Stillwater Mayor Files Lawsuit To Close Lift Bridge

By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — The City of Stillwater says its historic lift bridge has reached its final chapter over the St. Croix River. The city is planning to file a lawsuit that would force the closure of the bridge, which was built in 1931.

Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki says he was forced to make a drastic decision after a recent interview with the History Channel.

“They have a series apparently on crumbling infrastructure in the U.S,” said Harycki. He says as part of the show, a private Twin Cities bridge inspector toured the bridge and raised red flags.

“Really, it scared the heck out of me. I called my wife up right away and said don’t ever go across that bridge again,” said Harycki. He says problems began when he went under the bridge as part of a tour for the show.

“We went down there and on top of the ice, there was an inch of cement dust on top of the ice,” said Harycki, who says he had no other choice when he also saw structural problems, bowing and rusted girders.

“Basically, we’ve instructed our city attorney to prepare a lawsuit to get the bridge closed,” said Harycki. The city of Stillwater also passed a resolution last month to try and close the bridge.

City Attorney Doug Magnusson says he is researching costs and outlining a lawsuit that will likely involve the state and federal government, arguing the operation of the bridge violates the National Wild and Scenic Water Act.

“It’s an interesting twist. We will have to see the specifics of it,” said Adam Josephson, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s east area manager. Josephson says his agency has long been rallying for a new bridge down river.

MnDOT engineers say the bridge is safe and passed an inspection last June with a 33 out of 100 sufficiency rating. It will be re-inspected again this summer. MnDOT is planning to make $3 million in repairs to the bridge in the fall of 2012, which will close it for two to three months while crews make electrical, mechanical and steel upgrades.

“The bridge serves almost 20,000 cars a day and we will do whatever we can to keep it open and operating,” said Josephson. “It is safe. If you go under there, again, it’s an old bridge, you will see rust, a lot of the members are rusty, paint system has bubbled in certain areas, and you may see small holes in certain areas.”

The agency says a new bridge would solve these problems, and ease the city’s concerns about too many cars going through downtown. But, MnDOT’s project was stopped in federal court.

“A recent ruling by the National Park Service has stopped the construction of the new project, and we are now looking to Congress,” said Josephson. “Without congressional action, the project is at a standstill right now.”

MnDOT’s plans for a new bridge would have turned the Stillwater Lift Bridge into a pedestrian-only bridge.

It’s a disappointment to downtown business owners like Chuck Dougherty, who owns and operates the Water Street Inn near the bridge.

“We need a new bridge built, this is going to fall apart if we keep using this the way it is being used right now,” said Dougherty. “Just look out the window, 20,000 cars a day, it wasn’t built for that.”

“We are running an interstate through a historic downtown, we want the traffic out of the town,” said Mayor Harycki. “It’s not a MnDOT issue, it’s a political issue, right now it rests in the House and Senate and in Washington.

He says city of Stillwater will be discussing more about this lawsuit at their next council meeting in March.

“I don’t know if it’s ever been done before,” said Mayor Harycki, who remains convinced a lawsuit is his last option. He also plans to show legislators the problems on the bridge.

“It’s not a matter of if it will come down, it’s a matter of when it will come down.”

  • ???

    at least spell mayor right in the title of the article

    • @&#$

      Close the bridge already and no we don’t need a new one. There are other roads to Stillwater and our real tourists will find us.

      WI is having their own fun right now. It could be worse … if WI legalizes pot and opens up a drug dispensary in Houlton. I wouldn’t put it past that crazy WI governor.

      We can walk on the old bridge to Houlton to buy our booze on Sundays. It would be good exercise. See we do contribute to the WI economy.

      I love all the sarcasm … isn’t politics fun?

      • Amy Deal

        Please think of other residents such as those of us who live in Houlton. Closing the bridge without building a new one would be devastating for us and our surrounding communities. I get my groceries and go to the doctor in Stillwater. Basically all of my errands are done their. I should not have to drive all the way to Hudson or Taylor’s Falls for these things. Nor should the people of Somerset or other towns who depend on Stillwater businesses. Perhaps booze on Sundays should be the least of our worries.

  • Kyle

    Can the city just close the street? Can the city make a long ‘unavoidable’ repair on it? Can the city raise a toll booth with a $100 toll? Or does the state have to do that?

    • DJ

      I like Kyle’s thinking. A little “Chicago politics” to keep the traffic off the bridge.

    • ask4j

      Well if MN Dot is providing the funds for repairs and maintenance I would say the City could not put up their toll booth–but hey it’s a thought. Wish I had seen this article when it first came out–really interesting comments.

  • MrWicks

    Dayton and his band of theives can Tax us to pay for a Viking Stadium that the Teams Owners should be paying for, but can’t get Congress’s Approval to get the Bridge we need for Our Safety. Daytons priorities are in the wrong place. He is supposed to protect the public, not make a deal with a professional football team at the expense of the taxpayers. By the way, who is the spelling natzi???

    • DJ

      You may want to use spell check prior to submitting comments. Also, any comparison to the Holocoust, or Nazi Germany is generally bad idea and in poor taste.
      I agree with you that the stadium deals that have been in the news for the past decade (and now with Dayton) seem out of touch with the needs of our state/region. I would prefer a free-market approach to stadium financing. However since the Pandora Box of public financing for these stadiums was opened, it has unfortunately become an inextricable part of the “free-market” formula.

    • Kim

      Mr. Wicks, spell check before offering criticism. Further , House GOP passed HF130 – a reckless higher-tax, higher-tuition budget proposal that only tightens the squeeze on middle-class Minnesotans.

