Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Minnesota/Wisconsin: Replacement of the Stillwater Lift Bridge
Since January, the Council staff has participated in a series of meetings with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) 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. Progress has been made toward developing a mitigation package to balance the competing interests and be acceptable to all the resource agencies.
In attempting to weigh the positive and negative scenic, recreational, and historic values, it appears that at least the major portion of the bridge can be retained. Sub-groups of the consulting parties are working to flesh out a framework for mitigation. A meeting will be held in May to present the results and seek the reaction of all the parties.
In 1994, the Council executed a Memorandum of Agreement for construction of an additional crossing over the 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 on the respective States’ trunk highway systems after construction of the new span approximately one mile away.
Stillwater Lift Bridge, spanning the St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota at the City of Stillwater, Minnesota.
Photo courtesy of National Trust
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 the National Park Service (NPS) that the historic bridge should 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
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