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VIDEO ARCHIVE: St. Croix River Crossing Gets Its Day in Front of Senate Subcommittee

Testimony to exempt the St. Croix River Crossing in Stillwater from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was heard by a Senate subcommittee today.

UPDATED: 5:49 p.m.

Here is a video archive of today's hearing.

UPDATED FROM: 3:30 p.m.

StillwaterPatch live-tweeted today's hearing by the National Parks Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

  • Franken: "Stillwater is between a rock and a hard place."
  • "This is a unique situation with unique needs," Franken says about river crossing. This is not open season on Wild and Scenic Rivers.
  • Klobuchar: "Current bridge is completely inadequate."
  • Klobuchar says lower slower plan has been studied and rejected because of great environmental impact.
  • Sen. Johnson: "Truly a bipartisan effort." This "topic A, topic B and topic C" in western Wisco when it comes to economic impact.
  • "No one enjoys a clean pristine environment more than I do," Johnson. "I would never propose anything that would harm that scenic beauty."
  • After 20 years of trying to get a bridge passed it tells Sen. Rand Paul there is something seriously "wrong with the legislation."
  • O'Dell: Dept of Interior cannot support this legislation as it would have a direct and adverse impact to the river.
  • O'Dell: Klobuchar's legislation would set an unprecedented attack on wild and scenic rivers across the nation.
  • Is NPS opposed to any bridge? O'Dell: Our job to analyze any bridge over the river, not compare it to other projects.
  • Franken: "We want to preserve Wild and scenic Rivers Act. It is the exception that proves the rule."
  • Franken: Would it ever be possible not to have an adverse impact over the river? O'Dell: That is a hard question to answer. Does not reply.
  • Franken: NPS in MN says no new bridge could move forward w/o Congressional action. Is that true? Again, O'Dell doesn't give a clear answer.
  • Franken: After a lot of research this act makes certain nothing will be impact of wild and scenic river.
  • Next up in the Senate haring: Harycki, Tomten and the Sierra Club.
  • Harycki: Only Congress can untangle this catch 22 that has been created and kept a new bridge from being built.
  • Harycki: "We need a safe crossing." Numerous ideas considered, result was package that balances 3 laws. Leg includes park improvements.
  • Harycki: "Sensible Bridge" plan is not sensible, or able to be built. It is irresponsible.
  • Tomten: Support new bridge, but not enormous freeway-style bridge.
  • Tomten: Size, cost is resonating among fiscal conservatives and area residents.
  • Tomten: Harycki says bridge built near King Plant. That plant is the reason the St. Croix was added to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
  • Tomten: Advocates of boondoggle bridge disregard repairs needed to other MN bridges. Boondoggle bridge "makes no sense."
  • Harycki: All but one stakeholder group endorsed plan mediated by Udall Institute.
  • Harycki: "Any crossing will require the exemption. To build a bridge, we require a Congressional action." That's the process.
  • Tomten: The lower, slower bridge could be completed in the same timeframe as the boondoggle bridge.
  • Tomten: Lower, slower bridge was never reviewed in mediation process. MNDOT took it on their point of view for a freeway-style bridge.
  • Tomten: Growing frustration that he had to drive all the way to Wash. D.C. to ask MN to look at a smaller, cheaper bridge proposal.
  • Harycki: Not asking Congress to design a bridge for us... Any bridge will need an exemption.
  • Harycki: Be irresponsible to take 55 mph traffic and build a bottleneck at 40 mph, which is why lower, slower wasn't the option.
  • Tomten: State has given option of no bridge or freeway bridge. Want to look at option to save $400 million with an alternative.
  • Harycki: "Sensible bridge" would obliterate Stillwater views from downtown. Be looking at 40-50 ft bridge spanning the river.
  • Tomten: Alternate proposal was not studied in the past. Any statements about more impact to enviro is "wrong." It hasn't been studied.
  • The Senate hearing for the St. Croix River crossing has adjourned. We'll have story later today.

----

Today is a big day for the fate of the proposed $700 million St. Croix River Crossing.

