Senators hear requests for state bonding dollars

MARSHALL – It’s going to be a bonding year at the Minnesota Legislature – which means state lawmakers will be faced with the task of choosing from among millions of dollars’ worth of funding requests to include in the bonding bill. With that kind of competition, there was a lot riding on the presentations area residents and public officials gave before a panel of legislators visiting Marshall on Thursday afternoon.

Supporters of public projects in Montevideo, Redwood Falls, and Marshall spoke to members of the Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee at the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University. The committee was making a “bonding tour” of southwest Minnesota that will run through today. Future tours will cover other major regions of the state.

Two of the requests presented Thursday were for funding to help construction of Marshall’s new amateur sports center and expansions at the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training (MERIT) Center.

Supporters of the projects said they were requesting a $4.2 million bond to help construct a $16 million sports center in Marshall. The facility would include two sheets of ice that could be converted to public event or exposition space, and an outdoor softball/baseball complex. Paul Erickson, executive director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, said the plan is to create a “model facility” that would draw tournament and event participation from along the I-29 corridor.

“It’s our agency’s number-one project,” taking precedence even over construction of an amateur sports center in Blaine, Erickson said.

Erickson emphasized that construction of the sports center would also stimulate business in the Marshall region. There are already businesses in construction near the sports center’s planned location.

“We believe this is good economic development,” Erickson said.

Project supporters were also seeking $2.5 million in additional funding for the MERIT Center. The money would help build a driving track and classrooms that could be used for both emergency response and civilian training.

The MERIT Center already draws people from a wide region for education and training exercises and has a close partnership with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, said Marshall EDA Director Cal Brink. The addition of the track would expand that reach into western South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.

“They also have an interest in a closer facility,” he said.

Supporters of three other regional projects also made requests to receive state bonding money. The city of Redwood Falls is seeking $7.8 million to restore the Redwood Lake Reservoir, which was created by damming the Redwood River in 1906. Sediment buildup throughout the years has turned the lake into little more than a mud flat, Redwood Falls Mayor Gary Revier said. The state bond would be used to dredge the reservoir back to its original depth of about 20 feet, opening it back up for recreational use and helping to improve the dam’s ability to generate hydroelectric power for Redwood Falls.

Two bonding requests for projects in Montevideo were also highlighted Thursday. One request was for about $8 million to build a veterans’ home in the southeast part of the city. The more than 97,000 square-foot facility has an estimated cost of $33 million, but supporters said it would also have federal funding and around $2 million in local support to go along with the state bond.

“There is a need” for the project, said Marv Garbe, a Montevideo City Council member. “We must remember that the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are not final numbers.”

About 12,000 veterans live within an hour’s travel of Montevideo, project supporters said.

Garbe said this was the fifth year that supporters of the veterans’ home had requested funding for the project. In that time, he said, considerable funding had been given to projects like new sports stadiums. “Our veterans also deserve this support,” he said.

The city of Montevideo made a request for about $3.1 million to help complete construction of the city’s flood control system. Montevideo City Manager Steve Jones said the levee is an Army Corps of Engineers project and has already received $7 million in federal funding but by statute it can’t receive more.

“It’s getting incredibly difficult to complete this in small pieces,” Jones said, and there’s a lot at stake. Montevideo has battled flooding multiple times since 1997. Jones said a major flood event would also pose a threat to several major highways, including U.S. highways 212 and 59.

Although they weren’t members of the Capital Investment Committee, state Sens. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, were at SMSU Thursday to support the projects requesting funding. Koenen said proposals like the Montevideo veterans’ home would have a wide regional impact. Others, like the request to complete Montevideo’s levees, are necessary to protect lives and property.

“You’ve got to have (flood control),” Koenen said. “If that system fails, the whole downtown is flooded.”

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, the chairman of the Capital Investment Committee, said the challenge in looking at bonding requests lies in finding a balance between capital projects that help the state as a whole and ones with a more local focus.

“We try to do both,” Stumpf said. However, he said projects like those affecting state infrastructure would likely have higher priority.