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with Section 106 Section
106 in Action Archive
of Prominent Section 106 Cases Minnesota-Wisconsin: Replacement
of Stillwater Lift Bridge
Replacement of Stillwater Lift Bridge
Agencies: Federal Highway
Administration and National Park Service
Criteria for ACHP Involvement:
- This project raises significant issues regarding the competing values
of natural resource protection and historic resource preservation
in the National Park Services management of the Wild and Scenic
Rivers program (Criterion 2).
- There is widespread public opposition to demolition of the Stillwater
Lift Bridge (Criterion 3).
In an April 2001 letter, ACHP Chairman Slater wrote to Secretary of
the Interior Gale Norton to express ACHPs deep concern that
the National Park Service (NPS) was discouraging preservation of the historic
Stillwater Bridge by establishing high-cost conservation funding levels
to protect the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Waterway. Further, ACHP again questioned NPS rationale for treating the historic
bridge as an intrusion on the river as opposed to a property of positive
historic and cultural value worthy of protection under the Wild and Scenic
Rivers Act (WSRA). ACHP received a response from the NPS Midwest
Regional Office that did not indicate any change in position.
Stillwater Lift Bridge, Minnesota-Wisconsin (photo courtesy of National Trust for Historic Preservation)
In May 2001, ACHP wrote to the Federal Highway Administration
(FHWA) in Minnesota to urge it to take the lead in reopening consultation
to adopt a solution that allows construction of the new crossing while
plans for preserving the historic bridge are investigated. Encouraged
by this action, the Department of Transportation (DOT) of Wisconsin subsequently
wrote to the Minnesota DOT reaffirming its support for construction of
a new bridge and proposing that a decision on the fate of the historic
lift bridge be deferred for 10 years in order to allow time for mitigation
funding to be obtained.
For its part, Minnesota indicated that its support for such an approach
would be predicated on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
accepting retention of the bridge and the Wisconsin DOT guaranteeing mitigation.
In June 2001, the Minnesota House-Senate Conference agreed to extend
the timeline for the project until July 1, 2002. The Governor of Wisconsin
then referred this project to the U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict
Resolution in hope of resolving the impasse. The members of the bipartisan
institute are appointed by the President. A meeting of ACHP and institute
representatives was recently held to assist the institute in developing
a formal conflict assessment, which is scheduled for completion in November.
In 1994, ACHP executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the
construction of a new four-lane crossing over the Lower St. Croix River
between Minnesota and Wisconsin at the City of Stillwater, Minnesota.
Over 15,000 vehicles daily cross the existing historic bridge at Stillwater,
but that number should more than double by 2020, exacerbating already
severe congestion. According to the MOA, vehicles would continue to use
the historic bridge after construction of the new span.
However, shortly after execution of the MOA, the NPS Omaha Regional Office
determined that the proposed new crossing would have a direct and adverse
impact on the scenic and recreational values of the Lower St. Croix National
Under Section 7(a) of WSRA, NPS is authorized to review and approve projects
that might impede the free flow of designated rivers. WSRA contains express
language that includes historic and cultural values among those that the
act protects. However, NPS maintained that only removal of the historic
bridge could adequately address the visual and direct impacts of the new
crossing on the wild and scenic river. Accordingly, FHWA did not believe
that it could obtain the necessary approval from NPS for new construction
without affecting the historic lift bridge.
ACHP has consistently maintained that NPS could easily justify
retention of the bridge by recognizing its scenic, historic, and recreational
value as contributing to the outstanding resource values that earned the
Lower St. Croix its designation as a Wild and Scenic River. At ACHPs
June 2000 meeting, members expressed their concern regarding the continued
uncertainty about the fate of historic Stillwater Bridge. Subsequently,
Chairman Slater wrote to the then Interior Secretary Babbitt to express
ACHPs strong disagreement with NPSs position and ask
him to exercise his leadership to resolve the impasse.
After the Secretaries of Interior and Transportation intervened, NPS stated
it would consider retention of the historic bridge. In response, the State
DOTs developed three alternatives, two of which would result in preservation
of at least part of the historic bridge. All require creation of a conservation
fund to be used to mitigate impacts to the Lower St. Croix National Scenic
Waterway. Unfortunately, the conservation fund costs of the preservation
options ($9.7 and $18.5 million) are extremely high. Also, the Wisconsin
DNR has strongly objected to the retention option and has indicated that
it will assert its permitting authority over the project if that alternative
The Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has taken the
position that the only acceptable alternative is retention of the historic
bridge in its entirety and has questioned the disparity in mitigation
funding between historic preservation and conservation. Further, the SHPO
expressed concern that FHWA had failed to adequately consider secondary
and cumulative effects. The Minnesota SHPO also supports retention of
the entire historic bridge, but, if that is not possible, believes variations
on a retention alternative should be considered.
Led by the City of Stillwater, considerable local interest exists in
preserving the historic bridge, which is a community icon. In spite of
this interest, the public acknowledges that construction of a new river
crossing is sorely needed. So, in January 2001, the City of Stillwater
resolved to accept any of the three alternatives.
The commitment of $5 million in Federal funding for restoration obtained
by Congressman Bill Luther has probably encouraged the city to accept
ownership of the bridge if it is retained. In addition, Congressman Luther
wrote directly to NPS to explain the importance of the historic bridge
to the community and to request that NPS strike the appropriate balance
in considering impacts to natural and cultural resources.
Because of inadequate Federal funding for mitigation, lack of consensus
among the agencies, and failure to obtain needed approvals, the DOTs announced
suspension of work on the St. Croix River Crossing Project in January
As originally interpreted by NPS, the historic bridge did not fit within
its definition of scenic and aesthetic elements and did not fall within
the broadly defined outstandingly remarkable values which
led to Wild and Scenic River designation of the Lower St. Croix River.
The result was direct competition between the protection of natural and
cultural resources, an unfortunate outcome that has raised questions regarding
the future impact of the Wild and Scenic Rivers program on historic properties.
While NPS decision to consider retention of the historic bridge
could signal a precedent for a balanced approach to similar future situations,
there has been no change in the extraordinary cost of mitigation attached
to either of the retention alternatives.
Staff contact: Laura
June 6, 2002
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