Betty McCollum promises to fight Michele Bachmann's bridge
McCollum promises to stymie Bachmann.
We have a congressional border spat.
DFL Rep. Betty McCollum wants to know why, if Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the federal government are all broke, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann wants to build a $700 million bridge over the St. Croix River.
Bachmann, who complains that "porking" has gotten out of control, is pushing an "excessive and irresponsible project, both unwise and improbable," McCollum says.
Bachmann announced her plan yesterday. It's similar to a proposal by the St. Croix County, Wisconsin, Board of Supervisors to exempt the St. Croix River Crossing Project near Stillwater from the the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The proposed Highway 36 bridge.
The four-lane bridge that was originally planned by the the Minnesota Department of Transportation was shelved last year after the National Park Service reversed itself and ruled the proposed structure did not comply with the law.
The goal of the new structure is to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge by sending Highway 36 traffic over the new bridge south of Stillwater. The highway comes out of McCollum's fourth congressional district and crosses into Bachmann's sixth district.
McCollum and conservationists support finding a more modest replacement. She's fired off a letter to the St. Croix County supervisors, saying in part, "I will do everything in my power as a Member of Congress to defeat any federal legislation that lifts the protections from the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway for a project of this magnitude."
"It is difficult to express how strongly I oppose the position taken by the St. Croix County Board," McCollum said in a statement. "The proposed bridge across the St. Croix River - with an estimated cost of at least $700 million - is fiscally irresponsible, environmentally damaging, and will create a transportation mess for communities along Minnesota Highway 36 in the Congressional District I represent."
She repeated those sentiments and aimed them at Bachmann yesterday.
MNDOT envisions the Stillwater Lift Bridge becoming pedestrian-only.
She's also appalled that Bachmann's bill tries to do an end-run around federal law by simply declaring that the rules don't apply to her pet project.
Bachmann denies she's exempting the bridge from federal law. But she's cherry picking the National Park Service ruling that suits her needs: "My bill points to the 2005 National Park Service decision" that supported the bridge.
The most recent ruling, in March 2010, is based on changes to the proposed project that was presented in 2005. Here's what it says, in part:
As a result of the review of the Act and available guidance, and in consultation with the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council, the NPS concluded that if it determined that the project has direct and adverse effects on the values for which the river was designated as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and those impacts could not be avoided or eliminated, then the NPS cannot consent to the project.
Bachmann's press release:
"This morning I introduced legislation on the proposed St. Croix River Crossing, desired and needed by the residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin. My clear and simple bill reads:
Bachmann's one page bill.
To facilitate a proposed project in the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, Section 1. St. Croix River Crossing Project. Construction of a four-lane highway bridge over the Lower St. Croix River, in accordance with the Section 7 Evaluation issued by the National Park Service in October 2005, is hereby deemed to be consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.).
"There is no appropriation in this bill to fund this project. Period. But that didn't stop radical organizations from claiming that I was requesting an earmark. It has also been claimed that my bill exempts the Lower St. Croix from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This is wrong. My bill points to the 2005 National Park Service decision stating the proposed four-lane bridge construction is consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
"Before environmental groups stalled this project in the courts, a new bridge was funded and ready to be built for $120 million. Now, the bridge cost has skyrocketed to a price tag of nearly $700 million. By holding up the project in the courts, these groups are directly responsible to the taxpayers for today's cost. Instead of focusing on safety, job creation and the best interests of Minnesota, they are pushing their radical, political agenda. These groups and I may never agree on what the river crossing should look like, but I am calling on them to stop lying about my legislation."
McCollum's letter to the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors:
February 25, 2011
St. Croix County Board of Supervisors
St. Croix County Government Center
1101 Carmichael Road
Hudson, WI 54016-7710
Dear St. Croix County Board of Supervisors:
Your recent letter was received by my office informing me of the County Board's action to pass Resolution 1-2011 on January 4, 2011. Your resolution called on Congress to "exempt the St. Croix River Crossing Project from the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act so that construction of the proposed new bridge may begin."
It is difficult to express how strongly I oppose the position taken by the St. Croix County Board. The proposed bridge across the St. Croix River - with an estimated cost of at least $700 million - is fiscally irresponsible, environmentally damaging, and will create a transportation mess for communities along Minnesota Highway 36 in the Congressional District I represent.
A MNDOT rendering of Bachmann's bridge.
It has been reported due to delays and inflation the bridge project's cost (in its current form) could exceed $1 billion. In recent days I have heard Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tell the national news media innumerable times how "we're broke." How will the State of Wisconsin come up with its share of a $700 million to $1 billion project if it is "broke"? As you well know the State of Minnesota and the federal government are also facing significant fiscal challenges that make this type of excessive and irresponsible project both unwise and improbable.
With regard to exempting the St. Croix River Crossing Project from the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, I will do everything in my power as a Member of Congress to defeat any federal legislation that lifts the protections from the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway for a project of this magnitude. Frankly, the prospect of such legislation becoming law is negligible which makes such a strategy more of a political distraction than contributing to a real transportation solution.
There is no doubt that commuters in St. Croix County, WI and Washington County, MN face traffic congestion. The Stillwater Lift Bridge is no longer adequate. A new, appropriately scaled and designed bridge is needed to help relieve traffic congestion. I would propose that officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin work together to propose a new bridge project that is appropriate to the transportation needs of the area, cost-effective for taxpayers, and protects the environmental integrity of this unique shared scenic treasure for the citizens of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
I look forward to working with you and other local, federal, state officials and other stakeholders from Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with the Obama Administration, to support alternative ideas for a bridge that will alleviate traffic, protect the river and be more cost effective than the rejected proposal.
Member of Congress
cc: Governor Mark Dayton
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Al Franken
Representative Ron Kind
Representative Michele Bachmann
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.