Luverne Mayor invited to State of the State address
LUVERNE — Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian will join a select group of individuals Wednesday evening as Gov. Mark Dayton presents his State of the State address at the Minnesota Capitol.
Baustian, who is past president and current member of the Southwest Minnesota Lewis & Clark Joint Powers Board, was asked to be present as Dayton discusses his requested $1.2 billion state bonding bill.
If legislators approve Dayton’s request, the governor has said he will guarantee $69 million to fund the completion of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, Baustian said. The system currently ends south of Hills, and federal funding earmarked for the project has been slow in coming.
“(The $69 million) would finish all of the water entities in Minnesota — Rock County Rural Water, Luverne, Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water and Worthington,” Baustian said Monday. “All of the infrastructure would be put in with that $69 million.”
Initially, the joint powers board had requested the state bond $40 million for Lewis & Clark, which would have brought the system to Luverne and tapped into Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water (LPRW). Dayton, however, wants to see the entire project funded now.
There’s good reason to bond for it all at once, Baustian explained. Interest rates are conducive to borrowing, and the state has received a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation stating the federal government will pay the state back if it chooses to fund the project now.
“Even if it’s a $69 million fund, that money will be paid back eventually by the federal government — that’s huge,” Baustian said. “It’s a congressionally authorized project, and they’ve agreed to pay 80 percent. That money will keep coming until that federal share is paid down.”
That’s the message local legislators are now working to pass along to their fellow lawmakers in hopes of getting the three-fifths majority to approve the higher bonding bill.
“The governor knows he has to have support from the Republican party to pass the higher bonding bill,” Baustian said, adding that the trio of local Republican legislators — Rep. Rod Hamilton, Rep. Joe Schomacker and Sen. Bill Weber — have all offered support for the higher bonding bill, as long as funding for Lewis & Clark is included. Hamilton authored the bonding request in the House, while Weber presented the request in the Senate.
“Both Hamilton and Schomacker are 100 percent for whatever we can get,” Baustian said. “We’ve really appreciated all of the help … and legwork to get us where we’re at.”
The three legislators met with Dayton and the Southwest Minnesota Lewis & Clark Joint Powers Board on April 1, and have since been talking with fellow Republicans to seek support for the bonding bill.
“Rep. Schomacker is going to reach out to six fellow Republican House members that are touched by Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water to gain their support for a larger bonding bill,” Baustian said.
LPRW provides water to individuals and businesses in 11 counties and more than 30 communities in southwest Minnesota.
“It’s not only Hamilton and Schomacker and Weber that have to vote for this thing, it’s every House member that has a district that is touched and might be getting water from Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water,” Baustian added.
At this point, Republicans are pushing for an $850 million bonding bill, with general surplus funds potentially added to reach the $1.2 billion Dayton is requesting.
“We need a $1.2 billion bonding bill to get the $69 million (for Lewis & Clark),” Baustian emphasized. “There’s a lot of political maneuvering going on to try to get members on our side.”
With a lack of significant rainfall in the region this spring, time is of the essence for communities slated to get water from Lewis & Clark. Worthington is going into its second summer with a non-essential watering ban in place, and Luverne has also instituted a watering ban.
“We did not flush our hydrants this spring; we’re down to less than 500,000 gallons (of water used) per day,” Baustian said. “Normally, we’re at 750,000 gallons per day.”
Gevo, Luverne’s isobutanol plant, has had to cut production because there just isn’t enough water available. Last week, the Luverne City Council approved a $1.2 million project to drill two new wells south of the Interstate and expand the settling basin.
“We cannot wait for federal funding,” Baustian said. “We have to press on and try to meet our water needs.”
Baustian said the city would have had to expand its well field regardless of Lewis & Clark, but the ongoing drought is forcing the community to take action about 10 years earlier than planned.
“We had three-tenths of an inch of rain over the weekend,” he said. “We need some big spring rains to recharge our water, and we’re not getting them.”
If the state legislature passes the $1.2 billion bonding bill, Baustian said the first phase of the Lewis & Clark project in Minnesota would be to expand from south of Hills to just east of Luverne. That would be online by late 2015 or the spring of 2016.
“The total project to get water to Worthington, what I’ve heard, is three years,” he added.
Baustian gives a lot of credit to the local legislators for doing what they can to bring Lewis & Clark to southwest Minnesota communities.
“This is a huge political effort by our representatives and senators and we couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “It’s a huge task, and they’re going to bat for us. We want a home run this year, and this is the year to do it.”
Dayton’s State of the State address begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and it will be aired on Minnesota Public Television. Baustian will get to meet with the governor at 6:15 p.m. and then be escorted to the chamber to hear the speech. Following the address, invited guests will return to the Dayton’s office for a social gathering.
“It’s a pretty big thing to be asked to go to the governor’s office for the State of the State,” Baustian said. “I’m very honored.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.