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Howes obtains funding for Ah-Gwah-Ching re-use

State Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker) has keyed Ah-Gwah-Ching redevelopment legislation for at least a half-dozen years, making Monday's bonding approval and an ensuing meeting with Cass County officials all the sweeter.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty spared funding for redevelopment of the Ah-Gwah-Ching grounds when he line item vetoed $208 million from the bonding bill Monday. There is $1.9 million provided for tapping into Walker's city water system and another $400,000 to complete demolition in the facility's redevelopment project.

Plans are to prepare the site for Cass County, which intends to build a 25-bed hospital to replace a former state-run regional treatment center/nursing home. The county also may build a courthouse on the property at a later date.

Some prominent figures in planning for re-use of Ah-Gwah-Ching were at the State Office Building in St. Paul Wednesday to discuss redevelopment plans with Howes and other legislators. Cass County administrator Bob Yochum, county commissioners Jim Demgen and Bob Kangas, as well as auditor/treasurer Sharon Anderson, participated in the discussion.

"The political process isn't always a smooth one and it's taken years of dedication for this funding to become reality," Howes said. "The folks who have been so persistent and have worked so hard to see this project gets funded finally have their day. A critical access hospital is vital to our area and local officials should be proud of what's been accomplished."

In addition to Howes, Sen. Mary Olson (D-Bemidji) and Rep. Frank Moe (D-Bemidji) also met with the Cass officials.

The bonding bill, authorized earlier this week, also included $2 million in bonding for the Paul Bunyan Trail. A proposal to continue stocking Leech Lake with walleye fry also passed out of the Finance Committee Wednesday and was referred to Ways and Means. It's included in a game and fish bill.

The Legislature forwarded a larger bonding bill to Pawlenty recently; it was $100 million above the $825 million cap recommended by Dr. Tom Stinson, Minnesota's nonpartisan state economist. Stinson said bonding for more than $825 million may have damaged Minnesota's AAA credit rating.

After Pawlenty executed line item vetoes for more than 50 projects - including Central Corridor and high-speed rail lines, a gorilla exhibit and a sheet music museum - a $717 million bonding bill remains.