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USDA's Dorr visits Jackson, offers funds for water project

JACKSON -- Thomas Dorr, Under Secretary for Rural Development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, visited the Jackson campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College Monday to offer $9.1 million in federal rural development funds for the Jackson/Martin Rural Water System project.

The Iowa Lakes Regional Water project could provide water for approximately 431 rural sites in southeast Jackson and southwest Martin counties, should landowners choose to be connected to the system.

Dorr praised the many entities involved in the project, including Jackson County, Martin County and Iowa Lakes Regional Water. Dorr cited the necessity of infrastructure -- including a source of safe, dependable water -- to rural development.

Dorr also tied the efforts to what he termed a "rural renaissance" and the expansion of rural opportunities to include alternative energy production.

"When your children and grandchildren graduate from college and get degrees ... if and when they decide they wish to return, (we must ensure) there's a good economic opportunity for them to do so," Dorr said.

Dorr also tied two major events to the expansion of rural opportunities -- the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, which opened up Russia and its former vassal states to a free market economy, and the advancement of broadband technology and the Internet.

Although initially the former U.S.S.R. provided an enormous marketing opportunity, it became a competitor for food and energy, Dorr said.

"We did not anticipate the kind of energy demand we have experienced," Dorr explained.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development leaders, including Dorr, toured rural America to find out what was being done with and without government dollars to advance the cause of rural communities.

Dorr said he found rural communities were already working on many issues, including alternative fuel development and non-traditional resources.

"I have seen extraordinary growth and development" in rural areas across America, Dorr said, praising the rural communities that had already committed to growth.

Iowa Lakes Regional Water hopes to offer final sign-ups for the water service and complete the final project design in the fall, with most of the construction to take place in 2010.