Environment funding balance considered

ST. PAUL -- There's nothing wrong with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's environmental budget proposals that a few million dollars won't fix, Minnesota legislators heard this week.

ST. PAUL -- There's nothing wrong with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's environmental budget proposals that a few million dollars won't fix, Minnesota legislators heard this week.

A Thursday and Friday parade of hundreds of lobbyists, local officials and others told legislators they need more money for their pet projects.

Now, lawmakers must balance funding decisions of projects ranging from camping cabins to an expanded laboratory to detect bird flu, from building more recreation trails to rehabilitating park buildings, from cleaning up closed landfills to buying land for parks.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership said Pawlenty shorted 28 projects that it follows.

Pawlenty said in introducing his public works proposals that his recommendations already cost a lot of money, and the state is not rich enough to spend much more. He said that when the state borrows money for public works projects, it must be repaid with taxes.


"It's not going to be an easy bill to put together," a weary Sen. Dallas Sams said after two days of hearings.

Rep. Dennis Ozment said the two committees considering environment and other outdoors-related public works projects have a lot of thinking, and more meeting, to do before the legislative session begins March 1.

Ozment and Sams are chairmen of committees that consider environment and agriculture funding. Thursday and Friday were consumed hearing about construction projects to be financed by the state selling bonds.

When the chairmen get into the overall bonding committees with their proposals, the environment will go up against colleges, roads and state projects.

The Environmental Partnership's testimony most vividly shows the difference between Pawlenty and environmentalists. The partnership wants $411 million for projects it tracks, while Pawlenty's proposals for the same type of projects come to $235 million.

For example, the partnership seeks $5 million to slow erosion along streams and lakeshores; Pawlenty's budget includes nothing. The partnership also wants $34 million to buy and rehabilitate walking and bicycling trails around Minnesota; Pawlenty asks for $2 million.

One need that many legislators say will get more money is fixing park and other aging Department of Natural Resources facilities. Pawlenty suggested spending $2 million, but his own parks officials say there is a $26 million need.

"If you neglect roofs, all that leads to is tremendous loses down the road," Ozment said.


Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said neglecting maintenance will cost the state far more than it would save by bonding for less money this year.

Another example of how paying now would save money later is cleaning up closed landfills, Wagenius added. The state has identified 18 former landfills that need to be cleaned up before pollutants leak into the groundwater, which eventually becomes drinking water. That would cost $33.5 million; Pawlenty recommends spending $7 million this year, enough to clean up one landfill.

Judy Erickson of the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council has been meeting with legislators to sell her projects. She filled half of the committee room with supporters when the committees heard trail testimony.

A Pawlenty administration proposal Erickson likes is to add 73 rustic cabins to state parks - including four in Maplewood in Otter Tail County.

"It is about the next thing to camping," she said, a good way to get into camping on the cheap.

Some legislators wondered whether the cabins would compete with privately owned lodging.

Sams said lawmakers received more requests for environmental projects over the governor's proposal than in other years. "People see pristine acres that need preserving," he said.

Sams predicted that even though he and Ozment will lobby for more environmental spending, when everything is decided, it won't be much higher than Pawlenty wanted.


"I think we are going to be in pretty good shape for the environment," Sams said.

A Pawlenty proposal Erickson likes is to add 73 rustic cabins to state parks - including four in Maplewood in Otter Tail County, four at Lake Bemidji, four at Lake Carlos, four at Sibley, three at Lac qui Parle and four at Afton.

Joint bonding committee hears details of three local projects

From staff reports

ST. PAUL -- Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said three local bonding projects were presented during joint meetings this week.

The House Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee and the Senate Environment, Agriculture and Economic Development Budget Division will be recommending projects to be included in the 2006 Capital Investment Bill, Juhnke said in a news release Friday.

Legislators on the committees listened to testimony on the Grass Lake restoration project, the New London Dam and the Glacial Lake Trail.

"All three of the projects were well-received," Juhnke said in the release. "These are important projects for our area and we're hopeful that we can get them included in the final Capital Investment Bill this session."


Juhnke said he and Senator Majority Leader Dean E. Johnson originally passed a Grass Lake restoration bill in 1999, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura.

"In addition to providing improved habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife species, the Grass Lake project will help the city of Willmar with development and run-off issues," Juhnke said in the release.

Juhnke said prospects for the New London Dam project and funding for the Glacial Lakes Trail are also good.

"The (Department of Natural Resources) currently has the New London Dam as its top priority for dam projects in the state and the bipartisan Trails Initiative Group has included the Glacial Lake Trail on its list of priority projects," he said.

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