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‘A positive reception’; City Administrator speaks to legislators on clean water bill

City Administrator Craig Clark

A bill that would fully fund approximately $128 million needed for clean water infrastructure projects throughout the state, including $2 million for the Turtle Creek II sewer extension project in Austin, took another step toward passage on Wednesday.

City Administrator Craig Clark gave his testimony to the Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division at the capitol on Wednesday, giving legislators Austin’s perspective on the need for the passage of House Bill 411, of which Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-27B) is the lead author.

Clark’s testimony was preceded by a presentation from Public Facilities Authority (PFA) Executive Director Jeff Freeman.

The PFA handles the Point Source Implementation Grant (PSIG) program, which Poppe hopes will provide the revenue for the statewide projects.

“We had a positive reception and it got referred to the Ways and Means Committee,” Clark said. “A lot of rural communities have received PFA funds in various forms, so a lot of members (of the Division) are aware of the importance that PFA plays in rural communities in these water and wastewater projects.”

House Bill 411 was written to provide a source of funding for the projects after environmental groups filed a lawsuit contesting other sources of funding proposed by Legislative Republicans. Clark, who is a board member on the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, is hoping for a quick passage.

“We’re still hopeful on a speedy path for these projects so they don’t get bogged down in the legislative arm wrestling.”

Clark spoke to legislators about Austin’s Turtle Creek II sewer extension project to connect 40 homes to the city sewer service and protect ground and surface water from contamination from a failing septic system that is directly discharging into surface water. The homes are on property that was annexed by the city in 2014.

Clark also touched on some of the other state projects and discussed cost challenges of upcoming upgrades to Austin’s wastewater treatment plant to meet Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“I shared with them that portions of our plant go back to the 1930s,” he said. “The ballpark estimate is $40 million of improvements that we’ll be looking at, so it was to give a perspective of the magnitude of the financial impact of the project. We try to make clear to them that these projects are ready to go and we are just waiting for funding to advance the projects. The longer these projects delay, the more the inflationary process adds more costs. The extent at which they eliminate the backlog of these projects better equips the state for dealing with other challenges.”

Clark concluded his testimony by thanking the legislators for the increased commitment the state has made in partnering on these projects and understanding the environmental significance.

“What we’re dealing with here are imminent public health threats to both surface and groundwater,” he said. “When you talk about wanting to care about the environment, this is where the rubber meets the road.”

Clark was also complimentary of Rep. Poppe’s work on the bill.

“Rep. Poppe did a great job outlining the requests,” he said. “We really appreciate her taking a lead role on this.”