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Officials meet with Dayton on Lewis & Clark

Officials from Luverne and Worthington met with local representatives and Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday in St. Paul to discuss the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. Pictured are: (left to right) Luverne city council person Kevin Aaker, Rep. Joe Schomacker, Lewis & Clark board chairman Red Arndt, Sen. Bill Weber. Gov. Dayton, Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh, Rep. Rod Hamilton, Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark and Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain. (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON — Two weeks ago, it appeared the Lewis & Clark Regional Water project may not be included in this year’s bonding bill at all.

Now, Gov. Mark Dayton told Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh he would be supportive of including the entire $69 million to complete the project in Minnesota.

“It was a very constructive meeting,” Dayton said in a statement. “No final commitments were made, but I again voiced my strong support for the project and reiterated the position laid out in my bonding proposal. We all stated our shared desire to work cooperatively to fund the project this session.”

On Thursday, a delegation from Worthington and Luverne met with Dayton and the region’s state legislators to talk about the project. Federal funding for the remaining portion of the water project has dried up, sparking the Minnesota joint powers to ask for the balance to be picked up by the bonding bill.

“(Dayton’s) deputy chief of staff says now is the time to do a good size bonding bill because interest rates are favorable,” Oberloh said. “Dayton says this is absolutely nuts. This project needs to be completed.

“He looks across at Bill Weber, Rod Hamilton and Joe Schomacker, who are all sitting in a row, and said, “You bring me a $1.2 billion bonding bill and I’ll see that Lewis & Clark is completed through to Worthington,’” Dayton continued. “That’s the full $69.2 million for us. Because he sees, himself, the economic value to this region.”

Luverne city council member Kevin Aaker and Lewis & Clark board chairman Red Arndt joined Oberloh, Worthington city administrator Craig Clark and Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain in the meeting. 

Hamilton (District 22B representative) and Schomacker (District 22A rep) along with District 22 Sen. Weber attended the meeting. Rep. Alice Hausman, the House Capital Investment Committee chair, was also in attendance. 

It was a meeting that was set in motion nearly two weeks ago.

“I called (Hausman) on a Friday and we played tag and she called me back on a Saturday morning … it was a very good visit,” Oberloh said. “We got everything straightened out. At that time, we were totally out of the bonding bill. We weren’t even included in it for any amount — not even $5 million or anything.”

According to Oberloh, Hausman was to make sure she could count on the support of the local representatives.

“If she couldn’t get assurances that the two people that represent the district that will be served by this project (would vote for it), why would she include it?” Oberloh said. “I talked to her then, and there were conversations with Rod and with Joe that we needed their support. They talked to their party leaders and told them they had enough people in their area that saw the economic benefit of this. 

“That helped us get back in the bonding bill, but we still wanted to have this meeting so we could look face to face with somebody and get a read on them and find out if this is something that will really happen,” Oberloh added. “We really need this to happen and stay included in it. I think we got those assurances (Thursday).”

The current bonding bill making its way through the House committees is for $850 million. It currently includes approximately $20 million for the Lewis & Clark project.

“When you look at the bonding bill as a whole — the House’s bonding bill they put forward — a lot of them are glitzy projects,” Oberloh said. “You can see renovations to an event center, and there are several of them. There are trails and sculpture garden work, a children’s museum. Those are projects you can feel them — you can see them.

“We’re talking about pipe in the ground that once it’s covered up, you’ll never see,” Oberloh added. “The only thing you’ll do is reap the economic benefit of growth — business growth, residential growth. Without it, we’re stuck. (Dayton) really does get that.”

According to Oberloh, Dayton explained there were $3 billion worth of requests. 

“He says of that, there is probably $2 billion that are really good projects,” Oberloh said. “But, the House is in at $850 (million). Speculation is the Senate will be just shy of $1 billion and Dayton’s is like $985 million. ... It is our hope because of the favorable interest rates right now, that a larger bonding bill gets done. Not every year, but this year is ripe for doing projects like that.”

Now, Oberloh said, the project needs support from the legislators in St. Paul. 

“I’m glad we went,” Oberloh said. “I think when we came out of there, we all said, ‘Did you really what Dayton said? Deliver me a $1.2 billion bonding bill and I will see that project completed through to Worthington.’ That’s huge. That is a strong leader to give you that kind of a statement.”

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7330.