Washington— The Wild and Scenic Lower St. Croix River, a hotspot for anglers and boaters and a rare natural retreat from urban life, could have its character destroyed if poorly planned development along the river continues. This threat landed the Lower St. Croix in the number ten spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2009 edition.
American Rivers and its partners called on the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources (DNRs) to, respectively, reestablish and expand their oversight of local zoning decisions that affect the unique qualities of the state managed section of the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
“This river is a national treasure but it is in danger of dying a death from a thousand cuts. Poorly planned development is slowly killing the very qualities that make the Lower St. Croix so special,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Not only is this National Scenic Riverway at risk, but the integrity of the entire Wild and Scenic River System is being harmed.”
"Recent unwise zoning decisions along the state managed section of the Lower St. Croix River threaten the experiences of all river users and call into question the commitments made by the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin to protect this nationally designated river segment. This designation by American Rivers is a call to action for citizens, nonprofits, and governments to protect this river segment before its too late," said Randy Ferrin, President of the St. Croix River Association.
The river is threatened by poor zoning decisions by local governments, made without effective oversight by the Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs. Pursuant to the Congressional designation of the Lower St. Croix Scenic Riverway, the states committed to review zoning decisions that affect the river’s unique values. However, over time, the states have allowed several of the 19 counties and municipalities along this protected stretch of the river to build large structures too close to the river, degrading the experience of river users, and disregarding the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
For example, Denmark Township in Washington County, MN approved a 3500-square-foot structure just 13 feet from the riverbank, where the zoning standard is a minimum of 100 feet. Lakeland, MN approved a major expansion of a building on a small foundation within the bluff setback area. In Wisconsin, the town of Troy has relaxed its zoning rules without state objection, lessening protection for the river. If these examples become the norm, the integrity of the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway will suffer irreparable harm, and set a dangerous precedent for other rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Both state agencies must request riverside counties and municipalities to establish moratoriums on zoning variances for development projects within or adjacent to the river boundary for the next two years and work with these communities to improve -- not weaken -- specific zoning standards to protect the river and the greater good of all users of the National Scenic Riverway. Likewise, local governments along the Lower St. Croix should support and help fund land protection options including conservation easement programs that encourage riverfront landowners to protect their land. These actions would set a new tone in protection for the state managed section of the Lower St. Croix River.
Surrounded by wooded bluffs and historic towns, the Lower St. Croix River corridor provides a wealth of scenic views and recreational opportunities for the nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area and western Wisconsin. Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors enjoy fishing, swimming, and boating the St. Croix every year, and these recreational industries depend on a clean, healthy river. It has also been called one of most biologically diverse rivers in the Upper Mississippi River basin because its sloughs, backwaters, and braided streams provide remarkably diverse habitat for native plants and animals, including 17 species of state- and federally-endangered mussels.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
Rebecca Wodder is available for interview, both pre and post embargo. Please contact Caitlin Jennings, 202-347-7550 x3100 for booking.
Reporters wishing to direct readers to the report online may use the following link: http://www.AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.