In late 1996 the National Park Service (NPS) halted the project, saying the bridge would adversely impact the protected St. Croix River. Other efforts to restart the project were explored without success. In response to the NPS’s action, St. Croix EDC helped form the two-state St. Croix River Crossing Alliance to promote the bridge project at the local, regional, state, and federal levels.
In 2002, a Presidential Executive Order created the Environmental Streamlining process. Difficult infrastructure projects were subject to regulatory permitting reviews involving top-level officials at all levels. The chair of the River Crossing Alliance was among the 29 stakeholders convened to explore solutions to the stalemate.
Stakeholders met from 2003-2006 and their work resulted in a Record of Decision from the U.S. Department of Transportation, paving the way for federal funding and eventual construction. The Record survived a lawsuit to stop the project and a second environmental review by the NPS.
In releasing its review, the NPS objected to the project but outlined how a Congressional Exemption from the Wild & Scenic Act could be obtained. This course of action was pursued in through the U.S. House and Senate. St. Croix EDC presented written testimony in support of the project during subcommittee hearings in Washington, D.C.
On January 23, 2012, by unanimous consent, the proposed St. Croix River Crossing Authorization Act (Congressional Exemption) was approved by the Senate. The House Bill later secured approval by a decisive margin. President Obama signed the Exemption Bill in March 2012. A ceremonial groundbreaking for the project occurred in May 2013.
St. Croix EDC established a broadband committee to assist in the efforts to increase access, reliability, and speeds in St. Croix County. In 2015-16, the committee engaged the survey center at UW-River Falls on a two-part analysis of broadband coverage and service gaps in the county. The committee is currently working with communities identified in the study to mobilize funding opportunities and high-speed connectivity with local broadband providers.
St. Croix EDC was among the founding partners involving a citizen-led legislative advocacy day in Madison. With St. Croix’s four hour driving distance to Madison, it is imperative to identify annual priorities to discuss with legislators from across the state. Issues revolve around economic development, infrastructure, tourism, recreational amenities, workforce, and secondary education.
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