Editor's note: Updates to correct that federal share of project is estimated to be around $200 million, with the bulk of the cost to be assumed by Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Rebuffed time and again by the National Park Service, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have succeeded in getting Congress to earmark millions of dollars to build a bridge across the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
Not only does the measure go against the House majority's opposition to earmarks, but it disregards the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as the St. Croix carries a wild and scenic designation.
"This is it!" Rep. Bachmann proclaimed after the House passed the measure, which had cleared the Senate back in January. "After decades of bureaucratic holdups and frivolous lawsuits from radical environmentalists, the people of the St. Croix River Valley will finally have their bridge."
In the fall of 2010 the Park Service, after considering the project for a fourth time, refused to permit the new bridge, holding that it would present direct and adverse impacts to the river that could not be "avoided or eliminated."
Not all politicians from Minnesota endorsed the project.
Just about a year ago U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota's 4th Congressional District, released a statement to make clear her opposition to the exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act being sought by her colleague and supported by the St. Croix (Wisconsin) County Commission.
"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," Rep. McCollum said in a letter to the county commissioners, which had sought her support for the project.
After the House passed the measure Thursday, the National Parks Conservation Association quickly condemned the action.
"In an ignominious performance, Congress has done what it too frequently does these days—squander, bit by bit, the legacy we leave our children. This action harms the St Croix and puts at risk nearly 200 rivers across the nation, when more could have been done to protect them," said Craig Obey, the group's senior vice president for government affairs.
“We are saddened that two states renowned for their history and legacy of foresight in protecting a tremendous natural bounty, which produced leaders who helped enact laws like the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that protected the St Croix, have now led the way in undercutting that law. A replacement bridge is needed, but not this bridge. Not this way," said Mr. Obey.
“At a time when national parks and other important programs face cuts, it is fiscally irresponsible to build such a massively scaled bridge that is more expensive than necessary. The proposed massive bridge will cost taxpayers $700 million and will be the most expensive bridge ever built in Minnesota’s history."
The legislation does not carry a specific dollar figure. However, it is expected that the federal government will put up roughly $200 million towards the project when you factor in other federal transportation dollars that go to the state of Minnesota, with the rest of the cost assumed by Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to NPCA officials.
"After 30 years of debate and delay, we finally got it done,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “Today is a victory for the residents and businesses along the St. Croix River Valley who have waited long enough for a safe, new bridge. This effort is an example of what can get done when people put politics aside and do what is best for our state. I appreciate the work of my colleagues in the House and Senate as well as Governor Dayton who helped get this project over the finish line.”