Councilors, lawmakers set strategy for legislative session
As Duluth's legislative delegation prepares for the start of the next session on Feb. 12, it will go to the Capitol prepared to lobby for nearly $60 million in state bonding projects for the city. It won't be easy to obtain that money, the legisl...
As Duluth's legislative delegation prepares for the start of the next session on Feb. 12, it will go to the Capitol prepared to lobby for nearly
$60 million in state bonding projects for the city.
It won't be easy to obtain that money, the legislators told city councilors and the mayor during a Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday.
The council on Monday night passed a resolution establishing a tiered system of the city's priorities for the session, with $40 million in bonding for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion and another
$12.7 million for wastewater containment basins, which are needed to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows into Lake Superior, at the top of the list.
As something of a surprise, however, the council put the wastewater facility before the DECC in the resolution. Councilor Jim Stauber said some councilors said the reason for that was, given the choice between money for a hockey rink or eliminating overflows, "it was kind of a no-brainer to us, that we have to eliminate overflows."
The city is under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to completely eliminate overflows by the year 2012, or face the risk of steep fines or development moratoriums.
Still, Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, expressed concern that the projects' placement on the resolution might show the city has less enthusiasm for the DECC project.
"I think this sends a bad message to the state, that if you're not 100 percent behind the DECC ... it doesn't look like your No. 1 priority here," she said. "The fact is, that you're going to do those [sewer] projects whether you get the funding or not."
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he spoke on Monday with Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who leads the capital investment committee and controls the Senate's bonding proposal.
"He basically has his bill put together," he said. "He told me yesterday that he only needs to take out $80 million more. Well, he has to take $80 million out, and there's already no sewer in there."
"If that's not your top priority," Prettner Solon added, "that'd be easy for the committee to look at and say that's not the city's top priority, then why don't we cut the DECC?"
But Duluth Mayor Don Ness tried to calm their concerns by saying that the city's top priority was in fact the DECC and said he would introduce a resolution to the council that recognizes that.
"We can't take any chances this time," Ness said.
To make it easier to get the DECC funding passed, Prettner Solon also recommended making the sanitary sewer a project of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, saying it "would be an easier sell."
She expressed concern that the wastewater project wouldn't pass this year anyway as it was the first time Duluth was approaching the Legislature for the money, and other communities are looking for funding for similar projects.
The group didn't spend much time discussing the other projects the city wants funded, including $2.1 million in bonding to bring Lake Superior Zoo up to accreditation standards, $5.7 for a new terminal at the Duluth International Airport, and support for increased funding for local government aid. Those projects were on the second tier of the legislative initiatives.