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Legislators tour bonding projects in Willmar area, learn about avian flu testing

WILLMAR -- State legislators learned Tuesday what funding they approved in June will do for the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar. They also saw the location of a project to link two rail lines west of Willmar. Members of the Minnes...

Mel Odens
Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director, explains the potential Willmar Wye to House Capital Investment Committee Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, committee members, and Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar. The group also toured the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory and the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services Facility. (GARY MILLER | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR - State legislators learned Tuesday what funding they approved in June will do for the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar.
They also saw the location of a project to link two rail lines west of Willmar.
Members of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee toured the poultry testing lab and then took a bus ride through the area where the Willmar Wye is planned. They also toured the Willmar Child and Adolescent Behavior Health Services facility on the MinnWest Technology Campus.
The Willmar Wye would allow seven to 10 trains a day to bypass Willmar and continue southwest or northwest when they do not need to enter the rail yard on the east end of the city.
Dr. Dale Lauer, director of the poultry lab, and Dr. Shauna Voss, the lab’s senior veterinarian, led tours of the poultry lab.
Legislative funding was approved to improve the speed of testing for avian influenza, which savaged Midwestern poultry farms in March and April.
The Legislature approved $8.5 million for improvements to the Willmar lab in the 2015 bonding bill.
Voss told the legislators that the project will bring a more precise testing method closer to poultry farms, which are concentrated in central Minnesota. PCR testing can find molecular components of the virus, she said.
PCR testing is now done in St. Paul, and valuable time was lost in the spring while samples were driven to the Twin Cities, Voss said.
The sensitive genetic testing needs a dedicated area to avoid contamination and meet higher standards, she said. The rest of the lab needs to be “clean, not sterile.”
The problem with testing for antibodies, as the lab does now, is that the virulent H5N2 virus killed so quickly that blood tests weren’t always positive, Lauer said.
At the height of the outbreak, some testing was done at labs in Brookings, South Dakota, and Fargo, North Dakota, Lauer said. While those labs provided fine service, Minnesota’s samples would not take top priority if those states had major outbreaks, too.
“We thank the Legislature for getting some funding so we can address our testing needs,” he said.
Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Mel Odens joined the tour to tell the committee members about the wye project. The project will be the culmination of 10 years and $118 million of work by local governments to develop an industrial park extension on the former Willmar Regional Airport land.
The bypass will have a railroad spur that would serve the industrial park. The railroad spur would open up 400 acres for industrial development, he said.
Odens said the planning and design for the project is finished. The funding approved now is for construction.
The most recent bonding bill included $3.8 million for the proposal. Local governments plan to contribute to the $50 million project, and local officials will travel to Washington later this year to make a presentation for a federal grant. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has placed a high priority on it and is also a participant in the project.
Odens called the project a good public/private partnership.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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