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Construction projects in northwest Minnesota construction at a standstill

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Infrastructure projects in northwest Minnesota are in limbo after Gov. Mark Dayton announced there would be no special legislative session to address an unresolved bonding bill leftover from the regular session in May.

Among the items included in the Minnesota Senate's bonding proposal were more than $5 million for a wastewater interconnect in East Grand Forks, $3 million for a new building for the North Country Food Bank in Crookston, $826,000 for chemistry lab space at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and $700,000 for a fire station expansion in Roseau.

"We're not giving up hope that it won't happen in 2017," said Dennis Bona, president of Northland Community and Technical College. "We're very disappointed, of course, that it's put off another year."

Hopes for a special session were dashed when Dayton and legislative leaders, including Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, failed to reach a deal after three months of negotiations. The Democratic governor said on Aug. 18 he would not call a special session.

While local projects will have to wait until next year, the makeup of the Legislature after November's election could affect a bonding bill. Moreover, many projects may have to be rebid because of cost changes, said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston.

That hasn't stopped the wastewater interconnect project between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. East side leaders are still hopeful bonding money can make up half of the project cost, but the city is relying on a state Public Facilities Authority loan for now.

"We're doing draws on it as we need," City Administrator David Murphy said.

East Grand Forks was also hoping for legislative authorization to levy a sales tax to fund a pool remodel. That was part of a tax bill that Dayton vetoed because of a $100 million wording error.

The city of East Grand Forks is paying for the pool out of its general fund for now, Murphy said. City leaders hope the Legislature will authorize the local tax next year, he added.

The North Country Food Bank in Crookston was slated to receive $3 million for a new building on 6 acres of previously donated land. Susie Novak, the organization's executive director, said it's hard enough for them to raise enough funds just to operate, much less build a facility.

"As far as we can tell right now, it's going to delay our project," she said. "That's a big chunk of what we were hoping for to help with funding the project costs."

For her part, Kiel was disappointed in Dayton's decision not to call a special session to finish the Legislature's work. She blamed the decision on disagreements over the Southwest Light Rail project, which would run from Minneapolis to the suburb of Eden Prairie.

"Fourteen miles in the metro area is holding up a bonding bill for all of Minnesota," Kiel said.

Dayton said the assertion the light rail line was the only disagreement over the special session is "blatantly untrue." He said there were no agreements on other issues when negotiations ended.

"For three months, Senate DFL leaders and I offered different options to fund Metro Transit that involved no state monies. Speaker Daudt rejected them all," Dayton said in a statement. "His intransigence is the principal reason there will be no special session."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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