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Sen. Klobuchar discusses infrastructure needs with local mayors

Park Rapids Mayor Ryan Leckner, Wadena Mayor George Deiss and Bagley Mayor Sidney Michel participated in Wednesday’s online meeting.

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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar held an online meeting with Park Rapids Mayor Ryan Leckner, Bagley Mayor Sidney Michel and Wadena Mayor George Deiss, along with some legislative aides.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise
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U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) met with three northwestern Minnesota mayors, including Park Rapids Mayor Ryan Leckner, to hear about their infrastructure needs.

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Park Rapids Mayor Ryan Leckner joined in the Wednesday, Feb. 16 conversation with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Wadena Mayor George Deiss and Bagley Mayor Sidney Michel were also on Wednesday’s online meeting. Warroad Mayor Bob Marvin was unable to attend due to health issues.

“We couldn’t be gathered at a more important time because the bipartisan infrastructure bill recently was signed into law,” Klobucher said, noting that 17 Republicans senators – such as North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven – supported the legislation.

“When I look at this, I think, ‘What is the one thing that can be not as divisive right now?’ Everyone can agree that we need to get good water with water projects. We need roads and bridges that work. We need broadband access,” Klobucher said.

The $1 trillion deal signed into federal law in November 2021 aims to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water and improve access to high-speed internet, among many other things.

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Klobuchar noted there will be grants available to fund many of these projects. Those will be available through MnDOT, through the Build Grant program, through congressional earmarked projects and through new grant programs, which she said gives emphasis to rural community needs.

An assistant to Klobuchar said these dollars will be directed to cities without local matching funds.

Klobuchar said, “It’s going to mean a lot more funding for infrastructure in Minnesota, and I was a big believer in making sure the rural communities got a fair shake on this money. That’s why some of those special programs are set up. It’s coming through USDA or Commerce or other places, depending on what the needs are.”

On top of infrastructure needs, the communities spoke about the need for workers and resolved supply chain issues.

Klobuchar noted that Wadena and Hubbard counties are all but 5% served by broadband internet access, but she looks forward to seeing that reach 100%.

Park Rapids“Thank you for all your hard work on the infrastructure bill. I know it’s definitely going to help the cities. We have all kinds of needs,” Leckner said.

He noted Park Rapids has a capital improvement plan, “which we’re having a hard time getting anything done with the costs and trying to keep everybody’s taxes from going up. If there’s programs out there we can use, we’ll definitely take advantage of them.”

Leckner didn’t have a specific project in mind for federal monies.

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“I think the message we’re trying to send is there’s going to be major funding coming down the pikes – major funding,” Klobuchar replied. A total of $110 billion has been allocated for roads and bridges, with Minnesota receiving over $4 billion, she added.

Leckner said the city has applied for a sales tax to improve some roads and “lighten the burden to the taxpayers and the people that get assessed.”

In terms of the economy, Leckner reported that Main Street is “thriving.” He commented that, since the pandemic and remote technology advances, more lakeshore owners have moved into their cabins full time to work and live year’round.

Affordable housing and day care are major factors in attracting workers to the area, Leckner added.

WadenaWadena Mayor George Deiss said the community is booming and while they look to add utilities for areas of the community that need to grow, they also have to replace utilities in parts of town that are aging. He shared about the utility extension needed for the new hospital, a plan to add water and sewer to the east of town for a housing development and completion of U.S. Highway 10 being built to four lanes as new projects. He was informed that the housing development plan was expected to cost $1.5 million to add infrastructure, but the bids came in closer to $2.6 million.

“Everything goes up,” Deiss said of the costs.

Meanwhile the water tower is in need of refurbishment and the southwest corner of town is in need of new water and sewer. Costs for all this work are inching towards $40 million.

“These water projects are so important, but it's expensive, and this is the perfect time if we are going to do a big infrastructure investment that we help some of the smaller communities with water and sewer,” Klobuchar said.

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Rising infrastructure costsBagley Mayor Sidney Michel said his city experienced sticker shock when an estimate for their 60-year-old, citywide water-sewer project jumped from $13.5 to $17 million. The roughly 30% increase was triggered by product supply issues and material cost increases.

“Pre-COVID, a piece of 8-foot water pipe was about $6.5. Now, at the current rate, it was $21 a foot. It’s just crazy,” Michel said.

Without additional funding, the city will have to raise utility rates and increase their levy to pay for a bond, he added.

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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