Bridge coalition remains on taskWith preparations for a new St. Croix River bridge beginning, some would think the political battles behind the project are over.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
With preparations for a new St. Croix River bridge beginning, some would think the political battles behind the project are over.
John Soderberg, co-chairman of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, told the New Richmond City Council on Monday that potential challenges to the approved span are still possible.
That’s why the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation have asked the coalition to remain intact over the next two years. Soderberg said the state agencies have asked that the non-profit, private group continue its work so that they can handle any political or legal issues that may pop up in the ensuing months.
“They want us to handle things that may try to stall the project,” he explained. “There are going to be bumps in the road.”
Soderberg said the transportation departments are directed to build the bridge, but they are not designed to fight any battles that may occur. That’s where the coalition would step in, he said.
“One of the problems is the departments can’t get involved in conversations of political doings,” Soderberg said. “They need someone like us to vet all of these arguments.”
To accomplish that task, however, the coalition needs funding to continue operating, Soderberg reported.
Soderberg asked the council if it would be willing to provide $10,000 for each of the next two years to help the effort. He noted that the goal is to collect $37,500 in donations from each side of the river to continue the coalition’s work.
Council member Jim Zajkowski suggested the city commit to a $10,000 donation for this year and wait to see if a second year is needed. He said if the construction process has already begun next year, the coalition’s efforts may no longer be necessary.
Council member Jane Hansen questioned the need for any expenditure, suggesting that the project is “pretty much a slam dunk” now and more lobbying shouldn’t be needed.
She also questioned the city’s donation to a non-profit, private entity that does lobbying, and wondered if private donations should carry the cause forward.
Council member Kirk Van Blaircom suggested that the city contribute to the cause, noting that when the bridge is constructed it will give New Richmond a huge boost to its economy.
“It is a fair amount of money, but I think it’s important,” he said.
Council member Roberta Dale-Wozniak agreed.
“It’s not time to be penny wise and pound foolish,” she said.
Mayor Fred Horne reminded the council that one of its strategic planning goals is to grow the city’s valuation by 1 percent per year. The bridge project should encourage growth beyond even that goal, he suggested.
“$10,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to what this can be,” he said.
Hansen said the council should at least make its donation contingent upon donations from other governmental agencies, such as St. Croix County.
But Soderberg suggested that the council approve the expenditure on its own merits, and thus encourage others to follow suit.
“It would not be too bad to show some leadership on this,” he said. “This is something that just has to be done.”
Zajkowski spoke in favor of supporting the final push for the bridge.
“We’re at the end right now,” he said. “We’re on the one yard line. We just have to get that one more yard.”
The council voted 6-0 in favor of allocating $10,000 for the coalition’s work this year. The council indicated the coalition should return for additional funding next year if it’s needed.
In talking about the bridge project itself, Soderberg said the timeline for completion of the span has been moved up a year. Minnesota Department of Transportation officials now believe the span could be open for traffic by 2016.
Foundation load testing for the new bridge will occur in the next few weeks. Construction of the new bridge is expected to begin in the spring of 2013 and take about three years to complete.