Congressional committee takes testimony on Stillwater bridge bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Several Wisconsin and Minnesota residents offered testimony as the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee held a hearing this morning on HR 850, a bill to facilitate a proposed crossing over the St. Croix River.
Area people who attended the hearing included Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, Lakeview (Stillwater) Hospital CEO Curt Geissler, Oak Park Heights Mayor David Beaudet and Bill Berndt, River Falls, Western Wisconsin Board of Realtors.
The bill was introduced by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in March and is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind and Minnesota Congressman Chip Cravaack.
Bachmann introduced the bill with hopes of moving construction forward on a new, four-lane crossing between Minnesota and Wisconsin near Stillwater. A new crossing has been in the works for years but has been delayed by environmental lawsuits.
"Each month that this project is delayed, the cost escalates by approximately $3.17 million," Bachmann told subcommittee members. "What started at $80 million dollars in 1982 now has a cost of almost $700 million.
"The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota are working together to fund the project, with a large portion of the bonding authority already set aside. I am pleased that my underlying bill does not appropriate a dime."
She added, "This bill simply authorizes something that should have been done decades ago." (Bachmann's full testimony is attached to this story.)
Calling the 1931 bridge "woefully inadequate" for handling today's traffic, Rep. Kind, in written testimony, urged officials to move the process forward.
"A new bridge is a top priority for my constituents in Western Wisconsin and I have worked for more than 14 years to help resolve issues surrounding its design, development, and construction," said Kind. "While I understand the concerns some may have about this project and its potential impact on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, there exists today a broad consensus that the current crossing is in need of replacement and that Congress must act to allow for the construction of a new bridge." (Kind's full testimony is attached to this story.)
In a letter released this morning, 24 Minnesota and Wisconsin environmental organizations announced their opposition to Bachmann's bill.
"The bill would gut the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by exempting the massive, over-engineered project from the protections of the Act," says the letter submitted by the River Alliance of Wisconsin, the St. Croix River Association, the Sierra Club North Star Chapter and others.
Instead the coalition asked state and federal leaders to support "a low-profile, modestly-scaled bridge that reflects the real traffic need and honors the federally-protected status of the St. Croix."
The environmental groups said, "A new, smaller-scale bridge in Stillwater would dramatically reduce impacts on the Lower St. Croix River, serve the needs of regional residents, provide a new transportation facility to replace the current lift bridge, and save taxpayers potentially hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent for other transportation priorities."