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Mayor: Where's the federal funding for wastewater treatment project?

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke is wondering: Where's the $15 million in federal money authorized but not appropriated for Willmar's $86 million wastewater treatment project?

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"When the earmark was in place for the authorization for the wastewater treatment project, we felt that the authorization would eventually lead to an appropriation, although it would be scattered over probably many years and many segments of money, but eventually it would get to that total amount that had been authorized,'' Heitke told congressional lobbyist David Turch during Monday's night City Council meeting.

"Now, it seems like it's become not just a discussion about what's best for the city of Willmar through the wastewater treatment plant, but it's become more of a political issue. Was that authorization ever really solid? Was that going to lead to an appropriation, or sometimes we are told these things happen and they never really work out,'' he said.

The mayor said he was led to understand because former Republican Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman -- who developed and championed the authorization -- is no longer in office that those in a different party who are now in office will not pick up that authorization.

Turch said even though Coleman took up the authorization, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson "have stepped up to the plate'' and made the request. Turch said Peterson has between six and eight funding requests from his large district and Willmar is one of them.

Heitke said he hoped Turch is right "because I'm hearing other things. The city needs that money. We're counting on it for the biggest public works project we've ever had, and I hate to just see it fade away. You're saying it's not going to fade away. It may not come through in the same way, but it will come through in pieces and you're going to keep working on it. The Minnesota delegation will work on it.''

City Administrator Michael Schmit said he had heard this comment from someone in Washington.

"These folks are saying there's nothing to it,'' Schmit said, referring to Turch and his associate, Kodiak Hill-Davis.

Turch began lobbying for the city in March 2003 in hopes he could accelerate the process of obtaining federal funds for local projects, including the request for $15 million that has been approved but not appropriated by Congress for the wastewater treatment project.

The City Council and the Willmar Municipal Utilities have each been paying half of Turch's $54,000 annual contract.

In other business, the council:

- Voted to defer ordering demolition of the fire-damaged John's Supper Club building at the corner of Third Street and Benson Avenue on the condition that owners Paul and Trudy Kidrowski provide new structural and architectural drawings under the 2007 building code within 45 days and that all work done in the future be done with a new building permit under the 2007 code. The downtown building was damaged in a fire in 1995.

- Adopted an ordinance that will allow a 3.2 percent malt liquor license for the Northwoods Baseball League's new baseball team in Willmar. The league's five-year lease of Taunton Stadium at Baker Field for the new team is contingent upon the opportunity to sell beer at league games and other non-high school baseball games scheduled at the stadium.

? Approved a request by Willmar Fabricating for a 90-day deferment on the $400,000 loan being paid by the company to the city. In January 2006, the city received a $400,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which was loaned to Willmar Fabricating. To date, all payments have been received in a timely manner, leaving a balance of $255,624.80. In a letter to the city, Company President Steven Claussen said the company finished its last contract at the end of May. The company has a contract with Buhler Industries of Winnipeg that was supposed to start in July but production was delayed until September. The company was able to make payments thus far, but the inflow of cash is taking longer than anticipated, said Claussen. Deferring the payments for 90 days would help the company continue production while cash increases.

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