Bonding can be a complicated process, but it basically means "how much money should the state borrow to fund priority programs or projects." If we want clean water, we need to fund the infrastructure to support it as well as habitat and conservation programs.
Bonding for the environment
Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith released their 2017 bonding proposal January 4th. Dubbed the “Jobs Bill,” the $1.5 billion bonding proposal includes much-needed investments in Minnesota’s water resources, including drinking water and wastewater infrastructure for communities across the state. It features more than $269 million in proposed water quality, habitat, and water infrastructure funding throughout Minnesota, along with additional natural resource and river corridor investments that FMR supports.
Water quality and water infrastructure
Dayton's borrowing package calls for an ambitious effort to begin fixing drinking water and wastewater systems across the state. These upgrades are essential for clean drinking water and to reduce water pollution.
- Wastewater Infrastructure Fund: $80 million
Supplemental assistance grants to municipalities for high-cost clean water and drinking water infrastructure projects that address existing environmental or public health problems. Wastewater Infrastructure Fund (WIF) funds are used to supplement either low-interest loans from the Clean Water Revolving Fund or to match grant and loan funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. This funding would also support an expansion of this program to include drinking water infrastructure projects.
- Point Source Implementation Grants: $62 million
Point Source Implementation Grants (PSIG) help local governments fund water treatment plant upgrades to meet water quality restoration and protection goals. Funding is allocated on a competitive basis and provides grants of up to half of eligible costs, with a local match required.
- Water Infrastructure Initiative: $25 million
If approved, this $25 million in state funds would be matched by $85 million in federal Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Funds. State and federal funds are used together with loan repayments and PFA revenue bonds to provide low-interest loans to local governments for clean water infrastructure, which includes wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water projects. Eligible projects are prioritized based on environmental and public health criteria.
- Targeted conservation easements (RIM Reserve): $30 million
The Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve program works with farmers and private landowners to restore and protect water quality through the use of targeted conservation easements in agricultural regions. The program compensates private landowners for granting permanent conservation easements and establishing wetlands or riparian areas on their lands. The funds will help Minnesotans implement the new buffer strip law passed in the previous legislative session. In addition, state bond funds will leverage up to $120 million in federal funds in the first round of a 5-year initiative aimed at protecting water by conserving 100,000 acres of land through a state-federal partnership.
- St. Louis River Area of Concern (SLRAOC): $25.4 million.
Funding for complete design work and clean up contaminated sediment and industrial waste at ten locations in the St. Louis River Estuary and the Duluth harbor and bay. This recommendation leverages $47.2 million in federal funds and allows clean-up to be completed by 2020.
- Closed Landfill Cleanup and Leak Prevention: $11.35 million
Andover Minnesota’s Waste Disposal Engineering Landfill, home to an estimated 6,600 barrels of hazardous waste, is leaking with high risks to drinking water, groundwater, public health, and adjacent Coon Creek. Funds will help reconstruct the site and remove both the hazardous waste that is currently leaking into the soil below and the contaminated soil itself.
Minnesota is home to more than 100 closed landfills, each of which requires ongoing maintenance and monitoring to ensure that it doesn't contaminate the local water supply. While the state's Closed Landfill Investment Fund and Metropolitan Landfill Contingency Action Trust were created to help fund closed landfill clean up, those frequently raided funds are not yet eligible for use at the Andover site.
- Lewis and Clark Regional Water System: $11.5 million
The governor recommends $11.5 million for a grant to the Lewis and Clark Water Joint Powers Board to complete phase III of a pipeline to bring water to Worthington and complete the southeastern Minnesota water system project.
Habitat and conservation
Dayton's bonding proposal calls for significant investments in a variety of habitat and conservation programs that protect critical habitat for wildlife and pollinators while reducing runoff pollution to our lakes, streams and rivers.
- Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Critical Habitat Match Program: $2 million
State funding match (for private donations) of cash and land through the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Critical Habitat Match program for the acquisition and improvement of critical fish, wildlife and native plant habitat.
