John, Howard, and the St. Croix River Crossing

A debt of gratitude goes out to a couple of elder statesmen for their contributions in making the St. Croix River Crossing a reality.

I’ll call them John and Howard. Their names may (or may not) have been changed to protect their true identities.

Both had vital roles in the federally-mediated stakeholder process that played out from mid-2003 to 2006. Imagine the anxiety of getting, say, the Sierra Club and local REALTORS® Association in the same room to explore common interests in cutting a swathe through the protected St. Croix River Valley for the sake of building a modern bridge. Common interests . . . Say What? Would the 1931 Lift Bridge go or stay? And what about the earth-tone color scheme for the finished river crossing? Take the tension level up a couple of notches when the environmentalists and progressives were joined by 26 or 27 other strong personalities. Before the end of the process, one stakeholder was “excused” leaving 28 to finish their work.

The gentleman called John is a banker by trade. Now in his 80’s, he still has office hours and volunteers his time in many ways. He was selected to join the stakeholders for his early work as the chair of a two-state coalition that advocated for a new, modern bridge over the St. Croix. In numerous letters to Madison and the District of Columbia, John urged a common sense approach to solving the vexing issue of getting a new bridge. In the end, this strategy proved successful. John made numerous visits to D.C., and more than one U.S. Representative or Senator made a point to call on John when they were near.

Howard is in his 90s. He crossed the old Lift Bridge many, many times from his residence in Houlton (Town of St. Joseph, WI) to Bayport, Minnesota where he worked for a major employer. Howard is a matter-of-fact, salt of the earth guy. His interests in the stakeholder process were on behalf of the Town of St. Joe, sometimes referred to as the epicenter. The anticipated impact of a new bridge on St. Joe would be dramatic, and that’s the tack Howard took. The interests of St. Joe came first.

The difference between John  and Howard can be explained this way – in  the event of assembling a local militia, make sure you’re in Howard’s foxhole: John will negotiate the accord.

The work of the stakeholders went largely unreported, despite their near-monthly meetings. Articles posted online drew hundreds of comments, both for and against. Observers to the process may have witnessed history in the making. Punches were never thrown, but emotions sometimes ran high.

In the end, the stakeholders found common ground. One or two may have pulled back when they sensed the tide was turning in the favor of a new bridge in a corridor roughly one mile from downtown Stillwater. The stakeholders’ consensus resulted in a more formal Memorandum of Understanding that included signature lines for the participants. The MOU bears the signatures of John and Howard.

I made a promise to Howard long ago. He’ll be driven to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting on August 2nd, Good Lord Willing. John will be there too. What a sight. Two elder statesmen seeing the completion of their work that goes back decades.