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At Minn. Zoo, some upgrades will wait

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APPLE VALLEY, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Zoo's plan to bring in Hawaiian monk seals will have to wait.

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Officials at the zoo in Apple Valley wanted to renovate a million-gallon tank in Discovery Bay to house the seals they hope to acquire. They needed another $1 million to finish the work.

But state lawmakers frowned on an $800 million bonding bill for public works projects across the state, and the zoo's $15 million wasn't in a smaller $156 million measure approved in the final stages of this year's session. Plans to remodel the zoo's snow monkey exhibit are also on hold.

The zoo is moving forward with privately funded projects. That includes a new "Crossroads Park" with a carousel featuring endangered species. That will go where the zoo's Replay Park now sits on the Northern Trail.

Lee Ehmke, CEO and director of the Apple Valley zoo, said he hoped lawmakers would reconsider their request to fund the projects next year.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's a setback rather than a change of course," Ehmke told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Ehmke said the zoo had success in other areas.

Lawmakers maintained the state-operated facility's $5.5 million per year for operations and increased by $500,000 over the biennium money it receives from the Legacy Fund. Next year, the zoo will have a $25 million operating budget.

Zoo leaders continue to move forward with privately funded projects that are at the top of the list of a master plan approved by the zoo's board in November. The plan outlines a decade's worth of expansions.

The monorail, which has carried people around the grounds since 1979, will be taken down in the fall. Ehmke said the monorail is outdated and will cost too much to repair. Riders' interest also has declined.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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