- WMA/AMA Acquisition and Development: $9.5 million
The resources will assist state efforts to acquire, develop and improve lands for wildlife and aquatic management areas (a.k.a. WMAs and AMAs). WMAs and AMAs provide public hunting and fishing lands and conserve fish and wildlife habitat. This money was recommended at the Pheasant Summit convened by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014. FMR has worked closely with the DNR's WMA and AMA programs and these funds have been used on several FMR-led protection projects.
- Scientific and Natural Area Acquisition and Development: $1 million
Funds to acquire and designate state Scientific and Natural Areas and to develop SNA land to both conserve native plant communities and provide better access. This is another program that FMR has depended on for protection and stewardship of key riverfront and river-related parcels.
- Native Prairie Bank Acquisition and Development: $2 million
$2 million to protect Minnesota's native prairies by acquiring conservation easements on privately owned native prairie and developing acres to increase the viability of native prairie.
- Fish Hatchery Enhancement: $1 million
Investments and upgrades at five greater Minnesota fish hatcheries run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Improvements include upgrades to control fish pathogens and invasive species; improvements to the rearing pond access areas; upgrades to water systems and equipment; development of fish holding facilities; energy efficiency and production capacity upgrades; and enhancement of on-site education and outreach facilities.
- Mille Lacs Lake Fisheries Management Station: $3.5 million
The governor recommends $3.5 million to develop a Mille Lacs Lake fisheries management station, including construction of a Department of Natural Resources office, laboratory, education and outreach center, and hatchery infrastructure.
- Minnesota Native Prairie Bank: $2 million
For the acquisition of permanent conservation easements on privately owned native prairie and developing acres to increase the viability of native prairie landscapes.
Mississippi River corridor projects
Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding proposal includes a variety of additional river amenities. Highlights in the metro stretch of the Mississippi River, our local national park, include:
- Great River Passage Environmental Learning Center: $3 million
A grant to the city of St. Paul to design a new river recreation and environmental education center. The center will provide the public with greater access to recreational and environmental education opportunities along the Mississippi River and could include a new Headquarters and programming center for the National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area — MNRRA.
- Fort Snelling Visitor Center: $35M
The Governor recommends $34 million for design and construction costs at Historic Fort Snelling to close its deteriorating Visitor Center and renovate a cavalry barracks building on site as the new Visitor Center, in time for the Fort's bicentennial in 2020. The entire project is estimated to cost $46 million, with $12 million of the total project cost coming from private donations raised by the Minnesota Historical Society. FMR has supported this project for several years. Located on the bluff at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers this much-needed project will adaptively reuse these historic buildings to interpret this very significant historic site.
- Stone Arch Bridge: $2.5 million
Design and construction to repair deterioration on the historic Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.
Parks and open space
The Governor also includes $10 million in funding for a variety of regional park projects. A number of these projects will benefit the Mississippi River corridor through the Twin Cities, including:
- Above the Falls Regional Park (Minneapolis): $1.24 million for work on Hall's Island and other Above the Falls implementation.
- Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park (Minneapolis): $671,000 for Water Works / Mill Ruins Park improvements.
- Lilydale Regional Park (St. Paul): $886,000 for park improvements and bluff stabilization.
- Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park (Cottage Grove): $240,000 in park facility improvements.
- Whitetail Woods Regional Park (Dakota County): $958,000 for improvements under the Whitetail Woods Regional Park Phase II Master Plan.
- Point Douglas Regional Trail (Washington County): $346,000 in improvements to the trail and park area.
Pipeline and oil train safety
While FMR doesn’t work directly on pipeline projects, vigilance is required to ensure that pipeline breaks and spills don’t contaminate Minnesota’s lakes, streams and rivers. Currently, Minnesota has 4,444 rail route miles used by 20 different railroads, along with hundreds of miles of pipelines.
To better ensure that first responders are prepared for emergencies, the governor's proposal includes $3.5 million for an oil train derailment and pipeline safety training center at Camp Ripley in Little Falls. The facility would include a one-mile section of railroad track that will be used for derailment simulations, along with facilities to simulate gasoline and natural gas pipeline leaks and spills.
We remain hopeful that bipartisan legislators in both chambers will support Gov. Mark Dayton's much-needed investments in Minnesota's water infrastructure and natural resources. Look for updates throughout the 2017 legislative session as the Jobs Bill moves through the process.