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Column: Ending the dry spell - Lewis & Clark funding secured



ST. PAUL — After a week of extreme uncertainty, we are pleased to report a success story that few saw coming just one week ago.

The Lewis and Clark Rural Water project will soon become reality in southwestern Minnesota.

To say the water pipeline took a roller coaster ride to the finish line is an understatement. Throughout this process, we have been working hard with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in order to make Lewis and Clark a top legislative priority.

Needing $69 million to allow clean water to flow throughout Rock and Nobles counties, the House capital investment chair originally committed $20.2 million in her initial bonding proposal. This would have completed a pipeline stretch from Iowa to Luverne and left the rest of Minnesota dry.

As negotiations intensified last week, and partisan politics began to brew behind the scenes, we were notified that there would be no funding for Lewis and Clark this year in the House proposal, while a separate Senate bill offered $13 million in bonding proceeds.

Then a remarkable thing happened that quickly changed opinions at the State Capitol — you got involved.

City and county leaders called and emailed legislative leadership and voiced their displeasure. Business owners and CEOs contacted our leaders and told them how the lack of a reliable water source was devastating economic development in southwestern Minnesota. Residents reminded lawmakers that they haven’t had a new, reliable water source in years.

Attitudes changed in St. Paul. Leaders heard your voice, recognized the project’s importance and came to us willing to help. We appreciate their support, we are grateful for both caucuses in both legislative bodies rallying behind Lewis and Clark, but most of all we appreciate your urgent phone calls and emails because they truly made a difference.

Two separate bills were crafted that will help provide funding for the completion of Lewis and Clark. A total of $22 million in cash will be dedicated to the project, and local governments will be allowed to sell bonds in order to fund the remainder. In all, state government would pay for two thirds of the local bonding costs.

In the future we are going to invite stakeholders, local decision makers and other interested parties to visit the Capitol to sit down with our non-partisan fiscal staff and have all of their Lewis and Clark funding questions answered. In our final discussions, our goal was to put locals in charge and we want them to fully understand the specifics of these proposals going forward.

Now that Minnesota’s government has finished the job, it’s time for our federal officials to get in the game. Southwest Minnesotans have faced this unwanted Lewis and Clark delay because Congress did not keep its end of the deal when it came to promised federal funding. We made this issue our top legislative priority this year; now it’s time for Congressman Walz, Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken to do the same.

We are pleased that a legislative solution has been found that addresses this critical problem. We are proud of the residents who voiced their water concerns and the leaders in all levels of government who took them seriously. And we look forward to the day in the very near future when Lewis and Clark provides a reliable water source to our cities and counties that desperately need it.

Schomacker (R-Luverne), Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and Weber (R-Luverne) represent southwest Minnesota in the Minnesota Legislature.