Advocates race to pass bill to replace Stillwater bridgeby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington — Plans to build a new bridge over the St. Croix River got another hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Minnesota DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar co-sponsors a bill that would allow a new bridge to be built to replace the rusting and outdated Stillwater Lift Bridge over the St. Croix. She testified before a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee in favor of the bill.
Because the St. Croix River is protected under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, plans to replace the bridge must have congressional approval.
"Simply put, there is nearly unanimous agreement that the current bridge is completely inadequate," Klobuchar said.
Fellow Minnesota DFL Senator Al Franken sits on this committee, and he wasn't afraid to beg the other committee members, Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Rand Paul of Kentucky, to support Klobuchar's bill.
"Colorado and Kentucky are just exquisite states and we'd appreciate a vote for the bridge," Franken said.
A good portion of the hearing focused on the process of getting an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It was similar to a hearing last spring on the House version of the bill sponsored by Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki attended the hearing on his fourth trip to Washington in the past two years.
"And finally, note the bridge location. We think it's better to build a new crossing within the industrial part of the river next to a power plant, a sewer plant and a marina," Harycki said. "This part of the river is assuredly not scenic and not wild."
Opponents of the proposed four-lane bridge were also attended.
Stillwater resident Roger Tomten said a smaller, three lane bridge was a more economical option than a more expensive, freeway-style bridge.
"It will cost nearly $700 million," Tomten said. "Nearly $700 million when Congress is fiercly debating how to curtail our nation's spending.
The greatest obstacle to the bridge may not be opponents like Tomten or even the legal nuances of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Instead, it could be time.
MnDOT has set a deadline of September 30 to obtain congressional approval for the new bridge. Otherwise, the agency will direct the funds it had set aside for the bridge to other projects.
With Congress engaged in the debt ceiling debate, budget battles and a scheduled recess for most of August, getting a bill through both houses in the next two months could be difficult.
Klobuchar said she's spoken with Gov. Mark Dayton and hopes if Congress shows signs of progress, that he might be able to extend that September 30 deadline.
- Morning Edition, 07/29/2011, 6:20 a.m.