Scenic Rivers are protected. Keep it that way.
As a nation, we have laws that are important and popular. One of those laws is the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed by President Johnson in 1968. When that legislation passed, 8 rivers were connected, making them the first protected by the new law in the nation. One was the (upper)St. Croix River. The (lower) St. Croix was added in 1972.
For a few years, there has been a back-and-forth battle over a proposal to build a new bridge over the St. Croix to replace the 80-year-old lift bridge in Stillwater. One of the arguments concerns the fact that according to the National Park Service, the planned four-lane bridge, a mega-sized mega-expensive project, violates the environmental standards of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which states that rivers “and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Regardless of the questionable environmental and legal status of the project, MN’s Washington County Board and WI’s St. Croix County Board of Supervisors have voted to approve an exemption from the current environmental laws surrounding protected rivers. Last year, innocuously, Rep. Michele Bachmann penned legislation to get this bridge funded by the state and federal governments. It drew no co-sponsors, and got no action.
But this is not last year. Rep. Bachmann has again brought forth legislation to fund the bridge with a mixture of federal and state money, which is co-sponsored by two Representatives from Wisconsin. It has been called an earmark project, since, frankly, there is not much money in the coffers for gov’t funded bridge projects.
But this is not the point. The building of this bridge can only go forward if the project is given an exemption from the environmental standards as detailed by the current federal law which protects this river, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This bridge is a bad idea. Not only is it bad for the St. Croix River, it sets a dangerous precedent for rivers across the nation. Protected waters are more important than ever, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and everywhere else in the world. Wild and Scenic are descriptors that are getting lost daily in this nation, and protecting those we have already chosen to protect is not something that we should begin sacrificing. In response to Michelle Bachmann’s bill, Representative Betty McCollum said she would do everything in her power to defeat this exemption, and I am proud to be represented by her.
We know the importance of safe bridges in Minnesota, and we all want to see our people safe. This is not a question of safe bridge construction. Rather, it is a question of safe, environmentally sound construction on a project that does not simply choose to override the “special character” that was immediately recognized and protected by the federal gov’t when the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was established. Exempting the St. Croix presents a very serious challenge to all our nation’s protected rivers. Too few wild and scenic places remain in this nation for us to start exempting that which has already been protected.
I believe in this. Strongly. If you agree, let Rep. McCollum know that we support her, and let Rep. Bachmann know that we want our waters protected, and once they are protected, we want to keep them that way.