Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that congressional action to pass a bill authorizing the construction of the St. Croix River Crossing Project must be taken before March 15, or the state will not be able to provide funding for the project.
The Senate unanimously passed Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill on a voice vote last month. It currently awaits action by the House of Representatives to exempt the project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
“If this legislation is not passed by the House and signed into law by March 15, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will be forced to repurpose the funds now set aside for that project to other priority projects in Minnesota,” a letter Gov. Dayton’s wrote to Rep. Michele Bachmann reads.
Bachmann’s House version of that bill, H.R. 850, passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources on Oct. 5.
“I was previously advised that it would be taken up on the House floor shortly after Congress reconvened in January; however, to date, no action appears to have been taken,” Dayton wrote.
Federal and state appropriations for transportation project expire if the funds are not spent on actual projects by certain dates, Dayton said. MnDOT originally set a deadline of Nov. 15 as a date for federal approval for the project, so the department could meet those requirements.
At Dayton’s urging, the deadline was extended.
However, MnDOT has informed Dayton that work on the project must commence by March 15 to complete it within the deadlines of those funds.
Bachmann, McCollum React
In a statement, Bachmann said she had a “great conversation” with Dayton today and she “remains committed to seeing this legislation passed and signed into law.”
“Unfortunately,” Bachmann said, “Governor Dayton's deadline of March 15 fails to recognize that the House of Representatives is only in session for eight days between now and March 15, with much of Congress' attention going to the surface transportation bill during that time.”
Bachmann said getting the St. Croix River Crossing Project through Congress is her “top priority. “I remain absolutely committed to seeing the project through to completion.”
Rep. Betty McCollum—who after today’s redistricting maps were drawn—will now represent the Stillwater area said Dayton’s letter is a signal that it is time to take Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood up on his offer of a working group and come to the table to reach a compromise.
“Governor Dayton is right that the burden of passing this legislation squarely rests with Congresswoman Bachmann,” McCollum said in a written statement. “It’s doubtful this flawed bill will pass the House on the Governor’s timeline. I will continue working for a more fiscally-responsible, appropriately-scaled replacement bridge for Stillwater.”
But Dayton said if new bridge designs or routings are to be considered, the project will have to return to the beginning of the process—including new state and federal environmental impact assessments, new design and engineering studies.
“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,” Dayton said.
In a written statement, Stillwater Mayor and Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing Co-chair Ken Harycki thanked Dayton for his “unequivocal support.”
“We understand the Governor’s insistence that this project move forward now, because we share the same urgency,” Harycki said. “We have never been closer to getting this bridge built. The future of our region is too important; too much time and money have been invested, and too many jobs are on the line for us to not succeed.
“We know that the strong bi-state and bi-partisan support for this project will help us meet Dayton’s deadline of March 15 and will allow the St. Croix River Valley to celebrate an important victory and avoid another generation of gridlock, pollution and public safety risks.”
Another Lobbyist Request
Tonight, the Stillwater City Council will consider contracting lobbyist services for the St. Croix River Crossing Project.
But a group of Stillwater residents opposed to the “boondoggle” bridge, named the “NO 700 MILLION DOLLAR BRIDGE” group, are also planning to approach the City of Stillwater for lobbying money.
Stillwater resident Donald Empson, a spokesperson for the group, said for a democracy to function effectively, the voters must know all points of view on an issue.
"On one hand, many of the proponents of the big bridge stand to make lots of money if the bridge is built," Empson said. "The bankers get more customers; the realtors get more properties to sell at higher prices; the unions get jobs and more union dues, so it is in their self interest to finance a lobbying effort, and present only their facts.
"On the other hand, those opposed to the big bridge, have to make due with what comes out of their pocket with no expectations of future profits," he continued. “For this reason, to make a level playing field, we have decided to ask the City to fund a lobbyist to work against the big bridge so that the voters can learn both sides of the bridge issue.
“For reasons best known to the Mayor, the city is committed to giving our taxpayer money to those lobbying for the new bridge. It is only right the City also give lobbying money to the opposition so all viewpoints and all the facts are thoroughly explored. I am sure the Mayor is committed to the democratic process and will see the logic of our request.”
Those who wish to contact the opposition group can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who would like to sign a petition "urging a smaller, more environmentally friendly bridge" can sign a petition here.