Ripple in Stillwater: Obama Administration supports Boondoggle Bridge? Not really

The way the lobbyists for the bridge across the St. Croix River are portraying recent comments from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, you’d think President Obama has given his personal stamp of approval to the $700 million Bachmann-Klobuchar-Dayton Boondoggle Bridge.

Not so fast.

“St. Croix River Crossing is a priority for President Obama,” trumpets the headline on a press release from the Coalition for the St. Croix Bridge Crossing, a lobbying group for the Boondoggle Bridge. The press release continues:

“Oak Park Heights City Councilmember Mary McComber spoke with LaHood and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley about the St. Croix River Crossing during a briefing for city and municipal leaders held at the White House on Thursday, October 27. McComber was invited in her capacity as incoming chair of the Regional Development Committee of the National League of Cities. 

“In response to a question from McComber during his presentation to the group, LaHood said that President Obama and his administration are well aware of the St. Croix River Crossing and are committed to getting it done.

“Secretary LaHood said, ‘I know about your project. I know what the problem is. I am committed to getting it done. The President is committed to getting it done,’” McComber stated.”

So is that project that he’s committed to getting done the Coalition’s $700 million, 65-mph, four-lane freeway version of the bridge? Not necessarily.

Ripple in Stillwater contacted McComber and asked her to clarify her statement—specifically, whether LaHood was referring to the Coalition’s bridge proposal.

“What Ray LaHood said was that the Obama Administration is committed to getting this project solved, but totally legally—and he kept referring back to this—within the law,” McComber said.

LaHood did not say he or Obama supported an exemption from the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act to get the bridge built, and did not express support for any specific bridge proposal, McComber said. There was some discussion about the need to streamline federal approval processes for infrastructure projects when multiple agencies are involved, said McComber, but there was no talk about including an exemption from the Act in a “streamlining” of the process to get the St. Croix bridge problem resolved.

The Administration’s support was “more just to get it off people’s plate,” McComber noted.

The Obama Administration on November 1 released a list of 14 infrastructure projects that it said “will be expedited through permitting and environmental review processes” in order to move them “as quickly as possible from the drawing board to completion” and create jobs.

There are two bridge projects on that list, but the St. Croix bridge is not one of them.

Once again, the Boondoggle Bridge Coalition appears to be playing loose with the facts, and their strategy worked with some in the media..

Stillwater loses battle over $80,000 TIF donation to bridge lobbyists
Meanwhile, in other Boondoggle Bridge news, the City of Stillwater decided to cut their losses and return to Washington County the $80,000 in tax-increment finance (TIF) funds the state auditor ruled they had illegally donated to the Coalition. The city stands to lose half of those funds because of their misappropriation of them to the bridge lobbying group, which Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki co-chairs.

The state auditor’s ruling was in response to complaints filed by myself and Stillwater historian Don Empson.

Not content with having his dubious legal opinions repeatedly called into question by the Office of State Auditor in its reports on the matter, Stillwater City Attorney Dave Magnuson accused the auditor’s office of playing politics with its decision. He was joined by City Council member Jim Roush, who the Star-Tribune reported opined in an Oct. 31 council meeting on the matter: “I think their office is out of control and has exceeded their authority.”

Said council member Micky Cook, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “I think we just need to suck it up, unless we want to get slapped around some more.”

Roush told the Star-Tribune’s Kevin Giles after the meeting that the auditor’s ruling was “politically motivated” but Roush declined to elaborate.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto responded that Roush’s comments were “a little bit like blaming the dentist for a cavity in your mouth.”

This post was written by Karl Bremer and originally posted on Ripple in Stillwater.

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