Infrastructure funding could be saving grace for these northwest Minnesota cities
Water and sewer replacement is major need for Wadena, Park Rapids and Bagley communities
WADENA — Mayors of Wadena, Park Rapids and Bagley had U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s attention for about a half hour on Wednesday, Feb. 16, as they shared about their major infrastructure needs via a Zoom meeting.
Klobuchar, D-Minn, who briefly spoke about the ramping up of arms in and around Ukraine, said that it was the infrastructure law passed in November 2021 that she was most excited to talk about as it meant communities would be able to fix issues too costly for most rural areas to handle on their own.
Klobuchar noted that the infrastructure law went through, noting that 17 Republicans senators – such as North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven – supporting the legislation.
The $1 trillion deal signed into federal law in November 2021 aims to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water and improve access to high-speed internet, among many other things.
“What is the one thing that we can be not as divisive about right now? We can agree that we need good water with water projects, we need roads and bridges that work, we need broadband access,” Klobuchar said to the group.
Klobuchar noted that Wadena and Hubbard counties are all but 5% served by broadband internet access but she looks forward to seeing that reach 100%.
The main point Klobuchar wanted to get across was that the money is coming and cities should be ready to make plans if they don't already have them.
“There’s going to be major funding coming down the pikes … major funding,” Klobuchar said. She noted Minnesota is getting over $4 billion for roads and bridges.
The mayors took turns sharing their infrastructure needs, which largely focused on outdated water and sewer infrastructure.
Wadena Mayor George Deiss said the community is booming and while they look to add utilities for areas of the community that need to grow, they also have to replace utilities in parts of town that are aging. He shared about the utility extension needed for the new hospital, a plan to add water and sewer to the east of town for a housing development and completion of U.S. Highway 10 being built to four lanes as new projects. He was informed that the housing development plan was expected to cost $1.2 million to add infrastructure, but the bids came in closer to $2.4 million.
“Everything goes up,” Deiss said of the costs.
Meanwhile the water tower is in need of refurbishment and the southwest quadrant of town, the city's largest, is in need of new water and sewer. Costs for all this work are inching towards $40 million.
“These water projects are so important, but it's expensive, and this is the perfect time if we are going to do a big infrastructure investment that we help some of the smaller communities with water and sewer,” Klobuchar said.
Bagley mayor Sidney Michel shared a concern echoed by others in the meeting, the fear of rising costs far above those estimated costs. The city was looking at an estimated $13.5 million water and sewer project that he believes has risen to $17 million. They will open bids next month to find out for sure. Costs have risen and supply has been limited are some things he is hearing.
“We’re probably looking at a 30, maybe even higher percentage of cost going to be added to it,” Michel said.
The community has pipes in the town from 60-80 years old that need to be replaced.
He said they are looking at getting a $13.5 million loan for the project from the USDA, but the taxpayers are still looking at paying about $485,000 a year over 40 years. That along with raised taxes and raised utility costs are too much for an aging population, he shared.
“This is going to be a project that scares me,” Michel said.
Park Rapids Mayor Ryan Leckner noted Park Rapids has a capital improvement plan, “which we’re having a hard time getting anything done with the costs and trying to keep everybody’s taxes from going up. If there’s programs out there we can use, we’ll definitely take advantage of them.”
Leckner didn’t have a specific project in mind for federal monies.
Leckner said the city has applied for a sales tax to improve some roads and “lighten the burden to the taxpayers and the people that get assessed.”
In terms of the economy, Leckner reported that Main Street is “thriving.” He commented that, since the pandemic and remote technology advances, more lakeshore owners have moved into their cabins full time to work and live year’round.
Affordable housing and day care are major factors in attracting workers to the area, Leckner added.
Klobuchar noted there will be grants available to fund many of these projects. Those will be available through MnDOT, through the Build Grant program, through congressional earmarked projects and through new grant programs, which she said gives emphasis to rural community needs.
An assistant to Klobuchar said these dollars will be directed to cities without local matching funds. They shared that they wanted it to be an easy process to get these funds.
On top of infrastructure needs, the communities spoke about the need for workers and a resolution to supply chain issues. Warroad Mayor Bob Marvin, who was also invited to this meeting, was not able to attend.