Gov. Walz’s bonding bill doesn’t include Fountain Lake dredging

Published 3:21 pm Monday, February 22, 2021

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Although Gov. Tim Walz’s $518 million bonding bill focused on infrastructure in Minnesota, funds for the final year of dredging on Fountain Lake were not included.

Companion bills before the Legislature — filed by Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, and Sen. Gene Dornink, R-Hayfield — would provide the $7.5 million to complete the work and remain a possibility. 

Both were forwarded to legislative committees in late January for consideration.

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Local officials remain hopeful money for the project will come through.

“I am sure there are many local projects that through the course of the legislative process will be added, subtracted or adjusted,” Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said.

“I know this is a priority for our local representatives at the State Capitol, and I am confident in their efforts to make this correction for such a valuable project to the region.”

Active dredging at Fountain Lake began in 2018. Phase one and two were funded by an initial $7.5 million in bonding appropriation and $9.5 million in local option sales tax funds.

Officials expect the cost of the final chunk of dredging to increase if the J.F. Brennan Co. dredger is removed from Fountain Lake. The company completed the second phase of dredging last fall.

“Funding for the Fountain Lake Restoration is important this year so the project can be completed without delays,” said Andy Henschel, administrator for the Shell Rock Watershed District. 

“We have been working closely with Rep. Bennett and Sen. Dornink and have been meeting with key legislators, explaining the importance of the project to the community and advocating for inclusion in the final bonding bill.”

He noted that the governor’s bonding bill has a statewide focus on infrastructure and assets.

“It is a starting point for discussions for the 2021 bonding bill,” Henschel said.

More than half of the DFL governor’s plan would address security and deferred maintenance needs at universities and state agencies.

Other high-dollar items on the proposal include:

  • $150 million to help rebuild areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul that were damaged by rioting in 2020.
  • $100 million for housing infrastructure across the state.

All but $28.3 million of the proposal would be paid for by bonds; the rest would come from the state’s general fund.

“You repair a leaky pipe before it leads to water damage. That’s exactly what this plan prioritizes — taking care of what we have,” Walz said. “By maintaining existing assets, we can keep our state’s infrastructure strong and reliable for generations to come.”

No other Albert Lea or Freeborn County projects were pitched to Walz for his 2021 bonding bill.

Rigg said he anticipates at least one request from Albert Lea in 2022.