The sad irony of the Stillwater bridge


A recent star Tribune guest column provided background on the proposed St. Croix River bridge at Stillwater. 50 years ago, residents of the Stillwater are organized to fight a proposed coal power-plant in an area that was still relatively undeveloped. They lost, but their campaign helped bring about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Supporters of the new bridge point out that far from despoiling an unspoiled area, the bridge will be near a coal power-plant, so the area isn’t scenic as is. Readers have probably guessed at the sad irony of the title — that’s the same power-plant. The power-plant that was pushed past local environmental objections and thereby inspired the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is now used as an excuse to waive the act.

I’m not going to suggest bridge proponents knew this. I doubt very much they did. I would hope they stop using this as a supporting argument. If they still say that however the plant got there, the argument still stands, doesn’t adding the bridge mean that if you can see either the plant or bridge the Act doesn’t apply? Either the Act means something, and there’s a line, or new development expands the area where the Act doesn’t apply.

Proponents need to answer other questions too. Why are they seeking just a waiver, but no federal money? So we get all the cost of this boondoggle? Why is Minnesota going to pay most of the cost of this bridge when the primary beneficiaries are Wisconsin land developers and future Wisconsin exurbanites? Why are we encouraging sprawl when we’re trying to reduce fuel consumption? Encouraging people to move further from work and encouraging the building of bigger houses in less dense housing makes no sense.

I completely grant that the current bridge needs replacing, and arguments I make for other infrastructure development apply: unemployment is high, borrowing costs are low, and construction costs are low. This bridge however, besides being overkill for the traffic it will carry, causes long-term harm, which is not the case for plenty of other infrastructure projects.