Albert Lea leaders ‘frustrated’ over Senate’s dredge proposal

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, May 6, 2014

By Austin Daily Herald and Associated Press

Only $1 million out of a $7.5 million request to dredge Fountain Lake was included in the Senate bonding bill released Monday.

The bill, which totals $1.1 billion, combines borrowing and cash financing for projects ranging from refurbishment of aging buildings on college campuses to flood prevention to theater restorations.

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“We’re frustrated with the legislative process,” said Brett Behnke, administrator of the Shell Rock River Watershed District. “One million is inadequate for our project. For the past four years we have been asked to phase this project and have done so. We no longer have time to phase it.”

The comments come after House leaders included the full $7.5 million request in their proposal last month. The project remained intact Monday evening after House leaders revised the bill. Though it was not listed in Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommendations in January, local leaders said the governor has expressed a desire to add a southern Minnesota project.

Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he was hoping for more than $1 million on the senate side.

“I was a little disappointed that were weren’t able to get a higher number on the senate side,” Sparks said of the project.

Sparks said he has heard from people in the Albert Lea area who were unhappy about the number, but he described the bonding bill as a process, adding it was important to at least get the project in the bill so it can move forward to negotiations between the Senate and House.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that this is a process,” Sparks said.

“Obviously we’ll be judged by our work at the end of the day,” he added.

As they stand now, the House and Senate would enter final negotiations needing to sort out whether to spend money to outfit Minnesota’s newest state park, to pipe water into southern Minnesota and to reconstruct the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History in St. Paul. Those are among the big differences, with plenty of smaller ones throughout the two bills.

Behnke said while he is glad the Albert Lea project is in the Senate bill in some fashion, $1 million would not be enough to move it forward.

He called on the community to show support for the dredging during the last few weeks of the legislative session.

“We’ve had some reassurances from the House,” he said. “Let’s hope they stay strong.”

Officials have stated the entire project is estimated at $15 million, with the other half of the cost coming from a local-option sales tax.

The project is necessary because the lake has become filled with sediment — as much as 5 to 8 feet in some areas. The accumulation has resulted in water quality impairment and large algae blooms.

Local leaders have lobbied the dredging project would increase economic development for Albert Lea and the state through increased tourism, spending and strengthening the economy of southern Minnesota.