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Dayton asks for $130 million in natural resources preservation

Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park are awed by the scenic views of the St. Louis River and the historic swinging bridge.

But one thing they won't find at this iconic park is water for drinking or flushing toilets. That is because the park's main water line failed this winter, forcing the park to shut down the water supply and close all of its bathrooms with flush toilets.

The broken water line is among the growing list of repairs needed throughout the state to hundreds of roofs, dilapidated bridges, washed out roads and culverts, substandard electrical service, and failing mechanical and utility systems.

As part of his 2018 Public Works bill, Gov. Mark Dayton is asking the Legislature to invest $130 million in urgently needed improvements to Department of Natural Resources' buildings and other infrastructure. The DNR needs to make these fixes in order to provide recreation and natural resources services. These repairs also create hundreds of construction jobs for Minnesotans.

"My Public Works bill would invest $130 million to maintain and restore recreational buildings, access roads, campgrounds, boat launches, fishing piers, and other infrastructure across Minnesota," Dayton said. These projects are essential for protecting our environment and improving recreational opportunities for Minnesotans. I urge the Legislature to preserve these Minnesota treasures for future generations by passing a robust Public Works bill that invests in our natural resources."

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said the list of repairs needed at DNR facilities across the state grows longer each year.

"These are facilities owned by the citizens of Minnesota and managed by the DNR," said Landwehr. "Many of these needs are becoming urgent and require immediate funding to slow or stop their decline."

According to the DNR's most recently completed facility assessment, the agency has more than $35 million of building components in need of immediate repair or replacement. The DNR also has hundreds of millions of dollars of other investments needed over the next decade to prevent asset failures like the broken water line at Jay Cooke State Park. Repair costs increase about 8 percent annually, so addressing these problems now saves Minnesota money over the long term.

The 10-year capital needs report shows 192 of the agency's inventory of 2,700 buildings are in crisis or unacceptable condition, and 520 are in poor condition. Some DNR forest road or trail bridges are weight restricted due to structural deterioration over time, meaning logging trucks and grooming vehicles can't use them.

Many facilities have hidden infrastructure that is essential to outdoor recreationalists. In addition to Jay Cooke State Park, Blue Mounds State Park, near Luverne, has been without potable water for several years because of well contamination. Aging waste water treatment systems at other state parks, such as Itasca and Myre Big Island, also need replacement.

"Some basic services for people — access to clean drinking water and functional bathrooms — are now not being met at DNR facilities," said Landwehr. "That is just simply unacceptable for a state whose $13 billion tourism economy is based on high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities."

Other types of infrastructure needed to support DNR recreation programs also require repair. The DNR needs to make critical repairs to its fish hatcheries, including one near Lanesboro that supplies thousands of trout for anglers. Many water control structures — used at wildlife management areas to maintain water levels for waterfowl — are more than four decades old and need to be fixed.

More than 100 miles of state trails are in need of repairs. The agency is hoping to secure bonding funds for resurfacing, culvert and bridge replacements, erosion control, and accessibility improvements for the Sakatah, Root River, Gateway, Willard Munger, and Blufflands state trails.

Additionally, many buildings used by agency staff and the public require new roofs, heating and air conditioning systems, and modifications to ensure accessibility.

"Our natural resources-related facilities have been used hard and loved well," Landwehr said. "Investments are needed now to ensure we leave the next generation with the same quality facilities and natural resources our own generation has been enjoying."

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