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Continued: Crossing, and protecting, a gem of a St. Croix River

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 7, 2014 - 9:35 PM

Scientist Jim Almendinger, of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, said the bridge will cause more stormwater runoff that will complicate attempts to reverse contamination in Lake St. Croix. The research station will receive $55,000 to study that very issue.

Almendinger also is studying potential phosphorous reductions in another St. Croix tributary, the Sunrise River, in hopes of offsetting anticipated phosphorous increases in Lake St. Croix. Once the bridge opens and urban development escalates, deterioration of the river’s water quality will accelerate, he said.

“It’s significant. This is a monkey wrench thrown into our plans to reduce phosphorous,” Almendinger said of the new bridge. “It’s hard for me to say that building the St. Croix bridge will make the river better.”

Some projects finished

Although the bridge opening is still two years away, some mitigation work has already been completed.

On the Minnesota side of the river, that includes restoration of a 1938 scenic overlook and moving the Bergstein Shoddy Mill, an early rag factory, from the path of the bridge approach in Oak Park Heights to land along the river.

The hulking Terra Terminal fertilizer warehouse, on the riverbank near Stillwater, was razed. And divers moved rare Higgins eye pearlymussels from the bridge site.

On the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix, conservationists transplanted threatened Dotted Blazing Star plants from the spot where a new highway will connect to the east end of the bridge. A large and dilapidated “Buckhorn” sign, once glowing in red neon to attract customers to a 1930s-era tavern and supper club that was destroyed by fire 50 years ago, will be removed from the blufftop.

Some of the most visible and important work, however, is just beginning.

In St. Croix County, that work includes bluff-land protections, stormwater diversion projects and an economic study to help forecast population changes and anticipated commercial development once the bridge opens.

There are plans, too, to build a 5-mile loop trail to cross both the new bridge and the 1931 Stillwater Lift Bridge once it’s closed to vehicle traffic. The old bridge also will be outfitted with safety features to protect pedestrians and will be repainted from dark gray to its original federal green.

The $7.2 million being spent in Wisconsin will be doubled with matching grants, Bauman said, and result in better land management practices that in turn will improve water quality of the St. Croix’s tributaries, such as the Apple and Willow rivers.

The National Park Service also plans to improve riverway education, interpretation and recreation. The agency received $300,000 to build informational kiosks and outdoor exhibits and make possible improvements at the St. Croix River Visitor Center in St. Croix Falls, Wis. Another $100,000 will be spent to help develop a spill response plan in case of sudden and drastic pollution of the river.

Clarkowski, the MnDOT engineer, said stakeholders recognized the importance of setting enough money aside to study all the implications of building a bridge over such a scenic and spectacular river.

“It was a very collaborative, stakeholder-driven effort to get to this,” he said.


Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037


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