Southwest Minn. officials visit state capitol regarding Lewis and Clark

WORTHINGTON – When Rep. Rod Hamilton called Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh last week to say he had just been informed the House had pulled the Lewis and Clark funding from their bonding bill, Oberloh was shocked. He had spoken to Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of the Capital Investment Committee, less than 24 hours beforehand, and had been assured that the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System Funding was still in the bill.

“Then Rep. Hamilton called and he’s madder than a hornet,” Oberloh stated. “I think it’s pretty safe to assume there are games being played.”

To get Lewis and Clark to Luverne will cost approximately $20.2 million, and to get it to Worthington will be roughly $69 million. Governor Mark Dayton had said earlier this year he would like to see project fully funded in the bonding bill.

On Thursday, Oberloh and Luverne Mayer Pat Baustian spent a half hour on the phone with Gov. Dayton, who assured them he was still behind the project.

“He wants it to be completed,” Oberloh said. “It is one of his top priorities.”

Oberloh, Lewis and Clark Executive Director Troy Larson and several others made another road trip to St. Paul this week, heading up Thursday with no specific meetings set up, but determined to talk to as many people as possible about getting water to southwest Minnesota – water each city had already paid for years ago.

Even with nothing set up in advance, Oberloh said the series of meetings and discussions was one of the best experiences the group has had, as far as making contacts and connections with people. They first met with Gov. Dayton’s office, then made their way around the halls, stopping to talk with legislators they knew.

“We would grab them right in the halls,” Oberloh said. “They knew why we were there, and they know the importance of Lewis and Clark. There is so much activity there right now, and we had a lot of great listening going on.”

Toward the end of the day, Oberloh, Larson and Mark Johnson from Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water were allowed a closed-door meeting with the committee that is making decisions about what is in the House and Senate bonding bill – Reps. Hausman and Matt Dean and Sens. Leroy Stumpf and Dave Senjem. Oberloh said the legislators asked questions about water rates, the amount of construction that could be done in two years and more.

“It was very pleasing that they were asking so many questions,” Oberloh said.
The southwest Minnesota group was very clear in their explanation of the dire need for water.

“As of August of this year, there could be businesses curtailed because of the lack of water, and we don’t want to see that happen,” Oberloh said. “We explained how urgent this is. We can’t wait for another bonding cycle.”

The fact that the infrastructure of Lewis and Clark is regional, instead of just benefitting one city, is helpful, Oberloh said, when it comes to looking for funding. And it seems that bonding may not be the only funding source.

According to Oberloh, if the money doesn’t come through bonding, all hope is not lost. Because it is a regional project, exploration is being done into alternate ways to finance the project.

“As an elected official, I think they aren’t ready to play all of their cards yet,” he added.

Still, Oberloh is confident that the Lewis and Clark project will be included in the bonding bill. He’s not sure of the amount, but he said he walked away from the meetings feeling very hopeful.

“Then the pressure has to be applied to the federal government to pay back the state for whatever money they influx into the project,” he added.

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