Walz bonding plan includes Lake Vermilion State Park visitors center
The plan also includes wildfire aviation upgrades in Hibbing and Brainerd.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz wants to borrow money to pump another $265 million into natural resource projects across the state, from boat landings and fish hatcheries to new water systems at state parks, and an all-new visitors center and expanded camping and trails at Lake Vermilion State Park near Tower.
The money is part of the governor’s proposed $3.3 billion construction/bonding package proposed last week at the Capitol that is funded by issuing bonds the state pays back over time.
The plan will now go through the state Legislature as lawmakers debate the merits of specific projects and add a few of their own.
If the proposal sparks some deja vu, that's because several of the projects were also included in the governor’s general fund budget proposal also announced last week, with Walz planning to take money from two different pots to pay for the projects. The construction/bonding money would be in addition to $287 million the governor proposed for natural resource efforts, with that money coming out of the state’s general fund, largely from the state’s projected $17 billion budget surplus.
Combined, natural resource projects would get an extra $552 million over the next two years above and beyond the usual Department of Natural Resources annual budget.
The bonding/construction proposals include money to repair or replace degraded or failing building components: public water access sites, bridges, roads and trails, fish hatchery infrastructure, and wastewater and drinking water systems at state parks and recreation areas. This includes a new fish hatchery in Waterville, a revamped state forest nursery and upgrades to the DNR’s mining drill core storage facility in Hibbing.
“The investments in our infrastructure plan are a down payment on the future of our state,” Walz said in announcing the plan. “Strong infrastructure is what allows Minnesotans to live safe and healthy lives. It’s what keeps our drinking water clean, our roads and bridges safe to drive on, and our communities safe from flooding. The investments in our 2023 infrastructure plan will support the economic vitality of our communities, while creating thousands of good-paying jobs.”
The governor also wants to issue bonds to buy private land to add public hunting and fishing sites and bolster the state's aviation arsenal used to battle wildfires, including upgrades to wildfire stations at the Brainerd and Hibbing airports where the water-dropping planes and helicopters are based during peak wildfire months.
Walz also proposed spending $6 million in construction/bonding money to create better access at state parks and wildlife management areas — not just trails and bathrooms but better access to remote areas for people in wheelchairs and with other impairments.
The governor's plan also includes money for dam safety and repairs across the state, $24 million for flood mitigation — especially for the Red River and Minnesota River valley areas — and $9.6 million for dam safety statewide.
Walz's plan includes $14.4 million for the long-planned visitor's center at Lake Vermilion/Soudan Underground Mine State Park, as well as expanded campgrounds and trails at the park. The park, one of the state's newest, currently has a campground, boat landing and some trails but no main office or interpretive center.
The plan also includes $5 million to help towns and cities plant new trees to replace species lost to invasive pests like emerald ash borer and spongy moths.
Walz’s base state budget plan also calls for a fishing license fee increase of 20% for Minnesota residents, from $25 annually to $30, and 30% for non-residents, in addition to state park sticker and boat registration hikes, to keep improvements ongoing after the budget surplus is used up.
The governor’s proposed budget also includes $1.4 million for the DNR to better monitor and prevent chronic wasting disease, which is slowly spreading across the state, killing wild and farmed deer.