Oberstar talks about U.S. Highway 10, rail spur, school
U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., toured Wadena on Friday, Aug. 27, to hear economic and transportation concerns and update city leaders on happenings in Washington, D.C.
The discussion led to a trip to the U.S. Capitol this week to meet with the directors of the Federal Railroad Administration, FEMA and the Federal EDA District 5.
The meeting last week in the city council chambers stressed long-term efforts for transportation, business and education.
"We really want to take the opportunity to look at the big picture -- to have at the end of all this a community we're all very proud of, that 40 years from now people look back and say, 'We took advantage of the opportunity, we didn't just put up something for the sake of returning or trying to return to normal,'" councilman Don Niles, also the leader of Wadena 2.0, said. "There's always going to be that tension between immediate needs that are always going to be there, but not losing that opportunity."
U.S. Highway 10
U.S. Highway 10 reconstruction was a long-term issue well before the tornado.
"The Highway 10 issue, whether to go through town or have a bypass, was the very first issue raised when Wadena County came into my district," Oberstar told the Pioneer Journal.
He said the city council had voted the night before the tornado that the proposed multi-lane U.S. Highway 10 should be a through-city route.
"The next day, the tornado destroyed properties that they would have had to acquire to do this expansion and improvement. So I have designated $750,000 in Transportation Appropriations bill ... for the Wadena Highway 10," Oberstar said.
After visiting other towns in his district, Oberstar updated the city on the progress of the U.S. Highway 10 legislation.
"We're on track with the funding for the redevelopment of the Highway 10 corridors. The House has passed the appropriation; the Senate needs to act on it," he said, adding that the Senate would be able to vote in September or October.
He also said that he had requested funding for the Tri-County Hospital designated in the Health and Education Appropriation Bill.
Beyond U.S. Highway 10, Oberstar discussed a proposed rail spur with city and county officials.
Leaf River Ag and Wadena Hide & Fur were affected by the tornado. According to Wadena Economic Developer Dean Uselman, the cooperative and the recycling company were considering relocating to the industrial park along U.S. Highway 71 and would need an extension of the rail spur.
"I met with a railroad contracting company this morning that builds rail spurs, and we spent about 4 1/2 hours looking things over," he said.
The alternative, Uselman said, was that Leaf River Ag might relocate to Otter Tail County.
Oberstar joked that District 7 representative Collin Peterson might want that, but he wouldn't. He said that the EDA would be a potential source to support the rail spur extension project.
Uselman said that Homecrest and Merickel Lumber might also possibly use the railroad spur.
Charlie, Tom and Rich Paper of Wadena Hide & Fur attended the meeting.
"Charlie was the recycling company before recycling was cool," Uselman said, calling them "the oldest green company in Wadena."
He said that the spur would create more jobs in the area.
Oberstar said that they might have a case to get help from the Federal EDA District 5.
M State President Ann Valentine presented the integrated food service plan to Oberstar. Three hundred fifty displaced WDC high school students needed to eat. The plan, which she had also presented to Sen. Al Franken, involved teaching high school students applied business services, applied mathematics and applied science through the program.
"Our goal is that they will become the food service enterprise themselves," she said.
Valentine said that a similar program was instituted in Wisconsin, and that it would create economic growth in the Wadena area.
"That workforce will come out of high school with a little bit of college under their belt and the confidence that they can go on, and they can do more, and they can be successful," she said.
Valentine said that while they had looked into private grants and organizations like the Initiative Foundation and the Gates Foundation, they still needed federal help.
After the meeting, Oberstar toured the area of M State designated for high school use. Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom told Oberstar about the dangerous traffic in the school area along with the problems of transportation and Internet access in rural areas.
At the leased area of M State, the hallways smelled like paint, and some high school students had already started decorating their