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BONDING BILL PASSES: Southeast Minnesota projects benefit from new package

ROCHESTER Minn. (FOX 47) — Thursday was a big win for many projects in southeast Minnesota. The state Senate passed the nearly $1.9 billion public works construction package that has been a hot topic in all five special sessions.

The vote in the Senate was almost unanimous with just three ‘no’s’ and 64 votes to pass.

“It has stuff in it that you do like and stuff in it that you don’t like,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, (DFL) Rochester. “That’s the nature of compromise.”

The almost 10 hours of discussion in the House on Wednesday included both parties adding provisions and amendments. One that divided the two sides, but convinced some to vote for the bill was a tax benefit for small businesses and farmers.

“We’re desperately needing that. It shouldn’t have been part of a bonding bill because it’s a tax provision,” said Rep. Nels Pierson, (R) Rochester. “Because it’s in there, it made it difficult to vote against that bill.”

The DFL side was less enthusiastic about this part of the bonding bill.

“That was something the Republicans wanted,” Liebling said.

However, there were things the Republicans wanted that did not get addressed. One of them is a way of paying for the bill upfront.

“If we don’t pay for it now, we’ll pay for it even worse next year,” warns Rep. Peggy Bennett, (R) Albert Lea. “That was my one disappointment but on the whole I’m happy with it.”

Bennett was happy that the bill included funding to complete Albert Lea’s Blazing Star Trail.

“Another important project, flood mitigation for East Main Street in Albert Lea, is in there,” Bennett said.

Over in Oronoco, the bill is funding a project to replace septic tanks with a sewage system.

“Back in 2013, they were identified by an engineering survey that they did not meet MPCA standards. That covered about 75 percent of them,” said Oronoco Mayor Ryland Eichhorst about residents’ septic tanks.

Planning began in 2015, but the city of Oronoco has been forced to wait.

“In my world, It was always going to happen. It was a matter of time,” Eichhorst said. “Patience is a virtue.”

In Rochester, projects getting funding include the airport’s runway, Cascade Lake improvement and a new interchange for Highway 14 and County Road 104.

“There have been some crashes there,” said MnDOT spokesperson Mike Dougherty. “As the communities start to grow, you’re going to have more traffic with commuters, people shopping, freight and everything moving through there.”

Yet the bill only funds the design portion of the interchange project.

“This at least gets things rolling at one piece of that corridor,” Dougherty said.

Both sides are finding good and bad things with the bill. Some say the bill does not do enough.

“I think Rochester tends to ask for less than it really could,” Liebling said.

Others say the bill is too expensive.

“I think the sign of a good bonding bill is when no one is happy,” Pierson said.

One representative says things should be done differently next time.

“We, as in legislators in government, have to stop cramming everything into these big huge bills,” Bennett said.

Another Rochester project included in the bonding bill will replace a roof on RCTC’s campus. The bill also provided $8 million for the Chatfield Center for the Arts.

Alex Tejada

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