The National Parks Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony on the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act (S. 1134)—a bill that would exempt the proposed bridge from the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), will testify along with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on behalf of the legislation that, if passed, would be the for a bridge over a federally-protected river.

“The people and businesses in Stillwater and along the St. Croix River Valley deserve a safe, more efficient alternative to the Lift Bridge, which is outdated for the needs of the region,” Klobuchar told Stillwater Patch on Wednesday afternoon. “The bipartisan legislation would help break the deadlock and bring this project out of bureaucratic limbo, and it is my hope that this hearing will help move this process forward.”

The hearing is another chance to help people in Congress to learn more about this project, how important it is to the region and why the community needs their help, said Mike Zipko, a spokesperson for the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.

“The community’s project has already heard ‘yes’ three times from regulators,” he said. “We’re asking Congress to make it yes for a fourth time and let us finally get started on construction.

“This is only project that has been reviewed, approved, and is ready to move forward,” Zipko continued. "If we miss this chance to build this, we will have to wait years for another opportunity to replace a bridge that celebrated its 80th birthday in July.”

For the first time in about 30 years of debate over the river crossing, a bridge proposal has bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate.

“(Klobuchar) is joined by Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), and Johnson who represent two states and two sides of the political aisle working together,” Zipko said. “At a time when it seems it is hard for government to get much done, this project is an example of leadership and compromise focused on what’s good for our entire region.”

The proposed bridge also has the support of the Stillwater City Council, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, the St. Croix County Board of Commissioners, the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation and Governors Mark Dayton and Scott Walker.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R- Minn.) introduced HR 850—a similar bill to Klobuchar’s—on March 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bachmann’s bill was cosponsored by Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.).

A ‘Boondoggle’

But those on the other side of the coin say the proposal is a "boondoggle" that threatens every mile of every protected river in the nation.

Rep. Betty McCollum and several environmental organizations—including the Sierra Club, American Rivers, Environment America, National Parks Conservation Association and the Wilderness Societystrongly oppose the legislation.

McCollum sent a letter (PDF attached) to the members of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee expressing concerns about the “excessive cost” and “negative impact” the bridge would have on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

A new bridge is needed to replace the obsolete Stillwater Lift Bridge. However, more fiscally and environmentally responsible design alternatives are available, McCollum said.

“I urge you all to give careful consideration to legislation that will allow construction of a bridge that is considered by many Minnesotans to be a boondoggle,” she wrote to the U.S. senators. “This is a local issue with national consequences.”

McCollum argues that construction of the proposed “mega-bridge” would be the most expensive bridge ever built in Minnesota—and exempting this bridge design from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would “fundamentally weaken a critical federal environmental law.”

“Because the proposed St. Croix Bridge design is so intrusive, passage of either bill would set a dangerously low standard for exclusions to Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protections that threatens every mile of every protected river in this national system,” McCollum wrote. “(The Act) is not a barrier to progress in the St. Croix River valley … the Act is the last protection for taxpayers against an irresponsible and over-sized boondoggle.”

If passed, the legislation will result in a bridge that “harms a unit of the National Park System,” sets a dangerous precedent for all Wild and Scenic rivers that are under pressure from development and would “monopolize state and federal funding for bridge repair in Minnesota,” said Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

As an alternative, McClure said the National Parks Conservation Association has joined the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership that proposes a lower bridge design that will “accommodate traffic concerns, save taxpayers more than $220 million and will better protect the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.”

“This design,” McClure said, “a version of which was first presented more than 10 years ago has never been fully studied and is well worth consideration by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.”

Today’s Testimony

In addition to Klobuchar and Johnson, Stillwater Mayor and Co-chair of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing Ken Harycki, Roger Tomten, a Stillwater resident and member of the Sensible Bridge Partnership, along with Peggy O’Dell, deputy director for operations with the Department of Interior, Joel Holtrop, deputy chief of the National Forest System and Forest Service with the Department of Agriculture and Jack Hession, a member of executive committee of the Alaska Chapter Sierra Club will also testify.

Written testimony from groups and individuals on both sides of the Stillwater bridge issue will also be submitted (see attached PDFs).

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