An effort to get a federal law waived so construction of a new bridge on the St. Croix River can proceed received its first vote Wednesday. The U.S. House Natural Resources committee voted 30 to 14 to exempt the new bridge from the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
That environmental law has been used twice in lawsuits from the Sierra Club that have blocked construction on a replacement for an 80-year-old bridge spanning the federally-protected river.
Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind says the vote now sends the bill to the House floor, although its future remains uncertain. The waiver has the support of the entire Wisconsin Congressional Delegation and all but one of the Minnesota delegation.
However, some Democrats are opposing the waiver, saying it creates a dangerous precedent for environmental laws. They also charge that the $700 million project is too expensive. Kind says the project also faces problems because U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann, a Republican presidential candidate, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Kind says bridge construction would create hundreds of jobs, which he should play in with President Obama’s call for infrastructure projects to stimulate the construction industry. The Wisconsin Congressman says local leaders have told him there’s a great demand for this type of infrastructure investment.
Federal and state governments have already allocated the money for the bridge, highway construction and environmental mitigation projects.
Still unclear is whether the bridge bill will go to the House on its own or lumped in with other legislation.
Jeff Petersen, WIXK