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

CONSTRUCTION COST SUBTOTAL     $405.4 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

(POTENTIAL COST RANGE: $571 MILLION - $676 MILLION)

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

BACHMANN’S BIPARTISAN BRIDGE BUDDIES
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

52 comments:

  1. Does this existing bridge have to collapse with people dying before people like you will admit that building a new bridge is a good idea? I keep a ResQMe with my keys. In case you don't know what this is, it's a key chain seat-belt cutter and window breaker. That's how much confidence I have in the bridge's ability to stay standing. I'm not the only one with these fears.

    I admire your writing, especially how you tell the truth. This article was just way too judgmental.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karl has consistently pointed to the need for a new bridge, not just the big, bad bridge that requires an exemption from one of the fundamental environmental laws of the nation. Your concern about a seat-belt cutter buys into the argument used by supporters of Bachmann's bridge that structurally deficient means unsafe. MNDOT itself says the two aren't connected but it remained silent when lies equating the two were issued on the House floor by Bachmann and the others too hypocritical or bought-off to be bothered by the truth.

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  2. Nice job Karl, the telling fact is that it can be built for that price but it can't be driven on. The devil is in the details and why would the boondoggle folks want to look?

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  3. For the life of me, I can't figure out the objection to this bridge. Do you think, from the perspective of a kayaker, it matters how fast people drive above you? Really? If the Wild and Scenic River Act is that stupid we should throw it out and start over.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. well add one to clueless column.

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    2. The scale absolutely matters. There is a difference between a bridge that is harmonious and properly scaled for the setting vs. one that looms over the entire town.

      For the life of *me*, I can't figure out how you justify an enormously expensive freeway bridge six miles north of an existing freeway bridge. Except as a huge giveaway to the numbnuts who think it's reasonable to live in Wisconsin and commute fifty miles to Minneapolis, who, as we know, are the same tea party morons who are against gumbmint spending in every other instance.

      Not to mention that a freeway bridge will only serve to encourage sprawling development near the river. If the Wild and Scenic River Act isn't mean to protect that, then I agree - we should throw it out and start over.

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  4. Karl, since you're such a stickler for "the facts," you should actually read the WSRA sometime. It doesn't prohibit development at all on protected rivers; it sets standards to be met by proposed development.

    This is what Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, sponsor of the WSRA, said after it was approved by a House subcommittee on June 13, 1968:

    "It (the WSRA) will provide unmatched recreational opportunity for Wisconsin people. And it will create outstanding new opportunities for private enterprise, tourist and recreational development of our northland."

    Nelson was FOR development in Wisconsin, not opposed to it. He and Mondale both realized that accommodations had to be made for future development on a river that is part of a growing metropolitan area.

    The new bridge project is not in direct opposition to the WSRA; it just had to meet certain standards. Whether opponents consider it "unnecessarily large" is subjective, not a legal measuring stick.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The bridge project as proposed is contrary to the purposes for which the river was designated under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as any careful reading of the act would show you. The National Park Service did that analysis three times (they said no twice and yes once only because Paul Hoffman, Dick Cheney's aide, forced them to). Mondale and Nelson were both opposed to the bridge as proposed--I heard them both say so in so many words. A new bridge is needed, but there are other values in play here besides MnDOT's insistence on a design speed of 65 mph and no more than a 3 percent grade for trucks. If you want to see a good compromise that provides a needed bridge and respects the river, look at Prescott. We went through the same argument there in 1980, the bridge was completed in 1990, and no one is complaining now. (I suspect Stillwater needs more than two lanes, but you get the idea that compromises can work.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The politicians told "white" lies. There is nothing new about this. They are politicians, most of which are lawyers. They state white lies insinuating something hoping people will assume the insinuation even though it was never stated.

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  6. It is a sad outcome. Klobuchar's been a disappointment. Better than GOP, but GOP-lite has not been a good flavor either.

    The building trade unions were a big factor. It would be great if a progressive party were to form and grow. Leave the DFL and IP in the middle, the GOP getting deeper and deeper in the deep end of nation destruction.

