Members of the mitigation team representing St. Croix County, joined by DNR representative, are, from left, Joe Ayres, Tammy Traxler, Dan Baumann(DNR), Ellen Denzer, Julie Peterson, Brett Budrow and Kevin Grabau. Submitted photo
Members of the mitigation team representing St. Croix County, joined by DNR representative, are, from left, Joe Ayres, Tammy Traxler, Dan Baumann(DNR), Ellen Denzer, Julie Peterson, Brett Budrow and Kevin Grabau. Submitted photo

Submitted by Ed Culhane, DNR communications

EAU CLAIRE, WI – Years ago, as plans formed for a new bridge spanning the St. Croix River -- connecting Minnesota’s Twin Cities to the rural beauty of St. Croix County – a coalition of Wisconsin municipalities joined in an aggressive plan to protect and preserve the natural environment.

The new bridge is now open, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is honoring these civic leaders – the St. Croix Crossing mitigation teams -- with the annual DNR Secretary’s Director Award for the west central region. These awards celebrate external partners to the DNR who go above and beyond in their commitment to environmental stewardship.

DNR secretary’s director Dan Baumann said these two groups – one representing St. Croix County and the other with representatives from towns, villages and cities as well as the University of Wisconsin, the St. Croix River Association and two consultants – spent five years developing and executing projects to protect ground and surface waters, during and after construction, while planning for the population growth that will result from the new bridge.

Much of this is important work that involves local efforts with public outreach: land use planning, comprehensive ordinance revisions, updated plans for wastewater treatment plants, repairs to sewerage systems and storm water plans for unincorporated areas. The Willow River watershed now has detailed runoff models in place, a crucial step toward dramatically reducing runoff pollution to the St. Croix River.

An exciting bonus, however, is that nearly two miles of the St. Croix National Wild and Scenic Riverway shoreline has been acquired by St. Croix County under agreements that will protect it in perpetuity while making it accessible to the public. Two properties were acquired, totaling nearly 200 acres.

“This is legacy stuff,” said Baumann. “These were two of the largest and best private holdings between Stillwater and Prescott.”

All of this took place in partnership with Minnesota Department of Transportation, which provided $7.2 million in funding for mitigation on the Wisconsin side, and in engineering this massive project, executed the most extensive mitigation package in its history to offset environmental impacts.

Baumann said Wisconsin’s municipal mitigation teams were a joy to work with.

“This was hard and complicated work, but everyone kept at it with good spirits,” Baumann said. “We all had the same mission. Future growth and development is inevitable. We were determined to plan for that growth, to protect clean water and to preserve this incredibly beautiful landscape.”

Members of the coalition group are Deb Ryun, St. Croix River Association; Dan Baumann, WDNR: Gary Knutson, Town of Richmond; Randy Olson and Dale Clarkson, Village of Deer Park; Chuck Schwartz, MSA Consultants; Danielle Campeau, University of Wisconsin-River Falls; Bill Rubin, St. Croix County EDC; Peter Allen, Stantec Consulting; Steve Hoogheem, Town of Stanton; Jerimiah Wendt, City of New Richmond; Tom Spaniol, Town of St. Joseph; Larry Rauch, Town of Somerset; and Tammy Traxler, St. Croix County.

Members of the St. Croix County government team are Joe Ayres, Tammy Traxler, Ellen Denzer, Julie Peterson, Brett Budrow and Kevin Grabau.