Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Minnesota-Wisconsin: Replacement of the Stillwater Lift Bridge
Agencies: Federal Highway Administration and National Park Service
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This project raises significant issues regarding the competing values of natural resource protection and historic resource preservation in the National Park Service’s management of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program (Criterion 2).
- There is widespread public opposition to demolition of the Stillwater Lift Bridge (Criterion 3).
Since January 1999, Council staff have participated in a series of meetings with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Park Service (NPS), and other consulting parties to seek a compromise regarding retention of the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge and protection of the scenic qualities of the Lower St. Croix River.
A proposal was developed which would have retained at least a major portion of the bridge by removing its causeway, relocating the river channel, and fixing the lift span in place to extend its life. However, the public strongly criticized that mitigation package, supporting instead retention of the entire structure.
Stillwater Lift Bridge, spanning the St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota at the City of Stillwater, Minnesota.
Photo courtesy of National Trust
The Omaha Regional Office of NPS and the Superintendent of the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River continue to insist that the ultimate removal of the historic lift bridge is essential to mitigate the visual and physical impacts of constructing a new crossing approximately one mile downstream. NPS will not grant FHWA a Section 7(a) permit for the new crossing absent such removal.
Council staff holds that NPS could easily justify retention of the historic lift bridge by recognizing its scenic, historic, and recreational value as contributing to the outstanding resource values for which the Lower St. Croix was designated a Wild and Scenic River. Consultation under Section 106 is becoming increasingly unproductive and appears headed for termination.
In 1994, the Council executed a Memorandum of Agreement for construction of an additional crossing over the Lower St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota at the City of Stillwater, Minnesota. The agreement provided that the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge would not be affected and would remain in use as part of the respective States’ trunk highway systems after construction of the new span.
However, in 1995, the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation sent a joint letter to FHWA indicating that the historic bridge would be removed within ten years of completion of the new crossing. Their decision was driven by the position of the Omaha Regional Office of NPS that the historic bridge must be removed because the Lower St. Croix River is a “wild and scenic river” under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Under Section 7(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, NPS has the authority to review and approve projects that might impede the free flow of designated rivers. While bridges are not specifically cited in the legislation, the Sierra Club prevailed in litigation that led to a ruling that this project is subject to NPS approval under Section 7(a).
Since NPS maintains that only partial or full demolition of the historic bridge can adequately address the visual and direct impacts of the new crossing, FHWA believes it cannot obtain the necessary approval from NPS without affecting the historic lift bridge. However, there is a great deal of local public interest in preserving the bridge, led by the City of Stillwater and numerous interested parties.
As interpreted by NPS, the historic bridge does not fit within the agency’s definition of scenic and aesthetic elements and does not fall within the broadly defined “outstandingly remarkable values” for which the Lower St. Croix River was designated a Wild and Scenic River.
The result is direct competition between the protection of natural and cultural resources, an unfortunate outcome that raises questions regarding the potential future impact of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program on historic properties.
Staff contact: MaryAnn Naber
April 1999 report on this case
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