LUVERNE - Gov. Mark Dayton traveled to Luverne on Friday to meet with local officials and area legislators to discuss the next steps in advancing the construction of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.

Dayton listened, asked questions and offered his continued support to ensure the project continues on course toward completion.

Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh opened Friday’s discussion by explaining that while the area did get hit hard with recent flooding, it didn’t solve the water issues that Rock and Nobles County are currently facing.

“Even though we had the amount of water that we did just recently, the wells in the Worthington area have not recovered and the need is still there,” Oberloh said. “(However) without your help, we wouldn’t be where we are at with the $22 million without your support.”

The Minnesota Legislature approved $22 million in May for Lewis & Clark in its biennial bonding bill. Troy Larson, executive director of the water system, told Dayton and others at the meeting where the $22 million will go in terms of the project’s timeline.

“The first phase that we’ll be bidding, which will hopefully be under way in August or September, is from the Iowa border to Luverne,” Larson said. “Then the funding from there will allow us to go all the way to Magnolia, where there is a connection for the Rock County Rural Water District. Along with the federal funding we have in hand, that $22 million allows us to connect two members - Rock County Rural Water and Luverne - so that’s great news.”

Larson also described the second phase of the project.

“The second phase would be engineering and that would take place the following year, and I would anticipate that would begin fall of 2015 ... when Luverne will get water,” Larson said. “Then, the fall of 2016 is when Rock County would get water.

“We’d like to get it done sooner, but unfortunately we don’t have all the engineering ready. The line to Luverne was shovel-ready, and we had all the easement acquisitions and all the engineering, but we’ve done nothing for the line between Luverne and Magnolia.”

However, Larson added, Rock County has two connections - one in Magnolia, the other on the Iowa/Minnesota border, and they will be getting water in March 2015.

Larson indicated that Rock County will be the project’s 12th member out of 20 receiving water, but it will only have water at one of its two connections. 

Dayton asked if it was possible through the planning and engineering for the remainder of the Minnesota project to get it shovel-ready. Larson said he’s hopeful there will be federal dollars to make the line between Magnolia and Worthington shovel-ready. 

“We can’t use any of the state money past Magnolia due to the way the legislation was written, but we’re hoping to open up federal dollars,” Larson said. “If we can get the easement acquisitions and engineering done, that will give us ammunition to get funding because it will then hopefully be shovel-ready.” 

Oberloh said the city could receive water by 2018 provided needed funding takes place. 

“If we get some of that shovel-ready, though, we could possibly shave that down a year and get it in 2017,” Larson said. “It all depends on federal funding and what the state is willing to do.” 

Larson also explained some of the federal funding advances from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa that the project receives. The plan is to pay all the money back based on the dollars each provided once all 20 members are connected. 

“However, once all 20 members are connected, people may think the project is done, but it’s not,” Larson said. “We have upwards of $33 million of work left to do to make the system more reliable. However, we are going to pay back the states before any of that $33 million work is done.” 

Dayton stressed the project is essential to maintaining a high quality of life in southwestern Minnesota.

“This project is critically important to the people and businesses of southwestern Minnesota,” he said. “Without it, business growth would be stifled, new jobs would be lost and residents would continue being forced to buy bottled water. I will continue doing everything possible to see this project through to completion.”

Concluding the meeting, Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark felt optimistic about the discussion. 

“It’s nice to have a governor who recognizes the importance of this project, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Clark said.

Oberloh echoed Clark’s feelings about the discussion.

“We have a governor who really gets it and knows how important this is,” he said. “We wouldn’t be in this position with the $22 million without his (Dayton’s) work and support.” 

When completed, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System will provide treated water to 300,000 people in its member municipalities and rural water systems in Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota. All told, 10 counties and more than 40 small towns across southwestern Minnesota stand to benefit from the completion of the project.

Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.