City, watershed hire Capitol lobbyist

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 24, 2006

Joseph Marks, staff writer

Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen and Shell Rock River Watershed Board member Paul Overgaard hired lobbyist Judy Erickson last Friday to advocate for local bonding requests to state legislators in St. Paul. Erickson will receive $10,000 for the current legislative session, the cost of which will be split evenly between the city and the watershed district.

Erickson agreed to lower her requested fee of $12,000 before contracting with the city and watershed, Simonsen said.

Erickson’s duties will include contacting legislators on behalf of the city and watershed, advising city and watershed officials about sending letters and making phone calls to legislators and informing them about committee meetings they should appear at in St. Paul, according to watershed documents. If time allows, she will present a workshop to city and watershed officials on the legislative process and &8220;how to lobby,&8221; perhaps after the session is over.

&8220;I’ve worked on bonding projects for 20 years, so I can easily step in and give straight up assistance to the city and the watershed. I know the players, I know the issues and I felt I could really help them out,&8221; Erickson said.

She founded Erickson Associates, a lobbying firm, in 1987. It became known as Conservation Strategies Inc. in 2002. She said she has extensive experience lobbying for watersheds and environmental agencies.

Erickson worked previously with state Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, and state Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, on the Shooting Star Trail and Blazing Star Trail projects in Austin and Albert Lea.

From 1981 to 1986, she worked as an assistant legislative assistant and legislative assistant to former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger in his Washington, D.C., office, according to her rsum.

&8220;Nearly $3 billion worth of requests went to the governor’s office,&8221; said Erickson, &8220;so competition is really tough this year for bonding dollars. I’ve only been on board since last Friday, so I came a little late into the game. But I’m working hard to have a strong finish.&8221;

The city of Albert Lea and the watershed district are pursuing $1,475,000 in bonding money for projects including upgrading storm sewer lift stations, making repairs to Katherine Island and storm-water and flood-mitigation projects in Albert Lea Lake and the Pickerel Lake subwatershed.

Only $5,000 in grant money requested by the Department of Natural Resources for Albert Lea were included in the Senate version of the bonding bill, which passed through the Senate on Thursday.

Under Erickson’s direction city and watershed officials are drafting a letter to members of the House Capital Investment Committee outlining and advocating for their requests, according to former Watershed Administrator Cathy Rofshus, who continues to work for the district. The Capital Investment Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, has not yet completed its version of the bonding bill.

&8220;The next phase will be where the action turns to the House Capital Investments Committee,&8221; said Erickson. &8220;I’m not sure how quickly they’ll move to put their version together, but that’s where the action is.&8221;

Since 1991 Erickson has managed Pleasant Valley Orchard, a family business that sells pick-your-own strawberries during the summer and apples in the fall.

(Contact Joseph Marks at joseph.marks@albertleatribune.com or at 379-3435.)