Austin promotes Ramsey Dam project; Legislative Capital Investment Committee hears waterways bonding proposal

Published 7:53 am Thursday, September 7, 2017

Members of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee visited Austin on Wednesday to learn about the Austin Waterways Restoration Bonding Proposal.

Committee members met with city officials at the Ramsey Dam area near the Old Mill Restaurant, the site of one of the proposed projects, to learn about what the City hopes to do with the area.

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“(This project will include) putting a recreational trail through this area, acquiring the land, and upgrading the trestle bridge, half of which is owned by a private entity while the other half is owned by the Department of Natural Resources,” said City Administrator Craig Clark.

Clark also said the project will tie into a broader trail network at Todd Park and the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

The city is hoping to get $4 million for the project:

• Trail acquisition and construction: $2,725,000

• Railroad bridge restoration: $400,000

• Public amenities: $350,000

• Engineering design: $525,000

Representative Jeanne Poppe, DFL-District 27B, who serves on the committee, was among those hearing the proposal.

“We’re talking about how this fits in to our overall waterway plan,” she said. “We’ve done flood mitigation for many years and we’ve done a lot of different projects, so this relates to how we deal with the water when it comes and how we deal with the quality of the water.”

The challenge facing the committee comes down to the availability of funds. Austin proposed the project during the last legislative year without success.

City officials are hoping to get state funding to establish a recreational area near this canoe access on the Cedar River near Ramsey Mill Pond. Michael Stoll/

“We recognize we compete in the broader competitive market,” Clark said. “It really depends on what projects are coming through the system at the time.”

Poppe estimates there may be as much as $3 billion requested in bonding money from around the state in the next fiscal year. She said there are criteria the committee looks at when considering which projects to fund.

“In some ways, it should have regional or statewide significance,” she said. “They also look at cost-to-benefit ratio. A lot of projects will have a lot of different bonds and lot of different ways of looking at them to see the benefit, and sometimes that’s the key in helping the bonding committee members understand. You do want to have a full flavor of what a project can be and should be.”

Despite the previous setback, Clark is optimistic the proposal will get strong consideration.

“We feel like it’s a regional significance,” he said. “With the combination of this area, the Hormel Nature Center and Todd Park, we think it’s unquestionable that it does serve that purpose. It ties in the fact that it’s a state water trail with the Cedar River, also the state scenic natural area, the Wild Indigo Trail as well as the Ramsey Mill Pond wildlife management area. It really ties that all together in a tangible project.”

Lawmakers met at the Albert Lea campus of Riverland Community College last week to hear their proposal for a $10.1 million project that includes relocating some programs from the Austin campus to Albert Lea. College officials are requesting bonding money to renovate outdated space, to relocate truck driving and collision programs from Austin and to integrate the programs into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs.

Albert Lea representatives also urged lawmakers to fund the construction of a bridge across Albert Lea Lake to connect Blazing Star Trail from Albert Lea to Hayward.