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Communities pitch public work projects

Duluth Huskies manager Craig Smith tells state Senators Wednesday, April 3, 2013, about the need to renovate Wade Stadium. (Forum News Service)

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota communities have plenty of suggestions for how to spend state dollars borrowed for public works projects. In fact, they have too many.

State lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton are working to whittle down more than 150 requests topping $3 billion for trails, civic and community centers, roads and bridges, and many other projects.

“There is a huge need in every single area,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee.

One state Senate committee heard pitches on more than a dozen proposals Wednesday, and others have been taking testimony and discussing possible bonding projects throughout the session.

Lawmakers and community members have made their cases for projects such as Wade Stadium renovations in Duluth, flood prevention work in Moorhead and Sheldon Theatre fixes in Red Wing.

The state would sell bonds to finance the public works projects.

Hausman plans to lay out her public works borrowing plan in committee Tuesday and said her target is about $800 million. Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said his bill likely will have between $700 million and $800 million for projects but does not have a set release date.

Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer

“My goal was to wait and see the governor’s recommendation,” Stumpf said.

A Dayton spokeswoman said he plans to release his plan early next week and is still working out what will be included. The proposal is expected to be for at least $750 million.

“The governor has been very supportive of bonding,” Stumpf said. “He is definitely a builder.”

Hausman said repairs at the state Capitol likely will be included in her bill. State college and university project funding and money for local roads and bridges, wastewater infrastructure and transportation projects also will be part of the proposal.

“One of the things that’s my obligation is that it’s fair to everyone,” she said.

Hausman said the projects need to be balanced among different sectors and from across the state.

Stumpf said he will meet with fellow senators to find out their priorities, especially if they have multiple requests of their own.

“We’ll sort out what needs to be done right now and what can wait a bit,” he said.

Infrastructure projects likely will top his list this year, he said. Some projects could be added to a tentative list for 2014.

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized efforts to put forward a sizable bonding bill this year. Typically two-year legislative sessions reserve one year for setting the state budget and the other for a public works borrowing bill. This would be the budget year.

Stumpf said recent bonding bills have not been enough to meet state needs.

“We are doing a little bit of catch-up,” he said.

Democrats control the House and Senate but need some Republicans to join them on a bonding bill vote that requires a three-fifths majority to be approved.

Hausman said her challenge is to bring in at least eight Republican members to support her bill if all Democrats back it.

“I need to construct the bill in a way that I can have those votes,” she said, adding that she thinks it will be possible.

Stumpf said he is hopeful he can get support from Republicans and Democrats on his plan and will work to make sure he has the votes before bringing the bill forward.

He said public works funding is something that can bring lawmakers together.

“Often there’s a lot of good things that are done with our capital investments,” Stumpf said. “And I think people in the state see that as a value.”

Requests for Duluth, Red Wing

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, told a Senate committee Wednesday that the city needs about $5.7 million to renovate and repair Wade Stadium, home of the Duluth Huskies baseball team.

“This is a regional facility that we hope to go beyond just baseball,” Huskies General Manager Craig Smith said.

About 600 square feet of brick collapsed there last month, upping the request amount.

“I am an advocate of taking care of what we have now rather than spending more on entirely new projects,” Reinert said of Wade Stadium.

He also asked for about $4.9 million to renovate the Norshore Theatre and $3.4 million for Spirit Mountain to create a system to take water from the St. Louis River for creating snow rather than drawing from Duluth’s water supply.

“The common thread in these three projects is the age of our infrastructure in Duluth,” Mayor Don Ness said.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness

Reinert said all three are equally important.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, also put forward multiple plans for his district.

Red Wing is asking for about $700,000 to repair the Sheldon Theatre and about $1.6 million for projects along the Mississippi riverfront and nearby Levee Road.

“It handles several problems at the same time along the river,” Jim Larson of Red Wing Grain said, including separating pedestrians from heavy truck traffic on Levee Road.

“They’re two separate bills, but they speak to one vision for Red Wing,” Schmit said.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, proposed including $4.9 million for a new event building at Giant’s Ridge, replacing the ski chalet.

“The facility is aging, infrastructure continues to fail, it’s just reached its life expectancy and it’s time to set the stage for the next 30 years for this region,” Giant’s Ridge Managing Director Linda Johnson said.

Moorhead has asked for about $14.7 million to complete flood mitigation projects such as installing barriers. Oakport Township, which Moorhead soon will annex, requested $5.6 million for similar work.

Tomassoni’s committee has another list of public works proposals before it today, including Two Harbors marina development, funds for state forest infrastructure work and many public trail projects.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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