National Park Service Denies Request for Bridge Across St. Croix River Between Minnesota and Wisconsin

National Park Service officials have said they cannot approve a new bridge over the St. Croix River in the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. This is an artist's rendering of the proposed bridge. NPS graphic.

A Minnesota congresswoman, disappointed that the National Park Service has reversed its position on allowing a bridge to be built across the St. Croix River within the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, hopes to clear the way via legislation.

The Park Service's decision, its fourth in the matter, stemmed from the stream's designation as a "wild and scenic" river. That designation, however, shouldn't block the project, according to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

“The determination by the National Park Service is extremely disappointing news after 20 years of planning for a new bridge," the congresswoman said in a statement released in response to the Park Service ruling. "Minnesota and Wisconsin families would benefit by a new bridge to cross the St. Croix River in a safe and efficient manner, with minimal environmental impact. The current bridge is severely lacking in all of those qualities.

“I will continue to support a new St. Croix River crossing with my bill H.R. 4924. Upon passage, this bill will allow the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, to approve the proposed four-lane bridge, despite the National Park Service’s position.”

In its previous reviews, the Park Service alternately opposed and endorsed the project, which now carries a price tag of nearly $670 million.

In 1996 the NPS Section 7(a) (review) determined that the proposed bridge crossing would have a direct and adverse effect on the scenic and recreational values of the Riverway that could not be adequately mitigated. The 1996 Evaluation indicates that a bridge cutting across the river is fundamentally different in terms of its visual impacts than the impacts of shore and bank development. In 2000, the NPS determined that the proposed bridge would have a direct and adverse effect on scenic and recreational values but that the effects could be adequately offset by any one of three mitigation “alternates.” In 2005, the NPS determined that the preferred alternative, when taken along with its mitigation package would not have a direct and adverse effect on scenic and recreational values. The 2005 Section 7(a) Evaluation was challenged in court by the Sierra Club North Star Chapter and found to be arbitrary and capricious.

When the federal court ruled against the Park Service earlier this year, it held that the agency's 2005 decision was "arbitrary and capricious" because the Park Service did not explain the change in position from a negative evaluation it had made in 1996 for a similar bridge.

In the most review of the project, the Park Service found that building the bridge "where there was not one previously ... would fundamentally change the scenic qualities that existed when the St. Croix was designated a national wild and scenic river in 1972 for its outstanding scenic, recreational, and geologic values."

"Under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the NPS cannot approve a project if its direct and adverse effects cannot be avoided or eliminated," added Ernest Quintana, the Park Service's Midwest Region director, in a letter to Federal Highway Administration officials.

In its latest evaluation, the Park Service determined that "[T]he construction of 9-11 bridge piers in the river and its 100-year floodplain would directly modify the existing flow conditions in the St. Croix River. It is estimated that 5,000 cubic yards of excavation and 34,600 yards of fill would occur in the River. In addition, it is estimated that 48,700 yards of excavation and between 16,310-16,510 yards of fill will occur within the 100-year floodplain, resulting in 29,600 yards of material being deposited in the River and 32,390-32,590 yards of material being deposited in the 100-year floodplain. The impacts will be long-term in nature reducing the channel area by approximately 5+% (Memo from Brett Danner, SRF Consulting Group, January 18, 2005). This would reduce the capacity of the St. Croix River to carry annual and flood flows. The construction of bridge piers in the channel would permanently reduce channel area; change local velocity profiles, scour and fill patterns around the bridge piers; and slightly raise water levels. These impacts would be localized and small and are not considered adverse."

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Comments

We have completely lost the ability to make compromise in this country. Make it a tunnel and keep the river wild and scenic in perpetuity. Looks like they already have a problem though, with a power plant (?) stinking up the view. This congresswoman has made a myriad of outrageous claims about any number of things in the past, so anything she supports should be scrutinized to the nth degree.

Jon - I remember visiting Stillwater a few years ago and hearing the locals' horror stories about the older bridge. Traffic clogs the entire city when the drawbridge is lifted, and this would allow cars to bypass that.

I don't see a tunnel being financially viable, but perhaps demolishing the old bridge would be an acceptable compromise?

If you look at the complete lifecycle costs, bridges and tunnels can often be about the same cost. If you factor in not having to clear snow from the bridge deck, the environmental benefits of not having road residue wash into the river, and the benefit of the unimpeded view from a virtually invisible (and relatively silent) tunnel, I'd say a tunnel could make perfect sense. Once completed, the tunnel option means never having to halt traffic to allow a ship to pass. Factor that in terms of economic benefit and the tunnel option is looking better and better.

I'm sure someone somewhere has thought about this, but if we're truly concerned with preserving "national treasures" then sometimes you have to pony up more money to get the job done right.

In 1985 at the Grand Canyon they drilled a new pipeline from the South Rim to the river completely underground. Sure, it would have been cheaper to build it on the surface... but there are some things you just don't do.

I would think that draw bridge is now considered part of the scenic view on the St. Croix. It has too much "character" to be simply torn down in a bridge swap. But "drawbridge" and "wild and scenic" in the same thought seems kinda odd, don't ya think? Whatever is decided, the locals will figure it out. But I'm sure somebody has already argued that building the new bridge would allow more people to "enjoy" the Wild and Scenic River simply because it will be a nice view from way up there. That was also true of the giant viewing tower in Gettysburg and we know what happened to that.

The change in position is easily explained. Look who was at the head of the Executive Branch in 1996, and then again in 2005. Just one of a long list of ill-advised projects pushed through by a Republican Administration laser focused on running roughshod over FLPMA and NEPA.

Is Bachmann still in office? ;)