      We are continuing to travel down the failed roads paved by Tim Pawlenty. Unfair budgets that have caused a $3 billion increase in property taxes, double-digit increases in tuition for Minnesota kids and their families, and disproportionately hurt hard-working families.

      Communities across this state are staring down over a half billion dollars in cuts to state support for firefighters, police and snow plows, and taxpayers are bracing to pay $300 million more in property taxes.

      Infrastructure is an important issue that Repiblicans refuse to address.

      • Amy Deal

        Amen to that Kim. Thank you for speaking up.

  • Ron

    Wow this would be great for Hudson’s economy. 20k cars a day coming to Hudson and stopping to get that last min need or want that they normally would have gotten in stillwater/Oak park hts. Loosing that kind of money is not a good way to get re-elected.

    Or is this a push on the mayors part to get congress to finely act on the issue ?

    Things that make you go HUM…..

  • Dave Campbell

    MrWicks, where have you read that Governor Dayton isn spending so much time trying to make a deal for a new Vikings stadium? It is not his job to lobby congress for a new bridge in the first place. If anyone is going to do this, it should be the representative from the 6th district ( Michelle Bachmann ). Unfortunately Rep. Bachmann is spending more time in front of cameras at the FOX studios than she is in Washington working for her constituents. Here is another idea folks! let’s have the residents of Wisconsin pay for the bridge that they use to drive back and forth to their jobs in Minnesota. They buy their clothing and food in Minnesota to avoid paying sales tax and pay lower income tax in Wisconsin. It looks to me like they should be the ones to foot the bill for anew bridge! The toll bridge is not a bad idea either. Make them pay a toll to come to work and a toll to go home!

  • ria

    I hope it works before people on stuck crossing the bridge and it falls into the St.Croix

  • ria

    Oops I meant get stuck on the bridge

  • Ron

    Dave Campbell
    Get your facts. I live in wis work in MN and guess what I pay MN income taxes with out MN representation or a vote. The MN wis tax reciprocity was canceled so sorry can’t use that argument anymore I pay for the roads I use but I don’t get a vote on who I think should be allowed to spend my money like you do… I also support the local biz in stillwater and Oak Park Hts with my money all I want to do is get across the river so I can pay my taxes and spend my money in the MN economy.

    • Zen

      Ron, I couldn’t agree with your comments more. Thanks for saying it so well!

  • James

    You all sound like a bunch of Donks fighting over what to do with this bridge. Freedom of speech I understand, but the money will be spent wherever without you getting what you want! I pay to be American and that’s the bottom line!

  • Dave Campbell

    My bad Ron. Please accept my apologies. T Paw did away with the reciprocity agreement with your fine state! Easy fix for you would be to buy a home in Minnesota Ron! You obviously feel that Minnesota has more to offer.

    • Ron

      Lived in MN for years thanks and to be honest I loved it that is why I still do my business in MN so why would I move back now I already pay taxes to MN for everything so for all intensive purpose I am a Minnesotan.

  • RMK

    Paw cancelled agreement because Doyle stiffed MN for $56,000,000 on the agreement/ WI you got to pay to play.

  • Do your homework

    Ron,You are confused about the income tax and the dissolution of the reciprocity agreement. You are a nonresident working in Minn, and Minn won’t keep the tax it requires to be withheld. You’ll get it back. Old timer border hoppers know this when we used to file in both states BEFORE reciprocity.

    Wis res working in Minn have to file 2 tax returns, one to Minn to get the withholding back and one to Wis to pay it to them.

  • Sonja

    This bridge has been an issue for the area for around 20 years. In the National Scenic Riverway we can not just throw up another brigde. Litigation from each state as well as special interest groups has delayed the project. The money has been offered by both states and the federal government to replace this bridge. The mayor of Stillwater is at his wits end and doing what I’m sure he feels is a last resort.

    • greg

      i couldnt agree more,

  • robyn

    This bridge has a LOWER score than the I35 bridge that collapsed during rush hour. Do we NEED another f’uhgly catastrophe to get the point? The bridge is beautiful; but it’s an accident waiting to happen. This Can’t Wait. FIX IT or CLOSE IT

  • Julie

    When my Grandma was a teenager, she lived in Houlton and crossed the original wooden bridge every day to go to high school in stillwater. She said that it was so rickety that you could wiggle the railing with your hand. Well one day when she got to school, all the kids were congregated around the window on the river side. The bridge had fallen in! It was 3 yrs before the new one was built and she talked about having to take a ferry across during that time. It happened once and could happen again!

  • Julie

    Actually, this bridge has been an issue for a very long time. When we were kids, my dad work for the guy who built the restaurant called the Country House and later Garfields (I’m not sure what it is called at this time). This restaurant is between Hudson and Houlton on Hwy 35, out in the country. He said that the owner built it there because he saw the plans for the new bridge in 1965 and it was going to go through right there – that was 50+ years ago and we still don’t have a new bridge!

  • Mark Hay

    Scenic river values are wonderful, but should not trump human life values. If you’ve ever been at the top of the hill on the WI looking down at the raised liftbridge and a mile of backed up traffic waiting for it, and seen one of the first 3 vehicles on the other side is an ambulance with its lights flashing, as I have, you KNOW that standing in the way of a new bridge is among the most ridiculous, selfish things that could be. Your “privilege” to have a pretty view (or know there’s a safe mollusk under there) supercedes somebody else’s right to stay alive? Greedy pig attitude, if you ask me.

  • Jodi

    My husband and I are from Stillwater we now live in Houlton Wisconsin.We spend a lot of money at the Stillwater/OPH clinics, stores, restaurants, etc. If the existing bridge is closed and a new bridge is not built, I believe Stillwater/OPH will lose a lot of customers/money,we would be spending our money in Hudson.

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