It’s probably impossible to calculate just how many trips supporters of the Lewis & Clark Regional and Water System have made to St. Paul to secure money for the project.
The simple fact of the matter: these trips should never have been necessary. It was back in 2000 that the U.S. Congress authorized federal funding for the water system, made of 20 member entities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa. Funding for new water — an absolute necessity for economic development in these rural member communities — was to be split 80/20, with the federal share comprising 80 percent of the total costs. A subsequent ban on earmarks in Congress, however, would reduce federal funding for Lewis & Clark to the equivalent to a slow drip, making many wonder if a completed pipeline would ever come to fruition.
Now, thanks to the intervention of the State of Minnesota and the relentless efforts of many, a Lewis & Clark pipeline to Worthington is expected to be completed by Nov. 16, 2018. Excitement and relief accompanied this announcement, as it no doubt brings closure to an effort spearheaded by many individuals across the region and state.
In Worthington, it’s probably fair to say that Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) General Manager Scott Hain led the multi-year lobbying drive. But that doesn’t mean plenty of others don’t deserve credit, too. Alan Oberloh, former Worthington mayor and currently a member of the Worthington City Council, has traveled the Worthington-to-St. Paul route many times, and developed a strong working relationship with Gov. Mark Dayton along the way. Current Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, who was on the city council for a significant chunk of Oberloh’s mayoral tenure, was also active. Safe it to say that anyone who has served on the council or WPU Water and Light Commission — or, for that matter, been involved in some capacity with the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce board — has probably advocated for Lewis & Clark in one way or another.
The drive for the water system has, of course, reached beyond Worthington, too. Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian, for example, was instrumental in continuing to move the project forward. So were L&P Executive Director Troy Larson, as well as longtime water system board chair Red Arndt. State legislators Rod Hamilton, Joe Schomacker and Bill Weber continued to push to make new water for southwest Minnesota a priority. Finally, Gov. Dayton — who, lest it be forgotten, will always have a familial tie to Worthington — played a key role in getting Lewis & Clark here, too.
There are many, many people to thank for what we cannot stress enough to be a significant win for regional economic development. We commend them all for their efforts.