Bridging The Gap: Building a highway bridge across the Mississippi River at Cassville, WI
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With the closure of both electrical power plants in Cassville, Wisconsin in 2015, it is imperative to find a way to repair the damage done to this once vibrant community. Fact of the matter is the number and quality of those power plant jobs are not coming back. Middle-income families have no reason to move to the Cassville area if there are no jobs. Without jobs, this village in the far southwestern corner of Wisconsin will continue to wither over time. Tourism alone is not going to save it. So what can be done?
Finishing the dream of a man by the name of R.J. "Penny" Eckstein of building a bridge across the Mississippi River from Cassville to Clayton County, Iowa is a great start at providing a solution to the problem. Mr. Eckstein was a long-time village president of Cassville, and a true visionary for the community. His tenure on the village board spanned six decades, commencing in the 1920s and ending in the 1970s. He was the reason Cassville became home to two power plants to begin with. Eckstein made a concerted attempt in the 1960s to get a bridge built which follows an earlier attempt that actually dates back to at least 1935. Eckstein noted during a community-wide meeting held at Cassville High School on August 4, 1966, that the 1935 bridge attempt had passed through the Wisconsin state legislature but failed to receive approval from the governor due to the lack of a tax-free bond at the time. Here we are, over 80 years later, and still no bridge.
Why is it imperative that Cassville be granted a bridge? For starters, there is a highway bridge span located approximately every 30 to 40 miles on the upper portion of the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities of Minnesota and the Quad Cities of Iowa/Illinois…except at Cassville. There is a 60-mile gap between the bridges that currently exist at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and Dubuque, Iowa. As you can see on the attached map, Cassville is located halfway between Prairie du Chien and Dubuque, so a bridge at Cassville will ease the traffic loads on the existing bridges at those locations. Plus, the Mississippi River's width at Cassville is quite narrow compared to other stretches of the river. The narrow river width at Cassville would reduce construction and maintenance costs in this situation. In addition, there is existing road infrastructure on both the Iowa and Wisconsin sides of the Mississippi River at Cassville which would reduce environmental impact from the construction of a bridge. A bridge would put Cassville closer to the Dubuque metropolitan area and its economic vitality. A bridge puts Cassville closer to Guttenberg and access to basic services such as quality healthcare which includes a hospital, several clinics and a pharmacy. Other services such as an auto dealership, a dollar store and a hardware store are located at Guttenberg, all within what would be a quick 10-minute drive of downtown Cassville. Currently, it takes a Cassville resident between 20-30 minutes at minimum to obtain access to those services elsewhere in Wisconsin. A bridge at Cassville would open the door for local residents to find jobs in Dubuque, Delaware and Clayton counties in Iowa that would have commute times of 45 minutes or less. Right now, without a bridge, it takes a Cassville resident nearly one hour to commute to a workplace located at Dubuque’s west end. A 20-minute reduction in commute time would be extraordinary.
A bridge makes Cassville and adjacent areas of Grant County in Wisconsin, and Clayton and northern Dubuque counties in Iowa more attractive to employers because a skilled workforce can be drawn from four directions on *both* sides of the river. There will be huge advantages to both Wisconsin and Iowa businesses and employers since a bridge will open up economic opportunities across state lines, especially with agribusiness, that are currently difficult to achieve due to the sheer highway distance between both areas. Needless to say, having a bridge would allow tourism to skyrocket in this region, leading to more restaurants, shops, hotels and motels. A bridge gives people a reason to drive through Cassville and patronize its businesses, not bypass it because the village happens to be located in a corner of the state with no major highways running through it. A bridge will allow this beautiful area and our Iowa neighbors' real estate on the other side of the river to develop and become home to countless others, increasing the tax base for Grant County, Wisconsin and Clayton County, Iowa.
You may remember that Alliant Energy wanted to expand the Nelson Dewey Generating Station at Cassville in 2008, but that attempt was thwarted by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission during Governor Jim Doyle's tenure. This expansion and upgrade to Nelson Dewey would have *added* jobs to the Cassville economy. Instead, no jobs were created and, in fact, jobs were going to be lost once Alliant Energy announced in 2012 that the Nelson Dewey plant would be closed at the end of 2015 since the plant was deemed too old and it would be too expensive to install the necessary controls to meet Environmental Protection Agency pollution guidelines. In regard to the DTE Stoneman Station plant, the conversion to biomass fuel to meet clean-air requirements was doomed from the start, but it gave the village high hopes for the future. Those hopes were shattered once the plant proved not to be cost-effective in the long run and was abruptly closed in 2015. There should have been an incentive provided by our state and federal governments years ago to convert the plant from coal to natural gas. Natural gas conversion at DTE would have likely meant the plant would still be operating today.
Essentially, politics killed Cassville's economy with the closure of both power plants, and with approximately 100 jobs lost (10% of Cassville's population) Cassville will be unable to weather this storm without government assistance. So far, government officials have generally turned a blind eye to providing a *permanent* and *adequate* solution to the economic problems Cassville and the region face as a result. Think about this, 10% of this community's population lost their job. 10% is the equivalent of the city of Madison losing 24,000 jobs. If Madison lost 24,000 jobs in the same calendar year, this would be a news-worthy headline, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the State of Wisconsin would get involved to help them. That is why we need YOUR help to SIGN and SHARE this petition with friends, family and anyone else who wants to see the state of Wisconsin do something positive for its rural residents. Rural communities need adequate infrastructure to survive and compete with their urban friends and neighbors. Through this petition, hopefully Cassville's representatives on the state and national stages will better understand the region's dire need for a highway bridge to a successful future, and elect to work with the state of Iowa and the federal government to make this long-sought vision a reality. As the federal government rolls out a national infrastructure plan in the near future, a bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Cassville will be a great shovel-ready project to have sitting on the docket. After 83 years of waiting, it is time for a change, and southwestern Wisconsin most certainly deserves it!
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