Sunday, November 6, 2011

Boondoggle Bridge Coalition muddies the St. Croix waters with more misinformation

By Karl Bremer
Michael Wilhelmi

Michael Wilhelmi, executive director of the Boondoggle Bridge-supporting Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, took umbrage at my recent post regarding the misinformation campaign of his Coalition. In a rather huffy response on the Coalition’s blog, Wilhelmi responded with more misinformation, and accused me of ignoring the facts. Let’s have a look.

Curiously, Wilhelmi begins by disclaiming ownership of the $700 million Boondoggle Bridge.

“First, the St. Croix River Crossing proposal is not ‘the coalition’s’ bridge,” Wilhelmi insists. That’s funny, because they’re the only ones lobbying for it, so if it’s not “their” project, whose is it?

Wilhelmi continues down this twisted path: “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.” Therefore, Wilhelmi reasons, “the U.S. Department of Transportation supports this project.”

There are a few things wrong with that assumption.

First, the FHWA issued its Record of Decision on the bridge in 1995 during the Clinton Administration two presidents ago. The National Park Service (NPS) subsequently ruled against the bridge that administration’s FHWA signed off on, and the courts upheld the NPS’s decision.

It was the FHWA under the Bush Administration that issued a second Record of Decision in 2006 and defended the project in the Sierra Club litigation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the current FHWA—which is led by FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez and not Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as Wilhelmi states—supports the Coalition’s bridge.

Remember, it was under the Bush Administration in 2005 that the NPS gave the project a green light. That decision was reversed by the Obama Administration’s NPS after the courts sided with the Sierra Club in 2010 and ordered the NPS to reconsider its earlier approval.

Nor does it mean that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood necessarily supports the Coalition’s version of the bridge, as Wilhelmi claims. Even Coalition member Mary McComber admitted to Ripple in Stillwater that LaHood’s recent comments didn’t indicate support for any specific version of a bridge—only that it be done “within the law.” If Wilhelmi has any solid evidence of LaHood’s support for the Coalition’s bridge—a letter, perhaps?—he needs to offer more proof than his own wishful thinking and hearsay.

Wilhelmi continues with his fantasies.

“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’,” he states.

That’s not what the NPS concluded at all. It concluded that “the St. Croix River Crossing Project (emphasis added) would have a direct and adverse impact to the river and that those impacts cannot be mitigated.” It said nothing about bridge designs other than the Coalition’s monstrosity it had before it.

Wilhelmi’s contention that “there is no way to build any bridge without an exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act” is equally phony. In fact, two bridges have been built across the St. Croix River since it fell under protection of the Act and neither required an exemption by Congress: the replacement bridge at Osceola, WI, in 1980, WI, and the lift bridge at Prescott, WI, in 1990. It’s just that there’s no way to build his bridge without an exemption to the Act.

Wilhelmi claims that "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.'  However, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has never granted an exemption for a bridge. The Coalition once promoted that myth as well until Ripple in Stillwater debunked it too. The only two exemptions that have been granted under the Act in its entire history have been for fisheries habitat improvement projects.

Wilhelmi concludes by playing the victim card and accuses opponents of the Coalition’s Boondoggle Bridge of trying to “attack and smear” them. Maybe he’s just upset that he’s got a gaping $80,000 hole in his Coalition’s budget thanks to the diligence of those opponents.

Following after the Coalition for the St. Croix Crossing’s press releases is getting to be a bit like the guy with the broom and shovel trailing the elephants in the circus parade. It’s a distasteful job, but someone’s got to clean up the mess they leave behind.


  1. The real party of NO!

    Those people with the same liberal viewpoints, as those in Washington DC that call the Republicans the Party of No, are once again the ones saying no.  
    They never provide any common sense solutions that work for all, they only provide the opposition, their usual no.  

    I wonder how the 6-Lane monster bridge over the St Croix at Hudson got built replacing the 2- Lane bridge that was falling apart.  Where were you all then?

    Interesting thing is the same group opposing the river bridge won't have a problem with the bridges needed for the the new bike trail into Stillwater that will be an eyesore.  This same group also doesn't have a problem with taxpayers footing the bill for this project that will be used by far less people, and provide benefit to a small percentage of people locally. 

    When it comes to taxpayer funding for mass transit, money for the arts, or protecting mother nature, the hands come out and there is tons of support because "we like these things", but when we don't like something we become the real party of NO!

  2. hey D. Knutson, isn't there a cheaper alternative that everyone can support? Just sayin' that kind of puts a hole in your just say no argument.

  3. Put a beard on that Wilhelmi guy and he looks a lot like Bobby Thompson.

    Now, how's this for an answer? It's Bobby Thompson's bridge. Not Wilhelmi's. If ever built, Bobby would sell it to you. Wilhelmi's selling it to you now, while it's not even been built.

    Wow. Outdoing Bobby ---