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Dayton celebrates funding for water pipeline to Worthington

Gov. Mark Dayton speaks during a press conference Friday morning at the Worthington Fire Hall about the funding authorized for the completion of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System to Worthington. Standing behind him is Worthington Public Utilities Director Scott Hain. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — After several visits with then-Sen. Mark Dayton in Washington, D.C., and even more trips to St. Paul during the past four years with Dayton’s reign as governor, board members of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System had a short drive on Friday.

In a brief morning visit to Worthington, Gov. Mark Dayton met with the LCRWS board and then hosted a press conference celebrating the final piece of funding to complete expansion of the Lewis & Clark water pipeline to Worthington.

Three weeks ago, Dayton signed the bonding bill approved by the Minnesota Legislature, authorizing $3.5 million in new money for Lewis & Clark and releasing an estimated $8 million in surplus from the last phase of construction. Combined, the funds meet the $11.5 million needed to complete the final 16.8 miles of pipeline.

Dayton said people like Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain and City Administrator Steve Robinson, Mayor Mike Kuhle, LCRWS Executive Director Troy Larson and Board Chairman Red Arndt are the real heroes in the project.

“We were just talking about the number of times they’ve traveled from Worthington or Rock County to St. Paul, in all kinds of weather, to press their case again and again,” Dayton said, adding that the group first met with him in January 2001 when he became a U.S. Senator. “It’s sure taken a long time to finally come through with this.”

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System formed in 1990 with plans to deliver water to communities in the tri-state region of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Lack of federal funding delayed construction time and time again, leaving Dayton agitated with the progress, recalled Larson.

It was during an April 1, 2013, conference call with Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz that Dayton proposed a state funding advance to get Minnesota’s water pipeline built.

“On behalf of everyone at Lewis & Clark, we want to express our sincere thanks and appreciation,” Larson said.

“We are very, very excited about the future,” Dayton added. “The shrimp project in Luverne just shows that if you have a sufficient supply of water, the economic growth opportunities in this area are just unlimited.”

Larson presented a construction timeline during the press conference, showing construction of 12 miles of pipeline between Magnolia and Adrian — along with the Adrian meter building —  being substantially complete this November. Bid opening is scheduled Tuesday for the 15 miles of pipeline between Adrian and Worthington, with bid openings Aug. 3 and Sept. 26 for the Worthington meter building and Nobles County reservoir, respectively. The building and reservoir are estimated to be completed in October 2018, with substantial completion of the pipeline in November 2018.

The timeline leads right into Dayton’s last full month as Minnesota’s governor — something he’s well aware of.

“I can’t wait to come down here and turn the faucet,” he said Friday.

Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle said the completion of the water pipeline means Worthington businesses and residents will no longer need to live with water restrictions, and it paves the way for economic development.

Kuhle offered his thanks to the leaders before him — former mayors Bob Demuth and Alan Oberloh, and former WPU Director Don Habicht — who had the foresight to get involved with LCRWS. He especially offered his thanks to Hain for his efforts, joking that some are calling this year’s bonding bill the “Keep Scott Hain out of St. Paul bill.”

LCRWS staff and board members — along with Luverne city leaders, Sen. Bill Weber, Rep. Rod Hamilton and the governor — were also thanked by Kuhle.

“When the funds from Washington started to dry up in recent years, Minnesota communities and Lewis & Clark looked to St. Paul,” Kuhle said. “Gov. Mark Dayton was our biggest supporter. He saw the wisdom of getting our small communities water and also to protect our natural resources. That’s great wisdom coming out of St. Paul, and we’re lucky for that.”

“Wisdom coming out of St. Paul — that’s a shocking news story right there,” joked Dayton.

Since 2014, the Minnesota Legislature and Dayton have authorized $44.5 million in three funding advances to build the Lewis & Clark pipeline into southwest Minnesota.

“Without those advances, we wouldn’t be talking about getting water to Worthington by 2018; we wouldn’t be talking about a shrimp harbor for the city of Luverne,” Larson said. “This is why Lewis & Clark is being built — it’s about economic development and quality of life.”

Since Minnesota was the first of the three states to authorize a funding advance, both South Dakota and Iowa have followed suit, with South Dakota providing $8.7 million in advances over two years and Iowa, during this past legislative session, authorizing $7 million in advances over two years.

Those funding advances are to be paid back by the federal government, but Dayton said Friday he’s lowered his expectations.

“I don’t want to say that whatever we get from the federal government isn’t helpful — it certainly is,” he said. “But, we’re not relying on that. We’re relying on the shrimp project and we’re relying on these other economic development expansions and new projects that are going to come into this region because of the assured availability of water. Ultimately, those economic benefits … will more than repay the project — that we can count on.”

Hain, however, said the LCRWS will “keep our foot on the gas as far as our federal funding.”

“The pledge we made to the state of Minnesota and other states is that they would be repaid with future federal funds,” Hain said. “The project is deferring $33 million worth of authorized project construction and the pledge is once all 20 members are connected and we have the ability to deliver 45 million gallons a day non-firm, any federal money we get … will be returned back to the states proportional to what they advanced. That will leave Lewis & Clark last in line for that deferred $33 million in construction.”

Kuhle sees the completion of the pipeline to Worthington as a game changer, saying the town could “easily be twice the size we are now if we would have had water for companies that wanted to come to Worthington.”

He said the water access will have the greatest impact on local businesses that have dealt with water restrictions, although new businesses are welcome.

“The tru Shrimp harbor is a great example over in Luverne,” he said. “Maybe if those harbors are successful, maybe Worthington gets one in the next round. I think the growth potential in that area is just huge.”

“Build it and they will come,” added Larson. “We know it’s happening in Luverne, and it’s going to happen in Worthington as well.”

In closing, Dayton credited Worthington residents for their water conservation efforts in recent years.

“Minnesota is going to have to do a major shift in consciousness — all across our state — from having as much clean water as we can possibly use to (realizing) it is a precious resource and we need to use it wisely,” Dayton said. “I’m really going to ask Worthington to take the lead and become a model for the rest of the state.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

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