Lewis & Clark pushes on
LUVERNE — Gov. Mark Dayton highlighted several southwest Minnesota job opportunities during his annual State of the State Address Wednesday evening, recognizing the need for employees at AGCO and HitchDoc in Jackson, and saying even more jobs could be created if the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System could be completed through Rock and Nobles counties. Dayton is seeking a $1.2 billion bonding bill, which he has said will include full funding for the completion of Lewis & Clark in Minnesota.
He invited Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian, who also serves on the Southwest Minnesota Joint Powers Board for Lewis & Clark, to attend Wednesday night’s speech, and then asked Baustian to stand and be recognized.
“Both (Luverne and Worthington) report opportunities to expand existing businesses and attract new ones. However, they desperately need more water,” Dayton said in his address at the State Capitol. “Without it, business growth is being stifled, new jobs are being lost and residents are being forced to buy bottled water. Meanwhile, the solution to their water problems, the Lewis & Clark pipeline, is stalled at the Minnesota-South Dakota border due to lack of public investment.
“The federal government has essentially bailed on the project, despite the strenuous efforts of our Minnesota congressional delegation,” he added. “The harsh reality is that there is probably not enough room in an $850 million bonding bill to fund the pipeline’s construction all the way through Luverne, into Worthington and on to the Iowa border. However, there could well be enough room in a larger bonding bill to complete the Minnesota segment and turn the water on in Luverne and Worthington. Otherwise, they will have to wait at least until the next bonding bill, one or two years from now.”
On Thursday morning, Baustian seemed optimistic of the support for the completion of the Lewis & Clark project.
“Everybody clapped about it,” he said. “Senator (Bill) Weber, I could see him. He clapped.
“Of course, there was partisanship for some things — same sex marriage, bullying (and the minimum wage) — but for overall Lewis & Clark, I felt good backing. There was overall consensus.”
Baustian arrived at the Capitol early Wednesday evening, and had an opportunity to visit with former Vice President Walter Mondale — another early arrival — before anyone else was in the gathering room. He also spoke with Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dennis Frederickson, the state Adjutant General and mayors from Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud.
“There were only four mayors there,” Baustian shared.
Baustian spoke with Dayton during a reception that followed the governor’s address.
“I thanked him for inviting me and for backing the project,” Baustian said. “He did mention the strong support for Lewis & Clark.”
The governor’s message regarding funding for the rural water project in southwest Minnesota has been reported on by major news outlets in the state, including WCCO, the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio.
“We cannot get any more publicity than we’re getting right now, and that’s why we’re advised to meet with Senate and House leadership,” Baustian said, adding that Lewis & Clark Executive Director Troy Larson is already working to line up meetings between the Southwest Minnesota Joint Powers Board and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Speaker of the House Paul Thissen “as early as possible.”
“We need to make sure Senate leadership and House leadership are fully aware of and knowledgeable of the Lewis & Clark project,” Baustian said. “This isn’t just about Luverne. Our goal is to get $69 million to get it to Worthington.
“It’s one team, one fight,” he added. “This is about the whole of southwest Minnesota.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.