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Granite Falls Mayor David Smiglewski, left, leads state senators, who comprise the capital investment committee, on a tour of the city's 1935 pedestrian bridge. The bridge is in need of repairs. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

Infrastructure, flood protection, veterans top the needs in two river communities

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News Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/20090918091709gfsenatetour1.jpg?itok=YIV2hEcn
West Central Tribune
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Infrastructure, flood protection, veterans top the needs in two river communities
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

GRANITE FALLS -- Mayor David Smiglewski led 10 state senators into the Granite Falls municipal library and had a standing-room-only crowd to address.

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"It's hard to tour the library because this is it,'' said the mayor in reference to the library's lack of space.

It's so small, librarian Madeline Bronson told the senators, that she is often asked by first-time visitors: "Where's the rest of your library?''

It was the first of many questions the senators heard Thursday morning.

All led to bigger questions they will face when the 2010 session of the state Legislature convenes. How much state bonding money will be available, and where will it be allocated?

Thursday morning was the opportunity for city officials in both Granite Falls and Montevideo to make their pitch to the Senate Capital Investment Committee led by Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.

Langseth encouraged them, explaining that he favors a large bonding bill to take advantage of a competitive construction market. "Just in a business-like way, this is the time to build,'' said Langseth. He let city officials in Granite Falls know he is particularly interested in funding flood-related work.

Langseth's committee heard more than $4 billion in requests the last time around, but adopted a final bill of under $1 billion. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to resist a bonding bill topping $1 billion this time around as well.

Montevideo city officials are seeking $10 million in state funds to develop a 90-bed nursing home for veterans. Mayor Jim Curtiss and others told the senators that the city has already lined up $1.3 million in local pledges toward the project.

City Manager Steve Jones said they expect to eventually have $2 million in local funds to commit to it. The state funding would leverage federal dollars to make a $30 million project possible.

There is a growing and aging veteran population in the state, and this is an area identified by Veterans Affairs officials as needing nursing home services, Chippewa County veteran service officer Dennis Anderson told the senators.

Granite Falls is seeking $1.3 million in state funds toward a $2.6 million project to expand the building holding the library and senior citizen center. The senior center is "jam packed'' in the words of Cindy Velde, senior citizen advocate.

The city is also seeking state funds toward a $1 million restoration of its 1935 pedestrian bridge spanning the Minnesota River in the downtown. Hard-hit by floodwaters in 1997, its two piers are tilting inward and its eastern end needs to be raised by four feet.

It was designed by John A. Roebling, famous for the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor Smiglewski called it an "icon'' for the city's flood fight, and described it as a one-of-a-kind structure in the state.

The city is also looking for ways to protect hundreds of homes from flooding. City Manger Bill Lavin said the city is currently in the first phase of a project to raise a portion of the main flood levee that protects 220 homes.

The city is seeking $2.3 million for the second phase of the project to raise about 7,000 feet of the levee by 3 to 3.5 feet.

Since 1997, the city has lined up nearly $14 million in funding for flood mitigation and protection work, but there remains much to do. Lavin said the city has identified an estimated $7 million worth of work for the upcoming years.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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