Debunking myths about the coalition and the bridge

By Mike Wilhelmi, executive director of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing

Everyone is always entitled to their own opinion.  However, despite what some people want us to believe, recent comments by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood indicate that the Obama Administration really does want the St. Croix River Crossing to be built.  Honestly.

The only way one could think that his comments in support of the St. Croix River Crossing actually mean that the Obama Administration doesn’t support the St. Croix River Crossing is when you ignore basic facts, as was recently done by a local blogger.

First, the St. Croix River Crossing proposal is not “the coalition’s” bridge.  It was developed through a three-year community process in which local, state and federal regulators and community stakeholders determined the bridge size, location, and environmental and historic preservation elements.  The Federal Highway Administration, which is led by Secretary LaHood, participated in the bridge design process and approved the bridge project with a Record of Decision.  The administration even defended the project in a three-year court battle with the Sierra Club.  Despite the attempt at spin, the fact is that the U.S. Department of Transportation supports this project.

Second, there is no way to build any new bridge without an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  The National Park Service has concluded that the Act does not allow them to grant a permit for any new construction in any Wild and Scenic River that would have a “direct, adverse” impact on the river’s “scenic values.”  In short:  if you can see the new bridge in the river way, you can’t build it.  There is no way to build an invisible bridge and there is no way to build any new bridge without getting permission from Congress.

When the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was written in 1969, Congress foresaw this problem.  As a result the law specifically allows Congress to provide an exemption for worthy projects.  Therefore, exempting the St. Croix River Crossing from the provision in the WSRA is “within the law.”

Third, the reason that the Obama Administration didn’t include the St. Croix Crossing in the “environmental streamlining” process is because it’s already gone through environmental streamlining.  Even after being approved, lawyers for the Sierra Club and other groups opposed to a bridge were still able to use lawsuits to stop the project.  That’s why the coalition and our federal and state elected officials are trying to pass the exemption that will prevent further court challenges.

Finally, we are increasingly concerned about the language and tactics used by bridge opponents.  Rather than simply oppose the project – which is their right – they are going out of their way to attack and smear bridge supporters.  We are not “playing loose with the facts.”  We make sure that the details and facts that we use in support of the project are verified by a state or federal regulatory agency.  Bridge opponents cannot say the same.

Not only have multiple federal and state regulatory agencies signed off on the project, but the project is supported by the people who represent the St. Croix Valley:  two Governors, four U.S. Senators, four U.S. Representatives, every state legislator, two county boards, and multiple city councils.

We believe that the vast majority of the public in the St. Croix Valley wants the new crossing.  People are tired of traffic jams and safety concerns, and they want the bridge they’ve been promised for the past 25 years.  The mission of the coalition is to support our elected officials in their work to get it done.

It’s clear that bridge opponents haven’t given up.  Neither will we.

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