Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sold Down the (St. Croix) River

Michele Bachmann and Amy Klobuchar celebrate the
gutting of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
By Karl Bremer
If the campaign waged on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by proponents of a $700 million freeway bridge across the St. Croix River proved anything, it’s that lies and misinformation work.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy has only been in Congress for a year-and-a-half, but he’s already mastered the art of lying to pass legislation. Of course, he’s had the tutelage of the Queen of Lies, Michele Bachmann, to assist him in this time-honored tradition.

Duffy stood on the floor of the House March 2 and spewed the same false information that Bachmann had written in a “Dear Colleague” letter a couple of weeks earlier: that the Boondoggle Bridge Congress voted to exempt from the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act later that day is merely a $292 million bridge and not a $700 million bridge:

“I think we gotta be clear on what that $700 million is,” Duffy misled the House during the floor debate on this “noncontroversial” measure. “It’s really only $292 million when you look at the actual cost of construction of the bridge—$292 million. If you want to look at all the extra costs that will get you upwards of $600 million, that cost comes from all the mitigation— the environmental mitigation that’s been requested over the decades of negotiation of trying to get this bridge done. It’s not the bridge part—it’s the bipartisan effort trying to get people to agree to make this project go forward that increases the costs dramatically to $600-plus million dollars.”

Bullshit. Even Mike Wilhelmi, executive director of the pro-Boondoggle Coalition for a St. Croix River Crossing, admitted as much at a meeting in Stillwater the day after Congress voted to move it along to the president’s desk. Of course, it didn’t bother Wilhelmi or his taxpayer-financed lobbyist group enough to bother to correct the latest falsehood to be spread by their team through the media and halls of Congress.

For the record, here is the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s breakdown of the costs of the Boondoggle Bridge:

(1) TH 36 – Oakgreen/Greeley Intersection   $ 13.2 million

(2) Minnesota Approach                                 $ 61.0 million

(3) River Bridge                                             $293.2 million

(4) Wisconsin Approach                                 $  38.0 million

Right of Way                                                   $  17.7 million

Mitigation Estimate                                         $  27.6 million

Contingency/Risk                                            $  35.8 million

Bonds and Insurance                                        $  25.5 million
Engineering and management                          $  90.0 million

Previously incurred expenses                           $  24.4 million

PROJECT TOTAL                                      $626.4 MILLION


Sure, you can build this bridge for $292 million, as Bachmann and Duffy claimed. You just couldn’t drive on it.

As Bachmann and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were so fond of reminding us, this was a bipartisan effort. Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken and Mark Dayton stood by silently and let Bachmann’s lies be disseminated unchallenged as well, adding further disgrace to a party that once could be counted on to defend environmental protections like the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, not dismantle them.
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, Washington County
Commissioner Gary Kriesel, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and
Rep. Michele Bachmann.
In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Governor Dayton added his own contributions to this steaming pile of excrement masquerading as “facts” with his assertion that the new bridge will be located “only about 50 yards south of the existing Lift Bridge” (it’s a mile south, Governor); near a coal-fired power plant that “spews large plumes of smoke well above the river (a plant whose harshest critics admit is state-of-the-art in emissions reductions); and “a glass manufacturing plant” (Andersen Windows has manufactured wood window and door frames, not glass, at its Bayport plant for the past century, Governor).

Equally disingenuous was Dayton’s, Klobuchar’s and Franken’s twisted contention that because the proposed bridge corridor is adjacent to a coal-fired power plant, it didn’t deserve the protections of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. The fact is, that plant—the Allen S. King plant built in 1968 by Northern States Power—is the very reason the Lower St. Croix River was brought under the Act four years later by the original bill’s co-author, Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale. It was to prevent another scar on this national treasure, not justify one more.

There was another force at work that helped pushed this abomination through: the hidden hand of labor. It wasn’t until the votes were taken that new best friends Bachmann and Klobuchar hailed the contributions of the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations in strong-arming (Democratic) votes to the table for their Boondoggle Bridge.

That’s certain to rekindle the tired old debate of jobs vs. environment in Minnesota, fueled by exaggerated claims of 6,000 or more construction jobs to build the Boondoggle Bridge, and a waning public interest in maintaining environmental protection laws in the face of such false choices

If President Obama signs this bill, it won’t be because there was an honest and fair debate on the issues. It will be because Boondoggle Bridge proponents played fast and loose with the facts and deliberately misrepresented this project as a harmless, one-time exception to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that costs a fraction of its true price tag.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968, co-authored by Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. The Upper St. Croix River was among the first 156 stretches of river to receive protection under the Act; the Lower St. Croix was added to the system in 1972.

Ironically, with the granting of the Bachmann-Klobuchar-Franken-Dayton exemption for a high-speed freeway bridge across the St. Croix, this critical act that today protects 12,598 miles of 203 rivers in 38 states and territories will see the beginning of its unraveling at the hands of politicians from the very states that gave us these protections in the first place.

Photos by Karl Bremer