House approves downstream protection
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House voted to protect Red River Valley residents downstream from a proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood-prevention project, saying they should not face worse flooding just to protect the river's largest metropolitan area.
The close voice vote came Monday night before the full House voted 92-37 in favor of a public works funding proposal of more than $1 billion.
Decorum broke down in the House chamber as Republicans shouted requests to be allowed to speak when time ran out for debate.
"It's too bad we couldn't have informed each other and the people of Minnesota about what was in this bill," said Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall.
Representatives debated the bill for more than four hours.
The Red River amendment to the public works bill would forbid the state from spending money on a Fargo-Moorhead diversion unless the U.S. Corps of Engineers takes steps to prevent flooding downstream.
In offering his amendment to the public works bill, Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said he did not want to stop a proposed $1 billion project to divert water around Fargo-Moorhead, but he fears that the diversion will increase flooding downstream.
"The real question is: Will the downstream communities pay the price?" Eken said.
He urged all Red River Valley interests to work together on flood prevention like they did during last year's flooding. "I don't want this river to become a source of conflict."
But those representing the Moorhead and upstream areas feared the Eken proposal could prevent the diversion from being built.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said that the Corps of Engineers has no power to take actions to help downstream communities. He said it would take an act of Congress to change the rules.
Organizations supporting a diversion already say they want to prevent further problems downstream, Rep Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, added.
"It might be too restrictive," Marquart said about the Eken amendment.
Eken agreed with work on the proposal's language with Marquart and others as the bill progresses.
At a committee hearing last week, Hendrum Mayor Curt Johannsen delivered an emotional plea to protect downstream communities. He said his town could be an island for weeks if flooding is made worse by a diversion.
The bonding bill also includes $50 million for flood prevention around Minnesota, mostly in the Red River area. That is the same as Pawlenty suggests, but $20 million short of what the Senate voted to spend.
The overall bill spends money on colleges, trails, transportation and other construction projects. The only major financial change in the measure Monday came when representatives voted 114-19 to spend $89 million to build a 400-bed addition to the Moose Lake sex offender treatment center.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty insisted on the sex offender facility, and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, offered an amendment to include it. A Senate-passed bill contains $1 million for the facility, something Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, called a placeholder so the topic could be discussed later.
The House and Senate bills are headed to a conference committee that is to work out differences between what the two chambers passed. They each spend about $1 billion. However, Pawlenty wants to spend no more than $685 million, and on Monday said he would either veto individual projects or kill the entire bill if lawmakers send him a bill he deems too big.
The overall bill funds public works projects across the state with money raised by the state selling bonds.
About a third of the bonding bill funds state-run college and university improvements, ranging from additions to classroom buildings to roof repairs. It also contains money for projects such as sewage systems, park improvements, civic centers and transportation improvements.
Democrats said a contractors' organization estimates that the bill would create 21,000 construction and related jobs.
Republicans generally said they supported the Moose Lake expansion, but wondered where Democrats would get the money. Efforts failed to cut other projects in the bill to make room for Moose Lake.
"I don't think it is a good idea to add on," House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said. "I think there should be a reduction in the balance sheet."
Here is how area representatives voted Monday night on the bonding bill:
Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, yes; Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, yes; Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, yes; Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo, yes; Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, no; David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, yes; Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, no; Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, yes; Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, yes; Tim Faust, DFL-Mora, yes; Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, no; Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, no; Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud, yes; Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, yes; Larry Howes, R-Walker, yes; Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, yes; Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, yes; Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, no; Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, yes; Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, yes; Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, yes; Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, no; Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, yes; Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, no; Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, no; Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, yes; Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, yes; Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls, yes; Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie, yes; John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, yes; Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, yes; Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia; Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, yes; Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, no; Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, yes; Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, yes; Phil Sterner, DFL-Rosemount, yes; Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, yes; Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, no; and Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, not voting.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications, which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.