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Vote approaching on Lewis & Clark construction budget

Work on Treated Water Minnesota Segment 1 of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System project is shown in this June 24, 2010, photo. (LCRWS photo)

WORTHINGTON — Eleven of the 20 Lewis & Clark Regional Water System members are currently receiving water.

Worthington is not one of them. However, if a construction budget is passed next week, the pipeline will get a little closer.

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“Essentially what’s going to happen on Oct. 24 at 1:30 p.m. is the Lewis & Clark board is going to vote on a fiscal year 2014 construction budget,” Worthington Public Utilities Manager Scott Hain said. “The first construction budget that will be presented is in the amount of $21.6 million. That would include the engineering and everything it would take to get the line from where it is to Luverne. That would include the hooking up of Rock County Rural Water and the city of Luverne.”

Even though Worthington won’t directly be connected to Lewis and Clark, Hain will cast a “yes” vote on Thursday.

“It’s no secret, we got into this project because we have a long, long history of inadequate water resources,” Hain said. “We spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and years and years in local exploration.

“We really know that beyond what we have, there isn’t anything else here,” he continued. “We got into the project because it looked like the best long-term solution to meet our water needs. Nothing has happened that changes that perspective. It still is. Long term, this is it.”

While the total bill would be more than $20 million, some of that would be covered by the federal government — hopefully.

“We anticipate, based on what was in the president’s fiscal year 14 budget, was $3.2 million in funding specifically for Lewis and Clark,” Hain said. “The Senate number was the same, with an additional $25 million for all the rural water projects. The House gave it a little bit of a haircut — I think it was $3.05 million — but they also included that $25 million in additional funding.”

That will leave about $18.4 million for the members to pick up.

For Worthington, its share is directly related to the share of water the city would receive, which is 5.71 percent. If the construction budget passes, Worthington may have to pay up to $1,050,640. 

“Right now, we have adequate reserves that we can fund that with,” Hain said.

The obvious key for Thursday’s vote is whether it will pass. It needs a majority to pass; a tie would be considered a loss.

Hain believes of the four entities in Minnesota —none of which are hooked up — three will vote yes. 

In a recent article, the city of Luverne said it would cast a yes vote, while Rock County Rural Water System would be a no. Hain also believes Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water System will be a yes. Under the proposed budget, Luverne and Rock County Rural Water would be connected.

“It would get the pipeline closer to us,” Hain said. “It’s not here yet, but it’s heading this direction. If, ultimately, we have to either jointly with Lincoln-Pipestone or whomever, bite the bullet, and start having to put pipe in the ground and build out and hook ourselves up, it’s less distance we have to cover.”

However, eight more yes votes would still be required. Other than those in Minnesota, Hain said he hasn’t tried to predict which way the other entities will go.

“As you know, amongst the 20 members, there are those who are adamantly opposed to a capital call, there are those that are very much in favor of continuing to make steady progress and are willing to take on some additional expenses in order to do that,” Hain said. 

If the $21 million construction budget is denied, there will still be some progress this year. The board would have a vote on a secondary budget that uses just the federal dollars. If the bigger budget does fail, that won’t mean the end of the project.

“I’m somewhat encouraged that at least there was serious consideration and action taken on a meaningful construction budget,” Hain said. “My hope is that continues to happen every year going forward. If it doesn’t happen this year, maybe it happens next year. Are those who are opposed to this whole concept going to stay opposed forever? You don’t know. Some maybe yes, some maybe no. The members are all over the board.”

However, Hain hopes it passes. Even though it won’t directly impact Worthington immediately, there was little discussion about which way to vote at a recent Water and Light Commission meeting. The commission overwhelmingly told Hain to vote yes.

“The positive impact is, I think, unlike what has happened for the past couple of years — at least some meaningful progress has been made,” Hain said. “Like I said, it is demonstrating, as an organization, this commitment to continue to push this thing forward. Could that bear out some benefit down the road? That’s kind of a wait and see. We don’t know. When you say, what potential benefit could this have to Worthington? — maybe the feds say, ‘By God, these guys are serious, and we need to step things up.’”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.