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Capitol Notebook: Rural-city divide shows up in pollution debate

Longtime Moorhead Rep. Morrie Lanning announced Thursday in Moorhead he will not seek re-election to the legislative seat he's held for 10 years. Jesse Trelstad | Forum Communications Co.

ST. PAUL -- A dispute about water pollution led to a city-rural rift as big as seen in some time.

Minnesota city leaders and conservationists called a news conference to complain that farmers do too little to prevent water pollution and pay for cleaning the water. Alexandria Mayor Dan Ness said, for example, some Twin Cities communities will pay $1 billion to clean up water soiled by farm soil and chemicals it contains.

"It's a basic issue of fairness," Ness said.

Like so much in state government, it really is all about money.

President Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers' Union said: "Who is willing to pay?"

The basic fundamental that Peterson presented in rebutting Ness and others who held the news conference is that unlike most businesses, farmers do not set prices for their goods. So, Peterson said, farmers do not have a way to recoup costs for efforts to keep soil from draining into lakes and streams.

"At some point, it is going to add to the cost of everything," Peterson said.

He did not like to hear about the news conference tone: "It just becomes divisive."

Conservation and city folks, on the other hand, said they are tired of waiting for farmers to take action. Farmers voluntarily increasingly have engaged in conservation practices, such as reducing how much they till fields, but people such as Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership have said it is time to move from voluntary conservation farming to mandatory pollution reduction.

Morse and his colleagues offered few specifics, at least few that state officials said they can do without legislative action.

The lingering question is whether the city-conservationist news conference was a one-shot flare-up or if it signals a new, ongoing conflict.

Two years ago, Morrie Lanning considered running for Minnesota governor.

He never pulled the trigger, unlike a herd of other Republicans who sought the office. Now the Moorhead state representative is leaving the Legislature and elective office.

When reporters talked to Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, he knew Lanning was leaving the state House, but not that he does not plan to run for elective office again.

"He would be extremely well qualified for any job in the public sector," Dayton said to a reporter asking whether he would consider naming Lanning to a newly formed stadium commission.

But when reminded that Lanning considered running for governor two years ago, Dayton paused, apparently considering whether what he just said could be used against him in a future campaign. Then he quietly repeated his belief Lanning would do well in any government job.

Dayton said Lanning leaves a big legacy with passage of a $975 million Vikings stadium bill near the end of this year's legislative session. It is the largest-ever single state construction project.

"That stadium bill would not have passed without him," the governor said.

Through the stadium debate Dayton often used terms such as "hero" to describe Lanning's work on the issue.

A relatively tiny pot of state money will be the focus of attention across Minnesota in coming weeks.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will accept applications from backers of public works projects for part of a $47.5 million fund legislators made available after specifying nearly $500 million worth of other projects.

Projects such as a new St. Paul baseball park, seeking $27 million of state money, and civic center expansion proposals will get much of the public attention. But projects requesting just a few thousand dollars also will be in the running as long as local funds provide at least half of the cost, the projects have a lifespan of at least 10 years and they meet other qualifications.

Winners are expected to be announced in early August, following a June 26 application deadline.

The first 14 times Gov. Mark Dayton ate at his sons' Minneapolis restaurant, he had the meatballs.

His sons convinced him to try other things in his last four visits, he confided to reporters. Still, he made it clear his choice the first 14 times at The Bachelor Farmer remains his favorite dish.

The restaurant, which Eric and Andrew Dayton opened last year, hosted three fundraisers Friday with President Barack Obama. The governor attended, and donated $5,000.

Gov. Mark Dayton is opening the doors to his official home this summer to note the governor residence's 100th anniversary.

Reservations are required to tour the 1006 Summit Ave., St. Paul house on June 5 and 19, July 10 and 24, and Aug. 7 and 21. Space will be limited to 20 guests per tour.

Reservations may be made at