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Juhnke and Gimse take Willmar projects to St. Paul

WILLMAR -- Joe Gimse was catching some post-Christmas sales this week, looking for accessories for his Senate office at the state Capitol. As the new senator from District 13, Gimse, R-Willmar, will be taking a fair amount of office equipment, and a long list of requests with him to St. Paul.

Since being elected Nov. 7 and defeating longtime Sen. Dean Johnson, Gimse said he's had three to five meetings every day with people seeking legislative intervention or wishing to provide their perspective on proposals, like the Grass Lake restoration project or Willmar's sanitary sewer project.

"It'll be fun to try to bring that all together," said Gimse.

Both Gimse and Rep. Al Juhnhke, DFL-Willmar, say that funding issues pertaining to the old Willmar airport will be addressed at the Legislature.

Juhnke said an $800,000 payment the state wants Willmar to make for past allocations for the old airport needs to be changed. With plans in the works to redevelop the old airport into an industrial park, the state wants the city to reimburse those funds.

"We shouldn't be routing that money back," said Juhnke. Instead, Willmar should be allowed to keep the funds for development of the new airport.

Gimse met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week about state involvement to develop the old airport into an industrial park. He said he was impressed that the governor's staff quickly responded and began setting up meetings to gather more information. "We need to move that forward as quickly as we can," said Gimse. "It's a high priority for the city."

Juhnke said he'll also introduce legislation to give a portion of state Highway 40 to Willmar as part of the project to redevelop the old airport.

Gimse said the transition to the 800-megahertz signal for law enforcement agencies should include provisions to make the expensive equipment affordable to rural communities.

The system will allow different agencies to use the same radio signal, to allow for common communication during emergencies. Larger communities have already invested in the equipment. Gimse said the state needs to provide the infrastructure to make the system affordable for small communities.

Kandiyohi County hasn't yet switched to the 800-megahertz system, in part because of the expense.

Juhnke said he'll continue to "pursue the next step" to locate a Veterans Home Board facility in Willmar.

This year a pre-design report on the facility was completed and in 2007 a site should be selected in Willmar and in 2008 funding should be included in the bonding bill so that construction can begin. "I want to keep this project moving," he said.

Juhnke said he'll also continue discussion about a potential partnership between the Department of Corrections and Kandiyohi County for providing treatment to state prisoners for chemical dependency during their last year of incarceration. The plan could involve construction of new jail beds in Kandiyohi County.

The state's new resource center for methamphetamine that opened this year in Willmar will continue to be monitored. "I want a review of their budgeting and their job description," Juhnke said. "They don't have the visibility or direction we (legislators) envisioned."

He said he wants to hear from meth counselors to see if the center is "missing the boat" or is "on the right track."

Another effort Juhnke wants to pursue is funding for a pilot project to control and eradicate water milfoil in Green Lake.

"There's a lot of stuff on our plate," Juhnke said, and it's "probably not the end of the list."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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