Clearing a path for new Stillwater bridge

Plants, mussels and historic buildings are being moved out of the way before construction starts on the river crossing.




4 minute read

Construction on the new bridge over the St. Croix River at Stillwater is expected to begin this year. Several recent efforts have been made to mitigate the new bridge’s impact.

A rare flower, endangered mussels, and a couple historic buildings have all been moved to avoid harm.

Dotted blazing star transplanted

Dotted blazing star, photo by Merel R. Black via UW - Stevens Point
Dotted blazing star, photo by Merel R. Black via UW – Stevens

The Star Tribune reports that the Dotted blazing star, a prairie flower which only grows in Wisconsin in three western counties, was recently collected by state workers and volunteer ecologists.

The dotted blazing star, native to the region long before human feet arrived, is a “remnant” from an earlier, post-Ice Age era. It’s classified as an endangered species in Wisconsin, and that’s why the rescue of 54 plants from the bridge’s path stirs promise for their longterm survival.

“These are heirloom plants, really endemic to this area. We’re just trying to protect them and increase them,” said Harvey Halvorsen, area wildlife supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “The significance is that we have within our hands an opportunity to not lose this plant in the state of Wisconsin. It recognizes our heritage.”

In October, ecologists excavated a patch of dotted blazing stars from an area just east of the forthcoming bridge that will be plowed under for a connecting highway. The 54 plants, carefully removed for preservation, were taken to nurseries in Baldwin and Hayward and a seed farm near New Richmond, where they will be nurtured into hundreds and eventually thousands of new plants.

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This spring, the seeds will be planted near Somerset and at New Richmond High School, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and Houlton Elementary School.

Mussels on the move

Higgins eye mussel (USFWS photo)
Higgins eye mussels (USFWS photo)

The Wisconsin DNR will soon move both endangered and non-endangered species out of the path of the bridge and construction equipment, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:

[Lisie Kitchel, a conservation biologist and mussel expert with the DNR,] said the divers will move about 15 species, including the protected mussels, which are filter feeders and play an important role in consuming algae and provide a source of food for other aquatic life.

“They tend to be found in beds with good diversity, so we take everything to maintain that diversity,” she said.

The middle of the river is filled with logging debris from bygone days when the St. Croix was known as “river of wood.” Minnesota’s side of the river is more developed and has fewer mussels.

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Despite the relocation effort, the DNR has acknowledged that some mussels will possibly be killed by the construction work, and issued a statement in December:

Although mussels will be relocated out of the project area, DNR staff determined that the proposed project may result in the incidental taking of some mussels outside of the relocation area.

Department staff concluded that the proposed project will minimize the impacts to the mussels by adhering to relocation and conservation measures; is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence and recovery of the state populations of these species or the whole plant-animal community of which they are a part; and has benefit to the public health, safety or welfare that justifies the action. This authorization does not cover mussels on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River.

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The St. Croix is one of the most important rivers for mussels in the whole world, boasting 40 species, including two which are endangered.

History for the future

Moving the Shoddy Mill (MN Department of Transportation photo)
Moving the Shoddy Mill (MN Department of Transportation photo)

In November, two historic buildings in Oak Park Heights were carefully moved a mile north to Stillwater. The Pioneer Press reports:

The buildings will be permanently located across from the River Oasis Cafe in Stillwater as part of a loop recreation trail that will cross the river on the Stillwater Lift Bridge and the new bridge.

MnDOT is paying Environmental Associates $1.255 million to relocate the buildings and prepare the new site; the city of Stillwater will own the buildings once the move is complete.

The Moritz Bergstein Shoddy Mill and Warehouse date from 1896. Historians say they are significant for their association with Jewish settlement and early entrepreneurship in Minnesota.

Moritz Bergstein was known as the “junk man” in Stillwater. The single-story fieldstone structure is the former shoddy mill, where his family’s mattress business turned rags into shoddy, which was used for stuffing mattresses. Mattresses were made and stored in the two-story wood-framed warehouse.

Here’s a video about the move:


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2 responses to “Clearing a path for new Stillwater bridge”

  1. Willy53 Avatar

    The St. Croix River has one of the healthiest mussell populations of any river in the World! It is with great risk that we are building such a large bridge with a corresponding foot print in the middle of three endangered mussell beds, certainly the largest concentration in Minnesota and probably the nation. MNDOT claims the mussells can be moved but taking them from their naturally preferred habitat, feeding and breeding area and relocating them to an area that we “think” will support the mussells is incredibly risky. I am actually quite surprised that the Endangered Species Act actually allowed such a procedure to pass as adequate acknowledgement of the law. To place the ST. Croix Crossing in one of the largest concentrations of endangered mussells in the world is beyond wreckless, it is a blatant disregard os the intent of the Endangered Species Act and jeapordizes an unbelievable natural wonder found right off the banks of the St. Croix at Stillwater.

  2. Willy53 Avatar

    Another impact of the St. Croix Crossing will be the increased urbanization of the area immediately adjacent to the river in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. The simple building of ramps, approaches and ponds will create a collecting point for the type of pollutants that have the ability to produce amonia, a chemical that is even now found in concentrations high enough to adversely effect mussell breeding. As sprawl will surely follow the approach to the bridge from Wisconsin these chemicals are sure to increase and find their way into the river. More than anything else, this increased urbanization which has been held back by the WSRA is the greatest threat to the endangered and thereatened mussell populations. The choice to build the bridge came with the acceptance that we are putting these delicate creatures living in this unique river at risk.