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Northland well-represented in Dayton’s bonding proposal

A new Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science Building on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus is one of the projects slated for state funding in Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding proposal. (Illustration courtesy of the University of Minnesota Duluth)

The Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature may not agree, but DFL Gov. Mark Dayton wants to pump millions of dollars into Northeastern Minnesota to fix major infrastructure and environmental problems.

Dayton’s hefty $1.4 billion bonding/jobs/construction proposal released Wednesday includes $25.4 million to continue the cleanup of the St. Louis River estuary in the Twin Ports, state money that would attract another $47.2 million in federal funds.

The governor’s first-round proposal also includes $28 million for a new chemistry building at UMD, $21 million for Duluth’s steam plant conversion project, $6.6 million to refurbish the main runway at Duluth International Airport and $8 million for the Hermantown Wellness Center — all projects that were in last year’s bonding proposals that died when no bill passed.

The state pays for public projects both by general fund spending and, mostly, by issuing bonds paid back to investors over time.

"These projects have a direct economic benefit," the governor told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.

"I am presenting today a bonding bill that should have been passed nine months ago," Dayton said. "Time is of the essence to make up for that last bonding year."
The proposal, which Dayton says will create more than 39,000 construction jobs across the state, faces bleak prospects in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

New Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that he is interested in passing tax cuts and Dayton is interested in passing a bonding bill, and he suggested they could come to an agreement with the two measures.

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, who leads the Senate bonding committee, said the Dayton proposal "probably is a little strong for Republicans." He suggested the GOP might be able to stomach a bill shy of $1 billion.

While some Republicans say no bonding bill is needed in 2017, Senjem disputed that.

"We do need a bonding bill at some level,” he said.

Dayton’s proposal earned high praise in the Northland.

Kris Eilers, executive director of the St. Louis River Alliance, called the river cleanup funding “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore water quality in the St. Louis River estuary and Duluth/Superior Harbor.”

“We want to thank Governor Dayton for his support and urge the Legislature to take action on a bonding bill this session,” Eilers said. “The lack of a bonding bill in 2016 created a sense of urgency to take advantage of the federal funding. It is now imperative to secure the full state match this year, not just half, in order for this project to move forward.”

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson also praised the governor’s proposal.

“Our team has worked hard to communicate with the governor these past few weeks and we will continue to work hard to reach out to the legislature as they commence their work,’’ Larson said in a statement. “The Duluth steam proposal is about job creation and building a sustainable future for our economy and we appreciate that the governor understands the regional impact of our project but also our partners’ projects as well.”

Other major regional projects in Dayton’s proposal include:

  • $7.4 million for campus reconfiguration at Hibbing Community College.
  • $5.6 million for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority to finish the channel dock at the end of the Clure Terminal Expansion and conduct maintenance work on the terminal warehouse buildings.
  • $4.9 million for the Virginia Public Utilities Commission.
  • $3 million for the Falls International Airport terminal in International Falls.
  • $3 million for a new elevator at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park mine shaft.
  • $2 million for campgrounds and trails at the new Lake Vermilion State Park near Soudan.
  • $1 million for new campgrounds and trails at Jay Cooke State park near Carlton.
  • $1.4 million for the MnDOT building in Virginia.
  • $2.8 million for Arrowhead Regional Corrections near Duluth.
  • $1 million for the Prospectors ATV trail near Ely.
  • $500,000 for the Grand Mound historic site near International Falls.
  • Upgrades and maintenance to community college campuses across the region.
  • Don Davis of Forum News Service contributed to this report.