|Committee||Energy and Natural Resources|
|Date||February 29, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)|
|Staff Contact||Andy Koenig|
On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider S. 1134, the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority for approval. The bill was introduced on May 26, 2011, by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and was approved in the Senate with an amendment by unanimous consent on January 23, 2012.
S. 1134 would waive provisions of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to authorize the head of any federal agency or department to authorize and assist in the construction of a bridge over the St. Croix River along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, if certain mitigation requirements are satisfied. The bill would authorize the construction of a new extradosed bridge crossing the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin near Stillwater, Minnesota. The legislation would authorize construction of the bridge notwithstanding the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act which states, “No department or agency of the United States shall recommend authorization of any water resources project that would have a direct and adverse effect on the values for which such river was established, as determined by the Secretary charged with its administration.” The bill would preempt a National Park Service evaluation that determined the proposed bridge would have a direct and adverse impact on the river's recreational and scenic values. According to CBO, allowing construction of the bridge would permit those states to spend Federal-Aid Highway funds appropriated and designated exclusively for construction of that bridge. However, the bill would rescind funds from the Department of the Interior (DOI) franchise fund (which is used by DOI when entering into contracts with federal agencies to provide services) in order to offset the obligation of Federal-Aid Highway funds.
In addition, the bill would stipulate that amounts made available under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) for the St. Croix River Crossing would be subject to the obligation limits for federal-aid highways and highway safety construction programs in the FY 2012 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (PL 112-55). Any obligation authority made available to the states under SAFETEA-LU for the bridge project that remain available as of the date of enactment would be permanently rescinded. The bill would provide that funds be rescinded from the DOI franchise fund in an amount equal to any obligation made to a state for construction of the bridge in order to provide an offset.
According to House Committee Report 112-309, which accompanied similar legislation (H.R. 850), the Stillwater Lift Bridge was built in 1931 and serves about 18,000 vehicles daily, connecting Stillwater, Minnesota, and Houlton, Wisconsin. The report further states that the bridge's location and inadequate capacity cause severe gridlock in Stillwater. Furthermore, the bridge has been found “structurally deficient.” In 1972, Congress included the Lower St. Croix River, over which the lift bridge crosses, into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
In the 1980s, work began to plan a replacement to the old lift bridge, and in 1995, a Record of Decision by the Federal Highway Administration spurred action on a final design, rights of way, and site preparation work. In 1996, the Sierra Club sued over the lack of evaluation by the National Park Service (NPS), who administers the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River. Subsequently, NPS found the bridge would have adverse impacts on the river’s values. In 2005, after years of work and collaboration with 28 stakeholders, NPS approved a plan that included mitigation work along the river. The Sierra Club sued again and in 2010, the courts ruled that the 2005 decision was arbitrary and capricious. NPS did not challenge the decision, but instead did another evaluation, this time finding that despite the planned mitigation, the project was not consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
S. 1134 would allow the project to move forward, but requires implementation of a mitigation package agreed to by the stakeholders in 2006. According to CBO, if allowing construction of the bridge would permit those states to spend Federal-Aid Highway funds appropriated and designated exclusively for construction of that bridge.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created to protect the natural characteristics of the nation's "outstanding" free flowing rivers and their immediate surrounding environments. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provides three separate designations for rivers: wild, scenic, or recreational. According to the National Wild and Scenic River System, a river, or section of river, is designated wild if it is free of impoundments, has primitive shorelines, is only accessible by trails, and has unpolluted waters. Scenic rivers have largely undeveloped shorelines, may be accessible by roads in places, and are more developed than wild rivers. Rivers are designated as recreational if they are readily accessible by road, have some development along the shoreline, and may have had some impoundment or diversion (like a dam) in the past. If a river receives a Wild and Scenic River designation, no new dams may be constructed and federally assisted water resource development projects would not be allowed. Specifically, the designation prohibits federal construction of dams or other facilities that endanger the free flow and/or resource value of the river. In the past, some segments of rivers that Congress has included in the Wild and Scenic River System have been scrutinized because they seemingly lacked the essential natural qualities needed to be designated as a scenic river.
According to CBO, allowing construction of the bridge would permit those states to spend Federal-Aid Highway funds appropriated and designated exclusively for construction of that bridge, resulting in an increase in direct spending of about $8 million. The bill also would rescind $8 million from the Department of the Interior (DOI) franchise fund, which is used by the department to perform certain administrative tasks for federal agencies on a contract basis. As a result, CBO estimates that enacting the bill would have no significant net impact on direct spending over the 2012-2022 period.