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Bridge plan agreement remains elusive

Representatives from 28 agencies and non-profit groups were poised to celebrate the end of two years of negotiating Tuesday.

But as the stakeholders' group working on an agreement for the new St. Croix River crossing at Stillwater approached the end of their announced "final" meeting, it was apparent the process may drag on a while longer.

Even with the last-minute hiccup, some stakeholders remain optimistic that an eventual agreement is just around the corner.

John Soderberg, president of First National Bank of New Richmond, who has been helping to bring about a new crossing for several years, said two environmental groups are seeking greater assurances before signing off on the final document.

"It's kind of a momentary setback," he said.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Sierra Club are asking for better control of run-off and stepped-up monitoring around the eventual new bridge.

Soderberg said the groups want the steps for protecting the river to be specifically outlined in the plan.

"It wasn't spelled out to their satisfaction," he said. "Until this is rectified, they will not sign onto the agreement. We need to cover all the bases."

Soderberg said most agreed that the request was reasonable and easily accomplished.

"The St. Croix River has very high quality water," he said. "We want to keep it that way."

Among other potential stumbling blocks is concern over urban sprawl in western Wisconsin. Some believe the region is unprepared to handle the expected population explosion.

Even with the remaining issues, Soderberg believes the stakeholders' group will eventually approve the plan.

"When the day ended, I was again optimistic," he said. "This is not something that can't be overcome. I'm confident that we're going to have consensus. This is just a bump in the road."

Soderberg said there was talk of legal action on the part of the environmental groups, but all agreed to try and avoid the courts.

"We'd rather do this in our meetings rather than in the courts," Soderberg said.

The group's next planned meeting is Oct. 4. Soderberg said they expect to have a couple more meetings before the plan is finalized.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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