Gov. Tim Walz will support the city of Duluth's request for $13.5 million in funding to reinforce the city's coastal infrastructure, including seawalls and a beefed up Lakewalk better suited to withstand Lake Superior's surging surf.
The governor announced the final elements of his proposed $2.028 billion bonding bill package Wednesday morning.
Funding for the waterfront improvements tops the city of Duluth's list of priorities heading into the coming legislative session in St. Paul. Near-record-high water levels and the increasing frequency and intensity of storm events have taken a toll on Duluth's shoreline of late, forcing the city to bolster its defenses.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson described the needed improvements as more than just a local project but also one of regional and statewide significance.
"It helps shore up our entire city from slowly slipping into the water, and it maintains public access to the waterfront," she said, noting that it's hard to overstate the importance of preserving critical waterfront infrastructure.
"An amenity like the Lakewalk is so important it's almost not an amenity. It just is, and it's what brings people here," Larson said.
During a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Walz talked about the work that went into assembling the bonding package, saying: "The administration and my team spent months soliciting these projects that are needed by local communities, by higher education, by nonprofits, to have them start thinking about what did they need in their community, those folks who knew best. And we took the time to get out there and vet them."
In all, the state received about $5.3 billion in requests including what Walz described as many worthy projects that did not make the cut, but he said: "We did not go reckless here. We stayed fully in a fiscally responsible place to keep our triple-A bond rating."
While the scale of the bonding bill he is proposing is unprecedented, Walz defended it, saying: "We are in fiscally as sound of shape as the state has been in perhaps ever. We have moderate debt load compared to other states. We have replenished and will replenish fully our rainy-day funds, and we're in a position to use that money to leverage investments that need to be made."
The governor likely will need to do some convincing, however. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, called for less than $1 billion in bonding bill spending.
"I'm more comfortable with those kinds of numbers than $2 billion," Gazelka said. "We should carefully consider that today’s borrowing impacts tomorrow’s spending. Surpluses come and go, but obligations remain the same; like a household budget, we don’t just borrow money because we can or because we can get a good deal.”
Walz said some Republican leaders, including Gazelka, said they wanted a leaner bonding bill "before they saw forecast numbers, before they even saw my proposals. And they certainly didn't look at individual projects. So, I'm going to ask folks if they don't think the seawall project is worthwhile, then you need to tell people why. If you think it's OK to have a leaking armory at our National Guard facilities in Rosemount, then tell us that. ... If you don't think we need water infrastructure, if you don't think we need housing, if you don't think we need to address public safety issues, have that debate."
"The people of Minnesota, the local leaders of Minnesota and my administration, we've done our work. And we put together a fiscally responsible package but a very visionary one to look to the future. And I think in an election year, to be quite honest with you, Minnesotans are going to be asking all the right questions."
The governor's proposed bonding package also includes $7.7 million to clean up the Duluth dump Superfund site off Rice Lake Road. This work would address concerns about the impact contaminants and methane could have on public health and the environment. If funding is provided, the project would entail excavating and consolidating waste from the landfill in a more sanitary manner.
Walz supports another $1.365 million to fund St. Louis County's efforts to establish a regional mental health crisis center in Duluth — a project that's expected to cost $5 million.
Other regional initiatives under the proposed package
- $6 million to help the city of Proctor construct a new governmental center in Proctor at an estimated cost of $12 million.
- $3.35 million for the Northeast Regional Corrections Center to enhance facilities used to educate and provide vocational training.
- $1 million to help St. Louis County expand its multiuse Voyageur Country ATV trail system.
- $5.8 million to develop campgrounds at the Lake Vermilion Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
- $1.02 million to help the city of Eveleth undertake improvements to five buildings, including heating and ventilation upgrades, tuckpointing, updated restrooms and roof repairs.
- $10.39 million for the city of Virginia to help build a regional fire-based emergency medical services and public safety facility at an estimated cost of $25.69 million.
- $1.9 million for the city of Silver Bay to support a multimodal trailhead center.
- $2.98 million for the city of Ely to create a regional trailhead complex and visitors center serving the David Dill-Taconite Snowmobile Trail, the Mesabi Trail and the Prospector's Loop ATV Trail.
- $1.5 million for the city of Hibbing to build a viewing area at the Hull Rust mine, including trails, signs and a park where people can explore mining artifacts.
- $5.488 million for the Itasca Recreation Association Civic Center in Grand Rapids to make repairs and bring the facility into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- $2.85 million for the city of Cohasset to design and construct a multiuse riverfront development at an anticipated cost of $6.321 million.
- $400,000 to construct two exhibition buildings at the St. Louis County Fairgrounds in Chisholm.
- $9.5 million for improved wildfire response infrastructure, including a new Hibbing airtanker base, Grand Rapids hangar and Brainerd airtanker base.
$1.877 million to purchase new radio equipment at the Willow River correctional facility to improve communication and public safety.
- $6.6 million to build a visitor center, campground, boat ramp and access road at the Voyageurs National Park in Crane Lake Township.
This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. with quotes from Gov. Tim Walz and Mayor Emily Larson. It was originally posted at 11:13 a.m.