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RCC project not included in bonding proposal; Request was to relocate truck driving, collision programs

A proposed Riverland Community College project was not included in the House bonding proposal submitted last week.

Bonding bills from Gov. Mark Dayton and the Senate include a $7.4 million Riverland Community College request to relocate truck driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea and to integrate the programs into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs. The House bonding proposal does not.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said negotiations between the three legislative branches still need to take place, noting she wants to work with the governor’s office and Senate to secure a bonding bill that includes Riverland work.

Bennett, a member of the Capital Investment Committee, said the proposal was not included in the $600 million House bonding package because there was not enough money in the MnSCU revenue stream to fund the project, based on a list of the entity’s priority projects. She said she plans to advocate strongly for the project and is confident more money will be placed in the MnSCU system.

“We’ll have lots of negotiating to do,” she said. “This is not the end product.”

A $600 million bonding bill is a large amount in a non-bonding year, Bennett said.

“However, since we did not have a bonding bill last year, I think we should do a substantial one this year,” she said. “We have a lot of state infrastructure to take care of and maintain, and bonding is how we do that.”

Riverland Community College President Adenuga Atewologun said he was disappointed to learn Riverland work was not included in the House bonding package. He described himself as hopeful the project will be included in a final bonding bill, noting Bennett told him she will work toward getting the request back in the bill.

Local legislators, such as Bennett; District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin; and District 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, have expressed support for the project. Sparks has sponsored a motion that would help Riverland pay the portion of the project that is not covered in the bonding request. Bonding would cover $5.5 million of the project. Riverland would be expected to pay about $2 million.

“I am really optimistic that Sparks, Bennett and Poppe will continue to work on our behalf to make sure our $7.4 million bonding request materializes,” Atewologun said, noting he would be discouraged and disappointed if the project is not included in the final bonding bill.

“It would really put us behind,” he said.

“This project is long overdue.”

Atewologun described the project as a community project and said if it is not included this year, the cost is expected to increase to $9.4 million next year.

“That puts us behind the competition, even that much,” he said, noting the project is part of Riverland’s strategic plan.

Eighty percent of Riverland graduates either stay in the community or earn a four-year degree and return, Atewologun said.

In a statement posted on his website, Dayton said his $1.5 billion bonding proposal would build more than 240 urgently-needed infrastructure projects in communities across Minnesota, creating an estimated 22,950 jobs.

“My proposals would put thousands of Minnesotans to work throughout our state, increasing economic opportunity and strengthening local economies,” he said. “This bill will help deliver clean, reliable water to Minnesota communities, ensure our higher-education institutions have the facilities they need to train our workforce, and build community projects across our state. I urge the Legislature to pass this jobs bill quickly, to support our local economies and create good jobs across the state.”

Randy Kehr, Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce executive director, said he is disappointed the Riverland proposal is not in the House bonding proposal because of the effect he believes the project will have on the community. He said the project will, by increasing efficiency, make Riverland a hub for transportation training and expand the college’s offerings and address a shortage in the transportation industry.

A bonding request to extend sanitary sewer service to the Stables area north of Albert Lea is included in the Public Facilities Authority portion of the House bonding proposal, Bennett said.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said he has some degree of confidence that sewer and water portions of the project will move ahead this year.

Bennett noted bonding to fund the construction of a bridge across Albert Lea Lake to connect Blazing Star Trail from Albert Lea to Hayward will likely not be addressed this year. She hopes the trail project will be addressed soon.

“In the end, we have to get it done,” Bennett said.

Adams expressed disappointment Blazing Star Trail work has not been conducted yet after the state committed to the project more than 10 years ago. He described himself as “cautiously optimistic” that a bonding bill will pass this year.

To Bennett, passing a budget this year is essential.

‘We have to accomplish that,” she said. “And that comes first.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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