UPDATE: Washington officials impressed by local bridge lobbyists
Local supporters of a new St. Croix River crossing near Stillwater traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with congressional members and lobby for speedy passage of a bill that would clear the way for the span to be constructed.
Among the 19 area residents who were part of the trip, coordinated by the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, were St. Croix County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer, Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce President Kim Heinemann, federal lobbyist Bill Berndt, Lakeview Hospital President Curt Geissler, Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, Washington County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gary Kriesel, Stillwater Deputy Mayor Jim Rousch, New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne, New Richmond City Council members Jane Hansen and Kirk VanBlaircom, New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce Director Russ Korpela, John and Tini Soderberg from New Richmond, Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop owner Cory Buettner, Iron Workers Local 512 representative Troy Seboin, Coalition Executive Director Mike Wilhelmi, Washington County Transportation planning manager Ted Schoenecker, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters political director Kyle Makarios and Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters Political Director Mark Reihl.
The group had a full day of meetings scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 21, starting with a gathering early in the morning with U.S. Rep. and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
Other meetings included U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.).
“The trip was extremely beneficial,” said Chamber President Kim Heinemann. “I was very encouraged to hear first-hand the amount of knowledge the officials have about this issue.”
Heinemann said the Washington, D.C., officials were impressed by the large contingent that traveled to the nation’s Capitol to lobby Congress.
“They were thankful to see us in force and were impressed with the numbers,” she said. “The nice part was that our group represented all segments — business, local government, unions, political parties, etc.”
Heinemann is hopeful that a vote will come yet this fall. The Congressional vote is needed to get permission to build the bridge on a “Wild and Scenic River.”
Heinemann said the authors of the original bill left an opening for future needs.
“When the authors of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act wrote the bill, they left an exemption clause,” Heinemann said. “They realized that it might make sense sometime in the future to bypass the bill — that’s what needs to happen.”
She also said the project would create an immediate economic impact with both long-term benefits and thousands of construction jobs. She said the project will provide an average of 1,400 full time constructions jobs, and an average of 1,500 supporting non-construction jobs in the region.
“The money is there, the support is there — now we need to get Congressional approval.”
John Soderberg, who has been an active booster for a new bridge for more than 15 years, said he’s very optimistic about the eventual construction of the bridge following the Washington trip.
“This is the closest we’ve ever been,” he said.
He said sending a large group of people to Washington, D.C., together proved to be a smart move, as elected officials frequently commented that such a coordinated effort spoke volumes about the support for the project.
Still, Soderberg said he’s learned not to count on positive political feedback and said the bridge backers will continue to lobby Congress until construction actually begins.
“We’re still trying to cover all our bases,” he said.
The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing was organized earlier this year to help bring about the final approval for the bridge. Supporters hope to replace the 80-year-old Stillwater lift bridge, which some feel is inadequate to handle current traffic and fails to meet current bridge standards.