense project this is. Representative McCollum has talked about this being a 'megabridge.' This is a four-lane bridge. And after all, why wouldn't you build a four-lane bridge when you have a four-lane highway in Minn. connected to a four-lane highway in Wisconsin? Representative McCollum is suggesting that we should be building a two or a three-lane bridge. Why would you build a bridge that would be obsolete the day that it's opened? You would build a commonsense four-lane bridge to connect two four-lane highways.
“This is also a center for industry in this region. We have not only the prison – the state prison – we have also one of the largest window manufacturers in the world, we have the sewer treatment plant, the water treatment plant, we have a marina. This is the place that has been the site that's been selected as the perfect place to build this bridge to connect these two communities. As we've heard before, this is an area that has a bridge that currently has a safety rating that's far below the safety rating of the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007.
“We have a historic opportunity, a once in a lifetime magic moment when we have governors that are are Republican and Democrat, senators that are Republican and Democrat, representatives that are Republican and Democrat saying, for once, let's come together and do what the people expect.
“And why did we get to this point? Bureaucratic red tape. We are here in full square agreement with the administration saying, let's get this done on behalf of the people of these two states. Let's do what should have been done decades ago. And let's build this commonsense bridge. And I yield back.”
Rep. McCollum offered up the following remarks in opposition to the $690 million project:
The bill before the House today, S. 1134, is a controversial bill that represents wasteful government spending, bad transportation policy, and bad environmental policy. A new bridge across the protected St. Croix River between my state of Minnesota and Wisconsin needs to be built.
The aging Stillwater Lift Bridge needs to be replaced – everyone agrees on that – but I support a more affordable and more appropriately scaled replacement bridge.
This bill is controversial because it does much more than authorize a replacement bridge. This bill mandates the construction of an exotic and massive “extradosed” style bridge some 219 feet above the St. Croix River at a cost of $700 million for only 18,000 cars per day. This $700 million “extradosed” mega-bridge would connect Oak Park Heights, Minnesota – population 4,700 – to Houlton, Wisconsin – population 386.
I quote from the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Jan. 25, 2012) that Houlton, Wisconsin, “…is not big enough for a stop sign on its main street.”
Houlton, Wisconsin may not have a stop sign, but today Congress could give it a $700 million bridge.
This bill is controversial because, if you look at page 2, line 10 of the bill, you will see that the bill dictates the location of this $700 million mega-bridge as “…approximately 6 miles north of the Interstate-94 crossing.” In other words, this bill mandates a 65 miles-per-hour interstate freeway bridge, connecting a town of 386 people and builds it only six miles from an existing Interstate crossing of the same river.
Is this what the Tea Party would call an efficient and effective use of tax dollars?
The fiscal watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense calls the bill, “a massive misuse of taxpayer money.”
In a letter to Congress opposing this bill, Taxpayers for Common Sense said, “In an era of trillion dollar deficits and a $15 trillion national debt, it is simply unacceptable to spend $700 million on a bridge to carry so few vehicles when an interstate bridge exists nearby.”
This bill is controversial because it is opposed by the Interior Department, which testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on July 28, 2011, opposing S. 1134.
The Deputy Director of the National Parks Service stated, “The Department cannot support this legislation as the National Park Service determined that the St. Croix River Project would have a direct and adverse impact to the river and these impacts cannot be mitigated.”
To be clear, I asked Interior Secretary Salazar two weeks ago during an Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing a direct question.
I asked, “Does the Interior Department still oppose S 1134?
Interior Secretary Salazar responded, “Our position remains unchanged. A wild and scenic river is a wild and scenic river. The position of the Parks Service as articulated a year ago is the position of the Department. We have, as you know Congresswoman McCollum, met with delegations from the two states and Secretary LaHood and I have offered to work with a work group to see whether an alternative can be found.”
Unfortunately, despite the opposition from the Interior Department and the offer to work for a compromise solution, Congress will now be voting on a $700 million mega-bridge.
This bill is controversial because it will directly result in a property tax increase for the residents of Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, a community in which Minnesota’s new redistricting map places in my new congressional district.
According to a unanimously passed resolution by the Oak Park Heights City Council, the passage of S. 1134 by Congress, “…will require an estimated $443 annual property tax increase for the next 10 years to most City homeowners and businesses.”
A vote for S. 1134 will be a tax increase on Minnesotans.
This bill is controversial because it puts Congress in the position of prioritizing spending $700 million of taxpayer money to replace one bridge while Minnesota has more than 1,100 additional “structurally deficient” bridges –far less costly – that are all in desperate need of repair or replacement.
In fact, dozens of Minnesota state legislators wrote our delegations saying, “We are united in our concerns that the current design of the bridge is far too expensive, particularly in light of much more cost effective alternatives.”
Those state legislators, many from my congressional district, urged defeat of this legislation.
Former Vice-President and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale – an original sponsor of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act – opposes this bill, saying passage “would be a profound mistake” and he urges a vote against this bill.
This bill was even controversial in the Senate. Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, and Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington opposed S. 1134 saying, “In our opinion, waiving the protections of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act for the Lower St. Croix River is bad policy and sets a dangerous precedent.”
Here in the House, this bill is also controversial. It is controversial because it this bill is an earmark – pure and simple. This bill designates a specific project, in a specific location, and it mandates the construction of a $700 million extradosed bridge design. It does it all through an exemption to federal law.
Of course, earmarks are banned in the House except when a bill come to the floor on suspension of the rules and points order are waived – just like this one!
This mega-bridge was highlighted in a New York Times editorial. The editorial highlights my Minnesota colleague and mega-bridge champion, Rep. Bachmann, who has called for a “redefinition” of what an earmark is to accommodate “a bridge over a vital waterway.”
Today, Congresswoman Bachmann has been successful in bringing her earmark to the floor. Now, it is not just me, my dear friend from Minneapolis, Mr. Ellison, other House colleagues, and the U.S. Interior Department are opposing this $700 million boondoggle bridge.
This bill is also opposed by: Taxpayers for Common Sense, The Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, American Rivers, League of Conservation Voters, Former Vice President Walter Mondale, and, a whole lot of Minnesotans who care deeply about responsible fiscal policy, wise transportation investments, and responsible environmental conservation.
Tomorrow we will vote on this bill.
Will this House give a rubber stamp to a $700 million mega-bridge? Or, will this Congress reject this bad bill and direct Minnesota and Wisconsin to come up with a smarter plan that would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars?
Every Minnesota and Wisconsin member of this House supports a replacement bridge – none more than I. But, I ask my colleagues to reject this fiscally irresponsible bill.
Not one dollar of Minnesota transportation funds will be lost. I have a Minnesota Department of Transportation document in my hand that outlines how hundreds of millions of dollars could be reprogrammed across our state, creating thousands of jobs, and rebuilding roads in need of repair.