As plans formed for a new bridge spanning the St. Croix River - connecting the Twin Cities to St. Croix County - a coalition of Wisconsin municipalities joined to protect and preserve the natural environment.

The bridge is now open, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is honoring the St. Croix Crossing mitigation teams with the annual DNR Secretary's Director Award for the west central region. These awards celebrate external partners to the DNR who go above and beyond in their commitment to environmental stewardship.

DNR secretary's director Dan Baumann said these two groups - one representing St. Croix County and the other with representatives from towns, villages and cities as well as the University of Wisconsin, the St. Croix River Association and two consultants - spent five years developing and executing projects to protect ground and surface waters during and after construction while planning for population growth.

Local efforts included: land use planning, comprehensive ordinance revisions, updated plans for wastewater treatment plants, repairs to sewage systems and stormwater plans for unincorporated areas. The Willow River watershed now has detailed runoff models in place; a crucial step toward dramatically reducing runoff pollution to the St. Croix River.

Nearly 2 miles of the St. Croix National Wild and Scenic Riverway shoreline has been acquired by St. Croix County under agreements that will protect it while making it accessible to the public. "This is legacy stuff," Baumann said. "These were two of the largest and best private holdings between Stillwater and Prescott."

All of this took place in partnership with Minnesota Department of Transportation, which provided $7.2 million in funding for mitigation on the Wisconsin side, and in engineering this massive project, executed the most extensive mitigation package in its history to offset environmental impacts.