    Progressives are taken for granted, and their hopes are trampled by two party gridlock. We deserve better.

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  7. I propose we build a billion dollar bridge from rural River Falls straight into Afton. Since building Mega Bridges every six miles or so seems logical to our officials in Washington. Close the existing bridge in Stillwater and force everyone so inclined to enter Wisconsin to use the I-94 crossing. Problem solved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like this solution!

      Delete
  8. Bridge or no bridge can be debated until global warming gives us 80 degree days in February. In the end, a large and politically diverse group of stakeholders debated this and more month after month for several years. In the end it was decided that in fact a new bridge was needed. Whether or not that is the correct result, once it was decided to build a new bridge, the question became what kind of bridge to build. Some wanted a low profile (cheap concrete slab) across the river while others, this writer included, felt that the concept of a low profile bridge is an oxymoron and the better alternative was to build a context sensitive destination bridge. Remember, one of the first things people rush to see in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. Is it big? Is it really really visible? Yes and yes. A bridge will always be visible. So, we said, let's not pretend we can build an invisible bridge; but rather, let's build a bridge that will be a destination bridge. What we came up with for our bridge is a very graceful extrados style bridge (a modified cable stay bridge) that will welcome visitors to the area with style and grace. Some of the finest bridge designers in the world were brought in to insure that what was designed would be more than just the basic slab so common to Minnesota, but rather something with which we can all be proud. As for the somewhat costly mitigation: Well, MNDOT wanted a bridge and to get one were willing to put money into the project to protect, preserve and beautify the area around the bridge. That's a good thing. In particular, the money being put in to the bike/ped loop trail will be a benefit to everyone in the SCV. To me this is money well spent. in sum, the consensus was to put in a new bridge, and from there the consensus was to put in a bridge of which we can all hopefully be proud. All the stakeholders had strong points of view and in the end, all had to compromise somewhat to reach a viable result. This was a good compromise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes lets all rush to St. Joeseph, Wisconsin (can you even google this place) to see the next destination bridge along with the seven wonders of the world. Louis Sullivan had it right, "less is more".

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    2. AS A ST JOSEPH RESIDENT I SEE A NEED FOR A NEW BRIDGE. HOWEVER I DONT LIKE THE SOUND OF A 4 LANE HWY A 1/3 MILE FROM MY BACK DOOR.THAT OLD BRIDGE SHOULD BE CONDEMED. I FISH UNDER IT ALL THE TIME. AND HAVE SEEN 1ST HAND THE CONDITION. IF YOU STAND ON THE WISC. SIDE AND LOOK OVER TO STILLWATER AND SEE NOTHING BUT MARINAS AND BUILDINGS AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE UPSTREAM AND DOWN STREAM I DONT THINK A NEW BRIDGE WILL DESTROY THE "SENIC" VISTAS. AND AS FOR DRIVING TO HUDSON TO CROSS THE RIVER THAT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL. 5 MINUTE DRIVE TO CHURCH TURNS INTO 40 MINUTES. YA THAT MAKES SENSE {LOL} WE NEED A BRIDGE DO IT RIGHT MAKE IT LOOK NICE AND HAVE AS LITTLE IMPACT ON THE ENVIROMENT AS POSSABLE. THATS ALL THAT THE PEOPLE WITH A LITLE COMMONSENSE ARE ASKING FOR.

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  9. Dear Stillwater residents who think the Boondoggle Bridge will bring you lot$a buck$ from touri$t$ and developer$:

    Guess what happens to your downtown when there's no longer traffic from two major arteries going through it?

    Not only will the town's panorama be uglified by the bridge, not only will it gut the WSRA, but it will drain off traffic and revenue and you'll soon have three times as many "FOR RENT" or "FOR SALE" signs up in local buildings as you do now. Twenty years from now you'll have about the population of Marine on St. Croix, except with five times the vacant buildings and even neighborhoods -- items that will need to be maintained or torn down on a tiny tax base.

    ReplyDelete
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