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Paynesville Press - June 14, 2006

Bonding bill includes trail money

By Melissa Andrie

At the end of this year's session, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a bonding bill for nearly $1 billion in capital improvements around the state. With $1 million included for the Glacial Lakes Trail, it is the second bonding bill in two years to provide funding for that trail.

Normally, bonding bills are passed on even-numbered years. However, during 2004, a compromise was not reached and no bonding bill was passed. Last year as well as this year, then, bonding bills were on the legislative agenda.

Bonds are funds borrowed by the state, and they create thousands of jobs throughout Minnesota while being used for construction in areas like education, the environment, and transportation.

This is the second largest bonding bill in the history of the state, according to Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who added that it fulfills many needs across Minnesota.

Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) emphasized the job creation statewide that will result from the bonding bill as its many projects are carried out.

This year's agreement calls for $949 million in general-obligation bonds for the state, with another $50 million in user-financed bonds for higher education, and $1 million in capital projects paid for out of the state's general fund. In its balance between rural and metro projects and between different project areas, the bill did very well, felt Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel).

Locally, the Glacial Lakes State Trail, which is located a few miles north of Paynesville along an abandoned railroad bed, received $1 million in funding for the section of the trail from New London to Paynesville. Any of the money not used in that segment is designated for the segment of the trail between Paynesville and Richmond.

Having additional funding for this trail was a key part of the bill, said Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville). Last year, $500,000 was included in the bonding bill for improvements to the trail between New London and Richmond. Also in that bill, $365,000 was provided to connect the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail to the Glacial Lakes State trail.

After the project is bid, the $500,000 included in last year's bonding bill will be used to pave the trail from the north side of New London to Hawick, said Gregg Soupir, area trails and waterways supervisor in the DNR's Spicer office. That piece is planned for this summer, he added.

The new trail money will be spent in paving the section from west of Hawick towards Paynesville, at least until the county line between Kandiyohi and Stearns counties, according to Soupir. That will hopefully occur next summer, he said.

However, no one is sure what will happen after that point. The Lake Koronis Recreational Trail will connect to the Glacial Lakes Trail at the county line, and the easiest route for the trail after that is under the bridge on land owned by the Canadian-Pacific Railway, Soupir explained. If the railway will grant permission for the trail to use its land there for a crossing, it will.

If it is not possible for the trail to go under the railroad bridge, other options - complicated by the evolving plans for Highway 23 - will be explored. One possibility Soupir mentioned was having the trail follow Highway 55 into Paynesville to exit somewhere near the Crow River Nature Park.

The DNR's office in Sartell will be working on the project once it reaches Stearns County. If there is money left over from this funding to be applied to the Paynesville to Richmond segment, it will probably be used to put decks and railings on bridges. There are several hundred feet of bridges in that part of the trail in need of such improvements, said Soupir.

Of the other funding in this year's bill, $307.2 million goes to higher education, with the University of Minnesota (U of M) receiving $116 million and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) school system.

Major portions of the U of M's funding are for asset preservation, new business school buildings on the Minneapolis and Duluth campuses, and a medical bioscience research building on the Minneapolis campus.

Included in the MnSCU funding is money for asset preservation, science building renovates and additions, and funding for designs of future construction at ten MnSCU campuses.

St. Cloud State University received $14 million for one of its science buildings and $4.5 million to renovate the oldest classroom building on its campus. Over $3 million was awarded to St. Cloud Technical College to acquire property.

Environment and agriculture programs received $259.1 million in funding. Included in that is $80.3 million for clean water, drinking water, and wastewater projects, $51.4 million for various parks and trails, $25 million for flood prevention projects, and $25 million for zoos.

Two local state parks, Glacial Lakes and Sibley, were provided $150,000 from the money for parks to construct and upgrade cabins.

In the wastewater treatment portion, $23 million was awarded to wastewater infrastructure funding, to be granted to local governments by the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority on the basis of a point system. The age of the current system, the number of people it supports, the average income of those citizens, local utilities rates, and the contributions of local and federal governments will all be taken into account in the point system.

A sewer project for the city of Richmond, which a number of local legislators identified as a top priority this year, will likely receive funding from that $23 million. Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) said getting this money included was one of the session's results that he was most proud of.

Funds from the same pool could be allocated to Brooten and St. Martin, since Brooten cannot expand before its system is improved and St. Martin can onlyhave three houses added to the city before it is at its limit, added Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport). Both cities are likely to get the funding this year or next year, he predicted.

Transportation funding totaled $155.8 million, with $71 million of that designated for local bridge and road projects and $60 million for the segment of the Northstar commuter rail project between Minneapolis and Big Lake. After that section, the next segment of the commuter rail that will be funded and built is from Big Lake to St. Cloud.

The St. Cloud Regional Airport was given $2 million for land acquisition in the bonding bill, as well.

Money in the bonding bill was also allocated to prisons, sex offender treatment facilities, arts and event centers, transitional housing, and redevelopment grants, among other projects.

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