Talks between Bloomington and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over transferring ownership of the historic Old Cedar Avenue Bridge to the feds are being suspended, and the city plans to make a formal request to demolish and replace the bridge.
While the moves look like another poke in the eye to preservationists, wildlife enthusiasts and bikers who want the bridge saved, the city's intention to pursue replacement may be a strategic one that would force a decision to renovate.
Though the 1920 bridge has been deemed historically significant, meaning it must be preserved, city officials say they have never received a formal declaration of that in writing.
Karl Keel, the city's public works director, said if the City Council runs through its options and picks a preferred location for a new bridge, it would push federal authorities to issue an official opinion on what the city can and cannot do. Keel discussed the issue with council members this week.
"We never actually got a determination on whether a renovation project would be approved," he said. "The feds would have to determine that."
If federal authorities ordered the city not to raze the bridge, city officials' only choices would be to do nothing or to support a renovation that could cost $10 million or more. Replacing the bridge would cost less than half that amount.
Bloomington has owned the black camelback steel-truss bridge since 1981, when the state gave it to the reluctant city. But the bridge is falling apart and has been closed to all traffic since 2002. The city already has about $7 million banked for the bridge from several sources, including state and federal money.
The Old Cedar Avenue Bridge crosses Long Meadow Lake in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and is considered a critical link to biking and walking trails in Hennepin and Dakota counties. Nature lovers want it reopened because of the visibility it offers of the lake, a major stopover for migrating birds and waterfowl.
Using about $50,000 in federal money dedicated to the bridge, Keel said, the city will hire a consultant for an environmental impact study and prepare a memo on the city's options. The council probably will vote on its preferred course of action sometime in the spring, he said.
"If we can finally settle whether we can do a replacement or not, that moves the ball forward," he said.
Momentum is building to renovate the bridge, with a rally last fall that drew hundreds of supporters as well as Gov. Mark Dayton. Bloomington state Rep. Ann Lenczewski has pledged to seek enough state money this legislative session to renovate the bridge.
The city still wants someone else to take ownership of the bridge. Keel said that in discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said they were willing to consider only taking ownership if the city did a high-end renovation. The city's carrot was an offer to give the refuge about 1,000 acres of Minnesota River bottomland that it now owns.
Keel said some council members were uncomfortable giving up the property, which includes an area where a marina once was. The city also uses land near the river to dump snow and brush, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have allowed the city to keep that property.
The city will study the river bottom issue to determine what that land might be used for, Keel said. The Fish and Wildlife Service already manages about 40 percent of the city land as a wild area.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan