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Cities say they need state money to meet water rules

Windom, Minn., Mayor Dominic Jones tells reporters Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, that his city cannot afford to build a $15 million sewage treatment plant without state help. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Joe Beattie, Hastings High School science teacher, says Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, that more education is needed to show Minnesotans the importance of clean water. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL—A couple of businesses are moving to Windom, a 4,646-population community in southwest Minnesota, but the mayor there worries that the city cannot handle much more growth.

The limiting factor may be the city's need for a new sewage treatment plant to meet state and federal guidelines. Mayor Dominic Jones, who in his private life is director of the Red Rock Rural Water District, said the mandated sewage plant would cost $15 million if it could be built now, but the city cannot afford it.

Even if Windom receives $7 million from the state, as Gov. Mark Dayton proposed in his $1.5 billion public works funding bill, the remaining $8 million would be a heavy lift for the city, the mayor said.

It is a story common among cities across the state, especially small ones in greater Minnesota. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities says clean water projects are at the top of its priority list.

Jones joined Dayton and others in discussing the need for clean-water projects on Wednesday, Feb. 21. Dayton has called for legislators to pass his plan for a 25 percent increase in water quality in Minnesota by 2025.

"Minnesotans should be asking every step of the way, 'What is the quality of my water?'" said Dayton, urging people to get involved in the issue.

The governor said the top issue of 3,500 people who attended 10 water summit meetings last summer and fall was the need for more clean-water education.

Joe Beattie, science teacher at Hastings High School in Hastings, Minn., agreed with that priority.

"Lakes, rivers, wetlands, that is what our state is all about," Beattie said. But changes are needed to bring them back to their former selves. "It's all about education ... on water and water quality."

Jeff Freeman, executive director of the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority in St. Paul, agreed with Beattie, but added, "Education is critical, but money helps, too."

Dayton put $176 million for clean water projects in his public works proposal.

However, Republicans want to spend far less than the $1.5 billion Dayton suggested for public works projects of all types. He also supports $858 million in local projects.

Freeman said that at least 171 clean water projects need additional monies. The projects include water and sewage treatment plants, water towers and pipelines, "all of the basic water infrastructure."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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