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Wadena hires lobbyist to get U.S. 10 project into the next transportation bill

The Wadena City Council hired Legislative Associates, Inc., to lobby for funds to expand U.S. Highway 10 through Wadena in the next five-year federal transportation bill.

"I'm very concerned that it is a five-year bill and if we miss the boat it's five years until we have the next opportunity," Councilman Don Niles said.

Ulteig, the city engineer, will split the $2,200 per month cost to hire Legislative Associates from Sept. 1, 2009, to June 1, 2010.

Having Ulteig pick up half the cost for a professional lobbyist also makes this a unique opportunity, Niles said.

Legislative Associates will also explore funding options for the southeast Wadena infrastructure project.

The stretch of Highway 10 that runs through Wadena is the only two-lane section left along the highway. Tentative dates for the four-lane expansion project had been set for 2016 or 2017 and then were delayed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation until a projected date of 2027.

"We're tried several different things over the years to get Highway 10 off dead center and we keep running into road blocks," City Administrator Brad Swenson said.

Hiring a lobbyist is another way of trying to get the project to the next level, he said. Ulteig introduced him to Ed Cain, president of Legislative Associates, and he thought the council should have an opportunity to consider Cain's proposal.

Cain said it's important to get this included with Congressman Jim Oberstar in the House of Representatives as the chairman of the transportation committee.

"We really need to get in on that end of the ladder and see if we can't push something through on his bill," Cain said. "He's more familiar with the project and amenable to helping us out."

He's had good success in the past working with Oberstar and his chief of staff, Bill Richard, Cain said.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said he made a trip to Oberstar's office when he was in Washington, D.C. for Missouri River Energy Services and discussed how the project had been reduced to just planning money. Richard explained to him that they were looking at the project as a high priority, but it was too big to be an earmark, Wolden said. They tried to get $20 million from Congressman Collin Peterson's district, because Wadena is right on the line between the two districts, and $30 million from Oberstar's district with MnDOT saying they would try to pick up the rest.

"It got whittled down to less than that proposal to try and acquisition for property," Wolden said. "And finally they got $4.5 million basically set for planning something that's going to happen 15 years from now."

Wolden is concerned because the five-year transportation bill is being nailed down next year, he said.

"We want to see this happen," he said. "Our whole community does."

Cain said Wadena's project is a little late in the ball game right now, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't give it a good shot.

"It's important we get there pretty quick," he said.

The city can decide by June 1 if they want to continue with Legislative Associates' services, Cain said.

Swenson originally thought the proposal to hire a lobbyist would be part of the November budget session, he said, but it looks like time is of the essence.

Councilwoman Kay Browne said this a good time to form the contract.

"It just seems like the right time," she said. "We should move on it."