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Paynesville Press - May 29,2002

State funding for local trail vetoed

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Funding for the Lake Koronis Trail was vetoed by Governor Jesse Ventura last week.

Included in a $979 million capital improvements bill was $365,000 that could have helped build the trail from the city of Paynesville to the city beach on Lake Koronis.

Ventura vetoed $322 million in projects, leaving a total of $657 million in the bonding bill.

The Lake Koronis Trail would go from the city to the beach and could eventually circle Lake Koronis. It would offer a safe place for children and adults to bike, skate, and walk.

The veto didn't come as a surprise. Ventura had circulated a list of projects that would likely be vetoed. His list included many local projects and most trail and recreation projects.

"I can't say I was surprised but I did have hope," said Jeff Bertram, chairman of the Koronis Lake Trail committee.

Ventura had cited the budget deficit and concerns about the state's AAA bond rating as reasons for slashing the bonding bill.

"I couldn't in good conscience allow the state to go that much in debt without having the debt service to pay for it and know where it is coming from," Ventura told the Associated Press.

"That's untrue," said Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) "He's pouting." Several lawmakers share Johnson's opinion and believe the vetoes were done in retribution because funds for a light rail system - one of Ventura's pet projects - weren't included in the bonding bill.

Many legislators believe, with interest rates so low, it would have been an ideal time to pass a large bonding bill.

Bertram approached Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring) and Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) about getting state funding for the trail. Funding for the trail was in the original House bonding bill, but not in the Senate version. It became part of the final bonding bill in conference committee.

Another possible source for funding for the trail is a federal T-21 grant. The trail committee applied for a $368,000 grant in 2001 and in 2002 but was turned down both times.

The T-21 grant is a matching grant that would pay for 80 percent, while the trail committee would have to raise 20 percent. This could come in the form of other grants, private money, or contributions from county and local governments.

The state money would have had no matching restrictions.

Without state funding and without the federal grant, the trail will have no major funding for at least another year.

The trail could reapply for both state and federal funding in 2003, and Bertram, a paid consultant, remains optimistic. He believes the applications submitted the last two years have given the trail recognition and that it could very well get a T-21 grant in 2003. The T-21 funds would not be available for a couple of years after the grant is awarded.

The trail has received a combined grant from the Community Assistance Program and the Central Minnesota Initiative Program. The grant money, up to $5,000, will cover the cost of an intern for the summer. According to Bertram, the intern, who has not been hired yet, will assist with organization and will be experienced with grant writing and should be an asset.

The trail project started as an effort to provide a safe way for pedestrians to get from the city to the city beach, with the ultimate goal of going all the way around the lake. A trail committee is organizing the effort, and the project will be broken down into at least three stages to keep it manageable.

The first phase of the trail is now usable. Paynesville Township has resurfaced Old Lake Road and made the shoulders wider to accommodate pedestrian traffic. The first half mile of the new Old Lake Road will be dedicated to Dick Mathowitz, an original trail organizer, on Saturday, July 13. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m.

The second stage of the trail would connect the city of Paynesville with Veteran's Memorial Park. The trail would start on Burr Street. The committee has secured access to land for the trail from the Paynesville Area Schools and from another large landowner. Other rights-of-way still need to be obtained, and the final route of the trail is not set.

The final stage would involve building a scenic trail that goes around Lake Koronis. The non-motorized trail could have stops at the city beach, the Indian burial grounds, and the Lake Koronis Regional Park, as well as other area attractions.

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