U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who has been swimming upstream to stop a $700 million “mega” bridge across the St. Croix River, took her fight Thursday to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, where she got a chance to cross-examine Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
McCollum took the opportunity to air her objections to Senate-passed legislation that would exempt the proposed bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a plan that seems to be on hold in the House, where it is being carried by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann.
“It represents bad fiscal policy, bad transportation policy, and bad environmental policy,” said McCollum, noting that the fiscal watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has branded it a “Bridge to Nowhere.”
With Bachmann having recently suggested that bridge proponents like her “have the Obama administration on board,” McCollum asked Salazar if that is indeed administration policy.
“That is not my understanding,” Salazar said. Referring to a recent delegation meeting with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Salazar continued, “My understanding is that Secretary LaHood and I offered to work with the congressional delegations from both states to see if we could find a common ground based on the alternative which you have proposed, and the alternative that other members of the congressional delegation have proposed.”
Salazar also did not back off previous testimony by Interior officials suggesting that the proposed span would have an adverse impact on the river. “Our position remains unchanged,” Salazar said. “A wild and scenic river is a wild a scenic river.”
McCollum, who has proposed scaling back the span, suggested that another option might be to simply remove and replace the existing Stillwater bridge. Salazar rated that as “difficult” if not impossible, because of its historic designation.
Meanwhile, the bridge proposal, which was championed by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar in the Senate, remains in limbo in the House. Backers, who had hoped to fast-track the bridge a month ago, now concede privately that it could still be a month or two before Bachmann’s bill to gets to a final vote in the House, where it has been slowed by the objections by environmentalist Democrats on the left and Republican fiscal hawks on the right.
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