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Once again, D.C. lobbyist agreement is approved by city officials

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved a committee recommendation to renew the annual professional consulting agreement with congressional lobbyist David Turch and Associates of Washington, D.C.

The agreement, recommended by the council's Public Works/Safety Committee, extends the previous agreement that expired on March 31 with the same terms, conditions and dollar amount of $54,000, with half paid by the city and half by the Willmar Municipal Utilities.

Turch, a Minnesota native, has been a lobbyist for 40 years and began congressional lobbying work for Willmar in March 2003 in hopes he could accelerate the process of obtaining federal funds for local projects.

During discussion Monday, Mayor Les Heitke noted the city and utilities share the cost and he encouraged Rice Hospital Board to consider entering into a shared agreement so Turch could work on federal legislation that would be helpful to the hospital.

Heitke said Turch is well-known in Washington.

Council member Ron Christianson, who is critical of lobbyists and has questioned the need, asked what issues Turch will work on besides pursuing funds for the proposed veterans' home. "What exactly are we going to get for this?'' he asked.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the list of issues was developed with Turch and the city's top priority is the wastewater treatment project. He said Congress almost two sessions ago authorized $15 million toward the $86 million project, but the money has not been appropriated. "We're pushing very hard for that,'' he said.

Also on the list are railroad crossing quiet zones, said Schmit, and council member Bruce DeBlieck said the list includes wind turbines and power plant upgrades.

Schmit said his discussions with Turch indicate funding for the wastewater project is a real possibility. The difficulty, however, is the money may be released in increments over time and plant construction may be finished by the time the appropriations start to surface.

He said this year is very important to get the money appropriated.

Christianson, saying "because we need all the help we can get on the waste treatment plant,'' voted with the other seven council members to approve the agreement.

In other business, the council authorized the state Rail Administration office to include a proposed Trott Avenue Southwest railroad crossing safety improvement project on the state 2013 funding list.

The project at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad crossing involves replacing the crossing's cantilever lights with gates.