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Lewis & Clark in Senate bonding bill for $13 million

WORTHINGTON — Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian said he believed the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System would receive a significant amount of money once the Senate bonding bill was released. 

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When the final projects included in the $1 billion bill were unveiled Monday morning, the $13 million figure for Lewis & Clark was a surprise.

“We were led the believe the Senate had us in for about $35-40 million,” Baustian said. “It turns around at $13 million. It’s a disappointment from my standpoint as an elected official down here looking at crucial infrastructure projects.

“What’s more important, water or event centers?” he continued. “I don’t see the reasoning. How can you compare water infrastructure projects and the economic development they bring along with them and also basic necessity of life to any type of other project that’s out there? In the educational bonding, I can see that. But there’s so many things that do not deal directly with critical infrastructure, quality of life, necessity-of-life things that are in the bonding bill.”

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, chairman of the Capital Investment Committee — which considers the proposal — said he received about $4 billion in requests, and there wasn’t enough money to go around.

“I would have thought that Sen. Stumpf would have been on our side, but it appears at this point, he’s not,” Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said.

The joint powers board of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System had asked for $69 million, which would complete the pipe to Worthington and finish the line in Minnesota.

Troy Larson, executive director of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, said he was disappointed in the number in the bill. Since the members and the state have already paid their share of the money, though, he realizes asking for more is going above and beyond. It is the Federal money that has been slow in coming.

“We appreciate anything we can get,” Larson said. “The reason we are disappointed is the governor has indicated his strong support for getting at least $20 million in the bonding bill.

“All indications have been, up until now, that would be the minimum,” Larson added. “There was a chance we could get more. Up until now, our mindset has been $20 million would be the floor. This is the first we’ve heard that it could be lower. Our initial reaction was one of disappointment.”

To get the pipeline from its current location to connect the city of Luverne, $20.2 million is still needed, Larson said. To arrive at the $13 million figure, Larson said federal funding was subtracted from that amount.

“To get to the $13 million, their mentality is they are subtracting the anticipated federal funding for fiscal year 2015,” Larson said. “We won’t get that funding until February, March or April of 2015, so we wouldn’t start construction until the summer of ’15. That’s the only way they are making the numbers work. They took what we need to get to Luverne and they subtracted the recent federal funding we got for FY ’14 and subtracted anticipated federal funding for FY ‘15, which is in no way guaranteed.”

Larson said by subtracting the federal money proposed, there would be a $12.65 million shortfall. The senate rounded up, he said.

“If all you’re doing is subtracting federal dollars, then you are defeating the purpose and you’re not making as much progress as you could be,” Larson said. “The governor said all along, it doesn’t matter what the feds are going to do because that money is being spent in Minnesota. By subtracting, you are defeating the purpose, is what the governor is saying — and what we’re saying as well.”

Oberloh said he has read through all of the bonding proposals to see how the Lewis & Clark project compares.

“I really have a great deal of heartburn when projects like sculpture gardens and some of the convention center and event center projects will trump a water project that’s a dire need,” he said, adding he agrees with projects dealing with education and infrastructure. “(For) the water project, the money we’re asking for will be paid back. It’s not like it’s outright money going to a project that the state will never see a return on. The state will see a return on this when the federal government pays up.”

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