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Paving the way for proposed river crossing

The next step in the eventual construction of a new bridge at Stillwater occurred quietly in downtown New Richmond Tuesday afternoon.

John Soderberg, chairman/president of First National Bank in New Richmond, placed the first official signature on the amended memorandum of agreement that helps clear the way for the proposed river crossing.

Cheryl Martin, environmental engineer with the Federal Highway Administration, a rural New Richmond resident, was on hand to witness the signing.

Martin will now travel to offices throughout the region to get signatures from 28 stakeholders' groups who have been meeting regularly for three years to reach the compromise agreement.

The memorandum of agreement addresses issues of concern to some or all of the groups, including the future of the current historic bridge, how affected businesses will be compensated and the favored final design of the new bridge. Federal authorities required the various stakeholders to pen a compromise document before the project was allowed to move forward.

Among the groups who will sign off on the agreement are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Highway Administration, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the two state departments of transportation, National Park Service, the City of Stillwater, and other groups.

"This is the step we've all been waiting for," Soderberg said. "It's the culmination of three years of stakeholders' meetings."

Soderberg said he recalls the very first meeting of the stakeholders' group and his initial doubt about ever reaching consensus because of the diverse opinions.

"And they expected us to come to an agreement," he said. "I guess small miracles do happen."

Soderberg signed as a representative of the St. Croix Alliance for an Interstate Bridge, which has been leading the push for a new crossing for years.

"It's a done deal," Soderberg said with a hint of relief in his voice. "Now it just needs all the signatures."