For the second year in a row, the river conservation group American Rivers has named the St. Croix to its list of the “Most Endangered Rivers in America.” The St. Croix was named #9 on the list this year, with the proposal to exampt the Stillwater crossing project from the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as the most pressing threat:
In 1968, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was established as one of the original eight Wild and Scenic Rivers, and four years later the Lower section was designated. The river provides a unique wilderness-like experience for outdoor recreation opportunities in a growing metropolitan area.
Now a proposal to build a costly superhighway bridge would undermine the values that make the river a regional and national treasure – and set a dangerous precedent for other Wild and Scenic Rivers nationwide.
The newly-formed St. Croix Crossing Coalition responded to the report by stating that the proposed freeway-style bridge is the best option, and that exempting the project from the protections of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is necessary to for construction to move forward:
“The effort to build a new St. Croix River crossing does not roll back protection of the river, but instead will do more to improve the quality of the river, protect our region’s history and give more people better and safer access to a very special natural resource.”
For their part, American Rivers and local partners say they are not opposed to any bridge, but to the option that has been chosen by Minnesota and Wisconsin. A petition to Congress as part of the “Endangered Rivers” report states:
I support a “lower and slower” alternative bridge which would be less costly, while still providing jobs and a new and safer crossing for area residents. Our state and federal budgets simply cannot afford the projected $690 million cost for this project.
Last year, the St. Croix made its first appearance on the list, citing not the bridge controversy but local zoning decisions, lawsuits and other issues that were leading to water pollution and visual impairment. The 2009 report stated:
But the state-managed section of this gem of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is in danger. Short-sighted zoning decisions along a 26-mile stretch of this protected river threaten to damage the very qualities that make the river so special and appealing to residents and visitors.